Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931 Version) – A Classic Monster Movie Review

This is not part of the Universal Monster series.  Paramount made this film and Frederic March was a pretty big star at the time so this movie was made as a serious literary drama.  That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t contain scenes and effects taking advantage of the hedonistic exploits of Mr. Hyde.  It does and to a degree that shows that this is during the pre-code period.

The plot follows the usual story line and we witness the happy, virtuous and talented Dr. Henry Jekyll metamorphose into the bestial sadistic Mr. Hyde.  And we follow as Jekyll’s life and fortunes come crashing down.  And of course, everyone around him is destroyed in the catastrophe.

The story by Robert Louis Stevenson was supposed to be about the duality of the human soul.  The theory holds that the evil side of the human psyche is also the active/vital part and the good is the passive/weaker part.  And in a sense there is truth in that.  Our basest instincts are thoroughly hard-wired and are inseparable from the rest of our selves.  Bottling up those instincts eventually leads to them bursting out in a destructive explosion.  The saner course is to train and channel the energies of the brute and tame them to our better nature.  So that’s the philosophy.

Now about the movie.  Well it’s kind of fun.  There are all kinds of outdated special effects and some hammy acting on display.  But it’s a pretty well-done production.  I think it’s an entertaining old monster movie.  And I like it better than the later version with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman.  I recommend it to fans of old monster movies.

Letting President Trump Do His Job

Some of my friends are panicking about Trump and the bump stock executive order. They feel betrayed and think the “end in near.”  I told them to calm down, take a deep breath and look away from the news for a couple of days.  Here is my logic.  School shootings panic women.  Women turn on a dime against gun rights.  The midterms are coming around.  So that accounts for President Trump demonizing bump stocks.  He needs something to say he’s “doing something.”  He’s placating the idiots.  Do I like this? No.  Am I wringing my hands and banging my head against the wall and denouncing the President?  No.  I trust that he will cut the best deal we can get.  He’s the right man for the job.  I wouldn’t want any of the usual suspects getting involved (McCain, Rubio, Romney).  I don’t even prefer that a Second Amendment hard-liner take the lead.  Trump’s the man for the job.  Hopefully he can get the damage control done as quickly as possible and move onto his agenda.

 

After a year in office my motto is “Let Trump be Trump.” He’s got better skills and instincts than anyone else.  How would we do better than to let him do his thing.  I feel my best action is to spread the gospel.  I try to calm the nervous.  And believe me I understand.  We’ve been betrayed by the weak and the wobbly and the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It takes courage to trust.  But I think I’ve seen enough from this man to give him some space.  As Ann Coulter said “In Trump We Trust.”  It’s remarkable to see how few of our politicians know anything about human nature.  Politics in a democracy is a combination of salesmanship and coalition building.  Sounds like the place for a deal maker.

Passing the Torch

The other day I was talking to a young guy at work. Now, by young I’m talking relatively.  Looking at him and basing my opinion on appearance, work experience, the fact that he has a wife and a child, I’d say he’s somewhere between 27 and 32 years old.  Well, we were discussing stuff and Fred Flintstone came up.  We were talking about car tires and how Fred could chisel out a spare when he got a flat.  There were some general comments on the unenlightened character of Fred and I said that Fred was a cartoon copy of the Jackie Gleason character Ralph Kramden and how Ralph was a comical but fair representation of the working class guy of the nineteen fifties.  This elicited blank unrecognition of Jackie Gleason, Ralph Kramden and the Honeymooners in general.  I guess this surprised me.  After all older shows that I watched on TV as a kid were still well known to younger people.  For instance, The Three Stooges were from the 1930s and 1940s and yet they are a fixture on television and are still relatively well-known.  I guessed that the Honeymooners must have disappeared from television far enough back to completely disappear from the present adult population’s collective TV consciousness.  That bothered me.

Why do I think that the Honeymooners shouldn’t disappear? First of all I don’t pretend that the Kramden household represents some golden age portrayal of American marital bliss.  Ralph is portrayed as pretty dimwitted and Alice is given a certain amount of the female empowerment motive that has reached its disgusting fruition in our present feminized society.  She often wins the argument by proving to Ralph just how superior she is and how unfair her role as homemaker is.  Deference to her moral superiority is on display most of the time.  But the basis of the show is the underlying rock-bottom premise that a man should be the king of his castle.  Even in the derisive arguments that Alice gives Ralph at every turn is the bottom line of “so if you’re the boss, what do we do now?”  No matter what dumb thing Kramden does, he is the master of his soul.  He will have to find a way to prevail.  And like it or not, Alice will have to back his play.  And good, bad or indifferent she would rather go along with him than go it alone.  He may be the lowest rung on the totem pole but he is still the alpha male.  And in a few episodes he does get to prove himself the king.  The one that stands out is of course one of the least plausible.  Ralph has obtained a bag full of counterfeit money.  When the gangsters catch up with him they threaten Alice and the neighbors and when Ralph defies them they take him in the back room at gunpoint to work him over and make him comply on giving them the money.  And in this crisis Ralph prevails.  He beats up the thug and rescues his wife and neighbors.  Of course, in the next minute he tries to cash in on his achievement and makes himself ridiculous, but his victory stands as proof that he is the man of the house.  And for once even Alice can’t diminish his victory.

And the other aspect that endears the show to me is the working class ethos. For the most part, American TV exists to reflect the world-view and the sensibilities of the upper middle class.  Even when they are portrayed as struggling twenty-somethings you can see that missing a meal or not having the status symbol item is not part of their existence.  They are the cloud people.  By contrast, the Kramdens and the Nortons (their upstairs friends and neighbors) don’t have two nickels to rub together.  Even buying a new bowling ball can be outside the realm of possibility.  These are people who aspire to be lower middle class.  Ralph dreams up countless get rich quick schemes to allow him to make Alice proud of him.  And he always fails but he never gives up.  That is the kind of message that the young people need to get.  Not that everything will be handed to them on a silver platter.  And not that they can’t decide what is good enough for them.  For that is the message that is out there now.  The government will provide what you need and also decide what you don’t need (or deserve).

So I’m going to do my best to spread the word to the kids about Ralph Kramden and the Honeymooners. I think the show is an antidote for the namby pamby male sterotypes currently infesting television and the movies.  He may be a colossal failure but he certainly is king of his castle.  And that’s a good thing to be.

 

Guns, Germs and Steel – A Book Review

“Guns, Germs and Steel, The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond is an extremely interesting book about what factors might be responsible for the varied trajectories that technological progress has taken in different times and places and by different peoples around the world.

Diamond reviews the history of the two most advanced civilizations found on Eurasia, namely the Far Eastern Kingdom of China and the Euro-Middle Eastern complex of cultures that succeeded from the Sumerians.  He catalogs the series innovations that occurred since the end of the Last Ice Age that catapulted humanity from the Stone Age to the Space Age in the space of 13,000 years.  Now this sounds like a long time but compare it to the hundreds of thousands of years in which the only progress was advances in stone spearhead technology.

Next, we are walked through the other civilizations that existed around the world.  We meet the new world cultures in mesoamerica and the andes.  We follow the Austronesians as they go from Taiwan to every island between Madagascar and Easter Island.  We meet the various peoples inhabiting sub-Saharan.  And we meet the Australian aborigines and the inhabitants of the New Guinea highlands.  And we watch as these primitive cultures collide with the modern Europeans.  And we see how the Guns, Germs and Steel of the title decimate these primitive cultures.

And finally, Diamond explains how the vicissitudes of geography are completely responsible for the difference between Albert Einstein and Yali the genius of the New Guinea highlands.  Apparently we are all exactly the same.  I know this because Mr. Diamond repeats it liberally throughout the text just in case you aren’t paying close attention.

And I will admit that many of the points are very persuasive.  It is quite interesting how the Austronesian people developed along entirely different technological trajectories depending on what were the resources of the various islands they ended up on.  So, those that ended up on New Zealand or Hawaii were able to progress to agricultural societies while those on wretched dots of land like the Chatham Islands barely clung to life as hunter gatherers.  And the great advantages of inhabitants of Eurasia are fairly convincing.  Being able to borrow from civilizations in all directions around you surely helped the people of Europe to advance rapidly.  But when at the end of the book he hunts for a reason as to why European culture was able to outperform the Chinese and other Asian cultures in the colonial period he rather weakly claims that the comparative isolation of Europe due to the fragmentation into peninsulas and islands was the reason.  To me this seems to be a case of blowing hot and cold.  Or possibly the Doctrine of the Three Bears.  This place is too isolated, this place is not isolated enough but this place is isolated just right!  Seems a bit weak.

Well anyway, I learned a good bit about early human civilization.  I also found out that the modern Japanese came from the Korean people.  But I’m not sure I really believe that the Australian Aborigines are really that close to their own space program.  But Mr Diamond thinks they are.  Good luck with that.

It’s a good book and highly interesting.  I recommend it if you can ignore the virtue signaling.

Topper – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The pre-Oscar TCM movie festival continues so I decided to re-watch Topper.  This is without a doubt one of the goofiest screwball comedies of the 1930s.  Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are George and Marion Kirby, a young married couple.  They’re rich and they live a wild life.  They stay up all night dancing and drinking and driving around in a crazy fin-backed whale of a roadster.  Their banker is a middle-aged mouse of a man named Cosmo Topper.  Topper has a proper wife who wants Topper to get up at 8am and go to bed by 11pm and have lamb on Sunday and steak on Tuesday and boiled vegetables on Wednesday.  She expects him to be the respectable banker so she can be part of high society.

When George and Marion show up at Topper’s bank one morning for a business meeting you can tell that all three of them think that Topper’s life is not much fun compared to the Kirbys.  Driving back from the meeting George is characteristically driving like a madman around some hairpin turns when he gets something in his eye and crashes them.  Staggering out of the wreck George and Marion gather their senses and realize that they have died in the crash and are now ghosts.  Taking stock of the situation they realize they don’t have any good deeds on their records to allow them to expect admission through the pearly gates.  The scene dissolves with the ghosts themselves dissolving into invisibility.

In the next scene Topper is at home with the missus.  We witness the boredom of his respectable existence.  At this point a mechanic shows up with the Kirby’s repaired sports car.  Both the mechanic and Mrs. Kirby remark on how mismatched this car would be for Topper.  His pride is stung and he takes off with the car.  The car gets the better of him and he crashes it at the same spot that the Kirbys crashed.  The Kirbys make their presence known and Topper eventually gets over his fright.  The rest of the film is the tale of the Kirbys trying to humanize Topper and make his life happier.  This is the good deed that they hope will get them into heaven.

With a plot this frothy everything depends on the characterizations of the stars.  Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are at their witty best bantering together while teaching Topper to be a man and not a mouse.  Roland Young brings his characteristic upper-class Englishman’s mumbling confused manner to his portrayal of Cosmo Topper and Billie Burke as Mrs. Topper is the outraged prim and proper wife who needs to learn that a husband still needs to be a man.  An uncredited part has Hoagy Carmichael playing the piano and singing for the happy couple.  All in all, I’d say this is a goofy comedy that from my point of view provides good entertainment.  The story sails along and even the minor characters are well done and add to the fun of the story.

I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars.