Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance – A Book Review

Several places where I read on-line had praised Vance’s book so I decided to read it.  I already knew basically what it was about but I guess I wanted to see what all the excitement was about.

J. D. Vance’s family came originally from Appalachia, specifically Jackson Kentucky. His maternal grandfather and grandmother moved to Middletown Ohio after WW II to let him get work in the steel factory there and his family became part of the boom economy in the industrial Mid-West that followed the war. But as that economic expansion slowly collapsed into the Rust Belt reality of the 1970s and beyond, his family more and more shared in the dislocation and finally the hopelessness of life in that blighted region.

Through the personal history of his family he presents evidence and draws conclusions about what internal and external factors led to the train wreck that is the Rust Belt.  And he tries to back up this evidence by including general information on the socio-economic and cultural characteristics of the white working class and specifically Appalachian people in question.

The personal story of his family and the details of their lives is poignant and honest and draws sympathy from anyone who came from a family that is full of complicated people who struggle and succeed and fail and generally make a messy story to tell.  It’s about the love and hate and anger and fear and confusion that consumed the first decade and a half of his life.  It’s got colorful characters like his grandparents who swear and spit and brandish guns and break down doors if strangers seem to threaten their family.  It’s his mother who tried to find a middle-class identity for her small family but was too damaged to even save herself from drugs and broken marriages.

In the final analysis I think that the point the book tries to make is that the people who left Appalachia were so ill-suited to live in the modern world of nuclear families and suburban society that only the post-war boom allowed even the illusion that they had assimilated into the Mid-Western lifestyle.  Their people were shorn of the support that multi-generational family units provided to them back in the hills and were surrounded by people who had been raised in and could take of advantage of the community resources that exist in middle America.  Vance’s family was always suspicious and angry at the school system and the police and the other government entities that could provide assistance to people in need.  Their independence when stripped of the extended family support structure meant isolation and poverty and an endless string of failures that reinforced the sense of hopelessness that eventually led to drug addiction and despair.

I think it’s a pretty interesting story.  And I recognize the components that he brings up as existing in the real world.  But he does let the powers that be off the hook to a degree that I think is unrealistic.  The post-war boom was a result of government policy that encouraged the harnessing of the human capital that had been freed up by the end of World War II.  Tens of millions of enlisted men were brought back to this country and it had been so thoroughly transformed that only massive top-down control allowed for the re-integration.  Thirty years later there was no similar top-down planning to continue that existence once the earlier generation disappeared from the work place.  The corporations were allowed to shift into a globalist mindset and because those Rust Belt workers were inconvenient because they made too much money or weren’t desperate enough to work like Japanese or Chinese workers they were dismissed from the plans of industry.

Vance may slightly touch on this but his thesis is that personal responsibility and family support systems are what saved him.  When his mother’s chaotic lifestyle came close to destroying his chance at building a healthy life his grandmother stepped up and provided a stable and supportive home in which he was able to re-apply himself at school and finally prove to himself that it was possible for him escape from the cycle of failure and break through to the normal world.

Okay.  His emphasis makes sense based on his experience and world view.  I think there is another side to the present crisis and he somewhat touches on this too.  Some say he is blaming the victims.  I think that overstates it.  I think it’s an interesting book.  I know it made me reconsider some things in my past.  And the anecdotes about his grandparents and that generation of his family are fun to read.  His family is somewhat in volved in the Hatfield and McCoy feud interestingly enough.  I’m not sure that this book is for everyone but if you are interested in the dynamic that has laid waste to the Rust Belt it might be something for you to read.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 24 – The Ultimate Computer

And yet another iconic episode.  Dr. Richard Daystrom is the genius who as a very young man invented the computer systems that are currently used on all Federation star ships.  Now Daystrom has progressed to a new computer the M-5 that can run a star ship without a human captain or almost any crew at all.  Commodore Bob Wesley has selected the Enterprise to test out the new system by setting up a war game between the Enterprise and four other star ships.

Daystrom comes aboard to set up the M-5 and continuously antagonizes Kirk and McCoy by stressing the fact that the M-5 will eliminate the need for a star ship captain and most of the crew.  Spock on the other hand is very familiar with Daystrom’s work and once the testing of the system commences, he agrees that the M-5’s performance far exceeds the results expected from a human crew and captain.

But in route to the second war game trial, the M-5 randomly attacks and destroys an ore freighter that luckily had no crew.  In addition, when Scotty’s engineering staff attempts to de-energize the M-5 the machine vaporizes one of the red shirts and employs a force field to prevent any human intervention in its control of the Enterprise.  After unsuccessfully trying to outwit the machine and disconnect it from the ship’s controls they are forced to watch in horror as the M-5 attacks the four star ships with full powered weapons.  One ship is completely incapacitated and its entire crew killed.  Commodore Wesley gets permission to use his remaining ships to destroy the Enterprise.  At this point we learn that the M-5 is acting illogically because it was constructed from the “engrams” of Dr. Daystrom’s own brain who as it turns out is mentally unstable.  This explains Daystrom’s very personal relationship with the machine and his erratic behavior now reinforces the fact that M-5 is quite mad.

In a final attempt to prevent the M-5 from destroying the remaining star ships Daystrom attempts to reason with the computer.  He attempts to convince M-5 that killing humans is murder and against the laws of man and God.  But Daystrom begins to identify with his creation and begins justifying self-preservation as the M-5’s right.  He begins ranting about the unfairness of how he was treated after his initial successes and finally he starts to gloat over M-5’s superiority over its human opponents.  Finally, he has to be sedated and hauled away to sick bay.

Kirk takes over and finishes the job of convincing M-5 that it is guilty of murder.  Unfortunately, he does too good a job and the computer decides to commit suicide by deactivating itself and thereby leave the Enterprise vulnerable to destruction by the Star Fleet squadron.  Scotty is able to restore only the shields but not communications.  Kirk orders the shields to remain lowered and he gambles that Bob Wesley will break off the attack rather than destroy the defenseless ship at least until the situation can be clarified.  When this succeeds Kirk explains to Spock that he gambled on Wesley’s humanity.  McCoy then uses this human virtue to assail Spock’s seeming preference for machines over humans.  Spock reiterates his already stated preference for humans over machines but states that a computer that has McCoy’s mental makeup would spout so much illogic that it would be a great source of amusement.  The End.

Everybody loves this episode.  When the M-5 flawlessly passes the first war game against the star ships, Commodore Wesley congratulates the M-5 on its performance and also sends his greetings to Captain Dunsail.  When he hears this Kirk storms off the bridge while the rest of the bridge officers look shocked.  When McCoy asks “who the blazes is Dunsail?”  Spock explains that dunsail is a term used at Starfleet Academy to describe a part serving no useful purpose.

McCoy goes to Kirk’s cabin to give him some medicinal alcohol.  Kirk admits to feeling useless and asks McCoy whether he himself is guilty of vanity, fearing the loss of his prestige as captain  McCoy tells him to ask Jim Kirk because Jim Kirk is an honest guy.  But sixty million Americans were yelling that night at their tv’s saying, “Yes you conceited blowhard, you strutting prima donna, that’s what this is about!”

But Kirk does have one great line.  When the M-5 shuts itself off.  Kirk yells to Scotty to go down to engineering and permanently deactivate the M-5.  His final words to the engineer are to shout, “PULL THE PLUG ON IT!”

The other attraction in this episode is the characterization of Doctor Daystrom.  He has both delusions of grandeur and a persecution complex.  At one point while he was reasoning with the M-5 he attempted to salve the computer’s feelings about being in error and when the machine stated its record of achievement Daystrom concurred stating, “Yes, I am great, you are great.”  Then when he went completely bonkers, he started reciting his grievances against his colleagues, “They laughed behind my back at the boy genius and got rich on my invention, my work!”

I really like this episode.  Two blowhards sharing the stage, Daystrom and Kirk.  Wonderful.

9  //  6.

Update:  Chemist had some good feedback that I thought I’d share:

“With all due respect Photog, you missed the best line in the show. It was McCoy’s to Kirk:
“Did you see the love light in Spock’s eyes? The right computer finally came along.”
Epic.”

 

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

Spoiler Alert.  All my reviews are spoilers.  If you wan to avoid them go down to the end and just read my recommendation.

For anyone coming to this review without any background to the Dresden Files, Battle Ground is I believe the seventeenth book of that series.  Jim Butcher has created quite a complicated and very entertaining world that centers on a Chicago that is embedded in a reality that has several kinds of vampires, two faery realms, werewolves, sasquatches, Norse mythological characters, Knights of the Cross, Fallen Angels and wizards.  And in particular Harry Dresden is the extremely conflicted and always wise-cracking Wizard of Chicago.  If you want to delve into the series, I guess it would be much more sensible and fun to start at book one but to each his own.

Battle Ground is the conclusion of the story arc begun in the previous book, Peace Talks.  And for all intents and purposes this book is taken up by the Battle of Chicago.  A really angry Titan named Ethniu has decided to destroy Chicago as a way to turn the human world against the supernatural groups that were parties to the “Unseelie Accords” that acted as a council to ensure that humans do not discover the hidden creatures all around them.

Along with her amphibious allies the Fomor who have a settlement under Lake Michigan they attack the city and with the power of the “Eye,” that Ethniu wields, they begin destroying the city and killing the population.  Standing against this systematic destruction and murder of Chicago is Harry and his allies.  I won’t say friends because many of them fear and/or hate him.  He has an Italian American mobster turned supernatural power broker named Marcone providing significant infrastructure, manpower and significant strategic support.  He has his current boss the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab the Winter Queen, providing her troops and her own very considerable magical powers.  There are Harry’s nominal brothers in arms, the White Council of Wizards that are always right at the edge of expelling him for all the unorthodox and insubordinate actions he takes.  This includes his grandfather Ebenezar McCoy who is more or less the head of the Council and who always seem on the edge of either throttling Harry or apologizing to him.  There are the Knights of the Cross who are Harry’s friends and possess power that can stand against the evil that the enemy represent but even with these allies Harry and his friends are hopelessly overmatched.

But Harry has one ace in the hole.  He has a magical resource that if he can lure the Titan to a certain spot would allow him to capture her permanently.  But in order to do that Ethniu would have to be lured in by targets that she wanted to destroy and the destruction that she would accomplish would be ruinous.  And that is what the book is about.  As Harry and his allies go block by block saving civilians and battling monsters the Titan levels the city skyscrapers on her way to confronting Mab and the other powerful leaders.  And it’s a long book, over four hundred pages and the overwhelming majority of the book is this battle.

If you’re a fan of the series, and obviously if you’re still reading at book seventeen then you are, you will like this book a lot.  Sure, there are parts of the battle that seem kind of repetitive or at least maybe overkill.  And I have never been a big fan of Harry’s romantic attachment to Karren Murphy.  For whatever reason it never seems to keep my interest.  And there are a few scenes where some of the characters sound a little too touchy feely with too much “I’m here for you,” and all that.  But there is plenty on the battle side and on the personal side of this story to satisfy fans of the books.  Some questions from Peace Talks get answered and some things that were left hanging remain that way.  Some old friends and enemies die.  Others change their relation to Harry and further complicate his life.  And some characters that do not have a major part in the action still provide a needed presence.  I always enjoy the character of Michael Carpenter.  He’s the retired Knight of the Cross who is probably the most grounded character in the series and also provides sanctuary for Harry’s young daughter when horrible things come looking for Harry.  And Harry reaches a kind of crossroads with respect to his stature in the supernatural world.  He is now a heavy hitter and has gained respect and even some wisdom.

What can I say?  You’re going to like most of this book. And there will be few things that you won’t care for.  But if you’re a Dresden fan you will have to read it.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 23 – The Omega Glory

In the highest circles of the Shatner-Khan hierarchy there is no more sacred text than “Eed plebnista” and “norkon forden perfectunun.”  One of my oldest acquaintances has been heard to spontaneously break out into this phrase with no visible rationale.  Because of these tendencies I tackle this review with great trepidation.  If I get it wrong there could be serious blowback.

The Enterprise is sent to planet blah,blah,blah to find out what has become of the Starship Exeter.  It’s found circling the planet and Kirk, McCoy, Spock and a redshirt fully primed for certain death beam over to the Exeter.  There they find a bunch of empty uniforms dribbling rock salt from the sleeves and pant cuffs.  Surprise, surprise, everybody’s dead and a video clip tells them that a disease brought up from the planet was the cause.  Being warned to beam down to the planet immediately they do so and find out that the lone survivor is Captain Tracey of the Exeter and he is engaged in Prime Directive defying aid to the Kohms in their war with the savage Yangs.  And unsurprisingly the Yangs are the descendants of the defeated white Yankees and the Kohms are the victorious Chinese Communists who won a biological weapons war and occupied the Yangs homeland.

But the Yangs are finishing off a long reconquest of their homeland and even with Captain Tracey’s fire boxes (phasers) the Kohms are in big trouble.  Tracey captures the Enterprise party and demands that Kirk provide him with ten more phasers with three extra power packs for each.  When the redshirt reaches for his phaser Tracey disintegrates him.  We also find out tha the disease that killed off the Exeter would have been harmless if the crew members had stayed just a short time longer on planet blah,blah,blah and now all of them could return to the Enterprise without risk to the ship or themselves.  But Tracey has discovered that the inhabitants live to be over a thousand years old and he is convinced that the secret to this amazing longevity can be discovered by McCoy and then sold by Tracey to the highest bidder once he’s beaten of the Yangs.  McCoy debunks the theory and says the longevity is just a natural byproduct of the survival after the bioweapon ordeal.

Meanwhile there is all this tuh-doing between Kirk and Tracey and a Yang prisoner who we find out is the Yang Chief Cloud Williams and his wife.  Finally Spock and Kirk escape from jail.  But eventually the Yangs attack the Kohms and we get to hear Tracey makes his horrified report of the battle, “They sacrificed hundreds just to draw us out in the open and then they came and they came.  We drained four of our phasers and they still came.  We killed thousands and they still came!”  Good times, good times.

So the Yangs capture all of the Federation personnel.  When the Yangs break out an antique American flag and Cloud Williams starts reciting a really garbled version of the Pledge of Allegiance Kirk completes the pledge and now Cloud wants Kirk to explain how he knows their sacred words.  But whereas Kirk wants to explain that they are from another world Tracey claims that Kirk and his crew are devils.  He uses as proof the fact that Spock has pointed ears and no heart.  Cloud Williams is unclear who to believe and asks if  Kirk can complete the most sacred of their texts which only a chief would know.  He starts it with “Eed plebnista.”  But Kirk can’t figure out what it is.  So instead he claims trial by combat against Tracey to the death.  Spock uses Vulcan mind games to get one of the Yang women to trigger a communicator and an armed landing party arrives with Sulu in command just as Kirk defeats Tracey but refuses to kill him.

Now hearing a few more of the words, “norkon forden perfectunun,” Kirk figures out that it’s the preamble to the Constitution and recites it and then gives Cloud and his tribal circle a civics lesson.  And then somehow they head back to the Enterprise, even though Sulu and the others are now infected with a disease that will dehydrate them down to bath salts within minutes.  The End.

“Eed plebnista” indeed.  There’s just so much to love about this episode.  Tracey beats up Kirk several times in the episode.  Shatner’s overacting while giving the Yangs their civics lesson.  And Tracey is so great in his angry intensity.  He wants that immortality drug and the power it will give him.  He comes up with that great “He has no hearrrrt!” line about Spock and finally he has his great narration of the Yang attack.

This gets a    10   //   7.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 14 – Saboteur (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Saboteur is one of Hitchcock’s earlier Hollywood era productions.  It’s the story of Barry Kane, played by Robert Cummings, a wartime factory worker who is mistakenly accused of being a Nazi saboteur.  The story starts out at an airplane manufacturing plant where Barry and his friend Ken Mason are employed.  At lunch they bump into another employee named Frank Fry who acts very suspiciously.  Barry sees an envelope that Fry is sending to a man in another town and finds a large amount of money that Fry drops on the ground.  When he gives the money back to Fry, he becomes very angry.  Suddenly a large fire breaks out and Barry, Ken and Fry head toward it.  Fry gives Ken a fire extinguisher but when Ken directs it at the fire, he becomes engulfed by the inferno and dies.

During the investigation it turns out that there is no employee named Fry and Barry’s story about the whole event is doubted when it turns out the extinguisher was filled with gasoline.  He is blamed for the fire and is being hunted as a Nazi saboteur.  He runs away and hitches a ride with a truck driver heading for the town that Fry’s letter was addressed to.

When he reaches the address, the man living there, Charles Tobin, denies knowing anyone named Fry but Barry accidentally finds a telegram from Fry to Tobin.  Realizing that Tobin is one of the saboteurs and has called the police to arrest him, Barry flees but is quickly captured by the police.  Later he escapes from them by leaping off a bridge into a river.  Eventually he reaches the cabin of a blind man who suspects that he is a fugitive from the law because he can hear Barry’s handcuffs clinking against each other.  The blind man prefers to believe Barry is innocent and agrees to help him get out of his handcuffs.  But the man’s niece, Patricia “Pat” Martin, arrives and wants to turn him into the police because of the news reports branding him as a dangerous saboteur.

Now follows a confusing and slightly ridiculous chain of events that involves circus freaks and an eventual change of heart by Pat toward Barry.  Eventually Barry convinces part of the sabotage gang that he is working for Tobin and is driven to New York City where the next big action is planned.  Pat is captured and also ends up in New York.  The new target is a battleship that has been completed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The saboteurs manage to sink it and capture both Barry and Pat.  But by a clever ruse she is able to signal the police and all the saboteurs except Fry are captured by the police.  Fry escapes to the Statue of Liberty and there is a climactic fight on the torch of the statue where Fry falls onto the torch arm and is hanging by his fingernails.  Barry manages to grab hold of Fry’s jacket sleeve and is waiting for the police to bring a rope to allow for a rescue.  But before they can arrive the sleeve rips free and Fry falls to his death.  Barry kisses Pat and the movie ends.

Well, you can’t say Hitchcock doesn’t throw everything including the kitchen sink into the plot.  Bearded women, Siamese twins, midgets, trusting blind men, a pretty girl who models for billboards, sunken battleships, the Statue of Liberty, the Hoover Dam, leaps off bridges, Rockefeller Center, Nazi spies, shoot outs in movie theaters, you name it.  And this movie is noticeably a Hollywood product.  There is all of the wartime patriotism there and the tropes that the studios had built up at this point.  The production values are high but the dialog and acting are a bit mediocre.

It’s a pretty good effort but hardly one of Hitchcock’s finest productions.  I’d called it recommended but not highly recommended.  Let’s say it is moderately entertaining but it wouldn’t be something I’d re-watch often.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 13 – North by Northwest (1959) – A Movie Review

North by Northwest is considered by many film critics to be the epitome of Hitchcock’s suspense movies.  It has several iconic scenes and involves several high-powered Hollywood stars being choreographed through a very intricate and confusing plot about spies and murder that has a love story embedded in the middle.  But I’ve always thought it was a bit much.  It’s almost a send-up of some of his earlier stuff.

The plot revolves around a New York advertising executive, Roger Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, being mistaken by a gang of Soviet spies for an American agent named George Kaplan who we find out later doesn’t actually exist.  Thornhill is kidnapped and brought to an estate on Long Island where he is given a choice; provide the Russian spies with information or be liquidated.  Thornhill adamantly maintains that he isn’t Kaplan and so they proceed with the murder.  They force Thornhill to drink a quart of bourbon and then put him behind the wheel of a car heading for a cliff.  But Thornhill manages to drunk-drive the car along a steep curving country road without crashing and eventually he is arrested by the local police.  After this there is a great deal of confusion as Thornhill attempts to find the men who attempted to kill him.  He next finds himself at the UN Building looking for the ringleader but instead he is somehow framed for the murder of a diplomat.

While trying to escape arrest by the NYPD, Thornhill next jumps aboard the 20th Century Limited, a luxury train that travels to Chicago where “Kaplan” has an appointment. On the train he meets Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint, and they begin a romance while she manages to hide him from the police.  But we are shown that secretly she is working with the Russian spies.  Eve pretends to get in touch with Kaplan for Thornhill and tells him to meet Kaplan at a rural Illinois bus stop that is surrounded by cornfields.  No one shows up until finally a crop-dusting biplane chases Thornhill and starts firing machine gun slugs at him.  Eventually the plane somehow crashes into a fuel tanker truck and Thornhill escapes back to Chicago in a stolen vehicle.

Now he confronts Eve with her spy friends at a fine arts auction.  He discovers that his nemesis is named Phillip Vandamm, played with his usual suave style by James Mason.  And he discovers that Vandamm is Eve’s lover.  In order to escape from Vandamm’s henchmen Thornhill comically heckles the auctioneers and is finally ejected by the police.  Thornhill tells the police that he is the wanted killer and they drive off to the local precinct.  But during the drive a radio call comes in and Thornhill is driven instead to the airport where a government agent called the “The Professor,” played by Leo G. Carroll takes custody of Thornhill and flies him to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  The Professor explains that Eve is acting as a government agent to provide information on Vandamm’s espionage ring.  But Thornhill has endangered her cover by falling in love with her and making Vandamm suspicious of her loyalty.

Thornhill confronts Vandamm and Eve at the airport.  He tells Vandamm that he really is the American agent Kaplan and he will allow Vandamm to escape in exchange for taking Eve into custody to punish her for her duplicitous behavior toward him.  When Thornhill becomes physical with Eve, she pulls out a small hand gun from her purse and shoots him several times and then flees.

Later we see the Professor driving into the wooded countryside somewhere in South Dakota and we see that Thornhill is uninjured due to the blanks in Eve’s gun.  Eve drives to meet them at this rendezvous point and explains to Thornhill that she must now leave the country with Vandamm on his private plane to complete her mission.  When Thornhill attempts to prevent her due to his romantic feelings for her, the Professor’s law enforcement associate punches Thornhill in the face and knocks him out.  Late he escapes their custody and heads to Vandamm’s home near the summit of the Mount Rushmore monument to get Eve to abandon the plan.  Hiding outside of the home he overhears Vandamm and his henchman Leonard, played with great creepiness by Martin Landau, discussing Eve’s status.  Leonard fires Eve’s gun at Vandamm and thus proves it is loaded with blanks.  After an initial burst of anger at Leonard Vandamm agrees that he will have to dispose of Eve by throwing her from the plane into a lake.

Thornhill manages to rescue Eve right before she gets on the plane but they cannot escape the property except by climbing down the face of the monument with Vandamm and his henchmen in hot pursuit.  Eventually a sharpshooter’s bullet by the Professor’s rescue party saves Thornhill and Eve from being forced off the shear rock face by Leonard who instead falls to his death.  Now that Leonard is no longer crushing Thornhill’s handhold on the cliff he manages to finally pull Eve up from where she is dangling over the abyss.  Whereupon the scene changes to Thornhill pulling Eve up to the elevated bed in their railway suite on the 20th Century Limited getting ready to celebrate their honeymoon.

Okay, so this is Hitchcock at the point in his career where he has gone a little over the top.  Humor has become a major part of the feel of the movie.  I’ll give some examples.  When Cary Grant is driving down the steep curving road drunk, the scene is decidedly comical.  And later on, when he is trying to avoid his enemies in the auction hall his demeanor is what you would expect of Cary Grant in a comic role.  It’s supposed to be funny.  And near the end of the movie where he and Eve are running for their lives away from the spies, when she asks him why his two earlier wives divorced him he deadpans that they thought his life was too boring.  This is sort of a comic movie.  And that’s not all that different from other movies from this period like Rear Window where comedy is added in.  But the improbability of some of the scenes like the crop-duster chasing him through the cornfields and the escape down the faces of the Mt. Rushmore monument makes the movie a little bit like a fantasy.

But it is entertaining.  Personally, I don’t watch this movie very often.  I have to be in the right mood.  I’d prefer to see Cary Grant in Notorious.  It’s a very similar plot but it’s played straight and has a very different feel.  But preferences differ and some people probably feel oppositely.  It’s still definitely one of Hitchcock’s better films, just not one of my favorites.  Still, highly recommended.

Last Man Standing – The Final Season – A Television Review

When this show came out in 2011 it was clever, funny, and the main character Mike Baxter, played by Tim Allen, was decidedly right wing and outspoken.  When Donald Trump won the presidency, ABC cancelled the show.  Fox brought it back a few years ago but apparently the writers were either lobotomized or warned to castrate the show to make it acceptable to their woke corporate masters.

At this point it truly is unwatchable.  The two older daughters and their husbands have been infantilized into mewling morons prattling on about inanities that would embarrass a five-year-old to admit to.  The characters at Mike’s work place are not quite as imbecilic as Mike’s children but it’s close.  And I’ll have to say Tim Allen isn’t looking well.  I guess he’s getting up there because he seems weak, almost frail.  Maybe it’s just the effect of being forced to go through the motions on a show that’s been gutted and then put on display as a trophy and a warning to anyone who dares to dispute the primacy of the narrative.

Farewell Tim Allen.  You had a good run.  You should have quit while you were ahead.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Everyone knows the outline of the Robin Hood story.  Robin is a Saxon nobleman who fights to avenge the oppression that the Saxons suffer at the hands of their Norman overlords.  He steals from the rich and gives to the poor.  He is a superb archer.  The story goes that while King Richard is absent on the Crusade his brother John uses the circumstance to overtax and terrorize the Saxon population.  The local tyrant for this story is the Sheriff of Nottingham who hunts relentlessly for Robin.  The happy ending is Richard’s return to England.

In this Warner Brothers’ version Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by Basil Rathbone inherits the activities usually given to the Sheriff of Nottingham and is Robin Hood’s primary enemy.  Robin is iconically portrayed by Errol Flynn in his most famous and most successful part.  And his love interest, the Maid Marian Fitzwalter is played by Olivia de Havilland.  Rounding out the major parts are Claude Rains as Prince John, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck and Alan Hale as Little John.  But many of the smaller parts are also ably performed by a crew of excellent character actors.

Robin Hood’s heroics and acrobatics are generously sprinkled throughout the film and swashbuckling is a word that might as well have been invented for this movie.  Robin and his merry men swing on vines through Sherwood Forest, scale castle walls, and sword fight their way up and down stone staircases with the greatest of ease.  Robin can shoot backward from a galloping horse and hit his foes with arrows as they gallop along in the dark.  And of course, the feat of splitting an arrow with an arrow in the bulls’ eye is called a “Robin Hood.”  And so, it becomes the climax of yet another chapter in the film.  Robin fearlessly confronts his enemies right in their strongholds and only once is captured.  But on the brink of being hanged he is rescued by his men and returns to Sherwood in triumph.  And finally, when King Richard returns to England in disguise, Robin saves both him and Marian from the murderous plots of Prince John.

And in the spirit of the happy ending Robin kills Sir Guy in a sword fight, restores Richard to the throne and is betrothed to Marian with the king’s blessings.  Because this is 1938 a certain part of the reason for this movie is the pro-British sentiment that was being sponsored by the US government to counter the rise of Nazi Germany.  But it really isn’t necessary to justify the regard that this movie received at its release.  It actually is a remarkably stirring film.  Errol Flynn embodies the swashbuckling hero and Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains positively exude villainy and malice.  As I mentioned earlier, all of the bit players are excellent and the script is crisp and the stunts wonderfully choreographed.  It is an altogether lively and spirited romp.

If you’ve never seen this movie, I suggest that you remedy that deficiency as soon as you get the chance.  Very highly recommended for old and young alike.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 12 – The Wrong Man (1956) – A Movie Review

This is sort of an oddball Hitchcock.  It’s based on a true story.  But being a Hitchcock film during his heyday, it is well worth discussing.

The “Wrong Man” is the true story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero a musician living in Queens, New York with his wife and two sons who in 1953 was accused of a series of armed robberies based on his close resemblance to the actual robber.  The movie walks you through Manny Balestrero’s life on the day of his arrest.  He’s coming home early in the morning from his job as a musician at the upscale night club, the Stork Club and after breakfast he discusses with his wife how to finance the dental work that she needs.  Because they live pay check to pay check he intends to get a loan on his wife’s life insurance policy.  But when he goes to the insurance office two of the women there think they recognize him as the man who robbed the office in the not-too-distant past.  After Manny leaves, their manager calls the police and gives them Manny’s name and address to have him arrested for the hold up.

The police call up Manny’s home and surreptitiously determine what time he is expected home.  Two plains cloth policemen, Lee and Matthews, are waiting outside his house in their car and intercept him before he gets inside.  They inform him there’s been a complaint against him and tell him to come with them to straighten it out.  The police have Manny walk through several local stores that were robbed by the same man and allow the store personnel to have a chance to identify him.  They then go back to the precinct where Manny is told to print up a note dictated to him to match the writing on a note that the actual robber handed the clerk at the insurance company.  When Officer Lee says that there is some resemblance to the printing in the note, he asks Manny to print it again.  This time Lee notes that a misspelling by Manny matches a misspelling in the original note.  This convinces the police officers that Manny is the actual armed robber.

Next, they have Manny in a lineup and the two insurance office clerks identify him as the robber.  Following this identification, he is formally charged with the crimes and remanded to the Queensborough lock up.  We see Manny being led to his cell and his tie taken away to prevent possible suicide.  And we are shown Manny desperate and confused as he awaits the next steps in his nightmare.

Meanwhile his family is frantically searching for Manny and assuming that he has met with an accident or some other misfortune.  Finally, much later the police leave a message at his home about his arrest and the arraignment in the morning.

At the arraignment Manny is told that his bail will be $6,500.  Lacking this large amount of money, he is remanded into custody and processed into the long-term jail.  He goes through all the usual indignities and is housed in a cell.  But very soon after his family manages to borrow the money and he is released on bail.

What follows is the process of Manny attempting to prove his innocence.  He hires a good lawyer and attempts to find witnesses to prove where he was on the day of the insurance company hold up.  Of the three possible witnesses two have died in the interim and one cannot be located.  At this point, Manny’s wife Rose suffers a nervous breakdown and goes into a clinical depression for which she is hospitalized.  The trial begins and the prosecutor paints Manny’s poverty in terms that make it reasonable that he would have been desperate enough to commit the robberies.  The witnesses are paraded into the court and dramatically identify Manny as the armed robber.  But during the summation, a juror irritably stands up and complains about the drawn-out nature of the testimony and causes a mistrial to be declared.

Manny has now reached the end of his rope.  His mother is staying over to watch the kids in his wife’s absence and in resignation he tells her that he wishes they would just convict him and end the agony.  She begs him to pray to God for strength and afterward we see him praying.  And then we see overlayed onto the scene of Manny praying, another face.  Another man, and the man’s face has a general similarity to Manny’s face.  Then we see the man enter a small grocery store and attempt to rob it.  He claims to have a gun in his pocket.  But the Mom-and-Pop owners of the store knock him down and subdue him.

The man is arrested and is in the precinct being processed for the robbery attempt.  Walking through the precinct and noticing the robber is Officer Matthews.  He walks out of the precinct but after a few moments he stops, looks puzzled and goes back into the precinct.

Now we see Manny at work at the Stork Club and his boss tells him they want him at the precinct.  Manny reaches the precinct and his lawyer is there and tells him the good news.  Now we hear the same two insurance clerks picking out the real robber in a line up.  When they walk out, they see Manny and embarrassedly hurry past him.  Officer Matthews smiles at Manny and pats his shoulder.  Then the robber walks by Manny and they both look at each other in surprise at their resemblance.  Manny accuses him saying, “Do you know what you’ve done to my wife?”  But the robber is just shuffled off to his fate.

In the final scene Manny visits his wife at the mental hospital where she is still deeply sunk into depression.  A post script says that two years later Rose is fully cured and the family has moved to Florida.

Hitchcock made a very good selection.  This story contains many of the components that a fictional account would include to provide human interest.  The innocent man caught in a circumstantial nightmare where his blameless life cannot protect him from a cruel twist of fate.  His accidental resemblance to a criminal and being in the wrong place at the wrong time almost destroy his life and that of his family.  Only another twist of fate saves him.

Hitchcock parades us through the police procedural but from the point of view of the innocent man trapped in the gears of a soulless large city’s law enforcement machine.  The dehumanization and callousness of the experience is mirrored in Henry Fonda’s haunted expression.  The harrowing details of his and Rose’s struggle is extremely effective in drawing out the audience’s sympathy.  Vera Miles as Rose and Anthony Quayle as their attorney Frank O’Connor are both very good.  But even Fonda isn’t the lead character.  The star of the show is terror, the terror of the wrongly accused.  The story reminds me of a Greek tragedy.  But in this case the sin is not hubris.  It’s living in New York City where no one knows their neighbors and no one is your neighbor.

The Holly and the Ivy (1952) – A Movie Review

Here’s one last Christmas movie review for the season.  It’s a small British film from 1952 with Ralph Richardson cast as Reverend Martin Gregory, a parson in a small Norfolk village.  He is recently widowered and lives with his older daughter Jenny.  His younger daughter Margaret lives in London working as a fashion journalist and his son Michael is in the British Army.  Jenny is in love with an engineer named David Paterson but David has a job offer that would send him to South America for five years.  But Jenny says she cannot leave her aging father alone and refuses to even tell him about her love because then he would sacrifice his needs for the sake of her happiness.

The siblings will be returning home for Christmas along with two elderly aunts and a friend of the family.  The drama turns on the tensions arising out of the grown children’s fears about what they believe are their father’s intolerant religious principles.  The younger daughter lives in London to hide the existence of her illegitimate child from her whole family so that they wouldn’t be burdened with hiding this secret from their father.

During the course of the Christmas visit all these secrets come out and Martin realizes that his manner has made him unapproachable to his children thereby isolating and harming them.  He has frank discussions with his visiting son and daughter and does his best to convince them that he is not an inhuman religious fanatic but a man who loves his children and is not unrealistic about his expectations for human beings and their problems.  And once the secrets are exposed a resolution of the practical problem of Martin’s household needs is very satisfactorily found.

Ralph Richardson’s Martin is quite moving in his portrayal of a man struggling to connect with his children through the distance that his station in life has created.  He shows compassion and humility when his children relate the tragedies that have plagued them and he defends the life affirming nature of his faith and rejects the idea that he has not faced similar problems in his life.  He shows himself a warm human being and dispels the illusion that he has allowed his children to build of him as some kind of caricature of an Old Testament prophet summoning down lightning on the heads of his erring descendants.

All the actors perform admirably including the more ancillary characters like David, the aunts and the family friend.  The script is warm and intelligent and the plot plays out in a streamlined eighty minutes.  In fact, I could have wished it had been a little longer.  As opposed to the bleak cinema that Britain produced in the 1960s this movie, based on a play by Wynyard Browne, is life-affirming and ultimately optimistic.  Highly recommended for Christmas time but really enjoyable at any time of the year.