Tuesday, August 11, 2020

This Could Be the Start of Something Big

At last, they begin to emerge. And with timing almost as brilliant as Mr. Allen's.

Until now, nothing of Steve Allen's late-night TV work of the 50s and 60s had been available on DVD. Nor on places such as YouTube. And not much now either, but we do have a start.  What with the ongoing late-night wars, and especially with a flyspeck such Jimmy Fallon not only taking over Steve's old show but doing it in the very same NBC midtown studio space -- well, as Nixon used to say, now more than ever. . .

Westinghouse. August 15, 1962. Amid spacious views of early-60s nighttime L.A. and its cars, Steve plays piano on top a 75-foot flagpole while peeking into neighboring hotel rooms, talks to the passing KTLA traffic copter, and tosses down salamis to his waiting fans on Vine Street. Back in the studio, Steve does a duet with an audience member, teases a pregnant lady, gets involved with a gas experiment that falls flat, teaches us about Mexican jumping beans (there are worms inside?). Introduces his guests: singer Bill Kerry (?), the great and sadly forgotten Slim Gaillard (look at those hands!), and the very young Barbara McNair. Steve finishes by sharing mattresses with a very fetching blonde baby doll (without a single dirty joke), and lets the baby doll take over the show by letting Miss Mattress call her law student husband (who had a very important test that day), and then lets her belt out a rockin' version of "Hallelujah, I Love Him So." Little is planned, or what's planned is turned on its head. Nothing is locked in. Steve takes us wherever the moment takes us.

Just an average Allen show. No topicality, meanness, elitism, condescension, cynicism, or hate. In their place ~ good cheer, silliness, and lots and lots of smart. (Those thinking there's a connection between comedic smarts and Knowingness deserve garbage such as Fallon.)

When we were carefree. . . .

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Last Liberal

46 years ago today, Richard Nixon said goodbye.

Was he the last man standing against corporate totalitarianism and the complete political takeover by the National Security State (yes, on the backs of millions of dead Southeast Asians)?

Three views.

And Chris Floyd's masterpiece essay.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Tuesday, August 4, 2020


In my post about the great Kim Novak, I mentioned the way of Hollywood and miracles. Novak and many classical stars were the result of happy accidents only possible in an isolated creation chamber where all bets were covered cold. So one could take a chance on an awkward, shy girl from Chicago who came to LA for she knew not why. Or on a rodeo rider/poker player/roustabout just wandering in from the rails, and turn him into Robert Mitchum. Archibald Leach was a trapeze artist from England. Poof! he’s Cary Grant.

And the movies. Can one imagine Detour (1945) being born under any other kind of system? Gun Crazy (1949), Johnny Guitar (1954), The Marrying Kind (1952), The Big Sleep (1946), Holiday (1938), Lady from Shanghai (1948), Out of the Past (1947), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), My Darling Clementine (1946), Angel Face (1952), White Heat (1949)?

Or Some Came Running (1959). Looking at the push novelist James Jones made as he proposed a $1,000,000 sell price for his yet-to-be-completed novel (by far the largest asking price in Hollywood history, eventually purchased for $200,000); looking at the best seller craze which dominated – and in many cases suffocated – 40s and 50s Hollywood; and looking at the seemingly too-cool-for-school cast, one might think the movie, hoping to catch From Here to Eternity lightning-in-a-bottle, would be just another middle-brow social issue project come down with elephantiasis.

Enter Vincente Minnelli. One would be hard pressed to find two male sensibilities as opposed as those of Minnelli and James Jones: Jones a brawling small town southern Illinois street kid who knew little beyond the military and the men in it; Minnelli the complete urban sophisticate, far more in touch with style, beauty, female sensibility, and affairs of the heart. Not a chance in heck that a director such as Minnelli (if we had one) would be brought together with a novel almost exclusively concerned with the problems of men, in the end-of-cinema Branding/Marketeer miasma we now must suffer. But it was possible in 1958. And it is this melding and confrontation between the two sensibilities which gives us the miracle of Some Came Running: a swaying back-and-forth, beyond the control of Minnelli, the true "story" of the film, a thematic resolution unresolved. Until it is.

James Jones – perhaps because of the money and because he was allowed to hang with the Rat Pack – seemed pleased with the movie adaptation of his 1,200 page opus. Which is kind of strange because Minnelli not only works to reverse the meaning of the novel, but challenges just about every part of Jones’s macho value system. Poker, drinking, broads, brothers, cars, back alley fights, the writer-as-warrior – all here, and all eventually trumped by a silly, stupid, madly-in-love girl named Ginny.

Veteran David Hirsch (Frank Sinatra) has decided to return home to Parkman, Indiana after 16 years away and a long hitch in the Army. Arriving from Chicago with a $5,500 poker bankroll burning in his pants, he learns he has arrived with something else as well.

Shirley MacLaine, here so natural and warm and lovely. . .

But for Dave Hirsch, other things. His successful older brother, mostly. In a beautiful mix of sequences, Minnelli shows how much a part of mid-20th Century American male ethos Hirsch is, almost to the point of caricature. Not quite. Minnelli (helped by Elmer Bernstein's fine score) temporarily embraces the ethos, particularly in the strange and moving shot of Hirsch's favorite books. And in the character of gambler Bama Dillert (Dean Martin).

Hirsch meets a girl with the appropriate name of Gwen French (Martha Hyer), the daughter of a famous poet. She's also the teacher of a respected writing class at the University. And she's madly in love with Dave's talents as a writer. As a writer.

Dave's already way past that.

She won't have it. So Dave does what any red-blooded American male would do in the face of female resistance: run off to Terre Haute for girls and gambling. (And to learn of Bama's hat obsession.)

Upon Dave's return to Parkman, Gwen French receives two visitors.

At last, David Hirsch sees the light. And loses his best friend.

In the most famous and bizarre sequence, the work's contradictions erupt into a holocaust of color and movement. The sins are paid for. And in a final gesture of pure cinema, Some Came Running resolves itself.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Stay Cool

A brutal summer here in the Apple -- on top of COVID fear, lockdown, and economic collapse, on top of police murders, on top of the Trump/Biden scumfest.

So Cool Struttin' by Sonny Clark: Jackie McLean on alto, Art Farmer trumpet, Paul Chambers bass, Philly Joe behind the drums, and of course the great Mr. Clark at piano.

Monday, July 27, 2020


Dr. Michael Parenti: "Reflections on the Overthrow of Communism," from 1998.

Sunday, July 26, 2020


Friday, July 24, 2020


Wednesday, July 22, 2020


I've never been much of a fan of Rod Serling or his original Twilight Zone. (Its contemporary genre sister One Step Beyond has always seemed more genuinely strange and mysterious and honest). There's a quality of over-literary slumming to most TZ episodes (the same feel I get from Herb Leonard's Naked City and Route 66 [George Maharis!] -- Method Museums both). Yet, from the position of hate and degradation we're all covered in by our current Commodity Culture, to deny the show's occasional greatness is absurd.

Episode number five was called "Walking Distance" -- premiering October 30, 1959 and starring the sadly forgotten Gig Young (who seems to have once lived in the Amberson mansion). Strange to say for a network TV show, but the greatness of "Walking Distance" is in its music -- perhaps the most moving ever written for a single episode of any series, by Bernard Herrmann, coming off of Vertigo and North by Northwest, and preparing for Psycho. An excess of love seems to come from the sound, a kind of abnegation and loneliness which speaks of what is tender and what is lost forever. Herrmann's music contains the ghost of tenderness itself. (And how much better the episode would be without Serling's nail-on-the-head narration.)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Superman Came to the Supermarket

In the midst of the conspiratorial cowardly betrayal known as the 21st-century Democratic Party -- a real man, 60 years ago this month.

Thursday, July 16, 2020


I'd always thought (after many viewings) that Hitchcock's astonishing shift from James Stewart's POV to Kim Novak's begins with Judy's look into the camera and her writing ~ then tearing up ~ a confession letter to Scottie, almost 100 minutes into the movie. No.

Vertigo is pregnant with her tenderness and sorrow from the start. Perhaps the whole work is born from her actual fatal descent off the bell-tower, looking back. For how could something like this come from a man as hard-headed, humorless, cold, prosaic, and contemptuous of women (Madeleine at first, Midge, Ellen Corby at the McKittrick) as is this ex-detective?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Cancel Cancer

First, the queasy letter signed by every Neo-Con/Neo-Lib scumbag imaginable.

Then, Aaron and Max.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Love Crazy

At first glance, 1950's Gun Crazy is a mere re-telling of the 1930s Bonnie and Clyde myth, following up on Nick Ray's They Live by Night from the year before and Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once (1937). At heart though, Gun Crazy is one of the most deliriously romantic films ever made.

A young man and young woman are obsessed with guns, and both can shoot out the eye of an eagle at 100 yards. When they first meet, what else can they do but fall in love? Since everything around them in straight society means to rip them apart and put them in their place, they do all they can across the landscape of post-World War II America to make their love burn ever brighter.

Peggy Cummins is the soul and guts of the film, always stoking the flames, director Joseph Lewis making prominent the delicate silvery cut of her face (while eventually betraying her): that delicate girl face below the blonde hair. Love must murder us unless we possess it altogether, is the look she gives us. And yet she has a fear of the man she is in love with, for she senses that his words and gestures, perhaps those she could possess. But him, his private substance — she would never have it, and so her eyes often shudder.

At the end, she is proved correct.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Bernie Redux Again

An astonishing discussion on Bernie the Coward and that pathetic wad of pseudo-hipsters and narcissists pretending to be the U.S. left. (Don't forget to wear those masks!)

Monday, July 6, 2020


Old viper John Simon once joked that Jerry Lewis could cure muscular dystrophy overnight if during his next Labor Day telethon Lewis announced he would disappear forever if everyone watching sent in 25 cents. One of the worst of the two billion degradations in our current cancel culture is that far more people think of Lewis (those who remember him) in terms of "his kids" and that annual telethon than think of him as one of the great movie directors of his age. Which he was.

Lewis's movies are deep and complex and necessary, movies which are especially beautiful to look at, with amazing and ever-changing pace. And it is here where we begin to understand just how deeply and devoutly Jerry Lewis believed in the magic and in the transformative possibilities of movies themselves. His Total Filmmaker is one of the best (and funniest) filmmaking books around.

French filmmaker Gregory Monro has created a lovely documentary celebrating Lewis's art, Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Mask.