Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Still life with wife

[Click for a larger view.]

It is widely reported that the earlier darkness that comes with the return to Standard Time better prepares us for sleep. Thus this drawing.

When we tried watching She Played with Fire (dir. Sidney Gilliat, 1957) last week, we both checked out early in the proceedings. I woke up first and made a sketch the next morning to show Elaine how she looked. When we tried the movie a second time, it was much, much better.

[I inked over the lines of a pencil drawing, fixed up the chair, and removed one extraneous line. Shared here with permission.]

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources: Criterion Channel, DVD, HBO Max, TCM, YouTube.]

The Glass Key (dir. Stuart Heisler, 1942). Gangsters and politicians compete for power in an unnamed American city. I like all the principals — Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake — but I didn’t like the movie, which mixes gangsters and politicians with an improbable love story. I appreciated two unusually vulgar moments of spitting: once on a carpeted floor, once into a sink after toothbrushing (you don’t see much of that in ’40s movies). Look for Margaret Hayes (the lonely seductress of The Blackboard Jungle) as a lonely seductress. ★★ (CC)


City of Fear (dir. Irving Lerner, 1959). I’d think of it as a low-key Kiss Me Deadly. Here “the great whatsit” is a container of Cobalt-60 in the hands of an escaped con (Vince Edwards) who thinks he’s holding a million dollars’ worth of heroin. Much attention to police procedure and technology, with Lyle Talbot, some interchangeable detectives, and Geiger counters. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard, editing by Robert Lawrence, and a score by Jerry Goldsmith add considerable value to a predictable story. ★★★ (YT)


Dust Be My Destiny (dir. Lewis Seiler, 1939). Good Warner Brothers stuff that looks forward to They Live by Night. John Garfield and Priscilla Lane play a couple on the run: he’s a fugitive who didn’t kill the boss at a work farm; she’s the boss’s daughter. As one would expect, the movie’s sympathies are with the runaways. Henry Armetta adds considerable humanity to the story as a café owner who’s willing to protect a young couple from the law. ★★★ (CC)


The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946). I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t watched it not to fall for the claim that it’s a tidy, sentimentalized story of homecoming from the Second World War. To the contrary: the movie presents the struggles of returning veterans with great frankness and pathos, examining alcoholism, infidelity, fear of intimacy, meager employment opportunities, physical disability, and post-traumatic stress. Every time I watch I notice a detail I’ve missed: this time it was drugstore clerk Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) ducking as a toy plane flies through the store and Peggy Stephenson (Teresa Wright) catches it. The plane provides a nice way for Fred and Peggy to meet cute, but now I wonder if we’re meant to see Fred’s response as that of a bombardier who’s seen one too many enemy planes coming at him. ★★★★ (TCM)


Seconds (dir. John Frankenheimer, 1966). This extraordinary film, which we’d never heard of until Elaine noticed it at the Criterion Channel, is unmistakably from the director of The Manchurian Candidate. Briefly: a mysterious company has developed procedures to allow tired, disaffected middle-aged men to fake their deaths and gain new (second) lives, with new faces, new fingerprints, and new identities. It’s the American male dream of freedom from responsibility, as described by a company executive: “In short, you are alone in the world, absolved of all responsibility except to your own interest.” Starring Rock Hudson and Salome Jens, and filmed in sinister black and white by James Wong Howe. ★★★★ (CC)

[A bit of lore: Seconds is the movie that freaked out Brian Wilson when he entered a showing late and heard a character say “Come in, Mr. Wilson.”]


Y tu mamá también (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2001). It’s like an Almodóvar movie with another director. A great road movie, with Julio and Tenoch, two male adolescents (Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) inviting an attractive young married woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), on a trip to Boca del Cielo (Heaven’s Mouth), a non-existent beach (Luisa’s husband is away). The three protagonists test the boundaries of friendship and sexuality, with moments of awkward intimacy, pleasure, and recrimination. Watching the movie a second time, I understand the narrator’s role more clearly: he’s an all-knowing voice that sees the present moment in a much larger context, and I’m afraid that’s all I can say. ★★★★ (DVD)


Beyond This Place, aka Web of Evidence (dir. Jack Cardiff, 1959). A father-son romp in a park, then a scene from Liverpool during the Blitz, and then twenty years later, the boy of that first scene, Paul Mathry (Van Johnson), has returned to Liverpool from the States. And the question to answer: what became of his father Patrick (Bernard Lee, 007’s “M”)? A darkly quiet story of research and love, both familial and romantic. Lee and Vera Miles (as Lena Anderson) turn in great performances. ★★★★ (YT)


Night People (dir. Nunnally Johnson, 1954). A GI is kidnapped from postwar Berlin and held to be traded for two West Berliners — and I can’t help but think of Brittney Griner’s plight. The plot becomes tricky, but I found little excitement or suspense in its unfolding. Gregory Peck and Broderick Crawford are one-dimensional here: Peck as the mumbly lieutenant colonel in charge of the American zone; Broderick Crawford as the GI’s angry well-connected father. The title is misleading: there’s little noir in this CinemaScope production. ★★★ (YT)


The Automat (dir. Lisa Hurwitz, 2021). Long before its invention, the slogan “All Are Welcome” might have served as the motto of Horn and Hardart’s Automats, which served wonderful food to all comers for a handful of nickels. This deeply appreciative non-ironic documentary tells the story of the Automat’s rise and fall, as urbanites left for the suburbs and the restaurants grew emptier at dinnertime and on weekends. With a fine array of nostalgic eaters, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, and Mel Brooks, who describes the restaurants as “insane centers of paradise.” I ate at an Automat just once, in the 1980s, with my friend Aldo Carrasco, probably after a visit to the Gotham Book Mart, probably just pie and coffee — and I didn’t know enough to appreciate the place (which was, I admit, depressing), and now I wish I had had a meal, including creamed spinach. ★★★★ (HBO)


The Tattered Dress (dir. Jack Arnold, 1957). James Blane (Jeff Chandler), a “New York lawyer” known for representing mobsters, comes to a Nevada town to defend a wealthy man charged with murdering the star athlete with whom his wife was having an affair. When the jury votes for acquittal, the local sheriff (Jack Carson), a friend of the murdered man, decides to exact revenge. Chandler does well as a suave servant of wealth, and Elaine Stewart as the philandering spouse adds more than a touch of lurid glamor. But the real star of the movie is Jack Carson, playing against type, and his easy cheerfulness marks his character as a true sociopath. ★★★★ (YT)


Screaming Mimi (dir. Gerd Oswald, 1958). Anita Ekberg stars as a dancer under the spell of a mad psychiatrist. We see her solo act, with ropes and chains and much writhing, twice, in a club called the El Madhouse, run by Gypsy Rose Lee. Nothing about this film makes sense: the background music is recycled from Leonard Bernstein’s score for On the Waterfront, and the Red Norvo Trio, another El Madhouse act, billed as a trio, is in fact a quartet. Preposterous film noir, with a star added for Burnett Guffey’s excellent cinematography.★★ (YT)


The Long Haul (dir. Ken Hughes, 1957). Post-WWII Liverpool, with Victor Mature as Harry Miller, an American ex-serviceman driving long-distance truck routes for his British wife’s uncle. Harry’s wife Connie (Gene Anderson) is cold and critical, and Harry falls into a relationship with Lynn (Diana Dors), the girlfriend of Joe Easy (Patrick Allen), the Johnny Friendly-like head of a trucking company and criminal enterprise. A long sequence devoted to getting a truckload of stolen furs across dangerous terrain is as suspenseful in its own way as the struggles in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Wages of Fear. Mature and Dors are terrific, the one conflicted, the other desperate, in a movie that is, finally, in unexpected ways, about loss and betrayal and forgiveness. ★★★★ (YT)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 28, 2022

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with gaslighting.

Domestic comedy

I was reading up on the Pillsbury Doughboy (“anthropomorphic dough,” Wikipedia calls him) when I realized that the boy shares his name with the American infantry. I know what a WWI doughboy is, but as I confessed to my fambly, I had never noticed the wordplay.

And Elaine: “Do you think the Pillsbury Doughboy gets all his clothes at Men’s Wearhouse?”

It’s domestic comedy because of this previous moment of domestic comedy.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Our daughter Rachel says that Elaine’s quip is an example of a callback. Merriam-Webster’s examples of the word in recent use on the Internets reflect this meaning, not yet included among the dictionary’s definitions.]

Whence bebop?

“An onomatopoetic name reflecting the short notes and off-the-beat rhythms characteristic of the genre”: Merriam-Webster on the origin of bebop.

See also this Merriam-Webster Word Matters podcast episode: “A Lexical History of ‘Jazz.’”

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Buono’s Groc.

[230 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I chose this photograph because it has everything. Everything is defined as a privilege sign, a Bell Telephone sign, an awning, a horse, an unattended child, neighborhood loafers (blocking the entrance to the upstairs apartments), a bicycle with an old-fashioned kickstand, trolley tracks, cobblestones, tattered movie posters (Don Ameche, Alice Faye, and Carmen Miranda starred in the 1941 film That Night in Rio), laundry hanging on a line, and a mysterious figure at a second-story window.

It occurs to me that so many stores in the olden days had no official name displayed. Sometimes a store was just “the store,” as in “I need a coupla things from the store.” I know the name of this store — sort of — because of a full-page advertisement listing Brooklyn purveyors of Doublemint gum. This address is listed under South Brooklyn as Buono’s Groc.:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 11, 1941.]

And there’s Tony Buono, in the 1940 telephone directory:

Residents of 230 were associated with various mishaps and acts of mayhem through the years, both on and off the premises. Some incidents collected from newspaper articles available at Brooklyn Newsstand:

1886: a resident bit his brother-in-law’s lip
1887: a resident interfered with an arrest
1887: a resident was attacked and beaten
1896: a resident was in a fight and fired two shots
1904: a resident died of gas poisoning
1905: a resident was shot in “an Italian shooting bee”
1908: a resident was arrested for extortion
1910: a resident conspired in the theft of 2,000 cigars
1911: a resident died after eating toadstools, not
1931: a Buono son was stabbed by “the star boarder”

That last incident is the only one to which the Buono name is attached. George Buono had accused the boarder of being too friendly with Mrs. Buono, his mother.

A son of the Buono family, Private Valentino A. Buono, was killed in the Second World War in 1944. A Brooklyn Daily Eagle list of casualties identifies his mother as Mrs. Madeline A. Buono.

Today 230 Van Brunt is a three-family residence. Estimated value: $1,796,700. Not a horse in sight.

Related reading
More OCA posts with photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Amazon ads ads ads

“The first page of Amazon results includes an average of about nine sponsored listings — twice as many as Walmart displays, four times as many as Target”: The Washington Post explains why shopping on Amazon has gotten worse.

Now I understand why it was so difficult for our household to buy the edition of Anna Karenina we wanted.

Me, in my naïveté: “Could it be that searches for one edition of Anna Karenina are redirecting me to what Amazon would like me to buy instead? I think it could.” Jeepers.

Charles Schulz centennial

Charles Schulz was born on November 26, 1922. Comic strips have taken notice, at least every comic strip I read (a handful). Here’s a gathering. The most oblique homage: today’s Nancy.

All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Stan Newman, the puzzle’s editor, composing as “Lester Ruff” — less rough, easier. Yes, indeed. I began with 1-D, six letters, ”Advisor to Odysseus” and, unlike Odysseus, sailed on through — no detours.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

2-D, six letters, “California schools close on his birthday.” I did not know that.

9-A, six letters, “Tries to draw.” Mild misdirection.

12-D, eight letters, “Verb for the past.” So spelled, really? Yes, really.

16-A, six letters, “Layout with a PYFGCRL line.” I remember when the idea seemed to be everywhere, at least in the Apple II world.

23-A, four letters, “Jack’s beat poet pal.” At the wheel, keeping everyone in stitches.

26-D, seven letters, “What Snoopy drives in She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown.” A cheerful touch.

27-A, four letters, “Dramatic overture.” Clever phrasing.

37-D, eight letters, “Me, me, me, me, me,. . . .” Hah.

54-A, three letters, “Hopper, for instance.” Heh.

60-A, eight letters, “The Mr. Coffee TM75, e.g.” What? This clue is a bit of a problem.

Another nit to pick: the clue for 48-D, six letters, “Southwestern sluggers” makes for a problem with the answer for 44-D.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Tuck Points

A third imaginary radio show, Tuck Points, all about sheets:

“This week on Tuck Points: well-fitted fitted sheets, the foundation of good sleep.”
Other imaginary shows
Blanket statements : Stemside