Dial M for Ray

As the curtain rises.

In the fall of 1984 I was spinning a bit. I had filed for divorce, was living in a 56-year-old house with a 25-year-old furnace, 2 window air-conditioners, 3 shiDial 01ngle roofs on top of each other, a 30-year/1-year-old mortgage (at 18%) and a strange tortoise-shell cat. The math wasn’t favorable – the cat (Scandal) was desperately trying to pull me through.

My friends had divided themselves into two camps. Some became hard to reach – I understand that – ya got yer own lives to muddle through. Others made life better. They didn’t ask what they could do, they just did it. I will always hold a “reverse grudge” for those folks.

On stage, I was active but playing a lot of amputees and drunks; violent amputees and drunks…gay and violent amputees and drunks. It’s not an acting category for which you see much advertising frequently. Hey, it was acting/storytelling opportunities…great……but it didn’t have me “looking at the stars.”

Then Ray Smith offered me the lead in his February production of DIAL M FOR MURDER. I explained to Ray that I was going through a rough patch just now and maybe I should pass on this chance. He dismissed my misgivings; “All the more reason you should do it! It’ll do you good!!” Well…no…it would do Ray good. But the script was good, the cast was fine, and the character had a full inventory of limbs, wasn’t a drunk (though he did have excellent taste in Port), and got to wear a couple of nice suits. Hey, I’m easy and Scandal said; “Go ahead, but change my litter first, you lazy son-of-a-bitch.” Ya know…to be called pejoratively a son-of-a-bitch by a cat…it just makes ya go “Hm-m-m-m” on so many levels.

Historical (or hysterical) notes

Ray had directed me in BILLY BUDD my freshman year at UK. It occurred to me then that it was an odd choice to choose to do a show featuring a cast of 22 men and no women in a theatre department that featured 15 men and 80 women, but what did I know? I was a freshman and just happy to be there. <<Cue the big goofy grin at the camera>>

I also puzzled about the wisdom of having a tech rehearsal that began at 7pm Saturday and ended about 5pm Sunday. Is that really a good business plan? However, it did afford me the quality green room time necessary to learn the basics of bridge over the weekend.

But it seemed odd.

Later that year, I served as Ray’s stage manager for WING OF EXPECTATION, an opera based on the insanity trial of Mary Todd Lincoln. Ray discovered I was a mere freshman a few days before opening night of the show. He wasn’t happy about the newly discovered vulnerability of having his show (about to be produced at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC) running in the hands of a fellow who just twelve months ago was trying to score a date to his high school prom – go figger. He made my life a living hell from that moment through closing night.

Again…odd.

I’ve written more about that episode. See “A Horizontal Lincoln at That” in the blog archives if you’re interested.

There was also the moment one night when leaving the Paddock Club (a legendary theatre-folk rendez-vous of burgers and cheap beer and dim lights and rugged pinball machines and blurry dissections of the New York theatre scene of which we knew nothing) at closing time when vague suggestions of an advancement of blurriness concerning the student/teacher relationship hovered in the air. The “no” was definite and un-blurry and graciously accepted as definitive and un-blurry and never spoken of again. Hell, I doubt he ever remembered it.

Mama never said there’d be days like this.

Well, those were hippie days, blessedly free and easy. There was often more than a bit of confusion about possibilities and desires. Clarity was a valuable commodity for all concerned but not always near-to-hand.

Ray and I had also acted together once in THE NIGHT THOREAU SPENT IN JAIL. He played Ralph Waldo Emerson to my Henry David Thoreau. Ray was at a point where his grasp of his lines was acute but a bit exotic and his grip on his lines was fragile. One performance, Ray got a look on his face that clearly read; “Rodge, ol’ buddy, I haven’t a clue. You might wanna take it from here and save the women and children.”

I have since seen that look on other thespian faces and, thanks to Ray, it holds no terror for me. I seize upon it as an opportunity to practice survival skills or just chat for a while in front of a lot of captive people who paid to be there.

I liked Ray…a lot.

I considered him, as Kurt Vonnegut puts it; “another nice way for people to be.”

He added much to life in Lexington and subtracted little. I miss him. The math was good.

DIAL M FOR MURDER

All this is to say I knew what I was getting into with DIAL M. I hoped to entertain with our performance and I was anticipating that Ray would be entertaining along the way to opening night. I was not disappointed.

Our first rehearsal began 20 minutes late because Michael arrived 15 minutes late. Ray spent the other five minutes lecturing everyone on the infinite damage inflicted on rehearsals and the universe in general due to tardiness. Math was not Ray’s particular long suit but he performed some for us and demonstrated that Michael’s 15 minutes, when multiplied by the number of rehearsal participants affected, was actually 2 ½ hours. At this point I humbly asked if that meant every further minute of delay was actually ten minutes and Ray ordered the stage manager to commence the rehearsal toute suite.

But the damage had been done. I knew it. Nancy and Bob knew it. We had worked with Ray before.

Michael’s fate was sealed.

Ray had a habit of settling on one member of each cast to be the whipping boy. Michael’s initial tardiness promoted him into that position for DIAL M. Since we were all working for free, it was a brevet promotion; more grief – same pay.

Ray’s standard lecture on “magnetic toes” was demonstrated repeatedly and loudly on Michael’s feet. “Magnetic toes” was Ray’s metaphor for actors that habitually and artificially faced straight front. It was if they had magnets in their shoes that forced their shoes to turn straight front. It was a bizarre concept, but simple, and I kinda dug the sci-fi behind it…the first time I heard it. Michael heard it in at least 5-6 rehearsals. He was perplexed, not being a sci-fi kinda guy.

And then there was the pipe/line/ash-tray ballet.

Michael’s character held a pipe and an ash-tray and had to deliver a crucial line. Ray described what he wanted;

“Start the line…pause…tap the pipe three times on the ash-tray…say the next word…pause…tap twice…look at Roger…finish the line.”

Michael took the plunge;

Tap twice…say the line.

“No, no, no!” Ray restated the agenda; start, pause, three taps, word, pause, two taps, look, finish.

Michael winged it.

Start, tap twice, look, finish the line, look.

“No, no, no!!” Ray shook his head, took the props from Michael and demonstrated; start, pause, three taps, word, pause, two taps, look, finish.

Michael took a quick inventory of available exits from the theatre and tried again.

Start, pause, tap, word, look, three taps, finish.

“No, No, No!!!”

……

On about the tenth repetition of this morbidly entertaining cycle, Michael gave me a look – a desperate and silent plea for release from this mortal coil. I took that as an opportunity to check in visually with the other actors in the room. Nancy was reading a book, Bob was snickering in the corner, and Paul (who had never worked with Ray before) had assumed his now classic “What kind of mind……?” posture.

Well, it was never resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

I felt bad for Michael, but damn, it was funny, and I’m glad it wasn’t me.

The SEAGULL

My favorite moment in the DIAL M experience actually happened at a different play. We were rehearsing and performing in a small theatre at UK, but the backstage area was connected through a scene construction shop to a larger stage where a production of Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL was being rehearsed.

Our stage had virtually no backstage space. Thus, we lingered (and malingered) in the scene shop before our entrances. It was real good time – the only thing missing was a keg. I recall one evening when Bob and I recreated (to the soul-killing boredom of the rest of the cast) all of Robert Altman’s movie NASHVILLE – every word in every inane song. A recording should have been made…and immediately used as evidence for an ensuing prosecution.

The director of THE SEAGULL was not as charmed by our antics as we were (imagine that) and complained at a Theatre Department meeting that she was doing “goddam Chekov” and deserved a measure of respect. That only served to provide us with our mantra; “We’re doin’ goddam Frederick Knott!”

SEAGULL opened a week after our show. On their opening night Ray scheduled a line speed-through to prepare us for our second weekend. We started early and went really fast. We wanted to go the opening of SEAGULL. We finished and ran around to the audience entrance of the other stage. It was sold out and the only seats left when I arrived were on the very back row…except for one.

Ray, being on the faculty was allowed to cut through the scene shop and enter before the general audience. He took full advantage. When I walked into the in-the-round configured theatre I saw Ray on the front row, legs and arms tightly crossed, smoking a cigarette (ah, how times have changed). He had commandeered and defended the seat next to him and when he saw me he flung his cigarette hand in the air, raised his eyebrows to the approximate orbit of the moon, and gestured with a tilt of his head to the empty seat beside him.

I had a front row seat.

Sweet.

But…

The configuration was in-the-round. I hate theatre in-the-round for two reasons;

  1. I paid for a show and I only get to see half the show. Half the time the actors are facing away from me and playing to the other side of the audience.
  2. I came to see the play, not the audience on the other side of the stage.

This was demonstrated immediately that night. I looked out over the set on the stage and in the ineffective darkness across the stage picked out several regular Lexington theatre-goers including Anna-Mae H–, a devoted attendee. She waved gaily.

The lights dimmed (except for Ray’s cigarette). Ray leaned over and murmured; “I understand there’s a lot of suffering in this play.”

The lights came up and one of my favorite actresses raced onto the stage and wailed; “I am suffering!”

I looked back at Ray and his eyebrows had achieved the approximate altitude of Saturn in an expression that wailed; “What did I tell you?”

I was painfully choking back the giggles at a play by goddam Chekhov.

Anna-Mae waved gaily.

I lied.

I said that was my favorite DIAL M experience. Actually it was number two.

In the audience on the closing night of DIAL M FOR MURDER there was a cute little redhead. I was allowed to miss strike so I could take the cute little redhead out for a drink after the show. It was our first date.

Last year, we celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary.

Ray was right. Doing this show?

It did me good!

Four Ways Out

Movie night!

So many odd delights on tonight’s bill.

First up; a preview of Eegah!

Yes, the legendary Eegah! – one of the 50 worst films of all time.

I’m sure we all share warm and fuzzy feelings of Richard Kiel’s poignant and teeth-flashing portrayal of “Jaws” in several James Bond films. It’s always been intriguing to me that while he played Jaws the character, he wasn’t the title character in Jaws the movie. Well, he had already accomplished that feat years earlier in Eegah!. Mr. Kiel was perfectly cast as Eegah, the last of the Incan cave men (who knew the Incans even had cave men?), which admittedly, is not as noble an accomplishment as the being the last of the Mohicans.

There is even some doubt in the film as to who IS the most credible cave man.

Arch Hall, Jr. makes his teen idol ala Ricky Nelson debut in this film. He actually rivals Richard Kiel in coarseness. Our buxom damsel in distress, Marilyn Manning, has a tough choice.

If I were her, I’d punt.

Dune buggies, sappy and soulful songs on a guitar (where’s John Belushi when ya need ‘im), cacti, and a low budget swimming party, struggle to replace surf boards, Annette and Frankie, and the Pacific Ocean…and sappy and soulful songs on a guitar.

I almost found myself rooting for Eegah.

This cinematic lagniappe is followed by Four Ways Out, an Italian film from 1951.

By the way, this double-feature beats my previous champion for weird movie combos. I believe Charles Edward Pogue was with me one afternoon at the Opera House (back when it was a dollar-matinee second-run movie house) for a double-feature of the Barbra Streisand musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever with the historical battle-flick Waterloo. That was a jolt to the senses but this exceeds that experience.

Four Ways Out features a script co-written by Federico Fellini. The man is a god to me, but remember; this is 1951. Amarcord was still 20+ years in the future.

This is a criminous tale of the heist of a big soccer game’s receipts and the ultimate destruction of the four thieves that pull it off.

The film has several interesting things to recommend it; a thief named Guido (you can’t go wrong with a thief named Guido), a crude devouring of pasta (you can’t go wrong…), and a scene wading in a fountain (always a winner in Italian film, though frankly, Anita Ekberg did it so much better).

That’s all nice. But the reason to watch the film is much simpler; beautiful Italian women acting their hearts out. A very young Gina Lollabrigida smolders as she dials up the police to obliterate her boyfriend and a zaftig Cosetta Greco (I don’t know who she is – nor do I know the Italian for “zaftig”) giving a performance like a cross between Lauren Bacall in Key Largo and Joy Page in Casablanca.

You can probably guess…I liked it.

Baseball 2020

Tonight’s home plate umpire has an entertaining and malleable strike zone, but the beloved (and bemused) Reds are currently ahead. I’ve seen a good bit of 2020’s baseball-in-the-time-of-the-cholera.

Some thoughts occur;

  • I like the rule change starting each extra inning with a man on second base. It maintains the clock-free bliss that is baseball while intensifying the action in the extra innings of a game that has stretched over the years. The strategy of waiting around for a home run isn’t so sound under these new conditions. With a runner on second and nobody out; singles, doubles, and (God forbid) sacrifices are back in play. You might still be sittin’ and watchin’ a tie game for the rest of your life, but you’ll be seein’ some action.
  • Ditto for the rule change requiring a relief pitcher to pitch to at least three batters or to the end of an inning. It adds a dollop of strategy to the game and it eliminates seeing four pitchers warm up in one half-inning.
  • The jury’s still out for me on the designated hitter, but I’m not as opposed I was. Tonight, it’s a lot more entertaining to see catcher Curt Casali batting in the ninth slot than wailing at Luis Castillo’s inept whaling.
  • The crowd sounds being pumped into the empty stadiums need to go away. It’s a hoax. It sounds like a hoax. It makes me wonder if the game is really real. It makes me wonder if we really did land on the moon.
  • The two-dimensional fans in the stands are odd, but at least they’re not all looking at their phones.
  • I like Sam LeCure’s increased participation with the broadcast team. He is more relaxed this year and has an interesting wit and perspective. I’m also happy to see more of Lexington-born Jeff Piecoro…but then, I’m an unabashed homer.
  • The Reds are flat-out disappointing. The highest batting average in tonight’s starting nine belongs to Nick Castellanos. He’s batting .237…pitiful. New additions to the team have not delivered. Moustakis has neither impressed at the plate, nor in the field, and has been often injured. Shogo Akiyama is just now fighting his way through a tough transition to US baseball. Matt Davidson has been released from the team. Pedro Strop, and now Wade Miley – injured. And then there’s Nick Senzel, clearly our answer in center field for the foreseeable future, injured and now injured again. This team should have been in the playoffs this year. It looks highly unlikely now.
  • On the happy side, the pitching has been strong and deep, and all should be Reds next year. A corps of young potential stars are interesting to watch. José Garcia, Tyler Stephenson, Aristide Aquino, and Nick Senzel all should be Reds next year.

I do dearly love the game, though it has and will change. So must I.

But the strike zone…that should be immutable. Someone tell tonight’s umpire.

May your launch angle be correct, your exit velo be 110+, and your spin rate be dazzling.

And this one belongs to the Reds! (Despite the shimmering strike zone)

Quisling

A geezer moment.

Remember, on TV, usually in the evening, during the non-prime-time that local stations would set aside for PSA’s (public service announcements, run for free to prove why the station is worthy of their precious license to broadcast), an earnest, usually unfamiliar face would appear on the screen and say; “Hi, I’m (name of unfamiliar face), and today’s WORD FROM UNITY is…” They would state a word and proceed to expound inspirationally on that word. It was an effort to make the viewer think and be better.

I don’t think it was particularly effective.

I don’t remember it continuing for too long.

Why?

Well…the words weren’t really that interesting, truth be told. Of course, at that time, how interesting could they be? There was no internet, no Google. If the word was at all outré, you’d have to go to the library to look it up!

Well, that was then. This is now.

 

Hi, I’m Roger Leasor, and today’s WORD FROM UNITY (whatever UNITY is) is; quisling.

 

Quisling.

Look it up.

Read a bit about the man himself. You already know him and his regime pretty well.

I think the word could be useful in the next few months and, perhaps, years.

A Mindful Day

It has been a mindful day.

Chores were done.

Some weeds have been pulled, and admired for their tenacity. The tiny backyard lagoon has been cleaned and listened to. The vacuuming and dish-washing has been finished and meditated over. Janie cooked and I devoured it with glee.

It rained usefully. The gutters generally performed well, though one downspout commands attention.

Governor Andy reported and twelve Kentuckians lost to covid-19 are mourned. Our green light is shining.

Pretty exciting stuff, huh?

Now I sit in the library with dusty books and bright, insistent screens. The windows are open to the petrichor and the evening sounds.

One of those bright screens is showing the Democratic Party’s Convention.

The roll call’s a snooze, though Kentucky’s Colman Eldridge was quite moving. Presidents Clinton and Carter are ill-served by this virtual format.

But the keynote speech…

…ah, yes-s-s-s-s.

It was parade of young Democratic leaders; a rainbow of races and genders, and a symphony of accents. It sparked a covid-tamped curiosity back to life. This show of diversity reminded me of a hippie innocence that once believed all could be made right and fair and equal for all.

These young people could convince me again.

Pretty exciting stuff…

The Crimes of the Black Cat

Movie night!

The Crimes of the Black Cat sounds like it should have been directed by Roger Corman and should have starred Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. Wrong! Thank you for playing.

This gem’s a nasty little giallo from 1972 featuring the always-pleasant-to-look-at Silva Koscina. You could have loved her in Hercules (1958), Lisa and the Devil (1973), and The House of Exorcism (1975)…but probably didn’t. You might have loved her in Uncle Was a Vampire (1959), but if you did, therapy should be seriously considered – I have some names. It also features the always wooden Anthony Steffen. I doubt if you loved him in Django the Bastard (1969) or The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) but I couldn’t resist the name-dropping opportunity – and what names. Mr. Steffen also held his own with acting giant Lee Majors in Killer Fish (1979).

The director of the film, Sergio Pastore, has few credits, but four years before making tonight’s film, he directed; Chrysanthemums for a Bunch of Swine.

What kind of mind…

Can you picture that on a marquee?

In the 60’s and 70’s, my generation was “…working on our night moves…” (Bob Seger), and trying to find “…paradise by the dashboard lights…” (Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf), at the drive-in theater. The screen entertained and encouraged our fumbling explorations with dancing hot dogs, buttercup popcorn, and Hammer Studio’s latest vampire/Frankenstein/mummy flicks, all with pristine sets, light from everywhere, and buxom babes in peril wearing lots of clothes with puffy sleeves. These were horror movies, but every victim died clean and the blood spilled was bright Christmas red. These were horror movies, but the monsters, be they covered by fur, bandages, or cape, felt as if they’d had a shower reasonably recently. Said monsters might assault a woman, but generally, the camera cut away from the actual deed, and clothes though disheveled and ripped, remained strategically intact even when sinking in quicksand.

Damn.

I admit profound ignorance about the existence of drive-in theaters in Europe during this time. But I discovered the “drive-in” films they were then making in Europe were clearly different…and I have been drawn to watch them like a car crash ever since.

They are sexy; occasionally fleetingly and implied, but often prolonged and explicit, and there are no warning labels.

They are violent; occasionally fleetingly and implied, but often prolonged and explicit, and there are no warning labels. Organs and limbs could, at any moment, become free to roam willy-nilly.

They are dark. Light with no discernible source is non-existent. In many scenes, light is non-existent.

The sets, in many cases are real…and often older than our country…and do not feel as if they’d had a shower this century.

These films are foreign…foreign in language, and sensibility, and foreign to my personal history and experience.

That does not make them wrong.

It makes them interesting.

It does not make them good.

Just interesting.

That’s good enough for me.

Tonight’s film, The Crimes of the Black Cat is far from original. If you saw Blood and Black Lace (1964), which, frankly, would stun me, you know this story. The Crimes of the Black Cat is clearly and simply a second artistic take on a story that clearly and simply didn’t need a first take.

It does feature some novel weapons of murder; a yellow Volkswagen, a cat with poisoned claws, and a hole in the ground. It does surpass my friend Eric Johnson’s bar (not known for its height) for filmic pulchritude. It fails utterly in my friend Joe Gatton’s Creative Backlighting Standard.

Otherwise, I’ve seen it. I loved it. You can skip it. You’re welcome.

Ripe for Redemption

Movie night!

And we’re slummin’ on Poverty Row, Hollywood again. This time we’ll be sampling one of the low-budget efforts of Republic Pictures.

Tonight’s delight is a forgettable little wisecracking-detective saga from 1946; The Inner Circle. The title has nothing to do with the flick…but it is fun to say out loud in your best funereal voice. There are interesting performances by Ricardo Cortez, William Frawley (the definitive Fred Mertz, Lucy & Ricky’s neighbor), and the almost delightful Adele Mara.

But what makes the film worth watching is Will Wright.

WARNING: a geezer moment is about to ensue.

Will Wright is one of those faces that haunts my TV-watching childhood. To me, his career sounds like a dream. In the movies he worked with Tracy & Hepburn in Adam’s Rib (1949), Peck & Mitchum in Cape Fear (1962), Powell & Loy in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), and Brando in The Wild One (1953). That should be enough for anyone, but then there’s his television resume. Mr. Wright was in The Dick Van Dyke Show, Perry Mason, The Real McCoys, Rawhide, 77 Sunset Strip, Leave It to Beaver, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Maverick, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Animal stars flocked to him in Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, Mister Ed, and Fury (“The story of a horse and the boy who loved him.”- you can also say that in your best funereal voice). He portayed town skinflint Ben Weaver in several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, including a Christmas episode that pretty well shattered my pre-teen heart.

Mr. Wright was born old, was often mean, but seemed always ripe for redemption.

…ripe for redemption…

Maybe that’s what’s missing in some of our elected leaders these days. I fear they’ve drifted far from being ripe for redemption.

Maybe we could use an actor like Will Wright for these troubled times.

Prickly Wisdom

Someone posted a link last week to an article about Walt Kelly – I forget the reason…as if you need one. It prompted me to delve in my treasure trove of Pogo compilations.

It is a treasure trove.

These books are probably not worth a lot of money (what books are anymore?), but the drawings, the word play, and the ideas are priceless and never fail to delight me.

For example, if you were sick in bed, wouldn’t you cherish a visit from your great friend Porkypine that included the comforting assurance?

“I jes’ wanted you to know, if they had made soup outta you, I wouldn’uv et any.”

“Wouldn’uv” – that’s worth the price of admission right there. I’ve always been tempted to use that contraction, but I wasn’t sure I knew the proper spelling. Now I may use it every day.

Porky’s personal dietary restrictions are just that; personal. He don’ hold the rest of the world to his standards. He’s pragmatic ‘bout it; “We never know who’s next. Somebody allus is a-eatin’ somebody…in a perfectly friendly way, natural.”

Nowadays, it doesn’t seem as “perfectly friendly” though. But then, perfectly friendly isn’t really Porky’s forte.

Porkypine is a paragon of stability among the denizens of Okefenokee Swamp. He is changeless. He scowls and don’ like nobody enough to hug’em. When asked if he sticks hisself when he rolls over in bed at night, he replies; “Yes, and I’m glad! ……don’ like nobody……” You always know where Porky stands, and with any luck, it’s not too close to you.

I admire ol’ Porky, but I do fear getting too close to him. In these shelter-at-home, social-distancing, tribal partisan days, it’s too easy to get all prickly and snarly and hug-shunning. As Governor Andy says; “You can’t be doin’ that.”

Besides, even Porky gets out and visits folks, whether he likes ‘em or not. He has been to the theatre and gets quite moved by certain performers’ efforts. All my theatre friends wouldn’uv complained if they could’uv earned this review; “One time, in a ha’penny tent opera, he sung such a fiery, bing-bang, harum scarum, drag’em out death scene, I din’t think he’d live through it.”

I’d buy a ticket to that.

Yes, I’m thinkin’ there are some swamps that don’ need to be drained.

Parole Bored

Movie Night!

Watching the 1948 treat; Parole, Inc. It’s from another Poverty Row studio; Orbit Productions.

Publicists cry, “All-Star Cast!” a lot, but when is it truly appropriate?

Tonight is that night.

I’m talkin’ ‘bout a flick that offers Turhan Bey (you loved him in The Mad Ghoul-1943 and The Mummy’s Tomb-1942), Evelyn Ankers (you loved her in The Frozen Ghost-1945, The Invisible Man’s Return-1940, Son of Dracula-1943, The Ghost of Frankenstein-1942, and The Wolf Man-1941), and…wait for it…Lyle Talbot (you laughed at him in Plan 9 From Outer Space-1959, Mesa of Lost Women-1953, and Glen or Glenda-1953).

There are two amazing things about that last sentence.

  • I’ve seen every one of those films and, sadly, am not ashamed to admit it.
  • None of these film actors are the starring actor in tonight’s film.

That honor goes to Michael O’Shea. You probably didn’t love him in anything, but Barbara Stanwyck loved him in Lady of Burlesque-1943, and he’s actually OK in this flick, which is more than you can say about the Bey/Ankers/Talbot trio. It’s also more than you can say about the film itself which centers on a criminal gang infiltrating a parole board.

If you have that on your bingo card, I concede.

No, not so good…but Lyle Talbot has certainly done worse.

I Picked the Wrong Year to Give Up Drinking, Smoking, Amphetamines, and Sniffing Glue

Movie night!

One of my favorite TV shows growing up was Sea Hunt starring Lloyd Bridges. I was watching Mr. Bridges dive underwater long before he was watching the skies blearily in Airplane. And long before that, he was making tonight’s movies.

That’s right, I said “movies”…plural.

It’s a Lloyd Bridges double-feature tonight (now there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day); The Limping Man (1953) and Trapped (1949). Inexplicably, neither have been made into musicals or roller coaster rides.

The Limping Man features early 1950’s plane travel (yes, it was hard to seriously watch Bridges in an airplane of any kind) with passengers disembarking on the runway and then walking to the terminal in the open air. (Geezer moment – this was de rigueur at Bluegrass Field in Lexington when I began flying, rain, snow, or shine.) The seats on Mr. Bridges’ movie plane were bigger than my first apartment.

The movie also features a complex and smart plot and a completely stupid ending. Think Dallas and weep.

Trapped features lots of Treasury Department doin’s with counterfeit twenty dollar bills (a bogus twenty in 1949 was damn serious bidness) and clunky cars in Los Angeles in the shortest car chase I’ve ever seen. Little-known fact illustrated by this flick; the Treasury Department in the late 1940’s was comprised 100% of white men in three-piece double-breasted suits. I’ve not seen such a monolithic wardrobe in film since Men in Black. Mind you, I’m not complainin’, I’m just explainin’ – I love a good three-piece suit.

The film also features a young and delicious Barbara Payton which is quite worth the price of admission. Ms. Payton later made an interesting early Hammer sci-fi film; The Four-Sided Triangle (1955). Unfortunately, much of the plot of The Four-Sided Triangle revolved around the irresistible physical charms of Ms. Payton’s character. By that point in her career, she wasn’t quite as irresistible, but she looks great in Trapped.

As for Lloyd Bridges…

…well…

…he was in both flicks.

Looking for Mr. Wong

Movie night and a lovely evening for another stroll through Poverty Row; the low-budget side of Hollywood.

Asian detectives were plentiful and standard fare for movie-goers in the 30’s and 40’s. They remain so today for me. Charlie Chan (either Warner Oland or Sidney Toler), Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto, and Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong are all welcome to solve my homicidal conundrums. All of those actors are improbable, occasionally silly, and delightful. None of them of course are actually Asian…go figure. But then, the last Pad Thai we ordered was of dubious ethnicity now that I think of it.

The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939) offers us all that foolishness in big servings;

  • Our Asian detective is played by an Englishman with a Russian-sounding name. Oh yeah…I’m buyin’ that.
  • Thrilling quote #1; “Then it was deliberate murder.” (Is there really any other kind?)
  • Thrilling quote #2; “He’s absolutely trustworthy, completely devoted to me.” (I’d be slappin’ the cuffs on him pronto.)
  • Boris Karloff’s make-up looks more like it’s from Madame Tussaud’s than Nanking.
  • Thrilling quote #3; “You know something, but you hold your tongue in more than one language.” (I know there’s wisdom in there somewhere but it plumb evades me.)
  • The clock strikes three a.m. in the film, but when Mr. Wong emerges from his bedroom at the police detective’s summons, he’s wearing his dressing gown and a perfectly knotted tie. Classy. Of questionable sleeping hygiene, but definitely classy.
  • The McGuffin in this flick is “The Eye of the Daughter of the Moon” – not quite as catchy as “The Maltese Falcon”.

What fiddle-faddle.

I loved it.