Thursday, April 28, 2016

Never Saw It Coming

Even the greatest of television shows give us too much information -- sound and visual; and certainly story. Strange, considering we do not require background for most characters going in. The locations are normally familiar to us. So is what might be called the "moral architecture" of the show: we grasp in terms of style and meaning where it will go, and where it will not. The best episodes in the best series, usually by miracle, seem to contain these presumptions almost as distraction, using them to deepen and complicate the mysteries already at the heart of the matter.

For the first 20 minutes of its 48-minute length, "Counter Gambit" (an episode of The Rockford Files from the middle of its initial season) gives us nothing but false information. Two ex-cons with sudden new freedom hire private investigator (and ex-con) Jim Rockford to find a missing girl and her $250,000 of missing pearls. They expect Rockford to locate the girl, soften her up, get the lay of her apartment, then grab the loot. The only question seems to be whether the P.I. will return honor among thieves, or turn the necklace over to the cops.

Not exactly. The story begins way past middle and only after wrap-up can we understand what's really happened. "Counter Gambit" -- originally premiering for NBC on January 24, 1975, written by Howard Berk and Juanita Bartlett, directed by the fine actor Jackie Cooper -- is one of the great con episodes in TV history. Secretly dense and complicated, it feels like it was set up by the Rockford crew that week in about six seconds, the story was shot out of the trees, and no one ever saw it coming. It is perfect.

So many nice turns. Ford Raines as Manny Tolan. The wonderful Noah Berry Jr. twice briefly. M. Emmet Walsh as a particularly sweaty "insurance investigator." Garner throughout. Mary Frann luscious and seven years away from becoming Newhart's Joanna Loudon. And Stuart Margolin's first meaningful appearance as Angel Martin. (Margolin had directed a previous Rockford episode.) Not yet the corrupt and sniveling Angel we all know, "Counter Gambit"'s Angel is more endearing and smarter. (The scene inside the 1970s porn house is one of the funniest in the series.)

Eddie Fontaine steals it as Moss Williams.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Killjoy


I've bled Laker Purple-and-Gold since before they traded for Shaquille O'Neal, since before they drafted Magic Johnson, since before they traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabber, since Jerry West was the head coach and not the general manager. And I know I say this for all true members of Laker Nation: good friggin' riddance to Kobe Bean Bryant. Just as Kobe Bean -- the Almighty One -- hung a "good riddance" sign on the backs of Shaquille, Phil Jackson, Glen Rice, Rudy T, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Robert Horry, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Horace Grant, Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza, Jordan Hill, Josh McRoberts, Jodie Meeks, Ed Davis and Jeremy Lin as he shoved them all out the door. (Not to mention all the great and good free agents who would never consider playing in L.A. if it meant sharing the same space as Bryant.) He was a tight-ass, a bore, and he sucked all the joy from what was the most joyous franchise in American sports history.

Now let's open the windows.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Blood-dimmed Tide


First, the New York Times article.

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And Joseph Kishore.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ode to Joy


Do you know the game Smoke? It's sort of a Twenty Questions only with no limit to the questions and with more verve and flavor. There's one: If Grace Kelly were a flavor, which flavor would she be? (The taste of an over-ripe pear?) If JFK were a car, which one? If Obama a city? (Gotta be someplace bland, smug, predictable, middle-brow, and entirely safe. Portland. No wonder Robert Kennedy lost Oregon.) If Oliver Hardy were a building? The Chrysler Building a person? Cary Grant a drink? (The 50s Cary Grant. The screwball Grant?) The movie Vertigo a flower? A wonderful game. It brings you closer to the heart of the answer and of the question.

Here's an easy one. If my daughter Saya were a movie. . . .

*

Bringing Up Baby (1938) is silly, sweet, smart, stylish, serious, and interested in only one thing: having fun from dawn 'til dawn. As the song says, the picture can't give you anything but love (baby). Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) takes all things very seriously within his very narrow world, a world within which he can barely move without falling down or speak without stammering. Over the course of a miraculous day-and-night, Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) steals his golf ball, steals his car, rips his tail coat, nearly causes him to be mauled by a leopard, steals another car with David as accomplice, knocks a chicken truck off the road also with David as accomplice, steals his clothes, gets him arrested, and loses his Intercostal Clavicle (plus a million-dollar grant and the fiancée that came with it). By the end of the night, David wouldn't have it any other way. . .

As in all the best works of Howard Hawks -- The Big Sleep, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, To Have and Have Not, Rio Bravo, El Dorado, Scarface, Twentieth Century, Red River, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Man's Favorite Sport? -- the atmosphere thrown around us is the atmosphere in which life and death are equal, the movement is the movement that speeds on its way beyond good and evil, toward elation and transcendence.

Happiness and, I guess, all those things you've always pined for. . . .

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fear

Perhaps the most renowned and surely one of the funniest episodes of The Bob Newhart Show:  "Death Be My Destiny" from February '77.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Yes, He Will



Monday, April 4, 2016

Girl II

What a wonderful word. Defamed and discarded along the road toward the Corporatist takeover of feminism, then restored to mean quite the opposite of its original sense (girlzzzz = skanks with Attitude), it embodies a nature yielding, but only toward for what it yearns. Modest and proud; somewhat lost and incomplete. Warm; earnest; open. Seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Wondrous. Kind. Fetching. And a warrior.

My 11-year-old is a classic in the making; yet is it possible for a youth to pass through the Valley of Lena DumbHam and Kathryn Pigelow and Killary without being punked? Here's a classic: the young Elinor Donahue in a funny, moving and very lovely episode of FKB, "Betty Hates Carter" from Christmas Week 1955. (That's Robert Easton as the goofy and very lucky object of affection.)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Girl

Please let it stop snowing.

Stan Getz and the Gilbertos 50-plus years on. . . .