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Frankenstein 1970

There are few verities in this world, but I know of some; death, taxes, and there’ll always be a Frankenstein film I haven’t seen.

This is one.

Tonight I remedied that omission.

Ugh.

Many think Boris Karloff played Frankenstein in the best known film of Mary Shelley’s amazing story. Not true. Mr. Karloff played the monster created by Baron Frankenstein. It was not until this 1958 film that he actually played someone in the Frankenstein family, a descendant of the baron, facing a future of dwindling funds, who rents out the stark Frankenstein manse to a documentary film crew that resembles the film crew in ED WOOD.

I usually enjoy Mr. Karloff’s performances, but in this case Messiers Clive and Cushing did it better.

Having consistently watched more than the recommended daily dose of mad scientist flicks, I’ve acquired a dubious expertise in movie laboratory sets. This film’s iteration features bank after bank of consoles of dials and switches and gauges…very like a low-budget version of Dr. No’s lab. It lacks one of those lightning producing orbs that are dear to my heart, but it does have some dripping tubing in various places that suggest that somewhere there’s some fine bourbon bein’ born. There’s also a contraption that looks like a cross between an MRI and a crematorium…and an EZ-Bake oven… smokin’ up the joint. All-in-all, I’d give the lab an 85. It was easy to dance to.

Oh. On the audio side of production, the lab has the capability of disposing of human bodies. When it’s employed, it does so with the distinct sound effect of a toilet being flushed. I can only imagine how that was received in 1950’s movie houses. I can only imagine the glee of the movie critics of the day.

On the positive side…

There’s a moment early in the film that shows us three members of the film crew framed in front of a large, gothic fireplace. It recalled to me the opening scene in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN with the Shelleys and mad, bad Lord Byron. It may have been accidental, but I prefer to think the director and writers were paying homage.

Eventually we arrive in a ludicrous confrontation between a mummyishly-bandaged monster and a beret-wearing cameraman in a cave with a perfectly flat Hollywood cave floor (are there any other kind?)

I simply wouldn’t have any other way.

My Horrors Have Always Been Cowboys?

An in-depth viewing of BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA is on the slate for tonight.

I like horror movies.

I like cowboy movies.

I don’t like this.

That’s probably about as much in-depth analysis as the flick deserves but here are a few stray thoughts.

1. The film is directed by William Beaudine, whose nickname was “One-Shot Bill”. I’m thinkin’ that moniker is not complimentary to anyone involved with directing a film unless he happens to have a hot date waiting in the wings. This flick goes far in validating my thinking.

2. Virginia Christine appears in the film. Most of you know Ms. Christine, if you know her at all, as Mrs. Olsen in the Folger’s Coffee commercials of the 1790’s (feelin’ a little old this evening). But Ms. Christine had an acting career beyond coffee hucksterism, though frankly, this performance is probably not the best testimony to that fact. It’s certainly not “the richest kind.”

3. The costume budget musta been real tight. The two title characters never – I mean never – change clothes. One costume each for the whole movie. (One-Shot Bill = One-Shirt Bill?) I know that sounds picky, but it jars my suspension of disbelief. I can’t believe I just said that about a movie featuring a vampire fighting an American gunslinger.

4. Putting Billy the Kid in a sea-foam green chamois over-shirt might…just might…lessen his credibility as a tough guy.

5. Casting a thirty-plus year old actor as Billy the “Kid” more than likely damaged the film’s box-office appeal to teens. Perhaps if he had played a guitar and crooned a little cowboy/vampire/surfer ditty it coulda been redeemed.

I doubt it.

Shakespeare in 5/4 Time?

Movie night!

Wanna hear Othello play the piano?

Wanna hear Desdemona croon the blues?

Wanna see Iago rattlin’ a hot drum solo?

It’s all in All Night Long, Basil Dearden’s 1962 jazz retelling of Shakespeare’s OHELLO.

Set in Richard Attenborough’s swingin’ two story Mayfair apartment, top jazz performers gather to celebrate Rex and Delia’s one-year anniversary with an all-night jam. Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Johnny Dankworth, and Tubby Hayes are playing guests. Even Cleo Laine gets a shout-out as the guests arrive. Patrick McGoohan schemes and plays drums. Henry VIII (Keith Michell) blows weed and sax.

The acting in the film is generally sub-standard. The story is convoluted and implausible. It may be neither iambic nor pentameter, but the music is hot.

The movie is mostly a curiosity, but it looks great and the music makes up for considerable mediocrity.

There’s even bongos!

“Don’t worry man…everything’s co-o-o-o-o-l.”

Here Comes the Bride

Sometime after my twenties, it occurred to me that I didn’t have all the answers to everything. It was another ten years before I realized I actually didn’t have the answer to much at all. Still don’t.

However, I did and do retain the notion that those answers are still out there for me to find.

Except…

There are issues and questions I suspect we’ll never answer fully nor resolve to the non-MAGA world’s satisfaction.

Following the guidance of that profound philosopher W. S. Gilbert, I’ve made a little list;

  • What is the exact value of Pi?
  • Ginger or Mary Anne?
  • Pluto – planet or errant rock?
  • To be or not to be?
  • Designated hitter – yea or nay?
  • Elsa Lanchester’s make-up in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN – is it more outré as the Bride or as Mary Shelley?

I am an unabashed fan of Ms. Lanchester; especially in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I have previously extolled the screaming talents of Fay Wray in KING KONG and DOCTOR X. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Lanchester’s hissing in THE BRIDE. It’s an audible lightning stroke from her amazing hair-do through her imperious eyes to her voice and snarl that lances the horny monster’s heart. I cannot fathom how Boris Karloff could even continue with the show after that blow.

But Ms. Lanchester was more than a movie monster-ess.

Before her movie career, she was a cabaret performer. I have recordings.

To hear her saucily warble about “Fiji Fanny”, or the potential adventures “At the Drive In,” or to widen your eyes to the double entendres of “My New York Slip” and “I’m Glad to See Your Back” is…shall we say in that Old English way; monsterful.

She gives cheeky invitations; “If You Peek in My Gazebo” and “When a Lady Has a Piazza.” But be aware of her advice; “Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hat Pin.”

Yes, Ms. Lanchester implies she is imminently osculable, but her Cockney kiss may be followed by her knock-you-to-your-knees hiss.

A Tale of Two Cicadas

Apologies to Charles Dickens.

It was the blessed of climes until that burst of chimes…

…cicadas.

The cicadas are coming! The cicadas are humming!

We heard about it all winter, but faced with the tsunami of plagues filling our 2021 calendars (covid, anti-vaxxers, wildfires, floods, sonic assaults from Havana and Mar-a-Lago, the inexplicable inability of the Reds to hit left-handed pitching, and Hannity), strident sibilation from a bug seemed a low priority on the fret list.

And for the most part it was no big deal. Oh, there were a few stretches of scratchy serenades, wound-tight whiny choirs, and one full-blown hella-to-ya chorus I remember, but mostly the cicadian rhythms became just one more orchestra section for my backyard summer symphony.

Recently I found a solitary simulacrum on the back of our garage. It clung like an abandoned jewel, light brown-gold on the Keeneland-green wall. It reminded me of one of my favorite writers; Lafcadio Hearn. Being retired and free to change my daily agenda to meet just about any passing whim, I moseyed to our library and burrowed into the Hearn pile.

Mr. Hearn lived a meandering life in the second half of the 19th century. He lived and wrote in Greece, France, England, New York, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Martinique, and Japan. He translated French writers for the New Orleans newspaper, reported crime for the Cincinnati paper, wrote travel articles for national periodicals, owned a bar in New Orleans, and lived his final years translating Japanese fairy tales and lecturing English literature in the Imperial University of Tokyo, Japan.

I find his writing to be challenging and pleasant. He writes with such intelligence about places and times of which I am utterly ignorant, but his prose makes him a precious guide.

In his SHADOWINGS (Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1901), Hearn has a section designated “Japanese Studies.” One of the three parts of the section is entitled “Sémi.” Hearn tells us “sémi” is the Japanese word for “cicada.” Much of the article explores various Japanese attitudes towards cicadas as reflected by haiku.

Hearn notes; “Often a sémi may be found in the act of singing beside its cast-off skin.”

Waré to waga

Kara ya tomurð –

Sémi no koë

(Methinks that sémi sits and sings by his former body, — chanting the funeral service over his dead self.)

That’s one opinion. That’s one cicada.

Here’s another view.

Yo no naka yo

Kaëru no hadaka,

Sémi no kinu!

(Naked as frogs and weak we enter this life of trouble; shedding our pomps we pass: so sémi quit their skins.)

Which cicada might each of us be; the one who chants over our dead selves, our past selves, the old days, the glories past? Or the cicada that sings; “Thank you!” to and then leaves behind those past experiences and goes on to fly.

Which cicada might each of us be?

Which cicada might our country be?

I think I’m ready to quit those skins.

Like William Shatner, I think I’d still like to try flying.

That’s worth singing loud about.

Purging Fire Cures All

Movie night!

HORROR CASTLE aka THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBURG (1963) is tonight’s cinematic delight. It features the ubiquitous Christopher Lee and the constantly-backlit-in-her-negligee Rossana Podesta (even when the only source of light is the candlestick she holds in front of herself – I’m not complaining, you understand – but it defies the laws of physics).

Chris Lee is menacing and ruthless and dubbed in English for some unfathomable reason.

Ms. Podesta is best known for her work in various sword and sandal epics, especially HELEN OF TROY in which she allegedly beat out Elizabeth Taylor for the titular role.

I’m expecting this epic will end in a purging European fire as most of these giallos do. These euro-trash classics seem to feature Prometheus as their go-to deux in virtually every machina.

Sho ’nuff. It all goes up in flames and Mr. Lee bites the dust as usual. However, Ms. Podesta survives, perfectly coiffed, and ready for the next dim staircase.

I loved it.

It’s Not Wickedness, It’s Just a Choice

A famous writer of horror novels was supposedly asked; “You’re such a good writer, why do you write horror novels?” He supposedly answered; “Why do you think I have a choice?”

We watch people do stupid or wicked or evil things and wonder why they choose to do such things. Why do we assume they could choose to do anything else? Have we considered their options? Maybe their other choices are worse.

Let’s consider a hypothetical example.

Suppose a political party was faced with extinction. Their demographic was generally older and getting still older, generally white, and generally male. Their country was becoming increasingly younger and increasingly diverse; racially and sexually. The political power of their numbers was fading with no real prospect of preventing the eventual loss of monopoly of control. What are their choices?

Choice #1;

  • Change the party to enlarge the membership.
  • They could reach out to women; leave women’s health decisions in the control of the women involved, pay equally for equal work…
  • They could reach out to non-white people; support immigration reform, equalize access to medical services and equalize educational opportunities…
  • They could reach out to the LGBTQ population; end discrimination, stop talking about bathrooms…

It might work. It might gain voters. It might renew the party. It might.

But it would be a lot of work and it would take time and it would change the party.

The current membership of the party might not have the time or energy…or incentive to change the party. What’s in it for them?

Survival?

Perhaps…

But at this stage of maturing life, maybe long-range survival of party…or even country… isn’t as pressing an issue as clinging to the “bird-in-hand” for just a few more years. It’s good to be a senator. It’s good to be a majority leader. The offices are nice. The perks are killer. The stock tips are most highly useful. The dinners in Moscow on July 4th are real nice clambakes. Limos are nice. Insurance is great – better’n ObamaCare – hell, better’n Medicare – and a whole bunch better’n nothin’ at all. Pay’s good. Lots of time off. Hate to give it up.

Is there another choice?

Sure.

Choice #2;

  • Change the election rules. Suppress the vote.
  • Reduce the number of voting machines and locations.
  • Restrict absentee voting.
  • Reduce early voting.
  • Gerrymander voting districts to protect party members.

Or even;

Choice #3;

  • Launch an insurrection and kill a few people.

Whoa!

One can’t make good choices when every available choice is bad.

It’s not wickedness.

It’s just all that remains.

And one must choose.

Let’s Make a Deal

I’ve tapped my inside sources of Washington political doin’s for inside information for inside dope.

I live in Lexington, Kentucky, a bluish dot in a ruby red state. My votes count for little in a chorus of “I ain’t wearing no mask” chanters.

My connection to my red state senators consists of one Chamber of Commerce session listening slack-jawed to Rand Paul’s creepy musings about constraining welfare mothers, one Mitch McConnell political-donation harvesting event in a white mansion full of dark suits and dead animal heads, and an afternoon meeting in a small room in McConnell’s Washington digs with two of the myriad blonde young office ladies with whom I had made no appointment, listening to them earnestly explaining that my issues were Kentucky issues and that Senator McConnell tried to leave Kentucky issues to Kentucky elected officials while he concentrated on world issues.

These senators don’t call me with the inside scoop.

Nor do those myriad blonde young office ladies…but that’s probably for the best. Janie might hurt’em.

Mr. Trump calls me…often.

Well, he used to.

He was calling every night there for a few weeks. He stopped after I told him for the third time that the check was in the mail and perhaps he should reconsider that last brilliant hire he made for Postmaster General. I think he realized I was being a liar about the check. It takes one…

No, my inside info about Mr. Trump’s behaviors and motivations are divined from TV news, reporters’ and politicians’ twitter accounts, and newspapers (on-line)…

…and an afternoon seminar about 30 years ago.

It was a seminar by Herb Cohen, the author of YOU CAN NEGOTIATE ANYTHING. At the time I felt I was poor at negotiating and being left behind by my world because of it. Thus, I was in the group of listeners.

The first question asked of the speaker was predictable; “Can you really negotiate anything?”

The answer was one of the wiser and self-relieving things I’ve heard; “YES……but why would you want to?”

Damn straight.

Push, pull, strive, strain, fret, scheme, connive, cajole…when it matters. Otherwise, breathe an un-negotiated breath, and dance like nobody’s watchin’.

Another part of Mr. Cohen’s presentation has stayed with me and resurfaced this week as I watched Mr. Trump’s reactions to his electoral loss. Mr. Cohen described a negotiation using a picture of a scale (it was before power point had been foisted upon us). In order to move a scale in the desired direction, something must be added to the high side to raise the lower. Negotiations are like that. You have something I want. I must add something to my side that you want in order to move the scale.

It sounds so simple.

Why are we not seeing it in Mr. Trump’s recalcitrant behavior since the election?

The media says he’s pouting.

The media says he’s positioning himself for another run at the presidency.

The media says he’s establishing his legacy.

I don’t think so.

I think he’s adding to the scale.

What does he want?

  • He wants the Southern District of New York to leave him alone.
  • He doesn’t want to reveal his taxes.
  • He doesn’t want to go to prison.
  • He wants the Mueller Report/Steele Dossier/Russian collusion to be forgotten.
  • He wants his extortion of Ukraine to be forgotten.
  • He wants his frolics with Epstein to be forgotten.
  • He wants his payments to Stormy Daniels to be forgotten.
  • He wants his former aggressions against how many women to be forgotten.
  • He doesn’t want to go to prison.
  • He wants his kids and their spouses left alone.
  • He doesn’t want to go to prison.

His language to the president of Ukraine might go far to explain his actions since the election; “I’d like you to do something for us.”

  • You want to me to concede the election? I’d like you to do something for me.
  • You want me to stop challenging and denigrating our vote? I’d like you to do something for me.
  • You want me to allow and assist the transition to Biden? I’d like you to do something…
  • You want me to not purge the Pentagon? I’d like you to do…
  • You want me to not draw down the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq? I’d like…
  • You want me to send the Covid vaccine to New York? ……

Let’s remember this is the guy that wrote THE ART OF THE DEAL.

You want what’s behind door #3?

What’s it worth to ya?

A Face in the Fog

Movie Night!

Another stroll through Poverty Row, the tawdry low-low-budget collection of film studios that probably were not the stuff of which dreams were made.

Tonight it’s Victory Pictures’ 1936 ludicrous The Face in the Fog – a great title.

The movie…not so much.

But it has its charms;

  • It features bullets made from frozen water. The bullets melt after doing their damage, destroying the evidence (brilliant!), but amazingly survive for hours in the killer’s pocket before they’re used (stupid!).
  • There’s a theatre company terrorized by a hunchbacked villain called “The Fiend.” Well of course there is.
  • It features the classic death scene line; “I recognized him. It was…agh-h-h-h-!”
  • Our hero (an obligatory and intrepid newspaper reporter, engaged to marry the obligatory social editor) has to race to his desk to retrieve his pistol and his snap-brim chapeau before he can “follow that car!”
  • Said hero-reporter is accompanied by an obligatory and comedic dumb photographer. People once built careers playing this stock character. All my actor friends sitting idle in these pandemic days should be weeping now.
  • Beautiful and plentiful shots of great shiny cars with running boards and exterior-mounted spare tires are major moments in the flick. I’m not a car guy but these are knockouts and probably a single man’s ticket home.

All that…

All that……

…and it’s still pretty silly.

…frozen bullets…

I loved it.

Caravans

I was in Mexico and I saw the caravan.

Actually, I saw several.

My favorite was led by a decorated burro carrying a beautiful bride. The groom strutted beside her, followed by musicians, and formally-garbed family members and well-wishers. They sang. Yes – “Ay-i-yi-yi-i-i” rang in the narrow cobblestone street.

I sang too.

The caravan did not seem to be heading in a direction that threatened an invasion of my country and I admit to mixed feelings about that. This looked like a group of people that would make any country better.

The bride and groom were younger than, and the street was older than my country. I felt happily in between.

So, I sang too.

I was told a bit later by a cab driver that 28 weddings were taking place in San Miguel that day. 28 caravans not coming to invade the US.

I also saw a caravan of uniformed schoolchildren with backpacks released from school for the day. They ran, they screamed, they giggled…some of them even danced.

None of them demonstrated any invasive intentions.

One Sunday I was part of a caravan of gringo baby-boomers bouncing through the countryside to an open-air venue that featured killer tacos and a réchauffé of US rock from the 60’s. It was a real good time, but frankly, it felt more like an invasion than the other caravans I’ve described. Still, there was no threat in the air or on the news…just Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in Spanish.

I know there are serious sadnesses in our hemisphere that need to be addressed.

But there are also celebrations to be had around every corner if we are open to them. Fear and threats and lies will deny us the celebrations while doing naught to assuage the sadnesses.

I was in Mexico and with me was spring.

I returned home where spring was imminent.

I vowed to celebrate that spring…and sing…and find me some killer tacos.