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September 2018

1199 Moses Maimonides published 'The Guide to the Perplexed' in Córdoba. Been there but still perplexed.
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1791 'Die Zauberflöte' with that aria from the Queen of the Night premiered with Amadaus Mozart conducting the orchestra in Vienna. Been there and heard that.
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1902 Rayon patented. Worn that but no more.
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1938 The Munich Accords signed. (Been there.) Alas. See Robert Harris's superb reconstruction reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Members of the Chamberlain family have said that the Prime Minister meant to say 'peace for a time.' The paper in his hand is not the Accord but a letter signed by Adolf Hitler pledging peace.
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1953 Auguste and Jacques Piccard descended 3150 meters in a bathyscaph and returned. Not me.
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Pick one to tell someone else. No cheating. One only. Which will it be? Why will it be that one?

480 BC The Battle of Salamis in which the Athenians defeated the Persians. Themistocles's proclamation is on display in Athens. Saw it in 2007.
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1863 Georges Bizet's 'Les pêcheurs de perles' (The Pearl Fishers) opened in Paris and has not closed since. Been to that Opera House.
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1903 The land of Prussia required licenses for automobile drivers. Got one myself, but not from Prussia most of which is now in Russia and Poland. The Kaiser went on a picnic.
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1982 The Tylenol murders in Chicago which remains a cold case, and which led to the tamperproof packaging of medicines in blister packs and more. The first six victims.
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1997 The link was established between mad cows and people in England.
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Come and get it. The day's history lesson.

1542 Portuguese Juan Cabrillo became the first European to see California when he sailed into San Diego Bay on a mission for the Spanish crown. He claimed it all for his patron.
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1904 A woman was arrested for smoking in New York City. She was a passenger in an automobile minding her own business, when....
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1922 Benito Mussolini led the March on Rome.
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1941 Ted Williams finished the season at .406, the last major league baseball player to achieve that potent consistency.
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1959 NASA's Explorer VI took the first video of the earth from space. There is video on You Tube but the files are too large to load on this blog.
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1066 William the Conqueror left Normandy for Hastings on D for departure day.
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1540 Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuits swearing an oath of personal loyalty to the Pope. Hence known as the Pope's army.
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1825 George Stephenson inaugurated the Stockton and Darlington Railway to haul coal from Newcastle.
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1905 Albert Einstein published a paper that included the incantation.
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1962 Rachel Carson published 'The Silent Spring.' She is pictured testifying before Congress in the days when facts and science were considered important in Washington D.C.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 20 minutes, rated 6.2 by 229 cinemitizens.

Genre: Old Dark House

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Verdict: Gail Russell is the show.

Big Joel McCrea, before he devoted himself exclusively to westerns, is a reclusive business man with two young children. His wife, their mother, died a few years ago. He fired their previous governess for reasons not specified and hired the ingenue Gail Russell. A kindly doctor is much in attendance, Herbert Marshall of the Wooden Leg.

They live next door to …. an Old Dark House. Mac comes and goes at all hours. For a recluse he is out and about all the time, leaving Gail to cope with the rebellious children. ‘Make them obey,’ is his only advice to her as he slams the door. She does; they don't.

Turns out a woman was murdered nearby years ago, and others since. At least one of the murders coincides with one of Mac’s nocturnal outings. Gail reads ‘Jane Eyre’ for some tips, as did the screen writers.

The former governess, retains an hypnotic hold on the boy who in turn dominates his little sister. This trio plots to undermine Gail, who makes it easy by falling into every trap set for her. Inevitably, Gail goes to the Old Dark House to find answers. Her survival instinct is less than a Girl Guide at a bus stop.

The fraternity brothers got some of the characters mixed up, and never did figure out what the Old Dark House has to do with Maxine. Or why reclusive Mac is always out. Or why any of it matters. But they did learn to beware of kindly doctors much in attendance.

Raymond Chandler got a writing credit along with three others on this, but I did not hear any Chandler dialogue. The story is from Ethel Lina White’s novel. She also wrote the novel used for ‘The Lady Vanishes’ and ‘The Spiral Staircase.’ Brava!

Gail Russell is eye candy but she fell on hard times, tripping over bottles, aged prematurely, got terminal stage fright, and disappeared from view. She was in a Randolph Scott film 'Seven Men from Now' (1956) reviewed elsewhere on this blog some years after this in one of several efforts at a comeback.

Lewis Allen directed to perfection, getting the most out of the script and the players. It is a miniature version ‘The Turn of the Screw.’

Sometimes what does not happen is even more important than what does happen. Read to the end to see why.

1580 Francis Drake returned from three-year circumnavigation. And without GPS.
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1829 Scotland Yard founded to investigate crimes. The property had belonged to a Scot.
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1913 Panama Canals locks began raising ships.
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1960 First televised presidential debate in Chicago. Cool Jack versus intense Dick.
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1983 Stanislav Petrov took time to think and then did not act. The bells rang, the buzzers buzzed, the lights flashed, the countdown voice droned minutes to impact, the computers calculated the death toll, and two hundred subordinates looked to Colonel Petrov to act. Details on Wikipedia.
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IMDb meta-data runtime is 55 minutes, rated 6.9 by 92 cinemitizens.

Genre: Docudrama.

An episode of the long-running CBS television program ‘Studio One.’ It combines narration by Murrow with re-enactments.

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Verdict: When Ed Murrow speaks, I listen.

In this case it is a dramatisation of a CBS radio broadcast in 1938 of a story published 1898 in Great Britain. The result was headline news across the United States and the world. Huh?

On Halloween night, October 30, 1938, Orson Welles's Mercury Players of the Air performed an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s ‘War of the Worlds.’ It took the form a news report, including a reporter in the field at Grovers Mill in New Jersey. We see all of this being simulated in the CBS radio studio.

Those who heard the broadcast and reacted included a teenage babysitter, card playing college boys, patrons at a neighbourhood bar, and a police officer at a switchboard. Some people went nuts. Others ran amok. Others loaded shotguns. Many hid under the bed. Some fled. Fleeing was hard since no one knew where Grovers Mill was. All of this in response to a radio broadcast.

The next morning the ‘New York Times’ thundered the news of the national panic caused by the broadcast!

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Why the panic?

The program was advertised long in advance in newspapers and magazines. The newspaper radio listings, including those in the 'New York Times,' clearly identified the program as an entertainment. The on-air introduction made that clear, too.

However, ‘The Mercury Players of the Air’ was a sustaining program owned by the CBS network. It had no commercial sponsors so there were no commercial breaks. It ran straight through for one hour. Once it started off it went, and as later research found, many people were dial surfing and missed the introduction and had not read the listings but tuned in part way through.

Many a PhD has since dined out on the aftermath. Was there really a panic? Whoa, here comes the Four Horses of Definition. What explains the reaction? Sociological, psychological, dietary, demographic, ethnic, swamp gas explanations have all been seriously offered and seriously considered in PhD dissertations. Faux News denies it ever happened or Hillary did it. One or the other.

Murrow put the programming in the context of the news of 1938 from Europe and Asia. In the East Japan was devouring Formosa, Korea, Manchuria, China, and Shangri-la. From Europe the air fleets of Nazi Germany featured in every movie newsreel. It had re-occupied the Rhineland. Seized the Saar basin. Anschlussed a very willing Austria. Carved the Sudeten out of Czechoslovakia only a few days before with goose-stepping automatons.

Pundits were describing ever more terrible weapons of modern war beneath the seas and from the skies. These combined with memories of chemical weapons in the Great War. What a brew!

For some auditors, who missed the newspaper advertisement, the program listings, and the introduction, the descent on Grovers Mill might well have been the spawn of Naziism. To listen to the broadcast now there are only a few gasped, terse descriptions of the Martians and someone in distress might not fathom those. Or just conclude that these were the creatures of the Asiatic Japanese or Satanic Naziis.

That was one of the findings of Hadley Cantril’s ‘Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic' (1940): Many who heard part of the broadcast were prepared for catastrophe by all the bad news that just kept coming.

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These prepared people had endured the unimaginable for a decade: the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, armies of the unemployed, starvation, diseases out of control, along with the Asian and European political news. The times, they were apocalyptic.

The story is that Cantril in Princeton heard the broadcast and then read the ‘New York Times’ the next morning, and mobilised the research project within hours to identify and interview auditors. Quite impossible today with months of Ethics Committee vetting, budgets laid down years in advance, KPIs that suit research managers, corporate plans, the annual cycle of research grants, and more.

But now back to the film, there is a raft of new faces in the re-enactments, including Ed Asner, John Astin, Warren Beatty, James Coburn, Vincent Gardenia, and Warren Oates. Babysitter Susan Hallaran eats the wallpaper as they say in show biz, though this was her last credit on the IMDb.

Alexander Scourby is the radio announcer with the mellifluous voice, and he carries the show on radio. The son of Greek immigrants who learned English from Shakespeare.

But the star of the show is neither named nor given any lines: Orson Welles.

Wells on air cut.jpg The wunderkind at work that very night.

He wanted nothing to do with this reprise. Whether the broadcast caused a panic, there was a sizeable reaction to it. CBS was cross-pressured because on the one hand it wanted the acclaim of such great influence (to lure advertisers in the future) but it wanted no part of the complaints. It did what every large organisation still does and delegated responsibility downward. The fact that Welles, for once, had done everything through channels and had approvals all the way to the top, was conveniently forgotten by the professional amnesiacs of management in CBS. Such amnesia is surely the subject of one McKinsey management seminar.

It was left to Welles alone to eat a lot of crow by way of apology. This was not something that came easily to this mercurial Zeus, and he had no wish ever to re-visit it. That is, he never wanted anything to do with CBS again, as Murrow obliquely noted.

The gossip on the inter-web is that H. G. Wells and Orson Welles met a year later in San Antonio Texas where each was on a speaking tour. Hope they stayed in a better hotel there than I did once upon a time.

Murrow’s documentary makes no mention of the 1953 film. Yet it would have come to mind for many in the audience. There are several other documentaries about the broadcast, one or two with similar titles.

IMDb meta-data runtime is 56 minutes, rated 6.2 by 103 cinemitizens.

Genre: Old Dark House

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Verdict: Sly fun.

Perry White and Mrs live in an Old Dark House at the end of a very long causeway. Otranto mansion comes equipped with a black stereotype, the ever ready Will Best, and a vast garage.

Then one dark and stormy night a party of relatives knock on the door! Perry is a perfect host, and why not when one of the guests is the first Superman disguised behind a pencil moustache. The guests all have letters of invitation:

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But neither Perry nor Mrs Perry sent any such invitations. That puts arrowroot into the plot.

Guess what! No sooner are they assembled than the lights go out, the telephone goes dead, the cars are immobilised, the weather turns violent, and then it gets worse. They are alone! They are cut-off! They are in an Old Dark House movie! [Gasp!]

Among the guests is the redoubtable Veda Ann Borg who plays a double role. That sounded good to the fraternity brothers since Veda is one live wire. Regrettably, one of the twin sisters she plays is snuffed at get-go, while the other reacts by locking herself in a room. Not even Veda can do much in those circumstances.

Also invited (by someone unknown, and it stays that way) is the ever thuggish Grant Withers who was the short-priced favourite as villain from the start. Mr Smooth insinuates himself in the party. Now and again faces appear at the window.

Smooth knows something the others don’t. Some dastardly cur has stolen the radium from the watches of the doctors at a nearby hospital and that thief is amongst the denizens of the Old Dark House, though how and why are never explained. How could it be stolen? Why come to the island with it? Who did invite all these people? To quote Ludwig Wittgenstein, and how many times does that happen in a movie review, ‘whereof one does not know, one must not speak.’ In plain English that is ‘Dunno.’

Winsome Girl does not live up the the billing but how could she: ‘OUT OF THE FOGS OF FEAR! STORMS OF TERROR!...came this amazing person...to thrill you!’ However, she was cool-headed, resourceful, and capable of surprising even Mr Smooth. No screaming. No fainting. No tripping. None of the usual tropes for women to make snowflake men feel superior. She and Smooth combine in a neat deception at the end to reveal the conspicuous villain. The screen play breezes along. The direction is crisp.

Believe it or not the spindly Kirk Alyn played Superman in the first film in 1948. He must have gotten the job after posing as the 98-pound weakling in Charles Atlas advertisements and the casting director called the wrong guy.

As this picture travelled across the United States the yellow telegrams from D-Day started to arrive. Three thousand were sent in one day.

IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 3 minutes, rated 6.1 by 254 cinemitizens.

Genre: Old Dark House.

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Verdict: There was still life in the Old Dark House.

Wealthy aunt Lorna invites all her carnivorous and rapacious relatives for a weekend at her Old Dark House. Along with a few stragglers there are married couples who bicker among themselves and a decorative nurse who has no duties, each hates Auntie, and all fear that Auntie’s companion, Mary, will inherit the dosh. Fortunately Mary’s beau is none other than Peter Gunn.

Auntie has plans of her own and starts by sending a cake full of steel files to her brother who is slammed up in an asylum for criminally bad actors. He is Milton Parsons whose bug-eyes have graced many a Charlie Chan film from this era. Once Miltie has outwitted the prison officials by walking out the door, while they are smoking, he secrets himself in the Old Dark House’s secret passages, concealed sliding panels, and trapdoors. This ODH has all melodramatic-conveniences including a black stereotype to do the work.

Auntie recruited bro to protect Mary from the Huns, i.e., the relatives. Then the fun begins when Auntie’s pet raven, named Poe — what else, dies after eating a biscuit from her plate. Next thing you know, Auntie is dead. The carrion move from bickering to murder.

Miltie was looking forward to trying his hand at murder, again, but they keep dying before he can get to them. Are they murdering each other, or….is there another presence?

Thereafter they drop like….ravens. Six by the fratenity brothers’ count.

Auntie and Miltie are superb. There is a neat trick with a wall decoration. An even neater trick with the doctor and his needle. A fine denouement. And a lot of energy all around. Miltie's bug eyes behind the filigree of an air vent occurs just enough times to be startling.
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Yet the ‘New York Times’ gave it a bored and boring review in 1942. The condescension of many reviewers in that inflated organ is noteworthy. Most them don’t seem to like movies.

As usual Will Best realises something is afoot long before this superiors who each dismiss his warnings. Though admittedly his reactions are put in more context than usual.

The day after the release of this film, Operation Torch landed American troops at nine points along the coast of North Africa. This task farce sailed directly from Norfolk Virginia in secrecy. Surely the longest amphibious invasion ever launched.

Time to take your daily dose of history.

1513 Spaniard Vasco de Balboa saw the Pacific Ocean, having crossed Panama. The first European to see the vast Pacific. No relation to Rocky.
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1926 Henry Ford introduced in his Michigan plant the forty-hour week with five days of eight hours of work. The arrangement was conditional on performance and completely at the company's discretion. Ford wanted the best workers. It took unions to extend the practice and legislate it.
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1942 United States War Labor Board urged employers to offer equal pay for women for equal work in war industries. Mouthed in D.C. and ignored far and wide. No surprise to Rosie. Although why the Labor Board did so is a mystery. Was this Eleanor Roosevelt's influence. I'd like to think so.
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1996 Ireland's last Magdalene laundry closed. These establishments started to rehabilitate fallen women, became punishment sentences, and finally slave labor. Estimates say at least 10,000 women toiled in these sweat houses along with their girl children. They figure in some of Benjamin Black's Quirke novels, some of which are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.
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2005 In Northern Ireland, the IRA laid down its arms. Amen.
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1529 Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent began the siege of Vienna.
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1664 The Dutch surrendered Manhattan to the British.
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1908 The first Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line.
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1959 Republican President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which held at Bastogne, to protect school children in Little Rock Arkansas from Bible thumping gorgons baying for blood. Little Rock school.jpg

1979 Compuserve offered online services to consumers.
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1642 Harvard College graduated its first class. No witches. None there the semester I was there either.
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1806 Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke returned after three years in the wilderness without GPS but with Sacagawea. Part of the trip was along the River Platte.
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1846 Berlin Observatory observes Neptune, right where it was supposed to be. Famous for its storms now as shown below.
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1884 Herman Hollerith patented a tabulating machine. The start of the pocket calculator.
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1932 Saudi Arabia became Saudi Arabia. [Witticism needed.]
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Which one would you tell your nearest and dearest? Why that one?

1499 The German, Italian, French and Romansh Confederation Helvetia declared itself to be the nation of Switzerland, leaving the Holy Roman Empire.
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1656 In Maryland an all woman jury heard the case of Judith Catchpole (no relation to Eric) on the charge of infanticide. Her defence was that she had never had a child. The jury concurred.
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1735 British Prime Minister Robert Walpole moved into a house at 10 Downing Street.
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1862 U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
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1947 A Douglas C-54 flew the Atlantic on automatic pilot.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 40 minutes, rated 7.1 by 584 cinemitizens.

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Verdict: Mr Data before Mr Data.

After being unable to finish Gene Roddenberry’s ‘Planet Earth’ (1974), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, I feared the worst when I saw his name on this one. Wrong. This is a winner.

A team of wizards creates an android in a billion dollar project funded out of my taxes. Saskatchewan’s own heartless villain John Vernon manages the project. James Shigeta is there without an Hawaiian shirt. Ensign Chekov is also to be seen, briefly, but not heard. The team works from the manual left by the mysterious and now vanished Dr. Professor Comrade Lew Vaslovik. Moreover, the team members insert components Vaslovik prepared without knowing how or why they work. Yes, just like driving a car or assembling IKEA furniture.

They produce a Ken Doll that lies there. Well, there goes that billion! They turn off the lights and head to social media to tell all to everyone. Meanwhile…..in the darkened laboratory the doll comes to life, and continues to assemble himself into Valnikov. This is one clever Ken Doll.

Having concluded that his programming tapes were damaged, Valnikov goes to the library to find out who won the World Series. He reads - a lot and quickly. In no time at all he is ready to go on ‘Eggheads.’ However, he wants to correct those damaged programming tapes and to do that he has to find the mysterious and missing Vaslovik. Where in the world is Carmen Miranda, she must know where Vaslovik is. Cherchez la femme!

When he tries to communicate with a librarian, it is clear that he is a nerd supreme. His idea of small talk is ‘Quiet, I am reading.’ ‘In the dark,’ she asks? See, he is not too good at fitting in. Meanwhile, Vernon has gone all crazy to find this walking billion dollars, because otherwise he will have to go back to Saskatchewan and work it off shovelling snow.

Valnikov realises he needs a translator and guide along on the road trip to Bronson Canyon to cope with the social side of things and to turn on the lights. That is where BJ comes in as his companion. Plus BJ has an AMEX card for expenses. Off they go following clues that lead them to Becky Driscoll. 'Hmmmm,' whispered the fraternity brothers, 'good thing the ('Invasion of the) Body Snatchers' (1956) did not get her.

This was the feature-length pilot for a television series and Paramount bought it on condition that Roddenberry drop BJ and add a love interest for the android. BJ is boring but on a road trip an android needs a buddy, otherwise how can it be a mis-matched buddy picture? Though Valnikov does say Mr Data's famous line..... Roddenberry would not compromise on what he regarded as the essential point and turned down the offer. We had to wait from Mr Data to find out more about droids.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 29 minutes, rated 2.9 by 623 cinematizens.

Genre: Sy Fy, Belaboured

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Verdict: More fun to edge the lawn with hand clippers.

Randy summons many green men from Mars who get in everyone’s way, telling the sort of jokes favoured by those without a sense of humour. Why do I think of D.......

Randy is a likeable chap but there is not much for him to do, and so that is what he does. His girlfriend is feisty but likewise underemployed.

Dr Jane of the lacquered, vapid, and calm exterior, aka Madame Zenobia, steals the show for the few scenes she has, along with the aspiring gentleman burglar. Ronny Cox once again does a better job at being the president than the incumbent. Of the Martians, described as millions, only two are seen — again and again. And again.

The screen play bears no relationship to the Fredric Brown story from which it ostensibly sprang. More is the pity.

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Drowned in the tsunami of tedious, repetitive, and boring jokes is Brown’s premiss that society is based on secrecy, privacy, and lies, otherwise known as politeness. If social relations are stripped of these concealments, we cannot live with each other.

In a surprising display of judgement, it did not get a cinematic release, and this was the director’s last work. His first, too.

The usual rules apply.

1521 The mad monk published a New Testament, i.e., Martin Luther.
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1792 Revolutionary France abolished its monarchy. Failed. Kings returned, twice over.
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1893 Frank Duryea drove a gas-powered vehicle with an internal combustion engine. So do we still.
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1937 'The Hobbitt' was published, and it is still in print.
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1949 Mao declared the People's Republic of China to exist in a performative utterance.
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Choose one item to tell others. Which shall it be? Why that one?

1951 67% of Swiss voters reject women's suffrage. Those voters were all men.
Swiss Anti-Suffrage Poster.jpg If women vote, they will neglect their children. Tweet logic.

1954 FORTRAN runs on a computer for the first time. It is short for Formula Translation. Ugh, well do I remember using in grad school and not once since then. Whereas the French I preferred as served me far better.
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1963 Lake Burly Griffin is completed after fifty years.
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1979 Lee Iacocca became CEO of Chrysler and performed miracles. In retirement he became an advocate of bicycles.
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1990 The Germanies ratified unification.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 38 minutes, rated 5.8 by a horde of 20237 cinemitizens.

Genre: Sy Fy

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Verdict: ‘Max, you shouldn’t have done that.’

The set-up. At some point in the distant future a space exploration vehicle is in ‘search of habitable people,’ declares Dr Weena. Don’t blame her. She says the line written for her.

Still maybe that line makes sense considering that Norman Bates is in the crew, along with Nick Tana and Quinton McHale. Stop there. McHale is woefully miscast as the geriatric but ambitious reporter for a newspaper that still exists in this far distant future. Which is the worse blunder? That McHale is still at work, or that newspapers are still in print? (Yes, I have fond memories of ‘Marty’ [1955] before he went into the navy. Say no more.)

To prepare for this mission, Weena has had her eyebrows plucked into perfect arcs. Is that significant? We’ll never know.

Way out there they encounter a very colourful black hole. It is not black at all, despite what people say. And nearby is a Very Big Space Ship designed like the Pompidou Centre, i.e., badly. Inside the VBSS is Franz von Gerlach who is still in hiding. Having learned nothing in Altona he has committed more crimes, and plans still more. There is no keeping a good war criminal down.

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To aid him Franz has Red Max clanking around.

Franz has plans for these hapless wayfarers but first he has to charm them with his Viennese accent, and play hide-and-seek behind his Moses beard, lent to him by Chest Heston. Franz is completely nuts and so naturally Norman signs up with him to enter the black hole which isn't black. Quoting Martin Heidegger, he says that it is a portal to transcendence or something. At merest mention of Heidegger, the fraternity brothers fell asleep, and why not. This is the giant mind who once said 'clarity is suicide for philosophy.' There was never any danger of suicide in his case.

For reasons the fraternity brothers missed, Franz will not let the travellers go. Why he needs this crew is anyone's guess. Shoot ‘em up ensues….for about thirty minutes. Fortunately, Franz’s hench-robots stand perfectly still in the fire fights and go down like [censored]. I would like to say that they all vanish down the rabbit hole, oops, the black hole, but not quite. The end has to be seen to be believed. Just think, someone wrote that. Just think someone paid them for writing it. Refer to the tag line above about Max.

This was a Disney production, touted as the first Disney film to be aimed at grown-ups. Ah huh. To this observer it is ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ with Pac Man. The set designs, stunts, the cosmos as it appears out of the bay windows on the VBSS are all fine. Red Max is pretty clearly something to avoid at all times.

If one can overlook, McHale, Weena's eye brows, Norman, and the beard, well, then the acting is good. Nick Tana is as always in focus. Franz had long experience at being nuts, and does it effortlessly, though why the beard was a question that preoccupied the fraternity brothers. His chin isn’t that weak.

But really, Max, you shouldn’t have done it.

The rule is choose one item only to tell others. Which shall it be? And why?

1870 Prussian siege of Paris began (ends January 1871). During the siege the Paris Commune occurred. Meanwhile, what's for dinner?
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1893 New Zealand legislates for universal female suffrage. Kate Sheppard, suffrage leader.
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1928 Mickey Mouse’s screen debut. Is the Mick still in business?
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1955 Juan Perón deposed in coup d’état. Perón resisted the advice to fight back, having seen the devastation of the Spain after its civil war years ago; he accepted exile.
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1991 Otzi the Iceman found after 5300 years. Late home from the store.
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1634 Anne Hutchinson arrived at Massachusetts Bay - an important religious figure at odds with men, the Puritans. She was driven out of the Bay and welcomed in Rhode Island.
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1846 The Brownings elope - poets two whose work passed my eyes on Saturday mornings in Poetry.
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1850 Fugitive Slave Act passed in US - one of the festering sores of the Civil War.
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1851 First issue of New York (Daily) Times - still fit to print.
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1948 Margaret Chase Smith with 71% of the vote elected to Senate - the first woman so elected when Republicans still were human.
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Director Webb refers to her staunch and bipartisan committee efforts to get funding for the Apollo program.

Choose only one to tell others.

1683 Antoine van Leeuwenhoek peered down his telescope and saw bacteria. We are not alone!
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1787 The United States Constitution was ratified with the three-fifths clause and other compromises. Never been to Philadelphia.
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1835 Charles Darwin arrived at the Galapagos Islands and sat down to think.
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1900 Queen Victoria assented to the Commonwealth of Australia Act - been there!
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1961 Dag Hammarskjold died in a plane crash. There is a review of a biography of the priest of peace elsewhere on this blog.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 14 minutes, rated a generous 5.8 by 571 insomniacs.

Genre: Sy Fy.

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Verdict: Don’t.

A decade after Star Trek Gene Roddenberry tried again with this pilot for a television series. In design and context, it recalls its predecessor, ditto in being didactic and talky. We even have a combination Vulcan mind meld grip.

But to get to the story. Rip van Carmine Orrico awakens after a long nap to the Twenty-second century where the Planet Earth is recovering ever so slowly from the Republican Apocalypse. He is among civilised Pax scientists who go around dissecting anything and everything. So advanced is their science that they fit him with a hair piece that stays in place.

Elsewhere on Planet Earth are roving bands and isolated enclaves of Mormons, Chicago Cub fans, Mad Maxxers, Vegans, Esperantoists, Tea Partiers, and other nut cases. It is dangerous out there!

The chief gimmick is that only the Paxxers have Opal cards for the metro underground that is everywhere, so they can take the train to adventure. It is every rail commuters dream to have the train system all to oneself! No one on Town Hall Station platforms but thee! Hallelujah!

One of Pax's top scientists has gone missing and Carmine with Lurch, a petite woman, and an albino set out to find him. This crew would stand-out even on King Street Newtown on Saturday night.

Lurch keeps knocking his head on door lintels. The little woman falls down on cue. The Albino is so weak he has to sit on it.

Only Carmine is up to it. Is he ever! No stunt man is safe from his stunt double as he punches, shoots, kicks, wallops, blasts, and jabs. All the while, the hair piece stays in place. Amazing. Awesome.

Then he falls into the hands of Diana Muldaur. 'Lucky him,' said the fraternity brothers. She can make ‘Hello’ sound like both an insult and an invitation. She lives in a community of über liberated women who have enslaved men, and Carmine is just another hunk. He is a slow learner and has to be beaten into submission. Protected by the script sewn into his clothing, he is tough and they run out of whips. There is talk of breeding.....and, the fraternity brothers started to pay attention. But it is only talk.

Meanwhile, the Mad Maxxers draw nearer. And so on and on…. The fraternity brothers fell asleep and their soporific sounds….. Confession: We did not make it to the end.

The script is paper thin! Ha! Ha! That is despite the fact that the writing credit goes to ‘Rockford Files’ wordsmith Juanita Bartlett. And the direction is turgid though credited to Star Trek journeyman Marc Daniels, and produced by another ST veteran, Robert Justman. It is a good team, but this time there no air in the ball.

Good Reads meta-data is 352 pages, rated 3.71 by 51 litizens.

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A tale of corporate ambition set against Montoneros terrorism in Buenos Aires Argentina. Our hero Ernesto Marroné is determined to rise to the top. He studies self-help books, listens to motivational tapes, memorises the nostrums of career guides, has read every book on management there is, always smiles on the outside, and gets to work before anyone else. The only way is up!

Then….the Montoneros kidnap the head of his firm, and they send one of the victim’s fingers to the firm as proof, with their first demand: that a bust of Eva Perón be displayed in each of the firm’s ninety-two offices within ten days! The task of complying with this demand is assigned to the ever-ready, corporate yes-man Marroné.

As he places the order at a plaster works, it is seized by striking workers and he is made captive. He tries to use his ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ wisdom to cope. He has a veritable bibliography of such books in his mind and he takes pages from many of them to apply to his situation. The chief title is ‘Don Quixote: The Executive-Errant,’ fitting for this picturesque novel of adventures down the rabbit hole. Some of that is downright hilarious. Some of it is downright depressing. Most of it is just boring.

Even more amusing is his effort to abstract from the titular lady herself insights that can be used in this situation. He mentally composes an 'Eva Perón on Management' book starting with how to manage striking workers. The clean-cut, über bourgeoise Ernesto becomes a leader of the strike, and in so doing learns a great deal about Argentina and Argentines that he did not know before. He comes to identify himself with Eva.

As a leader the workers he goes hither and thither in the slums, barrios, and suburbs, and finds his way to Evita City. Yes, in 1947 President Juan Perón had a suburb named for her and its borders drawn to resemble her profile. Illustrated below.

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It still exists, though over the years the name has come and gone and profile has been lost. In it all of social services and amenities that Eva campaigned for were to be available to those fortunate enough to live there. Not so any more.

In its way the book is another tribute to the hold that Eva Perón retains over the imagination in Argentina.

1620 Mayflower leaves Plymouth to find rock - Kate has been there
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1810 Mexican rebel against Spanish rule - been to Mexico
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1908 William Durant incorporates General Motors - had Chevrolets
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1956 First Television broadcast in Stralia - watched 9
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1975 PNG independence - nada
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The fifteenth in the series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his young wife Mary Russell.

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This time the dynamic duo come to the aid of Mad Woman, whose madness is to be a lesbian and have a very unpleasant brother, who in addition to sexual harassment, rape, and theft, also wears a blackshirt when visiting Italy. What a package is this straw Marquess.

But the shenanigans give occasion for Mary Russell to break into Bethlehem Royal Hospital, better known as Bedlam. Thereafter the fashion show moves to Venice and the eponymous island, Poveglia.

There the twosome meet Elsa Maxwell (1893-1963) and Cole Porter (1891-1964) of Indiana. She was born in Keokuk Iowa (been there) during a theatrical performance, and pretty much thereafter never left the stage of her own making.

Elsa_Maxwell,_1933.jpg Maxwell in 1933

Professor Wiki describes her as a songwriter, gossip columnist, radio presenter, and professional hostess. Prof also credits her with engendering the treasure hunt and the scavenger hunt as party pastimes.

There is a nice study of Porter in these pages and his intense relationship with Linda, his wife.

Ca'_Rezzonico_(Venice).jpg The palazzo the Porters rented in Venice. Porter once hired the Ballet Russe to entertain at a party there.

There is very little sleuthing. Though much of the plot is hidden in plain sight, and that is a nice trick. Many of the things seen and done are taken figuratively, only later to realise they were literal. Though I never did figure out what the brother in the white coat was doing, or quite how Mussolini's wife related to things. There is also some insight into how Bedlam worked. The research shows, but alas some of its presentation is laboured.

Much too much padding about the fashions and morēs of rich and infamous in corrupt and decadent Venice of 1925. Hmm.

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Yet it is remarkable that Laurie King has sustained this series since 1994 through fifteen titles and one collection of short stories.

1588 The Spanish Armanda lost - Thomas Hobbes was born.
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1917 Alexander Kerensky formed a Republican government in St Petersburg - saw him give a talk once.
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1928 Alexander Fleming noticed penicillin - had plenty of it.
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1935 The Nuremberg Laws were enacted in Nazi Germany - no comment
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1981 Sandra Day O'Connor became a US Supreme Court judge
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It is Eva’s show first and last, dead and alive, Eva and Evita. It’ll about Eva. Tina Arena nails the performance. Chapeaux!

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The use of archival film was interesting and we wanted more of that, and that it be integrated into the story rather than merely wallpaper.

There is some clever choreography with the martinet toy soldiers.

But….

Yes, there are a number of them and they concern the narrative and the music. Me, I know nothing about music, so I will clear the air on that first. I found it to be repetitive. Even I could tell that. And it was shallow. The performers made the best of it, to be sure.

Moving on to the narrative.

It’s only a show. Why does it matter? Because, as with movies, many viewers will suppose it is accurate and after seeing it conclude they now know the Perón story. Aaaaargh!

Tomás Elroy Martínez called it an abomination and I can see why.

The narrative reflects the arrested development of a Hollywood script writer, whose idea of a sophisticated man of the world is Silvio Berlusconi. None of the depth and complexity of the principals and the circumstances are present.

The program notes comment that while driving the author heard ten minutes of a radio program about Eva and that set him onto the trail. Ten whole minutes of preparation! From a shallow medium itself. Yes, I know the notes go on about his subsequent research. Oh hum.

This is not the time and place to go into any of the details, though previous reviews on this blog about the Peròns are there to be seen.

In this rendering there is too little of the man himself, Juan Perón, and too much a man who was not there Ernesto Guevara. (Ernie was a teenager at time, by the way, and still living at home). The latter is a narrator of sorts, reeking of cynicism, wreathed in cigar smoke, and running with sprayed on water. Intrusive and pointless to this observer.

How can a story of Argentina have so little tango in it. While the dancers do as told, it is hardly tango. But its absence reminded me of Carlos Saura's masterpiece 'Tango' (1998).

The telling is stocked with the usual tropes that preoccupy boys with arrested development, sex and money alternating with money and sex, leavened by sex and money.

As is to be expected in such tripe, there is also in the program notes (which are not paginated) a reference to Eva’s ‘Machiavellian management’ of her career. One stereotype is thus trotted out to explain another, and neither connects with reality. By the way, when a woman manages her career it is blackened as with that adjective ‘Machiavellian,’ but when a man does likewise it is the habit of a successful person to be emulated by others.

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The screen cover over the stage depicted Perón rising on the corpses of hapless workers, guarded by intimidating soldiers, protecting plutocrats, and luxuriating in riches. It is quadruple play of error. And indicative of the intellectual and historical veracity of what followed.

1741 George Frideric Handel completed 'The Messiah' - heard that
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1812 Napoleon in Moscow's Kremlin - been there
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1939 Igor Sikorsky's first helicopter - never done that
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1959 The Soviet Union landed Luna 2 on the Moon - nor this
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2001 Ansett Airlines bankrupt - I became an unsecured creditor, i.e., I had a pile of Frequent Flyer points now worth nothing.
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GoodReads meta-data is 334 pages, rated 3.7 by 52 litizens

Homework for a proposed trip to Vienna next year.

Beller cover.jpg This is part of series of concise histories.

History is just one thing after another, and in the case of Austria, the things occur here, there, and everywhere.

The book concludes with an outstanding summary of the paradoxes that comprise Austria today. In brief, the greatest Austrian is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who was born and raised in Salzburg when it was not part of anything Austrian and he never thought of himself as Austrian. See David Weiss’s ‘The Assassination of Mozart’ (1971) for melodramatic account of just how un-Austrian Mozart was. I read this title long ago.

Austria came to exist as lines on a map at the end of World War I, then it disappeared in the Anschluss (which despite ‘The Sound of Music’ was much desired by most living within those lines), and then reappeared as another set of dotted lines in 1945.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire (AHE hereinafter) developed from the vestigial Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg dynasty. The latter at one time included Spain, the Netherlands, and much of central Europe in today’s Austria and Hungary and as far south as Bosnia. The Holy Roman Empire is even harder to pin down. Its emperor was selected by German princelings, though Prussia - the most significant German-speaking land - was not included. Got it so far?

The AHE was polyglot, multi-lingual, scattered, variegated, poly-national, and changeable.

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Yet in its core it was German with a considerable and influential cosmopolitan Jewish population in Vienna. When it stumbled into the Great War, it was in fact trying to avoid war, but being inept, instead it precipitated it. Most of the dozen ethnic nationalities in the AHE wanted no part of Vienna’s war and withheld men, material, and food. By 1916 Germany had taken over the AHE in all but name, managing its finances, commanding its armies (in Italy, Romania, and Russia), running the trains, distributing food, and directing the home front. The war was a chemical bath that dissolved the AHE long before the Treaty of Versailles made it official.

The move for German-speaking Austrians to join Germany, even after the latter’s humiliating defeating of 1918, was so widespread and strong that the League of Nations forbade plebiscites on the question of Anschluss. Uniting Austria with Germany would have enlarged and strengthened Germany at a time when the League, i.e., is France, wanted to weaken it. Instead the League fostered the creation of something that have never before existed: Austria, a nation-state.

It consisted of a hinterland and Vienna, and the two had little in common. While Vienna had long depended on Hungarian grain, Czech manufactured goods, and Slovene timber, it had little truck with the new hinterlands attached to it. Some like Salzburg were altogether new additions.

The Depression hit Austria like a hurricane. As Hitler’s Germany rose from the ashes it was the light on the hill for Austrians, and now more than ever they wanted Anschluss, partly to escape the penury of the times, but also to reclaim its own Germanic essence, and to reject the cosmopolitanism of Red Vienna (where communists, socialists, social democrats, Jews, and liberals busily undermined each other).

When the producers of ‘The Sound of Music’ asked Austrian authorities for permission to stage a parade simulating the Nazi German entry into Austria, they were refused. Why? Because Austrians hate Naziism so much that even today the sight of such a parade would ignite a terrible reaction which the authorities might be unable to control. Oh, replied the producers, in that case they would use the ample newsreel footage of the rapturous welcome Austrian gave Nazis in 1938. Ah, replied the authorities, here is the permit for the staging.

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It makes depressing reading to see how eagerly Austrians joined Naziism in all of its worst deeds. The enthusiastic enlistments in the SS. The ready subservience to the Gestapo. The quick denunciation of Jews. The vigorous competition to host and staff death camps.

58141.jpg Figure it out.

Before 1938 there were more than 100,000 Jews in Vienna, perhaps 1000 survived by 1945.

Austria and Austrians were willing allies of Germany. Whereas Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and others were bullied and cowed into the Axis camp, Austria entered to the sound of music.

Yet in the 1943 Moscow statement, sometimes called the Treaty of Moscow, the Allies said Austria was the first victim of Naziism. Huh? That has never made sense to me, and even less so as I read the litany of its crimes with Naziism in these pages. But now I see the point.

It was one instance of a broader Allied strategy to prise Germany’s partners away for it by implying they would be treated differently. In this spirit when Italy changed government in 1943, it was readily accepted by the Western Allies. Likewise for years FDR kept lines open to Vichy France to dampen its enthusiasm for Naziism. Abraham Lincoln tried the some thing throughout the Civil War, trying to woo individual southern states, like North Carolina, away from the Confederacy with some success.

Stalin went along with this terminology for his own reasons, namely, if it didn’t suit him later, he would renounce it as fake news.

Abracadabra! In 1945 Austria left its Nazi past behind. It was occupied by the Allies until 1955 but the de-Nazification process there was perfunctory from the beginning. See ‘The Third Man’ (1949) by Graham Greene. In fact, it became a route for Naziis to get to the Adriatic and escape. Schools, hospitals, railways, manufacturers and others were ordered to destroy the records for the period 1938-1945. Others did so on their own initiative. The Brown Years were erased and blurred and a national amnesia settled over the new lines on the map.

During the post-war Occupation, the Marshall Plan poured money into the western part of Austria, while Russia stripped the Eastern part of everything from heavy machinery, to concrete blocks from buildings, to clothing, and dried food. The wire from concentration camps was taken down, baled, and transported to the Soviet Union where it was used in the Gulag. So effective was this scraping of the earth that by 1955 there was nothing left to take. Then the dotted lines became solid as a new Austria emerged from the cocoon of occupation.

But by 1955 a neutral Austria suited both the Western and Eastern blocs. There came the Austria we know today. For all of its superficial worldliness manifested in Vienna in particular, it is inward looking, reluctant to change, intolerant, industrious, frugal, and insecure, says the author.

I saw Kurt Waldheim speak in 1986 and he denounced foreigners, insofar as I understood the German. That was in Salzburg, a place that became Austrian by drawing lines on a map, whose major claim to fame is a festival which originated in the desire to reject modernity. The lederhosen of tourism in Austria was a way to cling to its (fictional) past and avoid modern life with trade unions, urban life, women’s liberation, unruly students, the interaction of nationalities (Jews), international influences, protestants, and so on.

When the Berlin Wall fell, Austria shrank from engagement with its historic affiliations in the East, and only diplomatic pressure - greased by German marks - and deft handling by some Austrian leaders overcame that reluctance to admit reality. Yes, Austria had taken in 150,000 fleeing the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, but only on the understanding that they would move on further west. Ditto another 100,000 after the Prague Spring in 1968. These were experiences few Austrians wanted to repeated in the 1990s.

steven-beller.png Steven Beller has many other titles.

While in Salzburg I heard an Austrian politician talk about the Brown Years of Hitler. One thing he said made perfect sense. We were disunited among ourselves, that is, even that minority who opposed Anschluss mostly argued against each other. After the war, the new Austrians of the new Austria closed ranks against all outsiders, and for these new people everyone else was an outsider, including even Austrian expatriates, Austrian Jews, and Austrians who were not German by language or Catholics by religion.

My next reading assignment is ‘Exact Thinking in Demented Times: The Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science’ (2017) by Karl Sigmund.

When I went to Salzburg in 1986 I read Carl Schorske’s ‘Fin de Siecle Vienna' (1980) and William Johnston, 'The Austrian Mind: An Intellectual and Social History, 1848-1938' (1972). I tried and failed to read Robert Musil’s ‘The Man without Qualities’ (1930). Not inclined to try again.

On this day in history, ignoring the International Dateline and all that relativity jazz.


122 AD work began on Hadrian’s Wall.
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1759 The French lost North America on the Plains of Abraham - been there.
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1814 Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the Star Spangled Banner - been there
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1847 Chapultepec Castle fall ends Mexican-American War - seen there
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1955 A Swiss patents what became known as Velcro
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George de Mestral's experiences picking burrs off his dog led him to think up Velcro. Well that is one explanation. The other is that the Vulcans told him in return for rocket fuel.

IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour even, over-rated 4.0 by 971 masochists.

Genre: Sy Fy and Snooze

Verdict: No brains were eaten in the making of this movie. Nor were any used.

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In Illinois farmland a silo appears. Well, a cone. There were already plenty of silos but no one notices them.

The cone sits there. Cone sitting.

Anticipating a plague of Cone Heads, a loud mouth Senator in Washington is granted executive authority by the President, who did neither constitutional law nor political science, to deal with the cone.

Big Mouth goes to Illinois and orders everyone around. Yawn, went the fraternity brothers. Ed crawls into the cone and finds nothing. The mystery deepens.

Meanwhile there have been three or more murders in the nearby small town. Huh? We see one in the opening sequence. A few people run around with a glowing basketball tucked under their coats. Hoosierland is indeed hoop country.

BrainEaters (14a).jpg See.

There is one excellent scene early in the mayor’s office where he behaves oddly. Very. It is very well shot, a la Orson Wells, askew. Mayor goes ballistic. Literally. With a gun. Something is wrong! Got it. This scene is very well acted by the distraught mayor and nicely filmed. Much better than anything else in the picture. So much so, the fraternity brothers wondered if it was excerpted from another movie. The more so, since we never see or hear of the mayor again. Perhaps he was desperate to escape the rest of this movie. A wise man he proved to be.

More milling around and yelling occurs. Big Mouth makes many telephone calls, sends telegrams, tells a…. Ooops. No one replies to his missives. That cannot be right, he yells. I am too important to be ignored! Really? Think so?

Meanwhile the clock is ticking. Ever so slowly.

They realise the cone, which has been the focus of such attention as there has been, is a decoy. The real threat is elsewhere. Quick on the uptake, not. The attackers are moles from underground, not aliens from the stars. Huh! So that flash of light at the start was…a blown bulb, or what.

Meanwhile more and more people adopt the Quasimodo look. Finally there is a confrontation with Mr Spock, a noble suicide, a crashing bore, and the end.

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Mr Spock is credited as Leonard Nemoy. Ah huh. He got the last laugh.

The inference is that the glowing basketballs were eggs and when they hatch the tribbles that emerge fasten onto the nearest human spinal column and munch away. The infected human becomes a soulless automaton perfect for attending McKinsey management training seminars ad nauseam.

There is intrusive narration. When our heroes go to the telegraph office, the voice over tells us that they are at the telegraph office in case we missed the big sign that said 'Telegraph Office.' And so on. Perhaps that was a service for blind members of the audience. The use of such voice overs rather than dialogue indicates the lack of sound technician. One of the many lacks in this case.

Without a doubt it is derived from Robert Heinlein’s Sy Fy novel ‘The Puppet Masters’ (1951). Heinlein sued and settled out of court. Executive Producer Roger Corman agreed, says the web gossip, to buy the screen rights to two Heinlein books and not to put Heinlein's name anywhere near this one. Corman did not use the rights he bought. That is very unlike Mr Tightwad. It took another forty years for ‘The Puppet Masters’ to be filmed, as reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

IMDb runtime is 1 hour and 49 minutes, rated 5.9 by 7552 cinemitizens.

Genre: Sy Fy

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Verdict: Des Moines never looked better

In a small town in Iowa, but not blue-eyed Riceville, a spaceship lands and thereafter everyone is as dead-eyed as a born again Republican. They lose interest in sex and, believe it or not, in football!

The Masters proliferate at an alarming rate endangering the future of the Iowa caucus. To avert that catastrophe the resources of the distant and oppressive Federal government are mobilised in the person of a Canadian. Huh! Go with it.

The Masters attach themselves to the backs of victims, who seem to enjoy the experience, without leaving a wrinkle in a shirt or a hump under a blouse. Amazing.

The first fifteen minutes are whiz bang. The ship lands. Teenage boys find it. A baseball bat figures. Next thing you know everyone in town has a Master. The Feds come to check and shoot ‘em erupts in the local television station's office.

After that rattling start the pace slows, and slows, and slows, punctuated by gratuitous fisticuffs, shoot ‘em ups, and chases that go around in circles. Regrettably it does not feature the (infamous) Des Moines Sky Walk, about which more below.

The Masters turn hosts into automatons who hate immigrants, blacks, homosexuals, success, table manners, Democrats, and good sense. Hmmm.

While there are two scenes where communication occurs between a Master and a man, these aliens seem to have no program. They are there to destroy, not to do anything more. Many have concluded that they were Republicans. I couldn't possibly say. They make no plea that they have to do this to survive, that their home world has or is going to perish, that they bought Earth in good faith at a Milky Way real estate auction, that God told them to do it, that their KPIs require it, or any of the other standard tropes of the genre. In this respect the Masters fall short of 'Teenagers from Outer Space' (1959) who came to farm lobsters, a film reviewed elsewhere on this blog, hidden in a collective comment on several films. Search away. Or for that matter, 'The Lobster Man from Mars' (1989) who came to steal oxygen, also reviewed on this blog. Get to clicking to find it.

I cannot remember the book, which I read as a teenager, well enough to add anything sensible. 'Guffaw,' went the fraternity brothers. Right on cue. [Subsequent note, I did try to re-read after drafting these words of wisdom but found its 1950s machismo hard going. It reminded me vaguely of the stories in men's magazines of the era in barbershops.]

The film is repetitive and violent and the FBI warning contains the following note. The film has ‘violence, gore, and BRIEF LANGUAGE.’ Yep. That put the fraternity brothers on high alert. Violence? Check. Gore? Check. But, whoa, brief language? Nope. There is a lot of yapping.

There is much running around in Des Moines car parks and the city hall environs. The energy is high; the meaning is low; the character development is zero. Muscle is supposed to be Canadian’s alienated son. ‘So what,’ asked the fraternity brothers. Good question, since we never do find out what to make of that except that Canadian wears Armani suits. There is sex interest in an exo-biologist but there is neither spark nor sparkle there. Linda Fiorentino would have burned a hole in the screen in that role, but this player is bland on bland. By the way, Keith David nearly steals the show in a supporting role. Don't blame him for the final turn which came from the writer and the director, not the player.

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Likewise, Will Patton, as the nerd boy who figures a lot of it out, is a pleasure to watch.

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But we don’t get a lot of thinking in this slam-blam adaptation. Yaphet Kotto is entirely wasted as an empty uniform.

Sometimes killing the host kills the parasite and other times it does not. Mostly it does not, but when the parasite ridden bodyguards of the President are mowed down, the parasites go quietly. That puzzled the fraternity brothers, briefly. Nothing stays with them long.

The stunt work is fabulous with nary a CGI in sight. The night para-glide into the heart of darkest, alien infested downtown Des Moines was great fun. But once there it is the same old, same old. The running, jumping, falling, fighting, shooting was masterful if one wants it. But after the fourth or fifth time with no forward progress in the story or the people, well, who cares.

While the critics linked to the IMDb comment on the small budget, it seems to be large and talented cast with plenty of money for stunt work. The list of stunt men and women acknowledged in the credits rolls on and on.

The story comes from Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel, in which it is clear that the parasites are Commies sapping the vital red, white, and blue juices from Americans who are too dumb to know that they are being drained. Heinlein has a claim to be the Dean of Sy Fy in the 1950s. He was an Arctic Cold Warrior - seeing reds as slugs, bugs, and cruds. Slugs in this outing. Bugs in ‘Starship Troopers.’ And cruds in ‘Red Planet.’ And under every bed, disguised as dust bunnies.

The patience of readers to this point is rewarded with a comment on the Des Moines SkyWalk.

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It was built in the 1970s to allow downtown office workers to traverse its four miles of elevated walk ways in comfort, out of the weather of the Great Plains. It connects to several large car parking garages, a bus exchange, office blocks, city hall, retail malls, a sports complex, hotels, and is dotted with cafés, fast food franchise, laundries, and the like. It served two purposes, one, to keep jobs in the downtown area rather than in outlying business and industrial parks, and, two, to attract companies to locate in Des Moines.

We used the SkyWalk in Des Moines and learned a sad lesson. Everywhere else in the known world North is always at the top of a map. Not so in Des Moines. When we paced the SkyWalk we saw helpful, illuminated maps at every junction and read these to navigate. BIG MISTAKE. Soon we were going around in circles and off course. Why? How could this be? We looked more closely at the maps, one after another. On some North was at the top, where it should be. But on others it was to the right, or left, or a diagonal, or at the bottom. No two consecutive junction maps had the same orientation. Believe it or not, Ripley!

The maps were useless to outsiders. And no doubt were never consulted by locals. While there is some information on the SkyWalk to be found on the internet none of it addresses this fundamental point. Is it any wonder that no famous explorer ever came from Iowa? Couldn’t find north.

There is an app. Wonder where north is on it? No plan to find out.

While the RÉSO in Montréal has far fewer maps, they are consistent and put the true North, strong, brave, and free where it should be.

It seems the SkyWalk has kept jobs in the downtown, about 75,000 of them according to the Chamber of Commerce, and in so doing has brought new opportunities to Des Moines. It has also obeyed the law of unintended consequences and nearly destroyed street level commerce. Everyone uses the SkyWalk in preference to the street. There are virtually no walk-ins to businesses on the streets. The space for businesses on the SkyWalk is much less than on the street, so the net effect is to squeeze out small businesses from downtown.

So it is said. I would say Iowans are going around and around on the SkyWalk because they cannot find north.

Lloyd Nolan made seven B movies as Michael Shayne in the early 1940s. Within the limits of the genres, Noir and Comedy, they vary. Only one of them includes any reference to World War II. The details of the seven follow my comments.

‘Sleepers West’ is the most interesting.
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Shayne escorts a secret witness on a train ride from Denver to San Francisco while villains on board plot to terminate that witness. The touch is light, and there is marvellous subplot involving two journeyman actors, Mary Beth Hughes and Louis Jean Heydt, a rarity to see these two with a chance to act, and they take it.
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The result is pathos amid the action. In another sidebar the train engineer has his moments, too, as does the fireman shovelling the coal. Further enriching the film, Lynn Bari crackles with intelligence as a newshound.

There is a deadly serious take on this story in 'The Narrow Margin' (1952).

‘The Man Who Wouldn’t Die’ is excellent in its noir mood. There is a separate review of it elsewhere on this blog. Seeing it stimulated me to watch the whole set.

Dressed to Kill’ is theatrical in its setting and has a convoluted plot.
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It is formulaic but done with vigour. Henry Daniell adds the caustic tone in which he specialised. It seems all too typical of the times that the two actors playing the black stereotypes are mismatched in the credits. Most of the action takes place on the ocean liner. Superman is there, Steven Geray adds his Hungarian accent, but the real surprise comes at the end. No spoiler. There is a pip of a scene early in the piece in a convenience store run by Frank Oth and Mae Marsh, two veterans who shine in their small parts.

‘Time to Kill’ puts Shayne into Phillip Marlowe’s shoes with a variation on Raymond Chandler’s ‘The High Window’ aka ‘The Brasher Doubloon’ (1947).
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It gets the highest rating from the cinemitizens.

‘Just off Broadway’ starts and ends in a court room where Shayne takes over proceedings. Sergeant Bilko enlivens the show. The knife-throwing act is better done in this instance than in most other films. Was it for real? Marjorie Weaver, a veteran of other titles in this series, is pitch perfect as his gal pal. No idea how the title applies to the story. There are two oblique references to the war in this one.

1.’Michael Shayne, Private Detective’ (1940), 1 hour and 17 minutes rated 6.7 by 317, released 10 January 1941.

2.’Sleepers West’ (1941), 1 hour and 14 minutes, rated 6.8 by 303, released 14 March 1941.

3.’Dressed to Kill’ (1941), 1 hour and 14 minutes, rated 6.5 by 862, released 16 October 1941.

4.’Blue, White and Perfect' (1942), 1 hour and 14 minutes, rated 6.8 by 264, released 6 January 1942.

5.’The Man Who Wouldn’t Die’ (1942), 1 hour and 5 minutes, rated 6.7 by 340, released 1 May 1942.

6.’Just off Broadway’ (1942), 1 hour and 5 minutes, rated 6.1 by 122, rated 24 September 1942.

7.’Time to Kill’ (1942), 1 hour and 1 minute, rated 7.0 by 124, released 22 January 1943.

Thereafter Nolan like much of Hollywood concentrated on war movies. He compiled 160 credits on the IMDb, but given how ubiquitous he is, that seems too few.

GoodReads meta-data is 256 pages rated 3.0 by 27 litizens.

Verdict: Best for Proustians

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A small conference of Proustians gathers at Illiers in Aunt Lèonie’s house now a museum dedicated to the sickly Marcel. The organisers include the unscrupulous Adeline whose speciality is blackmailing others with her own remembrances of things past. She brow beats her timid secretary who is also at the mercy of her PhD dissertation supervisor, a man combining all the worst features of a god-professor, one who smokes. To add to the spice, Adeline has both a lover, who really does love her, and a fiancee. Neither of whom see her faults, so readily apparent to others. In the case of these two men, love is not only blind, but deaf and dumb.

In addition to the locals, a party of American stereotypes has descended on the conference. Well, the French did invent the concept of ‘chauvinism.’

The plot thickens when Adeline is found dead in the house museum. Inspector Jean-Pierre Foucheroux is there to investigate along with his sergeant Leila Djemani. These two soon establish a long list of people with motives to harm Adeline, including all those mentioned above and more. In fact, just about anyone who ever met her.

There are some apposite Proust references, but never enough to satisfy a Proustian and too many for others. There is the usual bluster from witnesses, and the secretary is so timid it is hard to believe she is a Parisienne of thirty.

Foucheroux and Djemani (nicknamed Gimpy and Chipmunk by colleagues) make a good pair of sleuths, and I liked the context. But the pace is slowed by Foucheroux’s backstory, a matter of indifference and irritation to me. While the characterisations are largely cardboard, I did love the displays of scholarly pretension in several of them. That part rang true. God-professors, indeed.

Monbrun.jpg Estelle Monbrun

The author is a teacher who has no doubt seen all of these characteristics on display more than once. She has several other titles of the same ilk.

As I was finishing this book, I thought it so-so. Then I read the author’s afterward, which I found charming, informative, and engaging. Maybe I will read another one. She being a serious literary scholar had no ambition to write a novel, until moving to St Louis and discovering the necessity raking leaves.

Huh?

She went at leaf raking with such conviction that it led to a herniated disk, and while lying abed contemplating her errors, lacking the concentration to bandy lit crit, she wrote this krimi. By placing it is chez Proust, by dotting it with Proust bons mots, by populating it with Proust enthusiasts, she hoped it might entice some readers to turn to the man himself. The pleasure in forming that ambition led her on to other writers, e.g., Collete, Montaigne, and more.

Moi, I never went at leaf raking with conviction, though I have certainly gone at it, marvelling at how many leaves a couple of trees drop. The last time I did this I had to stuff them into large orange bags because these were collected to later be opened and the leaves shredded and the bags re-used. Well that was the story. However the low bid contractor had taken the money and run, and the bags were all going -- unopened -- into land fill. But we rakers, until the story was blown, had the comfort of supposing the work of bag stuffing had an environmental benefit. Ha, ha, ha. OK but you try stuffing endless leaves into orange bags to see how much fun it is.

IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 9 minutes, rated at paltry 7.2 by 9211 cinemitizens. Released on 30 April 1943.

Genres: Horror, Drama

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Verdict: Jane Eyre in the West Indies.

On a blustery day of snow and wind in frozen Ottawa a pert young nurse is offered a post on a tropical island at a good rate of pay, expressed in dollars.* Off Nurse goes to San Sebastien where she meets the half-brothers Smooth and Touchy. Her assignment is to look after Mrs Smooth. ‘An invalid?’ she asked. No….. She meets Mrs later that night as a hot wind stirs the palm trees and rustles the cane fields. Disturbed by the sound of crying, Nurse finds the sleepwalking Mrs in a spooky tower.

There is tension between the brothers and it seems to relate to Mrs. James Bell gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the local doctor who mediates between medical science and the voodoo gods. The ambiguity remains throughout.

Smooth says that his family is cursed by its history as slavers. He is as morose on this island paradise as a doomed, grey man in the Nordic ice fields written by Henrik Ibsen, bearing the sins of his fathers. While Touchy defers to Smooth as the elder brother and as manager of the cane plantation, he assiduously undermines him. (Reminds me of so many people I have worked with in that passive-aggressive mien.)

The slave past remains in the local culture. When a baby is born the blacks cry for the pain and grief of slavery it will endure. Death is a time to celebrate release from those pains.

There is one creepy segment in a sugar cane field at night.

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This episode might be the most memorable in the film, especially the line, ‘She does not bleed.’

A number of blacks populate the scenes, mostly in the background. But the crooner has some very pointed lyrics, delivered twice. He is credited as Sir Lancelot, born Lancelot Victor Edward Pinard and raised in New York City. Theresa Harris lights up the screen as Alma, who knows far more than she says. She has more than a hundred films on the IMDb, often uncredited and inevitably as a maid. Darby Jones

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was cast for his bug eyes yet he remains dignified. He made a career out of jungle movies. The dancer who compels Mrs is the dynamic Jieno Moxzer. This is one of only two credits on the IMDb. Our loss.

None of the blacks is reduced to the comic stereotype so tiresomely common at the time in movies. That in itself is noteworthy. Added to that is the guilt of slavery articulated by Smooth, and it is a surprise package. Though there are some disparaging remarks in the script that irritated the fraternity brothers.

The screenplay is by Curt Siodmak, he of a long list of Sy Fy and Horror credits, and Ardel Wray. Some of the internet opinionators argue, well, assert, that the story is unusual for Siodmak. Not so sure myself. The air of menace, showing rather than telling, the concentric circle of stories are all motifs Siodmak used. But there is no doubt this one has emotional depth that may have come from Ardel Wray.

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She, by the way, for refusing to rat people out was grey-listed during the Witch Hunts a few years later. Ergo her film credits are few. Grey-listing led her to work as a reader and editor in the back office at Warner Brothers. No longer getting screen credits kept her profile low.

After the debacle of Citizen Orson Wells at RKO, the studio was in dire financial straits. It was imperative to get revenue and there was little or no money. Val Lewton was appointed head of the B-Movie unit at RKO and he was handed a backlog of properties with deadlines for completing them. The KPI was $.

185px-Val_Lewton_photo.jpg Val Lewton

Most of these properties were short stories, which had been purchased to get the titles, not the narrative, in the way that one today might purchase an internet domain to get the name, not the content. He then assigned titles to writers to produce screenplays quick-smart. Likewise he had to work with directors, technicians, and actors already on contract.

This film is one result. It was made on a micro-budget but with clever lighting, accomplished camera work, skilled editing, and brisk direction, it looks like an A-movie. Much of the credit for all the preceding qualities has to go to the director, Jacques Tourneur. His other credits include ‘Cat People’ (1942), ‘Leopard Man’ (1943), and ‘Out of the Past’ (1947). Winners all. He specialised in film noir. He, too, suffered from the Witch Hunts of the time, finding it opportune to return to his native France for extended vacations at times.

Though barely more than an hour long it is chocked full of characters and incidents, each carefully defined. Yet it does not seem rushed or crowded. It is another exhibit for a masterclass on film-making.

*One quibble though, it was only in 1949, per the fount of Wikipedia, that Canada introduced its dollar to replace the British pound.

Careful viewers will note that as the opening titles roll there is a disclaimer that ‘any similarity to any persons living, dead, or POSSESSED, is entirely coincidental.’ I put the capitals in for emphasis.

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