The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 1

Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic.  So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees.  Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae.  I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three.  Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth.  Here goes.

Material that wasn’t in the book

A Christmas Carol was a novella.  It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.

For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly.  In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth.  And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred.  It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred.  In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented.  But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added.  What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible.  In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer.  Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child.  I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son.  So, this addition is spurious.  But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness.  And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred.  We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.

And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew.  I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.

In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later).  Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book.  In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor.  Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition.  It seems unwarranted.  I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.

In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions.  One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London.  And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge.  In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile.  When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.”  Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.”  Nicely played.

From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house.  What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene.  We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge.  Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls.  And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning.  In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being.  His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior.  When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting.  I find this addition to the story especially apt.  In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively.  But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth.  It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.

Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.

Miller’s Crossing – A Movie Review

The Coen Brothers make a lot of interesting movies.  Some I like more than others.  Miller’s Crossing is one of my favorites.  It’s a gangster story in an unidentified southern city during the 1930s.  Albert Finney is Leo O’Bannon, an Irish gangster who runs the city.  Gabriel Byrne is Tom Reagan, Leo’s right-hand man and best friend.  Verna is Leo’s girl.  But she’s also sleeping with Tom.  Verna’s brother, Bernie (played by John Turturro) and  Mink Larouie (played by Steve Buscemi) are small-time bookies who have crossed another gangster, Johnny Caspar.  Caspar wants Bernie dead and Leo won’t let it happen because of Verna.  Tom knows that Bernie and Verna spell disaster for Leo and advises him to give up Bernie.  So, this is the complicated basis of the story.

But that’s not the reason to watch the movie.  It’s a comic book version of a 30s gangster movie.  A gangster can be bounced down three flights of marble stairs and walk away from it all in one piece. The cops and the city administration will switch back and forth between mob allegiances on an hour’s notice and bring to bear against their former allies all the force of military grade weaponry.

The movie has a fine soundtrack that includes popular music of the era, Irish folk music and even a little Italian opera.  My favorite scene is an attempted mob rubout at Leo’s house.  It’s a bullet riddled ballet to the accompaniment of Danny Boy.  It’s in this scene that Albert Finney proves that a Thompson machine gun will never run out of ammunition.  It’s a thing of nihilistic beauty.

Finney, Turturro and Buscemi are all extremely entertaining but Gabriel Byrne is the center of the movie.  His character Tom is a hardened bitter man who nevertheless lives by a code that requires loyalty to a friend.  In fact, his loyalty to Leo is the only admirable behavior displayed in the whole movie.  And even this is wholly doomed by their relationships with Verna.  Basically, everyone is corrupt.  The good guys are mobsters.  The bad guys are mobsters.  There’s even a scene where a little kid sees a dead mobster on the street and steals his toupee.

And because this is a Coen Brothers movie it is suffused with black humor.  Every mob rubout and brutal beating is chock full of jokes and wisecracks.  The mobsters and cops in the movie are prone to witticisms and philosophical musings that probably rarely occur in real mobsters and cops.  The best example is when Johnny Gaspar explains to Leo that Bernie’s selling of Johnny’s fixed fight information demonstrates Bernie’s lack of moral character.

Miller’s Crossing is a typical Coen Brothers movie.  All the characters are morally compromised and happy endings are extremely scarce and never unmitigated.  If you have enjoyed any of their other movies then I highly recommend Miller’s Crossing.  Otherwise, read my description and decide for yourself if this type of film is for you.

Cyrano de Bergerac – An OCF Classic Movie Review

With enormous trepidation do I write this review.  In this year 2018, surrounded by the mores and mentality currently on display in the former realm of Christendom, how can you explain, never mind, recommend the story of Cyrano de Bergerac?  To a generation that embraces Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and the Kardashians how do you justify Cyrano’s chaste love for Roxane.  To a world that needs safe spaces to cower in at the very hint of harsh language how do you explain two men fighting to the death with rapiers over an insult?  It’s ludicrous to even consider.  The very word honor has ceased to have an explicable meaning.

No, there is no way.  This story can only be presented to an older generation.  And even to them, watching it would be a jarring exercise in switching gears from the world of Caitlyn Jenner and Hillary Clinton to the chivalry of seventeenth century France.  So, I cannot expect any sympathy from a modern audience for such a story. Even when this movie was filmed in 1950 the plot was considered much too sentimental.  In fact, the only saving grace it had was the tour de force performance of its star Jose Ferrer.  Even critics who savaged the rest of the production including the rest of the cast, declared Ferrer’s portrayal of Cyrano as a masterpiece and his recital of Rostand’s words inspired.  And so, they were.  Ferrer’s mastery of the material only seems the more convincing compared to the journeyman competence of his fellow cast members.

For those who have read this far but do not know Rostand’s plot, Cyrano is a musketeer in the employ of the King of France in the seventeenth century.  He is also a poet and a deadly skilled swordsman.  He also possesses a very large nose about which he is devilishly sensitive.  One word or even a glance at his nose is enough to trigger a duel from which the offender will exit without his life.  And Cyrano is secretly in love with Roxane his distant cousin and one of the most beautiful women in Paris.  Because of his relationship with Roxane he is compelled by his sense of honor to help her in whatever she asks.  Unfortunately, what she asks him is to help his rival in love to succeed in his courting of Roxane.  When Cyrano meets this rival Christian, he discovers that he is unable to string romantic words together in a way that appeals to Roxane.  So, Cyrano must become Christian’s coach in writing and speaking poems of love.  And finally, when it becomes too difficult, he uses the darkness of night to impersonate Christian under Roxane’s balcony and succeeds in winning her love for Christian with Cyrano’s own passionate declaration of love.

There follow several obstacles, a nobleman as rival to Christian who is also his superior officer in the army and a war with Spain.  Marriage, sorrow, misunderstanding and death stand in the way of true love.  But revelation finally occurs, if too late to allow for happiness.  All of this is brocaded with a script that Ferrer delivers with wit and panache.  For a man of the late nineteenth or early to mid-twentieth century it is a treat and for those afterward a puzzle only.

Recommended only for the true sentimental idealist.

The Maltese Falcon – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Back in late October of 2016 I reviewed Dashiell Hammett’s crime novel “The Maltese Falcon.”  To describe the review as highly enthusiastic would be an understatement.  I raved about the book.  Well, I’ll almost repeat the performance for John Huston’s film.  There are differences, of course.  And if you had read the book before seeing the movie you’d feel that both Bogart and Astor were physically miscast.  But the movie on its own merits is superb.

John Huston based the movie quite faithfully on Hammett’s book.  Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade, one half of the San Francisco based private detective firm of Spade and Archer. He’s also his partner Miles Archer’s wife Iva’s former lover (now that’s a complicated sentence!).

The story opens up with Spade’s secretary, Effie Perine, announcing a new client, Miss Wonderly (played by Mary Astor).  Wonderly starts telling a tale to Spade and also Archer as he walks in during the story.  The story is a fabrication about a make-believe teen-age sister who has been spirited away cross country by a real gangster named Floyd Thursby.  Spade and Archer agree to tail Thursby in return for some also very real hundred dollar bills that Wonderly pays them.

Archer is shot and killed during his surveillance and this begins a sequence of events that involves Spade in a confusing search for the truth about a globe-trotting quest to obtain the legendary Maltese Falcon.  We meet corpulent Caspar Gutman played by Sidney Greenstreet, who is the ringleader behind the search.  Then there is Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, a mincing effeminate who sometimes works for Gutman and sometimes doesn’t.  There is Wilmer Cook, Gutman’s young triggerman who would rather shoot his opponents than negotiate terms.  And finally, we have the good cop/ bad cop duo of Detective Tom Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy.  They show up at strategic moments to inform Spade that he is everyone’s favorite suspect in several murders.

The exact details of the plot are too much fun to spoil so I won’t go into much detail but suffice it to say there really aren’t any innocent parties involved unless you include Effie Perine.  Wonderly, which isn’t the last fake name she’ll go by in the film is up to her neck in the crimes but she becomes Spade’s femme fatale in the story.  Spade is a ruthless but strangely honorable character who lives by his own logic.  The criminals (almost everyone) spend the entire movie double-crossing each other in various iterations.  They all prove, with some prodding from Spade, that there is indeed no honor among thieves.  But the plot moves along smartly and by the end all the loose ends are neatly tied up and Sam Spade is sort of the last man standing.  Bogart even gets to apply an ironic tagline to describe the futility of the whole mad enterprise.

When I said that Bogart and Astor were physically miscast it’s because in the book Spade is described as a tall muscular blond-haired man.  Bogart is none of those things.  And in the book Mary Astor’s character is a woman in her twenties which at the point when this movie was made could hardly describe Astor.  Regardless, they make the characters their own.  And especially Bogart’s Spade is iconic and basically defines the Sam Spade character for most of the people who have heard of the Maltese Falcon.  The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Greenstreet and Lorre are so interesting and memorable that at certain points in the movie they push even Bogart out of the spotlight.

If you’ve never seen the Maltese Falcon then shame on you.  In fact, if I had my way people would read the book first and then watch the movie.  But this is a fallen world we live in.  So, I guess I’m already asking too much to recommend a black and white movie.  Highly recommended.

To Have and Have Not – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I think it’s a pretty remarkable fact, that of the seven films Humphrey Bogart was in that I consider worth owning my least favorite is Casablanca.  It’s possible I’ve just seen it too many times already.  But I’ve watched the Maltese Falcon many times more and I keep putting it back on.  It’s probably just individual preference.  But for whatever the reason, it tells me that Bogart was in a relatively large number of excellent films.

Next up is “To Have and Have Not.”  This movie is based on the Hemingway story.  Several of the story elements seem to be repeated in Casablanca.  A French colony is the locale.  There are Nazis and their local collaborators as the heavies.  Resistance fighters including a husband and wife team are looking for help from Bogart’s character.  There is a damsel in distress as the love interest.  And there’s a singer at a piano that entertains us here and there.  Honestly, I actually prefer this earlier film to Casablanca.  It seems less strained.

Bogey is a charter boat captain named Harry Morgan and Walter Brennan is his first mate Eddie.  Eddie is a garrulous alcoholic and Harry’s best friend.  They’re on a two-week charter out of Florida to the French island of Martinique.  Martinique is part of “Free France” but under the thumb of the Nazis.  Harry meets Marie Browning, played by a very young Lauren Bacall, as she is stealing the wallet of Harry’s charter client.  He takes the wallet from her and discovers from the contents that the client was about to skip out without paying him.  Grateful for her unwitting help he strikes up a friendship with her.  Of course, under the circumstances, their relationship is always awkward and tentative.  He calls her Slim which rankles her so she calls him Steve probably from spite.  But for all their verbal jousting the sparks begin to fly and it’s easy to see that their relationship will be at least one of the major plot lines.

The hotel where Harry, Marie and apparently anyone involved in the resistance ends up staying is owned by, of course, Frenchy, or so he is called by Harry.  He is the clandestine leader of the resistance.  Several of his friends get into a gun battle with the local police and this leads to Harry and Marie falling under the suspicious eye of the local police chief.  He seizes their passports and money and grills them for information on the resistance.

Being strapped for cash Harry accepts a job ferrying some resistance fighters onto the island, Paul and Hellene de Bursac.  Paul gets shot during a sea voyage while evading the harbor patrol.  Harry acts as a cut-rate trauma surgeon and removes the bullet.  The police finally decide to put the squeeze on Harry by grilling Eddie this triggers a confrontation that Harry controls with the help of a few well aimed bullets.  Throughout Marie is at Harry’s side, for the most part, trading wisecracks and supporting the cause.  Eddie supplies the comic relief and Hoagy Carmichael as Cricket plays the piano and employs Marie as an ersatz lounge singer.

Bit of well-known classic Hollywood trivia, the sparks flying between Harry and Marie were mirrored in real life between Bogart and Bacall and they shortly afterward became man and wife in real life.  And the chemistry they had translated excellently to film.  Their sparring courtship is fun to watch and although stylized in the manner of director Howard Hawkes’ staccato bantering dialog it comes off as interesting and of its time.  Highly recommended.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – An OCF Classic Movie Review

There is a school of thought that says Bogart became a big star because of the Maltese Falcon.  It was his first role that extended his acting range beyond the gangster parts he had been doing up to that point.  And the story was a popular book and John Huston’s script was a pip.

So, I’m sure Bogart was more than anxious when he had a second chance to work with Huston.  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was once again based on a popular book.  And once again Huston’s script is a pip.  Bogart is an American named Dobbs in Tampico, Mexico who is broke and looking for an opportunity to make some money.  After some difficulty collecting back-wages he teams up with two other Americans.  Walter Huston, John Huston’s actual father, plays an old gold prospector Howard and Tim Holt is Curtin who hopes to make a stake before returning to the United States.  The three men discuss what it would take to make a prospecting expedition to the Sierra Madre.  By an amazing coincidence Bogart wins the amount they need off of a lottery ticket and donates it to the expedition.  On the train ride at the outset of the journey to the Sierra Madre, the partners encounter bandits.  This is followed by a long trek through jungles and desert and mountains.  And just as Dobbs and Curtin have become discouraged and want to give up the search Howard mocks them with the news that they’ve been surrounded by gold for the last day but they were too ignorant to see it.  The partners get to work and start a mining operation that rewards their hard work with generous amounts of gold.  And at this point we begin to see the destructive effect of greed and mistrust.  Pretty quickly Dobbs becomes dangerously suspicious of his partners and all remnants of amicable relations evaporate and all that is left is the business of harvesting the gold.  During this time there are episodes involving a claim jumper and later the bandits return.  A very well-known exchange occurs between the head bandit and the partners.  The bandit is pretending to be a policeman and when asked to show his badge he sputters, “Badges?  Badges?  We don’t need no stinking badges!”  The return journey also contains some interesting episodes that eventually split up the partners and leads to open warfare between Dobbs and Curtin.  For the better part of the movie we’ve been watching as Fred C. Dobbs slowly descends into gold madness.  Now he reaches the point of attempting murder.  The end of the movie follows the last scenes where we learn the fate of the partners, the bandits and the gold.

For me this movie is an almost perfect gem of a tale.  It has an interesting blend of humor, adventure and a study of human nature.  Toward the end, Bogart is almost over the top in his manic portrayal of Dobbs but he is an interesting character.  Tim Holt plays the most sympathetic character as Curtin but without a doubt, Walter Huston steals the show from everyone else as the old prospector Howard.  His character is colorful, glib, humorous and just plain engaging.

I highly recommend this movie for everyone.  It’s a classic and timelessly entertaining.

Them! – A Science Fiction Movie Review

You may be asking yourself, is photog becoming demented?  Didn’t he already write a review of Them!?  The answers to those questions are yes and no.  I have referenced Them in several posts about cheesy 1950s science fiction movies.  But it has never gotten its own exclusive treatment.  Well, I mean to remedy that situation, pronto.

Them! is the grand-daddy of all atomic energy fear films.  Instead of fearing cancer and radiation sickness we are provided with a much more rational fear, giant ants.  It is 1954 and nine years after the first atomic bomb was tested at White Sands, New Mexico.  During those nine years ants have been traipsing around the New Mexico desert ignorant of their future as future contenders for mankind’s crown as King of the Earth.  But the wait is over.  A small prop plane is inexplicably cruising over the desert and spots a little girl holding a doll aimlessly walking in the hot sun.  The pilot alerts a nearby police cruiser which intercepts the little girl and finds that she’s catatonic.  With the help of the pilot they trace her point of origin to a recreational vehicle parked in the desert.  On closer inspection the officers discover that one side of the RV has been ripped to shreds.  But being crack forensic experts and logical linguists, they proclaim that the RV wall, “wasn’t caved in, it was caved out.”  Whoever wrote the deathless prose of this dialog is partly responsible for the sad position we currently find ourselves in, vis-à-vis cultural and actual illiteracy.  Later on, the policeman redeems himself when at a general store that has been similarly destroyed, he declares, “this wasn’t pushed in, it was pulled out.”  Okay, stupid rant over.

Based on blood found in the RV the officers determine that the girl is the only survivor of an attack.  On the way back from finding the girl and the trailer they stop off at a local general store and find it similarly damaged and the store owner brutally killed.  One of the police officers, Ed Blackburn is left at the store to guard the remains.  His partner, Sgt. Ben Peterson played by James Whitmore, drives off and shortly afterward, Blackburn is heard off camera firing his revolver at some thing and then screaming as he suffers horrible death.

Evidence found at the site of the RV, a foot print, is sent to the FBI for identification and so the story moves on to its next logical step, Santa Claus is called in.  Or more precisely Edmund Gwenn who played Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.  Gwenn plays Dr. Harold Medford a world-renowned myrmecologist who with his myrmecologist daughter have come to lead the effort to save the world from the giant ants.  Representing the government is FBI agent Robert Graham played by James Arness.  Arness who later found fame as Marshall Dillon on TV’s Gunsmoke is the brave, competent hero of the movie and the love interest for the myrmecologist daughter.  And to provide local color Ben Peterson is always on hand to provide the comic relief.

With the help of the scientists, the army locates the giant ant nest and destroy it with cyanide gas.  But after inspecting the inside of the nest the scientists break the bad news.  New queen ants have escaped the nest and will be forming new nests elsewhere.  Now a war room is set up and armed forces from all the services mobilize to battle the giant ants on land, on sea and in the air.  Dunt, dunt, daaaah!!!

The final showdown takes place where it must, in the storm drains of Los Angeles.  And in fitting fashion, the ants capture two little boys who wander into their nest and are rescued by the US Army.  Unfortunately, Ben Peterson dies saving the boys but dies the good death of a hero.  And when the ants are finally finished off Dr. Medford gives a speech and tells us that the atomic age is fraught with danger and giant insects.

Despite how thoroughly I’ve mocked this movie, I actually enjoy it immensely.  Other than the laughably fake animatronic ants the production values for the movie are quite good and the actors are actually very effective for the most part, including the character actors performing the bit parts as police, military and civilian participants.  My favorite scenes are where the scientific expertise of the Medfords is showcased for the benefit of the poor ignorant soldiers and police.  While under attack from their first giant ant Dr. Medford makes sure he uses the Latin singular and plural versions of the word antenna when instructing the police to shoot at the ant. “Shoot the antennae, shoot the antennae,” he yells and once one of these has been shot off he continues “now shoot the other antenna.”  In another scene Dr. Medford is attempting to convince the Pentagon that the giant ants are an existential threat to humanity and he uses an ant film clip that looks like it could have been made by my high school biology teacher.

Them! is a wonderful time capsule of the 1950s.  Americans are the good guys and giant ants are definitely bad.  What could be simpler?

Rebuilding from the Ground Up – Part 2

Rebuilding from the Ground Up – Part 1

 

As the results of one of my recent website polls reminded me, opinions differ about what the future will bring for our country and world.  Some people think that we are irrevocably moving down the path that will put an end to the things that made the United States a great nation.  They say that our culture and the freedoms that are built into our Constitution will be swept aside and we will end up in a banana republic that resembles the condition of Brazil.  Other people contend that a revolution either more or less violent will achieve a division of the country into a Red State model and a Blue State one.  And some believe that we will be able to regroup from our differences and patch things together.

Honestly, I don’t know which, if any, of these scenarios will occur.  I’m not even sure anybody actually knows.  What I am sure is that the old way of life and the things it stood for are under continual attack from the Progressives.  And they are succeeding to a great extent in destroying the culture that has existed in this country and made it great.  They are eliminating all the concepts and behaviors from American life.  The three biggest weapons in this effort are the entertainment industry, the schools and the corporate America.  They are using these forces to shape the images that children and young adults see all around them and convince them that it is the only acceptable choice.  By subtle and not so subtle imagery they are showing children how they must think about sex roles and even the definition of men and women.  They are preaching the globalist doctrine that says that national identity and patriotism are social constructs that have no place in the modern world and thinking otherwise is a hate crime.

The first thing that needs to be done is locating and preserving all the remnants from the earlier time.  Books, movies, pictures and study aids that can be used to show the younger people what used to be the normal world need to be identified and made available to families to allow them to undo some of the damage.  I’m making it a point to review and recommend any books or movies that have value.  At some point I intend to put together a curriculum for different age groups that will both inform and entertain.

The next effort will be to organize into local groups to provide support and fellowship for people on the right.  These can be anything from hobbies to social events to sports to political activities.  It can even extend to religious and educational organizations that provide resources for families who don’t feel they can utilize the existing local groups.  Over time it is hoped that these groups can replace the existing institutions that have become debased by the culture at large.  I guess it could be hoped that some of these organizations could be reformed but I seriously doubt that will ever happen.

But as I said above, preserving the knowledge of the better times is first.  If anyone has a recommendation about a book, music or a movie or some other thing like a website or an on-line course, or even a business that deals in things that need to be preserved then, pass it along.

The March of the Wooden Soldiers – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I guess this qualifies as a fantasy too but to me it’s a holiday classic, thus the title.  Every year during my childhood at Thanksgiving time WPIX (Channel11 in NYC) would show “The March of the Wooden Soldiers.”  And even back then it was obvious that the movie was a throwback to an older time.  What passed for costumes and “special effects” in this film would outrage even a toddler from today.  The action was often interrupted while the romantic leads would burst into an operatic rendition of some fairly soporific song.  Some of this is explained by the fact that the film was a reworking of a musical light opera that was staged under the name “Babes in Toyland.”  And in fact, all of the movie’s shortcomings were even the subject of mockery on an episode of the Simpsons.

But none of this is at all important because of two extenuating circumstances, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, or as their characters are named Stanny Dum and Ollie Dee.  Laurel and Hardy are the show.  These two clowns keep the audience from wandering away, at least until the Wooden Soldiers are unleashed.  Stan and Ollie move from one failure to the next, at every step, irritating every mean or impatient character they meet with their fumble-fingered efforts and their simple-minded attempts at cleverness.  As I said, until the climax of the movie, they are the show.

The plot, such as it is, involves Stan and Ollie trying to prevent the evil miser Barnaby from evicting the Little Old Lady that Lives in the Shoe.  One of her children is Little Bo Peep who is in love with Tom-Tom the Piper’s Son.  After Stan and Ollie are foiled in attempting to steal the mortgage from Barnaby and are sentenced to be banished to Bogeyland (a place outside of Toyland where the savage Bogeymen live) Bo Peep agrees to marry Barnaby in exchange for forgiving the mortgage and releasing Stan and Ollie.  This leads to further tomfoolery by Stan and Ollie.  When Barnaby is defeated again in his desire to marry Bo Peep he conspires against Tom-Tom and gets him banished to Bogeyland.  After the banishment, evidence is discovered by Stan and Ollie that exonerates Tom-Tom and proves Barnaby’s guilt.  At this point Barnaby flees to Bogeyland to take command of the Bogeymen and lead them against Toyland.

The inhabitants of Toyland, being feeble nursery rhyme characters are helpless (mostly) against the savage Bogeymen.  And all seems lost until suddenly Stanny Dum realizes that an earlier blunder of his would now be Toyland’s salvation.  Working for the Toymaster he misunderstood Santa Claus’s order to make six hundred wooden soldiers one foot tall and instead made one hundred wooden soldiers six feet tall.  Stan and Ollie activate the army and the soldiers get right to work and rout the bogeyman in stirring fashion, all to the accompaniment of the music that gives the movie its name, The March of the Wooden Soldiers.

I have to confess that even at my advanced age I always feel a thrill of excitement as the Wooden Soldiers assemble and march to the beat of the song and provide in their mechanical and disciplined way the just desserts that Barnaby and the savage Bogeymen so richly deserve.  And right up until the very last frame Stan and Ollie are right there snatching personal defeat right out of the jaws of victory.

This movie is a museum piece with a hackneyed plot, obtrusive and boring songs and awful special effects.  But Laurel and Hardy are worth the price of admission, namely your time.  They are worthy buffoons who exaggerate our own foolishness.  And for the little boy in every man, the Wooden Soldier battle is a stirring pantomime that actual little boys will enjoy.  Highly recommended for the child in all of us.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – A Movie Review

Terry Gilliam is best known as a member of the comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  But he also had a second career as a motion picture writer/director.  His best-known movie was Brazil, about a dystopic future where the all-powerful security state reaches an absurdist level of control.

But the movie that I am interested in here is a less well known but sunnier exercise.  The movie opens up within a walled town besieged by the Turks at a time that is identified as being in the 18th Century, The Age of Reason, Wednesday.  A small acting company is putting on a comical play of the legendary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, when in the middle of the first act the real Baron Munchausen interrupts the play to refute the slanders, he claims are being made against himself.  The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson who is in attendance in the audience and is the military governor of the town and a staunch proponent of the Age of Reason, takes offense at the Baron’s aspersions against reason and logic and threatens to throw the Baron and the whole acting troupe over the wall to the Turk.  The Baron claims he is the cause of the Turkish assault on the town and spends the rest of the movie assembling his legendary comrades to save the town from both the Turk and the Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson.  The Sultan and Jackson, behind the scenes are actually on excellent terms and take turns winning battles in order to keep the war going on forever.

Some very excellent actors are included in the cast including Jonathan Pryce as Horatio Jackson, Robin Williams as the King of the Moon and Eric Idle as Desmond and Berthold.  The reason Idle has two characters to play is another conceit of the movie.  The play actors of which Idle is one look exactly like the Baron’s actual comrades and so the movie actors play both parts.  Robin Williams as mentioned, is King of the Moon and his characterization has a split personality.  When the King’s head is detached from his body, he has a light, zany, Italian-accented voice an impish personality.  But when the head and body are joined Williams takes on the voice and personality of what could most easily be described as an angrier version of Benito Mussolini.

The English actor John Neville plays the Baron and smaller parts are distributed to well-known actors like Oliver Reed and Uma Thurman who portray the gods Vulcan and Venus respectively.  Even Sting (of Police singing fame) has a cameo as the “Heroic Officer.”

The plot, such as it is, has the Baron sailing to the Moon, falling into Mount Vesuvius to meet Vulcan and Venus and being swallowed by a giant sea monster, all performed as part of his search for his servants.  Along the way he flirts with Queens, goddesses and even a few commoners.  At all times he somehow has long stem roses to hand out and he invariably compares the beauty of each women to Catherine the Great “whose hand in marriage I once had the honor to decline.”  On one occasion he makes the remark to three women at once.  When an auditor of this exchange challenges him that they couldn’t all remind him of Catherine the Great, the Baron petulantly replied, “Why not? Bits here and bits there!”

The movie is obviously a hymn to fantasy and whimsy and the final showdown has the Baron conquer not only reason and reality but even old age and death itself.  It’s an utterly ridiculous movie that is full of fantastic visual effects and fairy tale imagery.  It probably will not appeal to all tastes.  I highly recommend it to those who can enjoy elaborate nonsense.