Thursday, January 31, 2019

Doing Time for Cash

Not everyone gets a good job after college as one young couple discover in the 1937 film The Wrong Road. So they decide to turn to crime--"So long as we don't hurt anyone." Their plan is fascinatingly weird enough and the morals at play are curious enough to keep the film interesting despite starchy performances and really bad dialogue.

We meet young Jimmy (Richard Cromwell) and Ruth (Helen Mack) on one of the few nights out they allow themselves. They helpfully proceed to deliver exposition to each other.

"Daddy went broke but he didn't tell me," says Ruth, ruefully reflecting on why she's not a wealthy society woman now.

"I thought I was stepping into ten thousand a year as an engineer," Jimmy replies informatively. "And look at me. Working for beans in a bank."

Ruth says she could live under reduced expectations, she could work hard in such a life, but she'd hate it. Despite having reached the point where they're willing to steal money for the lifestyle they want, they still both have a strong moral compass and heartily agree they'll only commit the crime if they can do it without hurting anyone. And, apparently as a self-imposed penance, they both decide not to hide their guilt and to serve ten years in prison, at the end of which they'll retrieve the hidden 100,000 dollars they've stolen (that's just under 1.5 million in to-day's money).

Why do they find this more acceptable than living in poverty? This is never addressed. The whole film seems to be a morality lesson for viewers, explaining just why one shouldn't attempt any scheme like this, making me think this was something authorities were worried people might actually try. But I can't find anything indicating anything like it actually happened.

But Jimmy and Ruth end up only doing two years in prison because they have a sort of guardian angel in a police detective named Roberts (Lionel Atwill). He has faith in the kids so he gets them paroled and follows them all over the place to offer routine, gentle admonitions. But if the film's goal was to talk people out of doing something like this, the road blocks it throws into Jimmy and Ruth's way are so specific that no point is really made. They choose to hide the money in a music box and send it to an uncle in Chicago who unexpectedly dies and his possessions are auctioned off, leading to an auction scene. Then the box ends up with a strange man who sleeps in a fur cap who demands his nurse call him "Pinkie".

Anyway, I suppose its incumbent upon me to warn the reader; don't steal a million dollars, hide it, confess to taking it, and spend ten years in prison. If you're still not convinced, The Wrong Road is available on Amazon Prime.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Just Another Game with Jewellery

There's a rash of high profile jewel thefts and around the same time a young man who works nights just happens to rent a room in the home of a wealthy family in 1935's Checkmate. The name suggests a battle of wits and this is a satisfying little puzzle of a film even if doesn't reach the heights of some of the best mystery films of the period.

The irascible old Henry Nicholls (Felix Aylmer) reluctantly accepts Phillip (Maurice Evans) into his home. Philip is an intensely cheerful, amiable young man who says he works nights as a telephone operator. More eager to welcome him into the home are Henry's perky, beautiful daughters, Mary (Evelyn Foster) and Jean (Sally Gray). It's not long before Mary and Phillip start getting attached to each other while Jean is more interested in the mysterious young man who runs a garage across the street, Jack (Donald Wolfit).

The two couples go out to dance halls together but Phillip and Jack eye each other cautiously with something more than the competitiveness of two rivals in love. The girls, meanwhile, suspect nothing and only wonder with occasional irritation why the boys aren't paying more attention to them. In one amusing scene, they queue up, passing dishes from one to another, the girls giggling while the men prod each other with insinuations. I love the suggestive lapels on the top Mary's wearing in the scene.

Obviously, someone's going to end up being the jewel thief and someone else is going to end up an undercover police inspector. But who? The film reveals the true identities of its characters slowly throughout. It's not especially complicated and the actors aren't especially interesting but they're good enough, each having the standard charm of professionally trained British actors of the 30s. And the story's twists confer the delight in discovering answers to interesting trivia questions or crossword puzzles. The film is barely over an hour long and does the viewer no harm. It's available on Amazon Prime.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Detectives in Current Affairs

I've stopped thinking about how big people's hair looks in the 80s segments on True Detective and started thinking about how small the haircuts are in the 90s segments. But last night's decent enough episode, "The Hour and the Day", was mainly about racism and cross wired sexual chemistry.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I like the tweed coats the cops wear in the 80s better than the shiny early 90s suits, too.

Wayne (Mahershala Ali) and Roland (Stephen Dorff) interview a Catholic priest and discover the kidnapper they're looking for is probably a black man with a dead eye. Mostly during the interview I was thinking how I hope it doesn't turn out the priest is a paedophile and the kidnapper. The show couldn't possibly go in a direction that cliche, could it? Obviously there really are paedophile priests but they pop up way more often in fiction, to the point where any additional paedophile priests are really going to have to bring something new to the table or explore the issue in some greater depth.

The stand-off in a black community when Wayne and Roland track down a black man with a dead eye was another moment I feel like I've seen in ten thousand movies and TV shows. For some reason the example that came most vividly to mind was the cheesy 1993 cop film Rising Sun where Wesley Snipes guides Sean Connery through a black neighbourhood. Anyway, if you want to see a really good cop movie dealing with racism in the American south, I recommend In the Heat of the Night. Criterion has just released it on Blu-Ray and DVD.

A little more fun is the relationship between Wayne and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) in which their ideological and philosophical differences somehow manifest in great sex in the 90s and a really sexy first date in the 80s. The chemistry between Ali and Ejogo really makes it work. He's so contained and deliberate while she's more extroverted and impulsive. Ali always seems to be barely keeping a lid on while her body language always seems so relaxed. I absolutely believe their relationship, I think it's the best thing going on this season so far.

Twitter Sonnet #1200

A set of tracks were burning late at night.
A frozen flame was orange and yellow green.
A team of six could pull the wooden kite.
Along the road the same were seldom seen.
Throughout the night a phone was ringing blanks.
In stolen gems a galaxy collapsed.
A thousand stars invest the fish's tanks.
The horse's dream by wind was soon surpassed.
In melted stripes the apples change the sun.
Behind a grid the sky was breaking out.
A mystery cooked within the burger's bun.
The stairs contract and kill the upper route.
Collected corners form a kinky hill.
The knees and elbows work a jointed mill.

Monday, January 28, 2019

From Gangster to Knight

The teenage son of a yakuza boss returns from America when his father dies and inherits the syndicate. But young Matsubara is only disgusted by the family business, preferring instead to become the de facto leader of a school club called the Tokyo Knights (東京騎士隊) in this sweet and slightly campy 1961 Seijun Suzuki action film.

Matsubara (Koji Wada) starts attending a Catholic school shortly after his father's funeral and becomes acquainted with some of the weird students and faculty, including a goofy American music professor (George Ruika). He seems to feel particularly attached to the students, despite upbraiding them for their lack of discipline, and feeling frustrated trying to instruct one would-be singer who inexplicably always talks like she's been inhaling helium.

Matsubara is informed of the Tokyo Knights by one of its less effectual leaders. Matsubara watches as the kid vainly stands protectively before the lovely Yuriko (Mayumi Shimizu), imagining a group of boys approaching mean trouble. Fortunately they just brush right past the two.

For some reason, though, Matsubara excels at everything, including martial arts, and proves it in nicely blocked action sequences throughout the film. In one of the stranger sequences, Matsubara sneaks into the club of a rival boss disguised in demon mask and cape and steals everyone's cuff links. Wada maintains a serious demeanour throughout and there's a vague connexion between the cuff links and his father's possible murder but Suzuki wisely avoids too much explanation and just lets the intense weirdness of the scene casually play out.

The climax is a very nice demonstration of creative lighting techniques and blocking. Set in a quarry in full daylight, Suzuki nonetheless employs artificial lighting, creating really cool, subtle effects to emphasise the significance of particular gunshots or punches.

Tokyo Knights is available on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Squashing Beatles and Lollards

Still in the mood for Dalek episodes of Doctor Who, I stumbled across something else BritBox lacks in its collection of streaming episodes when I watched the First Doctor 1965 serial The Chase last week--the clip of The Beatles from Top of the Pops. This appears not to be an error like the missing footage from Revelation of the Daleks but something to do with a licensing disagreement for U.S. distribution.

Again, I was forced back to my old copy of a serial. It's particularly a shame because this is apparently the only surviving footage of The Beatles on Top of the Pops. Supposedly The Beatles were actually supposed to guest star on Doctor Who but their management disliked the idea. Instead, the Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), and Vicki (Maureen O'Brien), watch a Top of the Pops performance on the Doctor's new Time-Space Visualiser, a device that allows one to view any moment in any point in time and space. Good thing this never fell into the wrong hands.

At Ian's request, they also watch a bit of Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address and on Barbara's request they view a meeting between Queen Elizabeth I (Vivienne Bennett) and William Shakespeare (Hugh Walters).

Their discussion about Falstaff incorporates two stories that actually have legitimacy among Shakespeare scholars--Falstaff was supposedly based, at least in part, on John Oldcastle, a fifteenth century sort of proto-Protestant called a Lollard. I always found this a little odd since Falstaff in the plays doesn't seem like a man of great religious conviction, heretical or otherwise. I doubt Queen Elizabeth was as amused by a shot being taken at Oldcastle, in any case, as she is shown to be in the clip on the Time-Space Visualiser. She went to a lot of trouble converting the country back to Protestantism after her Catholic predecessor, Queen Mary. Elizabeth's complicated relationship with Oldcastle's descendent, Sir William Brooke, also doesn't suggest she'd react as she's portrayed on the show. But her request that Shakespeare write a play about Falstaff falling in love, which eventually became The Merry Wives of Windsor, is a real story from the period and may be true.

Each episode of the six part serial, The Chase, feels very different, almost like standalone stories but roughly connected by the Daleks chasing the TARDIS through time and space in their own newly developed time machine. My favourite is the first episode. In addition to the clips on the Time-Space Visualiser, I love the group casually exploring a really eerie desert planet with bizarre, blackened, as though burnt, objects dotting the landscape.

Ian and Vicki recklessly just strike out in a random direction while the Doctor and Barbara decide to sunbathe. They're all so sweet and innocent. I also love the grouchy Dalek slowly emerging from under a pile of sand at the conclusion of the episode.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Pike and the Kids

Thursday's new episode of Star Trek: Discovery was a pleasant surprise after the season première. A solid episode directed by Jonathan Frakes, it continued the series' tendency to introduce issues without actually exploring them, in this case a conflict between faith and science, but with this episode the second season's effort to bring the intriguing background characters more into the foreground really started to bear fruit. Though the episode, called "New Eden", might've been even better if it had this song:

Spoilers after the video

Yes, the supporting characters are not only bearing fruit, they're throwing away the rind.

For a show widely considered to wear modern progressive politics on its sleeve, the crew dynamic this season surprisingly seems to be that of a level headed patriarch surrounded by childlike, adorable women. I find it amusing more than anything else, only the continued infantilisation of Tilly (Mary Wiseman) really annoyed me.

Miss Butterfingers is the one dissecting the unstable dark matter asteroid with a powerful laser? Alone? Why not get Inspector Clouseau while you're at it? The idea that she's going to be a captain one day just seems more and more absurd. But she is cute.

So's her ghost friend (Bahia Watson) and the young women on the bridge. There's a marked difference in how the men are played compared to the women, though Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) generally seems calm, thanks to her Vulcan upbringing, as does the intriguing cyborg lady we still don't know anything about, Airiam--though maybe we'll learn more this season as apparently she's changed actress from the first season, where she was played by the unknown actress Sara Mitich. Now she's played by Hannah Cheesman, who has a much longer filmography, including a prominent role in the Guillermo del Toro produced 2013 film Mama (she played a different version of a character also played by Doug Jones). Mitich has been demoted to playing a human background character. I have this info via Memory Alpha which also has a collection of contradictory quotes from production crew about Airiam's background.

Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) also generally seems to keep her head and I thought we were going to learn more about her in this episode since she accompanies the away team specifically because she grew up in a "Luddite collective". What? Sounds like she really might have something to say about the strange community of humans on an alien planet with inexplicably antiquated technology. Sadly, she never gets the chance.

We learn that Pike (Anson Mount) might be a bit religious and his disagreement with the more secular Burnham forms the centre of the dramatic conflict that almost happens in this episode. But I guess there's no reason it should really come to a head when The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and the original series have already done this kind of plot several times. "New Eden" felt like an ode to those episodes, an ode that didn't have the impulse to actually build on the discussion. But why should it? Maybe the fact that the show knows its place is commendable. Especially since the conflict was basically part of the backbone of the series concept for Deep Space Nine, the ideological conflict alongside professional respect between Sisko and Kira leading to several nice episodes. Maybe the best way to look at Discovery is a televised Star Trek Experience; something primarily designed to augment the sensation of the Star Trek universe rather than creating genuinely new stories in it. It sure is pretty. I like the colour scheme in Pike's new quarters.

Twitter Sonnet 1199

A box of roads were used in careful chunks.
On jumbled paths the molecules'll walk.
The matching pods were lined along the bunks.
A giant stone begins to slowly talk.
As rungs appeared the lines a ladder made.
For model stripes were nothing like a cage.
In human form the morning made the grade.
To sleep to make a dream beyond the age.
A brush's bristles turned to arms of sleep.
Across the bed a glory waits in grammes.
Fatales were queued to cut the glitter heap.
Detectives claimed the cold and bundled hams.
The metal unexplained remained aboard.
A flute was more than finger tapping chord.

Friday, January 25, 2019

One Good Xelayan Deserves Another

Last night's new episode of The Orville, "All the World is Birthday Cake", sure looked like television. I'm so used to shows with what were formerly considered only cinematic production values that I was a little surprised by how cheap the action sequence in the episode's climax looked. The story itself, about a First Contact mission gone awry, reminded me a lot of "Mad Idolatry" from season one; both episodes have a good point about the dangers of superstition but I wish their arguments had been a little more complex. "All the World is Birthday Cake" had more novelty, though.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I thought about what's gained by having Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) and Bortus (Peter Macon) in such a cheap rendition of an internment camp. I guess it's helpful to be able to introduce these issues on a family show so kids can start thinking about them without having to expose them to graphic images of mutilation, death, and malnutrition.

I kept expecting there to be dissenters of some kind. Such an advanced society ought to have some people who question the pervasive faith in astrology. But that might've opened a whole can of worms regarding the ethics of the eventual solution to the problem which involved creating a fake star. The episode is certainly nowhere near as good as the Next Generation episode titled "First Contact" (not to be confused with the film), which explored many of the same issues in much more satisfying ways (and also included a cameo from a Cheers cast member).

Last night's episode also introduced Alara's replacement, another Xelayan, this one named Talla, played by Jessica Szohr. It seemed pretty clear she was just plugged into a script already written with Alara in mind, especially from the way Talla and Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald) were hanging out together at the hospital, echoing Alara's relationship with Claire. But I think I already like Talla better, and not just because Jessica Szohr was on Twin Peaks (I'm a massive Twin Peaks fan).

She's 33, older than Halston Sage by eight years, so her position on the bridge doesn't feel quite as improbable. She just seems grittier somehow, too. I guess it's the slight rasp in her voice but I think she also has more of a military body language. I hope we'll see more to distinguish her from Alara in future episodes, though.

I love the understated running gag with Bortus whenever anyone casually uses the word "afraid", as in this case Gordon (Scott Grimes) suggests Bortus is "afraid he won't get as much stuff" if Kelly and Bortus have a joint birthday party. Immediately Bortus says, serious as a funeral, "I am not afraid."

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Solo and Friends

In spite of NetFlix purging itself of Disney series in anticipation of Disney's own upcoming streaming service, I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story has appeared on NetFlix. It occurred to me Solo is the only Star Wars movie I hadn't seen more than once so I thought I'd see how well it played on the small screen a couple days ago. Pretty well, it turns out; I think the film would've been better served as a television miniseries, in fact. If "miniseries" is even a concept anymore when seasons are normally eight to ten episodes anyway.

Solo has clearly identifiable episodes that would've benefited a lot from expansion--there's Han and Qi'ra on the streets of Corellia, there's Han in Imperial infantry, there's the heist with Beckett's crew, there's the Kessel Run which contains meeting Lando plus the slave revolt, and then finally there's the multiple confrontations on Savareen. That's at least five distinct parts. Star Wars films usually have acts distinguished by locations and character pairings but generally only three with maybe some brief interludes. A New Hope could be divided into Tatooine, Death Star interior, attack on Yavin IV. Empire Strikes Back could be divided into Hoth, Luke on Degobah/Han and Leia escaping, Bespin. There are important moments in the interludes like the Coruscant segment in Phantom Menace or the Mon Mothma and Admiral Akbar briefing in Return of the Jedi but the only other movie that tries to cram as much as Solo in is Attack of the Clones, and Attack of the Clones is longer by twenty minutes.

In particular, the segment on Corellia could've done with a lot of expansion. It feels very rushed, largely because of how frequently characters spout exposition at each other. I love the Oliver Twist vibe and would've liked to have seen more of Han as Artful Dodger. I'd have liked to have seen Han's father who worked on YT-1300s.

But the biggest flaw in the film is Qi'ra.

Emilia Clarke is basically a brunette Daenerys Targaryen for the whole film. I suppose you could say, in a galaxy far, far away, there's no reason a street urchin wouldn't speak with a posh accent but it kind of takes something away from the Imperial officers. Game of Thrones does a good thing by using real world accents to distinguish regions and class in a fantasy world. It would've been great to have the impression of a big transformation between the last time Han sees Qi'ra on Corellia and when he meets her again on Dryden's yacht. Something to indicate elocution lessons and training that Dryden paid for, something to show the disturbing ambiguity about how much of her is the Qi'ra Han grew up with and how much of her is the woman manufactured by Dryden. This would've led to a bigger pay off in the climax of her storyline, for one thing.

I wonder if Dryden Vos is named after the 17th century poet John Dryden. The poet Dryden never struck me as quite so assertive, I kind of think of him as kind of a drip. His translation of the Aeneid is a bit monotonous in my opinion.

Anyway, a more versatile actress would've been good for Qi'ra. It's hard for me to think of names because I watch old movies most of the time and my instinct goes to Barbara Stanwyck or Diana Dors. Oh, Diana Dors would've been perfect. Someone who was just as good at playing common as polished. Nowadays . . . I guess Jennifer Jason Leigh and Charlize Theron are too old. Rachel Brosnahan maybe.

Carrie Fisher would've been good. She's so down to earth in A New Hope, she doesn't really seem like an aristocrat at all. She seems more delicate in Empire Strikes Back and then in Return of the Jedi she's sort of a mixture of the first two films; the confidence of the first film and some of the restraint of the second film. So I like Carrie Fisher, how's that for a controversial statement?

It'd be a shame if Disney really is putting an end to these anthology films because Solo was only a blockbuster instead of a mega, super industrial, smash. But I guess it's all part of the disappearing cinematic middle class.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Belated Saving Throw

Clues continue to accumulate on the new season of True Detective in its third episode, clues not only about the mystery of the missing girl but also just what kind of mystery it is. Its tone and pacing continue to keep it engaging as does its atmosphere and shooting locations, which are pretty in spite of the blue/amber colour correcting.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The story picks up in all three of the time frames; the early 80s, the early 90s, and 2015. Even having some information from the two later segments so far hasn't killed the suspense in the 80s segment. There's a suggestion of possible time travel, or some hint that Wayne (Mahershala Ali) is experiencing events in a non-linear fashion. I wonder if this is due to the influence of Twin Peaks' third season. This article at Vanity Fair gives some of the literary allusions so far in this season, including the full poem which Wayne and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) bond over;

Tell Me a Story by Robert Penn

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse. I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward.

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

Another hint that time is going to be involved. We also got another sign that Dungeons and Dragons will be involved when Wayne finds some dice in the woods:

I noticed the four sided die changes from resting on 2 to 3 between shots but the other two dice visible in both shots don't change.

If this were Twin Peaks, that would definitely have some significance (remember how important numbers were in the third season). This may simply be a continuity error here, though.

I loved Amelia seducing the cops for info though I don't know if I believe Wayne getting so jealous about it. But I guess it's a way of establishing how hard he finds it to talk through issues. Him panicking in the Wal-Mart reminded me of Roy Scheider in Jaws running around the beach when he loses sight of his kids for a moment. The job is affecting his personal life.

Ali is growing on me though I still think this kind of dialogue needs star power more than acting ability. I find myself hoping there will be some genuine supernatural element, I'm not sure the three time frames will be quite as fulfilling otherwise.

Twitter Sonnet #1198

Selective shades report a diff'rent bed.
A single room diverged from good hotels.
Returning stars rebuilt a blue from red.
With all the dust a beam of light entails.
A morning kestrel claimed the rusted rail.
A pair of birds could share a single stone.
The lips of fish combined to make a tail.
In human eyes is ev'ry dream alone.
A single shoe repeats a hundred feet.
A thousand yards construct a normal house.
In shaded lamps the bulbs'll surely meet.
Along the pipe is ev'ry waiting mouse.
The stepping roots affect the rocks below.
A hidden hound emits a long hello.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Getting the Impression

The purpose of writing is to communicate. Either ideas, impressions, or facts, the point is to create something that ends up in someone else's mind where they can form their own opinion about it. But when readers are increasingly unable or unwilling to acknowledge nuance or complexity beyond the frame of a certain prescribed set of interpretations, the act of writing begins to feel sort of pointless. But writing may be the only way out, to let the light in, even if only a little, and limited by the extent of my own skill, so I guess I'll try again.

It's a well known quote but it seems worth repeating to-day; "Cinema is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie." - Jean-Luc Godard. On some level, we're always aware of this instinctively. This is why Fred Astaire wanted his dancing filmed with as few cuts as possible, because then audiences would see his real skill as a dancer without any finesse manufactured by creative cuts. Of course, such "lies" are a part of the creative process of filmmaking. The lie of a cut is part of the fabric of the story, so when a video just over a minute long was posted on Twitter of a group of obnoxious white teenage boys surrounding a Native American man, it quickly fit into a story, the cut at the beginning and the end creating a sense of what happened, that, it turns out, is vastly different from the reality of what occurred.

No doubt it's embarrassment and shame that prevents many of the people in various media outlets from admitting they made a mistake. There are no apologies from The Washington Post, Slate, or, of course, HuffPost for telling the world that an apparently innocent teenage boy is evil incarnate. Now Donald Trump is the one using the word 'Evil': "Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be." The media did exactly what Trump always says it does, it modified a story to fit a left-wing narrative, and there's just no hiding it now. It's a great big gift to the right wing. If the Democrats lose in 2020, I don't think it would be unreasonable to point to this moment as when their fate was sealed. But this has been a problem for a long time.

In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote a satirical definition of the press as a court; "An Account of the Supremest Court of Judicature in Pennsylvania, viz. The Court of the Press":


It may receive and promulgate accusations of all kinds against all persons and characters among the citizens of the state, and even against all inferior courts, and may judge, sentence, and condemn to infamy, not only private individuals, but public bodies, &c. with or without inquiry or hearing, at the court’s discretion.

But the internet seems to have exacerbated the problem to unprecedented proportions. So why don't people watch the full two hour video of the altercation between the Catholic school boys, the Native American Protesters, and the Black Hebrew Israelites? Most people don't have two hours to watch raw footage of ordinary people wandering around a monument and arguing. On some level, people know, or they used to know, you can't get the full truth in a minute of footage. That's the responsibility of people who work in the news media, to, yes, create a narrative, but one that reflects the essential truth in lieu of the literal truth. Something packaged for people who work eight or twelve hours a day and don't want to spend all their precious free time on depressing news stories but still want to stay informed. This incident is an example of how people in the media have failed to be worthy of that responsibility. The effect of this may not ultimately be to convert people to one ideology but force them to submit to a vacuum. Garry Kasparov spoke recently about the chaos Putin and now Trump sought to exploit in order to assert and maintain power.

It's part of the reason writing feels kind of pointless. But now may be the most important time to fight that feeling.

Well knows he who uses to consider, that our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise, as well as our limbs and complexion. Truth is compar'd in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetuall progression, they sick'n into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition. A man may be a heretick in the truth; and if he beleeve things only because his Pastor sayes so, or the Assembly so determins, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds, becomes his heresie. - John Milton

Monday, January 21, 2019

A Convenient Location for Many Murders

In 1935's The Riverside Murder, Alastair Sim was more Scottish than I've heard him at any other time. As a police sergeant on a crime scene, he expels a snooping reporter and when she calls him a monster he replies, "Aye, from Loch Ness!" It's Sim's debut film and a decent, engaging little murder mystery.

The main stars of the film are Basil Sydney and Judy Gunn, as a police inspector and the reporter, respectively. What is it about the tension between cop and reporter that has continually yielded satisfying sexual tension? I suppose it's because they're both after the same thing and at any moment they can switch between being allies or foes or back again. There's a mildly S&M quality to it and appropriately the film features a scene where the reporter is handcuffed for being too much in the way. She screams and jumps up and down when a rival reporter snaps her photo and her disgrace is later shown to be on the front page.

She is clearly "in sensation". When her co-worker shows her the article she infers cautiously that the boss has, "seen it, of course?" To which her co-worker replies, "And he wouldn't need glasses!"

There's lots of quick, cute bits of dialogue like that. The mystery itself is a tidy little thing about a group of friends who long ago entered into a pact of some kind together. Now they're being picked off one by one by the murderer, who might be one of them. Most of the action takes place in the first dead man's large house where the housekeeper continues serving tea however trying the situation becomes.

Sim is easily the standout with his bizarre, ghoulish appearance and that great voice, all in the service of being a mildly helpful subordinate. It's not hard to see why he found success in a string of detective roles. The Riverside Murder is available on Amazon Prime.