The Third Man (1949) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

If someone asked you to name a movie starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, I suppose your answer would be Citizen Kane.  Well, here’s a different answer, “The Third Man.”  And here’s another difference, Welles isn’t the filmmaker here, he’s just a supporting player.  Of course, being Orson Welles in 1948 means that “just” has a little more to it than just “just.”

Joseph Cotton is Holly Martins an American writer of dime novel westerns.  He arrives in Vienna which at the time is an occupied city divided into sectors controlled by the post-WWII victorious allies (the United States, Britain, France and Russia).  This is narrated for us along with the realities of such a conquered place.  The locals survive by supplementing their impoverished legal trades with black market transactions on everything from cigarettes to tires to adulterated pharmaceuticals.  Holly has come to Vienna to work for his childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles).  It is never explained what exactly he was supposed to be employed as but that quickly becomes an academic question.

When Holly reaches the building where Harry lives, he’s told by the building porter that Harry was run over by a truck and killed a day or two before.  Holly goes to the burial and there we see the film’s other main characters although not all of them are introduced.  After the funeral Martins is approached by two British military policemen, Major Calloway, played by Trevor Howard and Sergeant Paine played with great cockney panache by Bernard Lee.  It turns out Sergeant Paine is a literary fan of Matins’ novels and indirectly facilitates the plot by introducing Martins to a literary society in Vienna that will bankroll Martins’ travelling expenses in return for a lecture on modern literature, a subject with which Martins is sorely unfamiliar.

But what Calloway and Paine are really interested in is warning Martins to leave Vienna to avoid the fallout from the police investigation into the criminal activities of his friend Harry Lime.  Martins is insulted by the statement that his friend was a criminal and decides to stay in Vienna to find out what really was the case with his friend and somehow clear his name with the police.

Through a meeting with one of Harry’s friends Holly finds out about Harry’s girlfriend Anna and he goes to see her to try and get the true story from her.  As Holly and Anna talk about Harry, we find out that she is like Holly an idealistic individual that Harry charmed and dragged into his dangerous but exciting life.  We begin to suspect that the police are right about Harry.  And together Holly and Anna discover some strange details about Harry’s death.  The building porter reveals to them that when Harry was run down by the truck, in addition to the two friends of Harry’s that stayed to give testimony to the police about the accident there was a “third man” who did not stay but rushed away.  And the porter’s story differed from the account that Holly was given by Harry’s friends, in ways that could only be obvious lies.

As the couple begin to ruffle feathers there begins some fallout.  Anna is visited by the police, including Calloway and Paine.  It turns out that she has a passport that Harry manufactured.  And because of this she will have to be deported to the Russian zone for eventual deportation to Czechoslovakia.  Further fallout occurs with the subsequent murder of the porter.  And finally, one of Harry’s “friends” threatens Holly if he continues looking into Harry’s death.  When Holly defies him, some thugs pursue Holly through the nightscape of bombed out Vienna.  He escapes and ends up at Anna’s apartment where we find that he is falling in love with her.  But just when the movie is drifting away from Harry, Anna’s cat down on the street below her apartment signals that a stranger is lurking and when a window in one of the adjoining apartments flashes on, it reveals that the lurker is Harry Lime.  Holly runs out to catch him but Lime escapes into an entrance to the sewers of Vienna.

And now Holly contacts Harry’s friends that he knows Harry is alive and wants to meet him in a public (safe) place; a giant Ferris Wheel nearby in the city.  And sure enough, Harry shows up and they get into one of the cars of the wheel and talk.  And now Holly learns the truth about Harry.  He is the criminal mastermind who runs a stolen penicillin racket.  Holly tells him that the police have discovered that a medical orderly that was in on the penicillin racket was murdered to provide Harry’s “body” for his faked death.  When Holly confronts him with the deaths that have occurred from the diluted drugs he sells Harry reveals just how callous and Machiavellian he truly is.  Harry reiterates his desire to have Holly join him in his criminal enterprise but he also clearly warns him that bringing in the police would be a very dangerous thing for Holly to do.

Holly decides that because of Harry’s poor treatment of Anna he will make a deal with Calloway to allow them to catch Harry in exchange for Calloway fixing Anna’s deportation problem.  When Anna finds out that her freedom is being purchased at the cost of Harry’s betrayal to the police, she rejects it and also rejects Holly’s affection.  She says she will remain loyal to Harry.  Holly then decides to leave Vienna and leave Harry, Anna and the police to their own devices.  But on the way to the airport Calloway brings Martins to the hospital where the child victims of Harry’s drugs are housed.  Their broken bodies fill Martin with remorse and he agrees to be the bait in a trap to catch Harry.  Harry shows up and at the last second Anna shows up and warns Harry away.  A pursuit follows with police guarding all the exits from the sewer system.  Holly, Calloway and Paine are in on the hunt.  Finally with Harry cornered, Holly too openly approaches Harry.  While Paine attempts to pull Holly back out of the line of fire, he is himself fatally shot by Lime.  Calloway manages to shoot Lime as he retreats to a last exit below the street.  Unable to exit the sewer grating he waits as Holly approaches him with Paine’s gun in hand.  Harry looks at Martins and nods his head in acceptance and a shot rings out followed by Martins walking back to the police line.  At the second burial of Harry Lime we see Calloway and Martins.  Anna is there separately.  Calloway has his jeep and is once again supposed to drive Martins to the airport.  But as they pass Anna, Martins tells Calloway to let him out.  The final shot is a long take of Anna approaching a waiting Martins and then continuing on without looking at him at all.

This is in many ways an utterly strange movie, especially from an American point of view.  There is something disturbing to the American sensibility about the degraded and broken aspect of Vienna.  This is communicated in the images of the broken cityscape but also in the furtiveness and guarded nature of the inhabitants’ speech and behavior.  Dishonesty and criminality and just the wretchedness of life in the shattered place pervades the movie.  Also, the film has a soundtrack that is a repetition of a song played on a zither.  This is a stringed Eastern European instrument that I can’t claim to enjoy all that much.

By contrast, the Anglophone characters, Martins, Calloway, Paine and eventually Lime are wholly different.  They exude energy and confidence.  They seem to be bits of normalcy suspended in this fog of hopelessness.  Even Harry Lime, the criminal mastermind has that American quality to speak openly and unashamedly even about his evil.  He swims in this putrid ocean but he hasn’t assumed the coloration of his surroundings.

As I said the story is very strange and I think off-putting.  But the scene at the Ferris Wheel is very interesting.  We get to hear the devil defend his trade.  And that I think is the interesting thing about the movie.  Calloway and Paine are fun in their proper Englishness.  The Holly/Anna relationship really didn’t do much for me.  So, the show is Holly and Harry.  And coming right down to it it’s Harry.

And the essence of Harry is his parting shot to Holly at the Wheel.  “Don’t be so gloomy.  After all it’s not that awful.   But what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce?  The cuckoo clock.  So long Holly.”

So Harry is the charming, interesting devil you know and like.  The point of the story, if there is a point, is that charming and familiar as he is, he’s still the devil and you can’t let him kill kids even for old times’ sake.

So am I recommending the movie?  Maybe I’m a bit of a xenophobe.  I’m put off by the atmosphere of the movie.  And I know that is mostly my parochial tastes.  Because after all this is a film noir and they’re always supposed to exude seediness and unwholesomeness.  I seem to excuse it in many of the film noirs from America.  So, let’s say I call this a good film, which it is, but throw in some cautions for those who are xenophobic like me and despise zither music.

High Sierra (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

High Sierra was Humphrey Bogart’s first starring role.  He plays Roy Earle, a veteran gangster sent to prison in Chicago for life.  But after ten years one of his old bosses, Big Mac, manages to get him a pardon and arranges for a car and some money to allow Roy to come to California to head up a jewelry heist in a wealthy desert resort where the ultra-wealthy winter.  Mac has recruited a couple of young small-time thieves Babe and Red to assist Earle.  The other part of the ring is the hotel night manager Louis Mendoza who will provide the inside information.

But Roy gets a surprise when he arrives at the meeting place, a mountain cabin park.  Babe has picked up a girl named Marie from a dance hall and brought her along. Roy angrily tells his crew and the girl that she has to go.  Marie, played by Ida Lupino, goes to talk to Roy and convinces him that she is the most trustworthy member of the crew.  She admits that she knows the plan of the heist because Mendoza talks too much.  After a few more incidents between Marie and Babe and Red, Roy decides to have her stay in his cabin and lays down the law with the two young men.

After this a romantic relationship begins between Roy and Marie, although he warns her that love is not a possibility for her with him.  Roy’s heart has been caught by a young farm girl that he has met while travelling to California.  Velma is travelling with her grandfather and grandmother from Ohio to live with her recently remarried mother in Los Angeles.  Roy has had the chance to help the family out as they struggle to pay for the trip cross country.  Their country roots remind him of his own family from rural Indiana and Velma’s unspoiled beauty and unaffected manner charms him.  The girl has a clubbed foot and Roy enlists a mob doctor he knows to arrange for a surgeon to operate on the girl’s foot to repair the problem.  But after the surgery Velma declines his offer to marry him.  She has a boyfriend back in Ohio that she is still interested in.  Roy takes the refusal hard but promises to come back when she has healed from her surgery to see her walk and say goodbye to the family.

Finally, conditions at the hotel are right for the heist.  Marie and Roy take one car and Babe and Red in another.  While Babe and Red are breaking open the safety deposit boxes Roy guards the lobby and Marie is in one of the cars watching for trouble.  She warns them of the approach of a late-night couple arriving at the hotel and Roy holds them on one of the lobby couches along with the bell boy.  But finally, an armed security guard enters.  Roy gets the drop on him but when the scream of the woman on the couch distracts Roy the guard pulls his gun and they exchange shots.  The guard is fatally wounded and Roy is struck on the side.

Rattled by the shooting Mendoza refuses to remain behind to claim his innocence as the plan required and instead goes in the car with Babe and Red.  The two cars take off but the car with the three men takes the wrong road and crashes along a hairpin turn.  Babe and Red are killed and Mendoza injured.  Mendoza is picked up by the police and Roy and Marie return to the cabin without incident.  Roy goes to visit his friend the mob doctor who tends to his wounds.  Then he goes to Mac but finds he’s died of a heart attack.  Following instructions Mac had given him earlier he passes the gems onto a mob contact who gives Roy a little money in advance and the promise that the deal with the big boss would be transacted soon and Roy would get his cut.  While waiting for this Roy goes to see Velma and meets her fiancé whom he immediately takes a strong dislike to.  Velma berates Roy for his jealousy and he leaves.  Now Roy sees Marie’s loyalty and love for him in a new light and promises that as soon as they get their money, they’ll start a new life together.

But all his plans fall apart as the newspapers are full of the story of the heist.  Mendoza has confessed and named Roy as the mastermind of the plot and the murderer of the guard.  Roy puts Marie on a bus to escape the dragnet and promises to catch up with her later when he gets clear.  But Roy is soon identified and the police pursuit corners him in a blocked pass in the Sierra Nevada.  Roy climbs up into the hills and holds the police off with a machine gun.  Marie hears report of the stand-off and heads back to be near him.  A reporter recognizes her from her description and the police try to persuade her to call to Roy to give himself up.  But she refuses.

The police manage to get a sharp shooter with a high-powered rifle on the cliff that overlooks Roy’s position.  And when Roy’s dog Pard escapes from Marie and runs toward Roy’s voice as he banters with the police the dog’s barking reveals to Roy that Marie must be nearby.  He runs out onto the exposed rocks calling her name and is killed by the sniper.

This movie is a sort of combination gangster movie and melodrama.  Even though Ida Lupino got the top billing because of her established reputation at the time really the movie belongs to Bogart.  He plays the part as naturally as any of his later roles.  The plot moves along pretty well and even the Velma plot line isn’t too distracting.  At times I think Lupino is given a little too much melodrama to successfully portray but I think the movie holds up pretty well.  And there are a few character actors in supporting roles; Henry Hull as Doc Banton, Henry Travers as Velma’s grandfather and Donald MacBride as Big Mac that add human interest to the story.  One sort of interesting bit of trivia, the dog Pard was played by Zero, Bogart’s own pet dog.

I think Bogart has half a dozen movies in his resume that are better than High Sierra.  That being said this is a good movie.  I can recommend it.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The true story of the Bounty is an amazing tale. There are sea voyages on wooden sailing ships that took multiple years and girdled the Earth on routes that threaded the Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope to get to such amazing places as Tahiti must have been in the eighteenth century.  Then the human drama of a crew finally rebelling against a merciless tyrant and then escaping the whole British navy to start a new life on a remote island from which they could never return.  Bligh’s unbelievable 3,500-mile sea voyage after being set adrift in a life boat.  And finally, the trial of the men who were captured on Tahiti after the mutiny.

Hollywood found the perfect Captain Bligh in Charles Laughton.  His strutting, bellowing Bligh is an inhuman monster of legendary proportions.  When a seaman whose knees are raw sores asks for water to wash the sand of the deck out of his wounds Bligh orders him to be keel-hauled.  That means he was dragged the whole length of the ship bottom against a barnacle encrusted hull.  Naturally he doesn’t survive.

And Clark Gable is an excellent Christian Fletcher.  His defiance of Bligh before the mutiny is measured and prudent but when the outrages become insurmountable, he finally snaps and leads a mutiny that takes the ship and sends Bligh and his loyal followers out onto the open sea.  The movie presents us with Fletcher sailing the ship to Tahiti and allowing his men to take Tahitian wives.  When the British come looking for them Fletcher leads all of them to Pitcairn Island on the Bounty where they start a new life.

Franchot Tone portrays Midshipman Byam a friend of Fletcher’s who refuses to join the mutiny but is forced to remain with the mutineers.  When the Bounty flees Tahiti Byam remains to return with the British but he is accused of mutiny by Bligh and ends up on trial for his life.  According to the movie the trial is the cause célèbre that eventually caused the British Navy to reform their treatment of enlisted men.

Along with these leads there are a dozen other supporting characters that are each engaging and entertaining.  The seamen, the officers, the Tahitians, the Admiralty Court Martial.  Each is given screen time to tell a story.  One of the standouts for me is Dr. Bacchus, the one-legged, constantly inebriated ship’s surgeon who provides medical help and moral support to the victims of Bligh.  His other amusing characteristic is the constantly changing story of how he lost his leg.  One time it was in a sea battle against John Paul Jones.  Next, it’s a French frigate and after that a Spanish galleon.

As I said at the start, the true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty is an amazing tale.  The 1935 movie is based on a fictionalized account.  There are many inaccuracies that have been added to the story.  For instance, Bligh was not the captain of the ship that brought back the mutineers from Tahiti and chased the Bounty.  There is no record that a sailor was keel-hauled and died by Bligh’s order.  And Bligh did not attend the court martial.  But it is a remarkable movie nevertheless and it is still very entertaining eighty-five years after it was made.  I highly recommend it for all fans of adventure stories.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 10 – Shadow of a Doubt – A Classic Movie Review

Hitchcock gives us a crime drama wrapped in a family reunion.  Charles Oakley, played by Joseph Cotten, is being investigated by the police in the northeast United States as one of two suspects in the “Merry Widow” murders.  Three wealthy widows were strangled by an acquaintance.  Charles sends a telegram to his married sister, Emma Newton in California saying he wants to come visit her and her family.  Emma is married to Joseph Newton and they live with their three children Charlotte (Charlie), Ann and Roger. Emma dotes on her baby brother and in her eyes, he can do no wrong.  Her husband Joseph (played by Henry Travers) works at the local bank and is a quiet man who, along with his neighbor Herbie Hawkins (played by Hume Cronyn) enjoys reading and discussing the murders committed in detective novels. Ann and Roger are small children who intersect with the main story only obliquely.  But Charlie is a high school graduate who feels stifled living in the small town of Santa Rosa.  She is named after her mother’s brother, the legendary Uncle Charlie.  And right before word of Uncle Charlie’s arrival reaches them, she has been bemoaning the boredom that is their life and has decided to send a telegram to Uncle Charlie and ask him to visit them.

When Charlie hears that her uncle is coming to stay with them, she is overjoyed.  She takes the coincidence of his plans and hers as fate and is sure that his presence will add excitement and life to her stultified family.  But strange things begin happening and Uncle Charlie’s presence becomes a strange mystery for Charlie to solve.  He surreptitiously rips a page out of the family’s copy of the newspaper and when she tells him that she knows he did it he reacts violently and wrenches the paper from her hand, hurting her in the process.  When the next day two men request and get permission from Mrs. Newton to interview and photograph the family as part of some national survey, Uncle Charlie berates her for her foolishness and tells her that he refuses to be interviewed or photographed.

The survey takers are actually police detectives Jack Graham and Fred Saunders attempting to get a photo of Uncle Charlie to allow witnesses to identify him.  Jack asks Charlie if she would show him around town as part of his survey and she agrees.  During their walk Jack reveals to Charlie what they are really doing and that if the identification is positive, they will arrest Uncle Charlie.  Charlie is in a panic.  She doesn’t know what to believe but all the strange behavior of her uncle leads her to believe that it could be true.  She runs to the library and finds the newspaper article her uncle was hiding.  It is a description of the Merry Widow murder case.  One of the women who was murdered turns out to have the same initials as the inscription in a ring that Uncle Charlie had recently given her.

She confronts him and tells Uncle Charlie that the police are getting ready to arrest him.  She reveals what she found out about the ring and throws it back at him.  Uncle Charlie begs her to let him escape and spare her mother the shock of knowing her brother is a murderer.  She agrees.  But before anything else can happen news comes that the other suspect in the murders was killed trying to escape capture.  Now the detectives are no longer after Uncle Charlie.  We also learn that Jack Graham is in love with Charlie and tells her that he will return to ask her to marry him.

Uncle Charlie decides that he will stay in Santa Rosa but now he comes to the conclusion that Charlie knows too much about him.  He plans to have her die by an apparent accident.  In the first event she almost breaks her neck when an outdoor stair step breaks off under her foot and she barely catches hold of the handrail.  Later on, she finds that the step had been sawn almost through.  Next, Uncle Charlie arranges for her to go into a garage where a running car motor had filled the building with exhaust fumes and the key was removed from the ignition so the engine could not be stopped.  And just as she tried to exit the garage the door slammed shut and was jammed tight so she couldn’t escape.  Luckily Herbie Hawkins happened by and heard her cries and allowed for her rescue by, of all people, Uncle Charlie.  He deftly kicked the shim from the jammed door and put the key in the ignition as he turned it off.  Then he carried the unconscious Charlie into the fresh air where she revived.

Now convinced that she had to get Uncle Charlie to leave she used her uncle’s absence at a party to find the ring in his room.  Seeing it on her finger Uncle Charlie announces that he would be leaving the next day for San Francisco.  But while seeing him off at the train Charlie is maneuvered by him onto the departing train and by sheer brute strength, he drags her over to an open door on the end of a train car and prepared to throw her off the train as soon as its speed is sufficient to kill her.  But at the last second Charlie wrenches herself free and in doing so causes Uncle Charlie to lose his balance and fall off the train directly onto the tracks of an oncoming train.

In the next scene Uncle Charlie’s funeral is going on in the church and Charlie is outside explaining to Jack Graham why she didn’t turn her uncle in to the police.  They both agree that they will keep Uncle Charlie’s secret away from the people of Santa Rosa.

Most critics think that Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitchcock’s best works.  I tend to agree.  Allowing Charles Oakley to give his feelings about society in general and about his victims at the family dinner table and during a fraught conversation with his niece at a seedy dive bar hits the right notes in this strange juxtaposition of normal family life and antisocial psychosis.  The tension between Charlie’s desire to spare her mother and even in a sense her uncle from the consequences of his crimes and her horror at what he actually was see-saws the movie right to the end.  There are many nice touches from the supporting cast.  I especially enjoy Hume Cronyn and Henry Travers arguing over the advantages and disadvantages of poisoned mushrooms over blunt force trauma as a murder weapon.  It shows that Hitchcock had already embraced his reputation for graveyard humor and didn’t mind letting the audience in on the joke.

And it was fun to see Joseph Cotton as a psychotic killer.  Cotton always seems to show up as the honest, likable hero.  It must have been a relief for him to get to play a monster for once.  He was very good.

If you are a fan of Hitchcock and haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt do yourself a favor and see it.  And even if you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, I can highly recommend this one.

Mathematics, Its Contents, Methods and Meaning – A Book Review

Back in the times before the Great Flood, I was a lowly undergraduate student in a public university.  I started out as a chemistry major but credits back then were very cheap, almost free, so I ended up taking an enormous number of credits in mathematics too.  When I reached my senior year, I had taken all the requisite chemistry courses for the BS degree but I also had discovered that I found the lab work extremely tedious.  What was a nerd to do?  Well, I took a few more math courses and got my degree in mathematics instead.  Since I was planning on raising an expensive family with Camera Girl, I decided to get a job as an actuary at one of the many fine insurance companies in Manhattan.  Imagine my embarrassment to find that compared to being an actuary a lab chemist was like being James Bond.  These insurance actuaries were the most boring human beings that walked this green earth.  With two strikes against me I had to be careful what I did next.  I talked to some smart guys and they asked me what I thought of chemical engineering.  I asked them, “What is chemical engineering?”  Well, these wise men told me that it was the golden road to wealth, fame and happiness.  Since I’ve always been gullible, I believed them.  Where things went from there is a story for a long winter evening but suffice it to say that I abandoned science for the greener pastures of the engineering world.  In other words, I sold my soul to the devil.  But I earned enough to raise a family.

But I always hankered for the chance to take more math classes.  While I was taking my engineering courses I had the chance to speak to an old math professor of mine and described my regret that I’d be too busy for the next thirty years or so to take anymore math classes and wondered whether he could recommend a self-study text that covered all the fields of mathematics that I might be interested in.  I knew that this guy was something of a bibliophile and luckily for me he said he had the very thing.  He told me it was a Soviet Russian three volume set published in translation by the MIT Press.  It wasn’t too pricey so I bought it and stuck it in a corner of my bookshelf and there it sat mostly unread for thirty years.

About ten years ago I finally got my last kid out of college and paid off the house and I was looking at cleaning out all the junk I had accumulated over the years when I rediscovered this set of books.  On a lark I started thumbing through it and opened up the section on topology.  And quickly discovered that I still enjoyed mathematics.  Now you may think that engineering was a field where mathematics abounds.  But after almost thirty years in the field the mathematical content of what I did on a daily basis had degenerated from differential equations into spreadsheets to figure out equipment depreciation and maybe the odd pressure drop or heat transfer calculation.  I had become a lapsed mathematician.  So, it was with great pleasure that I scanned the various sections of the set.  Non-Euclidean Geometry, Topology, Prime Numbers and other equally useless but interesting things.  Now whenever I have time I delve into the books and lose myself for a few hours and enjoy the guilty pleasure of contemplating the whichness of what.  Today I was reading what these long dead Russians had to say about the relevance of Non-Euclidean Geometry when considering the details of our actual universe.  When a ray of light can be bent by gravity what exactly is the validity of the concept of the parallel postulate?  With our current understanding of particle/wave duality what exactly can we consider empty space?  These esteemed commies made a statement from what they call dialectic materialism and define space as the form of existence of matter.  Now what the hell does that mean?  From what I read they are saying that the concept of space only has meaning in the contest of matter.  Well does that mean there is no such thing as empty space?

This is great stuff.  It makes me feel young again and inspires me to want to write a science fiction story where everything in the universe is adjacent to everything else and therefore problems like faster than light travel are merely a matter of having the correct mental picture when attempting to go from your leather recliner to, let us say, a planet in the Andromeda galaxy.

Anyway, if you’re ever in need of a general reference on mathematics that might spark your gray matter, I highly recommend Mathematics, Its Contents, Methods and Meaning by A. D. Aleksandrov, A. N. Kolmogorov and M. A. Lavrent’ev.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 21 – Patterns of Force

Space Nazis!  In the immortal words of Dr. Zachary Smith, “Oh the pain, the pain.”

The Enterprise is headed for stellar system blah, blah, blah where there are two planets with humanoid life.  One planet, Zeon, is more advanced and peaceful.  The other, Ekos, is less advanced and warlike.  The Federation sent an observer ten years earlier name John Gill who was an historian that Kirk knew from back at the Academy.  Nothing has been heard from him for years.  Their mission is to establish communications with Gill and find out how conditions on Ekos are progressing.  As the Enterprise nears Ekos a missile with an H-bomb approaches and has to be destroyed.  Ekos should not have that level of technology so Spock and Kirk go down to the planet expecting trouble.

When they beam down they find that the Ekosians are dressed as Nazi soldiers and they are treating the Zeonians as the Nazis treated the Jews during their time in power.  We get several episodes of Kirk and Spock dressed as Nazis trying to infiltrate the Nazi headquarters to reach John Gill who they learn is the Führer of the Ekosian Nazi state.

They are captured, jailed, whipped and threatened.  Eventually they escape by manufacturing a laser out of the transponders that were subcutaneously emplaced under Kirk and Spock’s skin as a way to locate and rescue them if their communicators were lost.  They escape to the sewers where they join up with the underground resistance of Ekosians and Zeonians.  Eventually they reach John Gill.  They find he’s been drugged and he eventually explains that he used the Nazi model as one that could overcome the disorganized nature of Ekosian society.  It worked but then Melakon, his deputy, drugged him and seized power with the intent of going full tilt Nazi.  At this point the final solution is about to be unleashed on the Zeonians.  Kirk rouses Gill and forces him to make a speech denouncing the treatment of the Zeonians and blaming Melakon.  Melakon shoots Gill and is himself shot by the soldiers present.  The Ekosians renounce Nazism and focus on manufacturing high end automobiles.

What can I say?  What can anyone say?  Space Nazis!

So let’s get down to it.  Shatner has moments where he embraces his Kirkian magnificence.  At the beginning when McCoy is rambling on about what could have happened to Professor Gill Kirk very good naturedly reminds him that that is exactly what he and Spock are heading down to the planet to find out.  Later on when he is being whipped in the Gestapo dungeon he does a great Shatner pain face.  Not full intensity, but more as if an annoying hemorrhoid were flaring up.  Later on Spock has to climb on Kirk’s recently whipped back to reach a light bulb placed high on the prison cell wall to work his Rube Goldberg laser device.  Kirk reminds him very pointedly about the high quality of the whipping he had received and stresses that time is of the essence to finish the maneuver before Kirk collapses in pain.  The exchange may actually be the humorous high point of the episode.  A few funny non-Shatner lines are thrown in.  When Kirk and Spock are first disguising themselves in Nazi uniforms Spock notes that Kirk will make a very convincing Nazi.  Later on when Spock is brought before the deputy Führer, he has to stand passively by as the high ranking official gives a very insulting description of Spock’s physiognomy in pseudo-scientific terms that highlight the supposedly degenerate aspects of his distinctive ears and eyes.  Spock’s expressions while listening to the lecture are amusing.

Space Nazis!

I give this episode 4 // 7.

Executive Suite (1954) – A Movie Review

“Executive Suite” is a drama that details the personalities and ambitions of the executives of the Tredway Corporation, a furniture manufacturing company, as they react to the unexpected death of the company president Avery Bullard.  It also showcases the difference between two different kinds of corporate executives.  One is the inspirational leader who recognizes that a company is the intersection of human beings as customers, employees and ownership.  Someone who wants the company to succeed by striving for excellence in all the aspects of running a business.  The other vision is expressed as the narrowest focus on maximizing the stock dividend by any means possible.

The movie has an all-star cast with William Holden, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon and Barbara Stanwyck as the big names and other fine actors such as Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch, Shelley Winters and June Allyson rounding out the cast in support roles.

Bullard is leaving New York City to attend an executive board meeting at the Tredway factory in Pennsylvania.  He has a stroke and dies on the street in front of the office building where the Board of Directors meeting was just held.  His death on the street is observed from a window by one of the board members George Caswell, played by Louis Calhern.  Caswell take advantage of this insider information (Bullard’s death) to short 3,700 shares of Tredway stock in order to take advantage of the stock price drop that he expects to occur after the news breaks next Monday.  But unfortunately for Caswell, the company is about to report an extremely large stock dividend based on excellent profits.  This will make his short position extremely unprofitable.

As the news of Bullard’s death begins to filter through to the Tredway management, we get to see how each of the five vice presidents responds and what kind of men they are.  Walter Pidgeon is Frederick Alderson, Vice President and Treasurer.  He was Bullard’s loyal second in command.  He never had the drive to challenge any of Bullard’s decisions and he therefore has begun to drift into a more passive role in the company management.  Fredric March is Loren Shaw, Vice President and Controller.  He is currently the dominant force in the company.  Bullard has backed Shaw’s methods to maximize short term profits, even when that has meant producing shoddy product lines.  Shaw also maintains thorough surveillance of his fellow executives.  He knows about their private foibles and uses this knowledge to blackmail them when it suits him.   Paul Douglas is Walter Dudley, Vice President for Sales.  Walt is the epitome of the shady salesman.  He is having an affair with his secretary (played by Shelley Winters) and often ignores his family and business responsibilities to satisfy his own pleasures.  Dean Jagger is Jesse Grimm, Vice President for Manufacturing.  He is an old man who has seen the idealistic practices that Bullard espoused abandoned under Shaw’s penny-pinching program.  He is fed up with the shoddy products his plant has been forced to manufacture and is preparing to retire to escape it.  And finally, William Holden is Don Walling, Vice President for Design and Development.  Don is aggravated that Bullard’s promises to allow him to modernize and optimize the manufacturing processes have been abandoned to pursue short term gain.  His wife   Mary (played by June Allyson) wants him to quit and go someplace where his design talents will be put to good use.  The other two executive board members are stockholders.  One is George Caswell and the other is Julia Tredway (played by Barbara Stanwyck).  She is the daughter of the founder of Tredway and also Bullard’s long-time lover.  She is angry and depressed and looking to escape from all of the anguish she feels about Bullard and her unsatisfied relationship with him.

We watch as Shaw gathers up the votes, he thinks he can collect to assure his election to president.  Dudley’s vote he will get by blackmailing him over his affair with his secretary.  Caswell will sell his vote in exchange for a sweetheart deal to buy company stock and therefore cover his short position.  And Julia gives Shaw her proxy just to escape from the necessity of attending the painful meeting.  Along with his own vote this should give him the four votes he needs.

Meanwhile Alderson and Walling are attempting to stop Shaw.  Not knowing of some of the pressure that Shaw can bring to bear they try to persuade Dudley, Grimm and Tredway to elect Dudley as an alternate to Shaw.  Dudley because of the blackmail he is under of course turns them down.  Walling and Tredway get into an emotional argument because of her very traumatic feelings about the company and Bullard.  And when Dudley is no longer a viable choice for candidate Walling offers himself to Alderson as an alternative.  But Alderson breaks the news to him that Grimm will not vote for Walling because he feels that he is too young and inexperienced.

It all comes down to the board meeting and the voting fails to put Shaw over the top on the first ballot because Shaw had to provide Caswell with proof that he would be given the stock deal he wanted.  Shaw then provides him with this assurance and the meeting prepares to come down to a second ballot.  But before a motion is proposed for a vote Walling questions Shaw about his vision for leading Tredway into the future.

Shaw clearly articulates that the duty of a corporate leader is to do everything in his power to maximize the return on investment to the stockholders.  And he proudly claims that Mr. Bullard completely approved of the “improvements” Shaw had made at Tredway that allowed for the exceptionally large quarterly dividend that Tredway had just recently announced.

Then Walling answers him with a vision of a company thriving on excellence and integrity.  At one point he finds a small table near the wall of the boardroom that was an example of the shoddy craftsmanship that Shaw’s policies had fostered and he rips it apart with his bare hands and reviles a corporate philosophy that throws away the company’s reputation as a manufacturer of quality products to realize a short-term profit.  After this stirring appeal even Shaw votes with the rest of the board to elect Walling president.

I am not an idealist.  I understand that the good guys don’t always win.  I recognize that the market is a dog eat dog reality.  But I also have seen what lowest possible cost manufacturing has done to this country.  Corporate responsibility by American companies to its employees and the public is just as important as responsibility to its stockholders.  I watched this movie for the first time this week and I think the message it makes is very timely.  Add in the responsibility of government to protect American companies from unfair competition from rock bottom labor costs in the third world and you could be talking about a MAGA campaign ad.  And from the point of view of entertainment the movie is enjoyable and well made.  Even though this isn’t a movie I’ve seen over and over I can highly recommend it.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 11 – The Lady Vanishes (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This was Alfred Hitchcock’s last movie filmed in England before leaving for Hollywood.  The plot involves a train somewhere in central Europe with some British citizens on their way back home.  An old English lady named Miss Froy is involved in some kind of espionage.  She befriends a young woman named Iris Henderson who is going home to marry a rich man she doesn’t love.  When Miss Froy disappears from the train and all the other passengers and crew swear she was never there Iris recruits Gilbert Redman to help her solve the mystery.  There are comic touches that involve a pair of friends named Caldicott and Charters who are obsessed with reaching England in time to watch the National Cricket match.  In fact, the comic bit they did in this film was so popular that the actors, Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford respectively, reprised their characters in a number of films for many years afterward.

Hitchcock builds up the characters with plenty of background and personal details in scenes that take place before the train ride and once the young couple begin delving into the mystery it is obvious that a criminal conspiracy is taking place to kidnap Miss Froy, although no apparent reason exists.  On the train is a noted brain surgeon and he tries to convince Iris that a serious blow to the head that she sustained just before getting on the train is the source of her delusion about the missing Miss Froy.  Later on, we find out that he is the ringleader of the plot.

Finally, Miss Froy is freed and she reveals to Iris and Gilbert that she is a British spy and she must flee the train and go cross country to return to England.  But first she teaches Gilbert a musical phrase that is code for some top-secret information.  The adventure comes to a climax in a gun battle between the storm trooper and the English passengers as they attempt to take control of the train and flee over a border to a non-hostile country.  After several casualties they escape and return to safety.  When they reach England, Iris decides to forsake her rich loveless bridegroom and go off with Gilbert.  But first they head for the British foreign office to give them the musical code message.  But just as they reach the office Gilbert realizes he has forgotten the music.  But then hears the tune being played on a piano in the room they are about to enter and they see Miss Froy playing the tune.

This all sounds like a ridiculous jumble and in a way it is.  There are all kinds of odd things going on as there always are in a Hitchcock film.  A homicidal magician complete with a booth for making women disappear.  A mysterious burn victim with bandages that cover her face who is brought on the train well after Miss Froy disappeared.  There’s a deaf-mute nun in high heels.  A platoon of storm troopers that I guess are supposed to be German.  An avalanche, a murdered singer, clog dancers, a comedic Italian innkeeper who promises things he can’t deliver in four or five languages and scantily clad women.

But it’s actually highly entertaining.  All the little details of the story are well done and diverting.  The various characters are given enough development and even the villains are well rounded characters.  I thoroughly enjoy this movie and highly recommend it.

They Drive by Night (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This story about truckers back in the depression era is described as a film noir but I think I’d call it a melodrama.  George Raft and Humphrey Bogart are brothers Joe and Paul Fabrini.  They are partners in a long-haul trucking business.  They are owed money by the scheduler who assigns them loads and relatedly they owe money to the guy who sold them their truck.  We see them dealing with both sides of this debt relationship.  We also see how dangerous driving at the edge of exhaustion can be when their friend crashes his truck on the road in front of them because he fell asleep at the wheel.  And finally, it catches up with the Fabrinis.  Paul falls asleep at the wheel and drives off a slope.  The truck is totaled and because of his injuries Paul has his right arm amputated.  Joe breaks the news to Paul’s wife Pearl and she admits she is almost relieved that his disability will keep him from driving trucks ever again and at least spare his life.  Feeling responsible for what has happened to Paul Joe goes to an old friend of his Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale) who has a trucking company and obtains a driving job which will allow him to support Paul and Pearl.  But it won’t pay enough to allow Joe to marry his new girlfriend Cassie Harley (Ann Sheridan).  But there is a complication.  Ed’s wife Lana (Ida Lupino) is infatuated with Joe.  She talks Ed into making Joe the scheduler so that he’ll be around the garage and therefore easier for her to fraternize with.  But Joe refuses to go behind his boss and friend’s back with this unfaithful wife.  Finally, after being rejected categorically by Joe because of her status as Ed’s wife Lana goes crazy.  She drives Ed home from a party and after parking the car in the garage she leaves him drunk and passed out in the car and closes the garage door with the car engine on.  She explains the asphyxiation to the police as Ed sleeping drunk in the car as he often did and him somehow waking up, starting the engine and then falling back asleep.

With Ed gone Lana brings Joe into the business as a partner.  But now she finds out that Joe is engaged to be married.  She becomes enraged and tells Joe that she murdered Ed for him and won’t be separated from him for any reason.  Joe rebuffs her and walks away shocked.  Lana, now consumed by bitterness goes to the police and confesses that she murdered Ed but swears that Joe forced her to do it against her will.  Now there is a trial in which the circumstantial evidence provided by Lana makes Joe’s position very bad.  But when Lana finally testifies at the trial she has become totally unhinged through guilt.  She claims that she was compelled to kill Ed by the presence of the automatic garage door mechanism.  And she is dragged out of the courtroom laughing hysterically that it was the door that made her do it.

And so, we get the happy ending.  Joe owns the trucking business, Paul is his scheduler, the truckers admire and like Joe for his honest treatment and now Joe has the money to marry Cassie.

This movie is a product of the Hays Code.  Criminals have to be punished so we know that Lana is going to get her comeuppance and because Joe is a stand-up guy, he’ll end up okay.  And because this is a Warner Bros. studio production it has a lot of the character actors that were around at that time.  Alan Hale, Roscoe Karns and Charles Halton were some of the more memorable faces you see.  Karns has a relatively minor part as one of the truck drivers but he steals several scenes with his goofball manner and his fascination with playing the pinball games that seem to be in every diner that the truckers frequent along their routes between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The camaraderie between the truckers and the diner personnel is a substantial portion of the movie and some of the more interesting dialog.  But the movie belongs to Raft and Lupino.  Her ill-fated infatuation for him powers the plot, such as it is.  As I said, I consider this a melodrama and not a great movie.  But the Raft’s interaction with the rest of the cast other than Lupino makes this movie an interesting slice of life from the depression era and full of human interest.  This is not a great movie but it’s fun to watch. I recommend it on that basis.

Peace Talks – A Novel of The Dresden Files – by Jim Butcher – An SF&F Book Review

Back in 2018 I did a review of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files urban fantasy series.  In that review I enthusiastically recommended the series but noted that the last installment was released back in 2014.  This year Butcher published the sixteenth and seventeenth volumes in the series, “Peace Talks” and “Battle Ground.”  Somewhat unusually these two books comprise a single story.  So that means that the ending of Peace Talks is a great big “to be continued” notice.  Normally that would be extremely annoying but because the two books were released back to back it’s tolerable.  Another unusual situation is the fact that I haven’t read a Dresden Files book in several years.  For that reason, I’m having trouble deciding if the “voice” of Harry in the book is the same as it used to be.  I’m going to say that it isn’t the same.  Part of this may have to do with the changes in Harry’s status since his last story.  Now he is the “Knight” for Mab the dangerous Winter Queen and also the father of a young girl, Maggie.  I’ll have to go back to the previous book but I believe they have tamed down Harry quite a bit.

If you haven’t read the earlier books then you don’t want to jump into the series at volume sixteen.  Read my review of the series and decide if you want to start up with this very long but very good urban fantasy series.  If you have read the earlier volumes then I’ll report that the series is shaping up to be just as chaotic and crazy as ever.  As is Butcher’s way, the story starts out with an existential crisis developing in Harry’s life and then blossoms into the apocalypse.  Whenever something really bad happens the scramble to avoid catastrophe leads to a crisis that is orders of magnitude worse.  I will say that the pacing of the initial crisis seemed a little slow in spots based on my memory of how Butcher did these things.  And maybe that has to do with this being a two-book story.  But by the end of the book things were falling apart very nicely and Harry was right in his sweet spot, trying to save the world without any reasonable hope of even saving himself.  All his enemies were his only possible allies and all of his friends were alienated and hostile.  I won’t throw in any spoilers.  All the old characters are back and we see some of the damage done in the last book is still haunting the characters here.  Murph is seriously injured in a leg and arm.  She is no longer with Chicago PD and is awaiting additional surgeries and rehab to partially recover from her injuries.  Molly Carpenter is now the Winter Lady, Mab’s lieutenant and she has used her connections to provide Harry and his daughter with a home.  It is an apartment that is contained within a sort of embassy building owned and run by the Svartalves (dark elves) who are very serious about security.  This was necessary because in the last book the Red House Vampires finally burned Harry’s crummy home to the ground.  And his Volkswagen Bug was also finished off.  Now he’s driving a reconditioned and ancient hearse that he calls the Munstermobile.

I will say that the annoyance of having the book end in the middle of the story is acceptable because having Harry back is worth it.  I expect really good things from Battle Ground and if you’re a Dresden Files fan you have no choice but to jump in and enjoy the wreckage that Harry drags in his wake.  Highly recommended.