Thursday, November 30, 2023

How to improve writing (no. 116)

On the main page of The New York Times now:

The Sikh activist at the center of an alleged assassination plot said there was no question that India wanted him dead.
No. He wasn’t at the center of the alleged plot; he was its target. So:
The Sikh activist targeted in an alleged assassination plot said there was no question that India wanted him dead.
Everyone makes mistakes, but when you’re The New York Times, the mistakes should not be so glaring.

Related reading
All OCA how to improve writng posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 116 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Costa, Guerriero, and Sued

[Yamandu Costa, Brazilian guitar; Luís Guerreiro, Portuguese guitar; Martín Sued, bandoneon. July 3, 2021.]

“Viva música, bendita música,” says Yamandu Costa, in this Instagram reel and elsewhere. Long live music, blessed music. The music begins at 3:05.

Related posts
Yamandu Costa in Illinois : “Lamento Sertanejo”


I overthink, or at least I think I do; therefore, I am.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Recently updated

How to improve writing (no. 115) Now with “with Joe and me.”


I drove my friend Aldo to the bus station and drove back to a large room filled with pews — not a church but a meeting room of some sort. I walked to the row in which I had been seated and found the evaluation packet for a newbie professor’s Intro to Film Studies class. The evaluation questions were meant for someone in the class: what percentage of the final grade was allotted to writing, what percentage to participation, and so on. Having no idea what to write, I just wrote OK in the margin next to each question. I also wrote the words retired prof somewhere on one of the pages.

A question about movies asked me to rate two: the Larry David movie Spite and a comedy about three nurses. I gave LD a 10, the other a 4. There were also questions about yogurt and juice, with samples. I skipped the yogurt but tried one juice, which was bland and mealy.

One of the authority figures presiding over the evaluations came and stood over me and asked why I was holding everyone else up. I replied that I had taken a friend to the bus station and was working as quickly as I could. I also pointed out that all the hectoring was just making my work take longer. I said “Yes, I took my friend to the bus station, and now I am planning a great train robbery. Just watch.” I started to write exactly that on my evaluation before realizing that doing so would identify the evaluation as mine. So I started erasing.

Possible waking-life sources: thinking of my friend Aldo Carrasco; watching some of Rosalynn Carter’s memorial service; watching a bit of Hanukkah on Rye, a Hallmark movie about rival delis that made me think of the spite store from Curb Your Enthusiasm; buying a variety of Greek yogurts; admiring a four-year-old’s erasing skills; giving out evaluation forms at the end of every semester but my last.

This is the twenty-seventh teaching dream I’ve had since retiring in 2015. In all but one, something has goes wrong. But at least in this dream I got to see a friend.

Related reading
All OCA teaching dream posts (Pinboard)

[“Only fools and children talk about their dreams”: Dr. Edward Jeffreys (Robert Douglas), in Thunder on the Hill (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1951).]

At another rest stop


They weren’t kidding. But there wasn’t a mop in sight.

A related post
Welcome to Illinois

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with cozzie livs.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Recently updated

A. Leddy The mystery of the name on the nameplate, solved.

Pence, comma

ABC News reports on what Mike Pence told special counsel Jack Smith’s investigators:

Sources said that investigators’ questioning became so granular at times that they pressed Pence over the placement of a comma in his book: When recounting a phone call with Trump on Christmas Day 2020, Pence wrote in his book that he told Trump, “You know, I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome” of the election on Jan. 6.

But Pence allegedly told Smith’s investigators that the comma should have never been placed there. According to sources, Pence told Smith’s investigators that he actually meant to write in his book that he admonished Trump, “You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome,” suggesting Trump was well aware of the limitations of Pence’s authority days before Jan. 6 — a line Smith includes in his indictment.
“You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome”: and the absence of a comma has the authority to change everything.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

The doctor is in

[From Mad Love (dir. Karl Freund, 1935). Click for a larger view.]

Peter Lorre makes his American debut as Dr. Gogol.

A pocket notebook sighting

[From Mad Love (dir. Karl Freund, 1935). Click for a larger view.]

Peter Lorre as the skilled but mad surgeon Dr. Gogol. It’s not the notebook he’s after.

More notebook sightings
All the King’s Men : Angels with Dirty Faces : The Bad and the Beautiful : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : Bombshell : The Brasher Doubloon : The Case of the Howling Dog : Cat People : Caught : City Girl : Crossing Delancey : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Deep Valley : The Devil and Miss Jones : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : The Face Behind the Mask : The Fearmakers : The Flight That Disappeared : A Foreign Affair : Foreign Correspondent : Four in a Jeep : Fury : The Girl in Black Stockings : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : I See a Dark Stranger : If I Had a Million : L’Innocent : Ivy : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Lost Horizon : M : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Mr. Klein : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : Now, Voyager : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Portland Exposé : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : The Racket : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66The Scarlet Claw : Sleeping Car to Trieste : The Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Stranger Things : Sweet Smell of Success : Time Table : T-Men : To the Ends of the Earth : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Vice Squad : Walk East on Beacon! : What Happened Was . . . : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once : Young and Innocent

[Deflating balloon sounds]

In Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy , a speech balloon breathes its last.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Typography of the young

In today’s Family Circus : “Italics make it look like the wind’s blowing.”

Monday, November 27, 2023


On NBC Nightly News tonight, these words appeared next to an image of shallow boxes in stacks:

And my first thought — honest — was of LPs.

Related reading
All OCA misreading posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with one from Merriam-Webster.

A. Leddy

[Man Afraid (dir. Harry Keller, 1957). Click for a much larger view.]

Do you see it? Elaine spotted it first: the nameplate on the desk in the background:

Leddy (Irish, old) is not a common name. Was there an A. Leddy in the industry? There was, at least sort of: Ann Leddy, who appeared in a single episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Was a prop person sneaking her name into this scene? Only Paul Drake knows for sure.


November 28: A reader figured it out and shared in the comments. Ann Leddy was married to the actor John Archer. One of this movie’s set designers: Russell A. Gausman. Archer and Gausman worked on several movies together.

The other set designer for this movie: Julia Heron. And the name on the other nameplate: J. Heron. Someone was having fun.

Twelve movies

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

Moana (dir. Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams, 2016). As grandparents to three young girls, we sometimes need to set aside the film noirs and fancy books to watch a kids’ movie. I’m relieved to report at this late date that Moana is a wonderful one. Mythic themes, great songs (Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda), and brilliant animation — and now we know how to play Moana. (It’s called lifelong learning.) ★★★★ (DVD)


The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (dir. Richard Lester, 1959). Lester, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, et al., at play in an open field. Surrealism abounds: e.g., a man puts a record on a tree stump, holds a needle to the surface, and runs around the stump to produce music. If you wonder where the zaniness of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! comes from, it’s here: the Beatles were fond of this short movie film. A clear influence on Monty Python as well. ★★★★ (CC)


The Girl in the Kremlin (dir. Russell Birdwell, 1957). Bonkers: Stalin undergoes plastic surgery and flees the Soviet Union with piles of cash as a double takes his place. Meanwhile, a defector to the United States (Zsa Zsa Gabor) comes to Berlin to ask an ex-OSS agent (ex-Tarzan Lex Barker) to locate her twin sister (also Zsa Zsa Gabor), last known to be working as Stalin’s plastic surgeon’s nurse. Jeffrey Stone provides some cheesy fun as a one-armed Russian: he’s Buz Murdock to Barker’s Tod Stiles. Two more reasons to watch: William Schallert (the father from The Patty Duke Show) as Stalin’s son Jacob, and an unnerving scene, unrelated to anything else in the movie (or to historical fact), with Stalin watching excitedly as his minions shave — yes, really — the head of a peasant girl (Natalie Daryll). ★★ (YT)


High Tide (dir. John Reinhardt, 1947). Two men lie gravely injured after their car has gone off the road and onto a beach, one man in the car, the other trapped underneath, and as the tide comes in, their story unfolds in one long flashback. It includes a newspaper, big-city rackets, adultery, and revenge — all non-GMO ingredients. Clark Gable lookalike Don Castle plays a reporter turned private investigator; Lee Tracy is a newspaper editor. Like The Guilty and Lighthouse, it’s a Jack Wrather production, and another reminder that not every movie made in 1947 was a great one. ★★ (YT)

[Elaine once observed in passing that 1947 might be our ideal year for movies. It’s the year of The Lady from Shanghai, Nightmare Alley, and Out of the Past.]


Man Afraid (dir. Harry Keller, 1957). A minister (George Nader) accidentally kills a violent burglar, and a family is thrown into turmoil: the minister’s wife (Phyllis Thaxter) is at least temporarily blinded by the burglar’s attack, the press demands access to its newly minted hero, and the burglar’s father (Eduardo Franz) begins to stalk the minister’s young son. The movie looks back to The Window and ahead to Cape Fear, and it offers several eerie, terrifying moments, but Nader’s lifeless acting and every character’s lack of common sense are serious weaknesses. Free advice: When you see obvious evidence, when you hear strange noises in your house, when someone presents as an obvious danger, call the police (or if you are the police, do something). Henry Mancini’s score and Reta Shaw’s performance as a nurse add value (though even the nurse lacks common sense). ★★ (YT)


The Price of Fear (dir. Abner Biberman, 1956). O, contingency: Dave Barrett (Lex Barker) and Jessica Warren (Merle Oberon) are an unlikely pair, brought together by circumstance in the form of a hit-and-run accident, a gangland murder, and a stolen car. The relationship that develops between the principals is compellingly ambiguous — it’s never clear who’s using whom. The supporting cast makes for an especially strong movie, with Warren Stevens as a smoothfaced villain, Gia Scala as the accident victim’s daughter, Konstantin Shayne as a pawnbroker, Stafford Repp (later Chief O’Hara in Batman) as a cabdriver, and Mary Field as the cabbie’s wife. The final scene in a railway baggage car is worth the wait. ★★★★ (YT)


Cat People (dir. Jacques Toruneur, 1942). Nicholas Musuraca’s cinematography makes scene after scene a brilliant composition of utter darkness and sharp flashes of light. The movie itself is a clash of darkness and light, animality and reason: when Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), who believes the stories about her Serbian village’s cat-people and loves the dark (“It’s friendly,” she says), marries Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), a friendly, well-adjusted architect who works at light tables (!), worlds collide. A Val Lewton production, filled with real scares, real panthers, and Tom Conway as a sleazy psychiatrist whose The Anatomy of Atavisim gives the movie its over-the-top epigraph. ★★★★ (TCM)

[“Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depressions in the world consciousness.”]


The Curse of the Cat People (dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise, 1944). Here Musuraca brings mostly enchantment and light, with mysterious shadows at night and in the big old house down the block. Smith and Randolph return as the parents of a young daughter, Amy (Ann Carter), a dreamy, lonely child who has difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy. She wishes for a friend: enter Irena (Simon again). As Mrs. Julia Farren, the old woman in the old house, Julia Dean steals the movie. ★★★★ (YT)


Mad Love (dir. Karl Freund, 1935). Peter Lorre’s American debut as the grotesque surgeon and incel precursor Dr. Gogol. Obsessed with Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), an actress in a Grand Guignol-style show, he visits her backstage and buys a wax effigy to keep at home (think Pygmalion and Galatea). Gogol insinuates himself into Yvonne’s life when her concert-pianist husband’s hands are mangled in a train accident: the skilled Gogol transplants the hands of a murderer, with predictable but still startling results. Best moment: Gogol in disguise — yow! ★★★★ (TCM)


Dangerous Mission (dir. Louis King, 1954). The plot is common: Louise Graham, a witness to a murder (Piper Laurie) runs for her life, and an undercover cop (Victor Mature) tries to protect her from a hit man (Vincent Price) as the two men vie, sincerely or not, for Louise’s affections. What makes the movie unusual: Louise flees to Glacier National Park, so there’s lots of natural scenery and wonderful mid-century interiors (oh, those postcard racks on the gift-shop counter). Genuine suspense at the end, with a desperate chase through the snow. It’s sobering to see the way the death of a Native man is utterly forgotten — but you’ll have to watch to understand. ★★★ (TCM)


From the Criterion Channel’s Pre-Code Divas feature

Safe in Hell (dir. William A. Wellman, 1931). Dorothy Mackaill plays Gilda Carlson, a New Orleans prostitute who flees to Tortuga (no extradition) when she’s sought for killing the man who first trafficked her. Mackaill gives an extraordinary performance as a “bad” girl who vows to be “good” for “the one good man” she’s ever met, but on Tortuga, her past catches up with her. The movie is a profound lesson in the male gaze, as the various criminals hiding out on Tortuga sit back and stare at “the only white woman on the island.” Noteworthy supporting players: Nina Mae McKinney (who sings “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”) and Clarence Muse, the owner of a hotel and her employee. ★★★★

The Cheat (dir. George Abbott, 1931). Lordy: had I seen this movie in 1931, I might have thought about putting together a production code. Tallulah Bankhead stars as Elsa Carlyle, a spendthrift partier married to endlessly forgiving workaholic Jeffrey (Harvey Stephens). When Elsa loses an impulsive expensive bet, she finds herself in the debt of the sinister explorer and man about town Hardy Livingstone (Irving Pichel),who has his own ideas about how Elsa can repay him. Lurid in the extreme, with details I won’t divulge here. ★★★

Related reading
All OCA “twelve movies” posts (Pinboard)

Attention education

In The New York Times, three members of the Strother School of Radical Attention make a case for a new way of thinking about education (gift link):

Our attention is born free, but is, increasingly, everywhere in chains. Can our systems of liberal education rise to this challenge? The Harvard political philosopher Danielle Allen recently wrote: “I have a hunch that if we are to put this problem of attention at the center of what we are asking the humanities to do right now, we might find a huge appetite for the work of the humanities. We might change the dynamics we see on college campuses and in other contexts, where the practice of the humanities seems to be slipping away.”

All those who have given their attention to as supposedly arcane a topic as ancient Greek will know that the word “crisis” derives from a word that can mean “to decide.” And that is precisely what’s before us: a decision about what ends, exactly, the liberal arts will serve in the 21st century. No form of education can solve all our problems at a stroke. But attention education can produce a new generation of citizens who are equipped to take on those problems conscientiously and with care.
Something I wrote in a 2012 post: “As more and more attractions and distractions compete for our eyes and ears, I think that the ability to pay attention, to attend, will become ever more prized in the twenty-first century.”

And it occurred to me this morning that browsing through WPA tax photographs and finding out as much as I can about an address is a way of practicing attention. Which reminds me: when I taught a poetry class, the overarching question was not “What does it mean?” but “What do you notice?” Much less intimidating, much more useful.

Related reading
All OCA attention posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Drake Lives

I think I had better memorialize today’s Zippy before the day runs out. Carl Fenway is a member of the Dingburg Welks Club (named for Lawrence Welk, natch). The group meets “behind Lady Foot Locker every Tuesday”:

[Zippy, November 26, 2023. Click for a larger view.]

I have channeled Paul Drake twice in these pages: in a telephone call with Perry Mason and in a short story, “The Case of the Purloined Prairie.”

Venn reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts : Perry Mason and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Post title with apologies to Charlie Parker.]

On Chauncey Street

[384 Chauncey Street, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

On The Honeymooners it was always “Freitag the delicatessen’s.” From Donna McCrohan’s The Honeymooners’ Companion (1978):

That's how they say it on The Honeymooners, and that's how they said it in the old Bushwick neighborhood where Jackie [Gleason] used to stand in front of it (on the corner of Chauncey Street and Saratoga Avenue), in his black chesterfield and white scarf, swinging his keychain and looking sharp.
Never seen, only spoken of, the delicatessen plays an important role in The Honeymooners episode “Please Leave the Premises” (March 10, 1956). Facing an eviction notice after refusing to pay a rent increase, Ralph has barricaded the door to the Kramden apartment. What to do for food? Tie some bedsheets together and go out the bedroom window into Freitag the delicatessen’s yard. But uh-oh — the sheriff has a man stationed on the street below.

Notice the White Rose Tea signage in Freitag’s windows. As I wrote in a previous post, ubiquitous. You can see an advertising card for Rheingold beer in the right window.

And now that jingle is running through my head.

Chauncey Street is also home to Jackie Gleason’s birthplace, 364. The Kramdens lived at 328, the address Gleason’s family moved to in his childhood. Both apartment buildings stand. Today 384 is all residential. But next door at 386 is Calderas Deli Grocery.

[364 and 328 Chauncey Street. Click either image for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA Honeymooners posts (Pinboard) More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by “Lester Ruff” — the puzzle’s editor, Stan Newman, offering an (allegedly) easier Stumper of his making. I found this one none too easy. Hilarity abounded in the background — and foreground — as I solved. And an answer with a variant spelling had me flummoxed for a while. But I solved.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

5-D, four letters, “Venue for vaults.” Tricky.

19-A, fourteen letters, “Stop order.” Sounded faintly legal.

36-D, eight letters, “After-dinner drinks.” For a while, 48-A made this one impossible for me to see.

40-D, seven letters, “Like bleach bottles.” Well, yes, but good grief.

41-A, six letters, “Bodies of bees.” Good grief.

46-A, three letters, “Hard-hats’ wet concrete.” I’m not sure if it’s meant as a giveaway. As the son of a tileman, I found it a giveaway.

48-A, five letters, “Certain Pillar fulfiller.” I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. But not, at first, with this variant spelling.

51-D, five letters, “Rapper’s distinctive style.” A bit dated.

52-A, four letters, “It’s not impossible.” Good grief.

53-A, fourteen letters, “Like dictionaries.” Like, good grief.

60-A, eight letters, “Handle headings.” Good grief.

My favorite in this puzzle: 11-D, seven letters, “Tower with the power.”

Friday, November 24, 2023

Towne Branch subdivision

[Click for a larger view.]

I photographed this tree — I’m calling it the Towne Branch subdivision — in fall 2020 and again in 2022. In 2023 it continues to be popular with squirrel families. Close to schools, shopping, and public transportation (power lines). On a black-and-white afternoon this week I saw four nests — with a possible fifth under development.

A joke in the traditional manner

How do birds communicate with distant family and friends?

The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the new insect hybrid? : Did you hear about the shape-shifting car? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How do amoebas communicate? : How do ghosts hide their wrinkles? : How do worms get to the supermarket? : Of all the songs in the Great American Songbook, which is the favorite of pirates? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What do cows like to watch on TV? : What do dogs always insist on when they buy a car? : What do ducks like to eat? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What kind of pasta do swimmers like? : What’s the name of the Illinois town where dentists want to live? : What’s the worst thing about owning nine houses? : What was the shepherd doing in the garden? : Where do amoebas golf? : Where does Paul Drake keep his hot tips? : Which member of the orchestra was best at handling money? : Who’s the lead administrator in a school of fish? : Why are supervillains good at staying warm in the winter? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why is the Fonz so cool? : Why sharpen your pencil to write a Dad joke? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for the Autobahn, the elementary school, the Golden Retriever, Bela Lugosi, Samuel Clemens, the doctor, the plumber, the senior citizen, Oliver Hardy, and the ophthalmologist. Elaine gets credit for the Illinois town and this one. Ben gets credit for the supervillains in winter. My dad was making such jokes long before anyone called them dad jokes.]

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving 1923

[“Pumpkin Pie Cooked With Crust on the Top Astonishes Americans at London Dinner.” The New York Times, November 30, 1923. Click for a much larger view.]

Crust or no, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

[“Former Ambassador Harvey”: George Brinton McClellan Harvey, ambassador to the UK from May 12, 1921 to November 3, 1923. The Times reported in another article that Harvey was expected for Thanksgiving dinner at his aunt’s house in South Peacham, Vermont, but did not show up.]

Five and ten and fifteen

[“Five and ten and fifteen cent turkey dinner. Woolworth’s Dime Store.” Photograph by John Collier Jr. Amsterdam, New York, October 1941. From the Library of Congress. Click for a larger view.]

I think that window displays at night are inherently mysterious. And I thought so long before reading Steven Millhauser. This window has an added element of mystery: just what constitutes a “Farmer Week” lunch or a “Country Style” meal — in addition, that is, to pie, ice cream, donuts, and hot fudge sundaes? Where’s the turkey?

This display is in the window of a Kresge’s, not a Woolworth’s, but who am I to contradict the Library of Congress?

A related post
A Boro Park five-and-ten

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Your work age

A quiz from The Washington Post (gift link): “How to tell your real work age.”

I came out as a mix of mostly Millenial and Gen X:

~ 39% Millenial
~ 34% Gen X
~ 20% Boomer
~ 7% Gen Z

Please don’t tell anyone I’m retired.

The Apostrophe Protection Society

The Apostrophe Protection Society, founded in 2001, ceased operations in 2019. Its founder, John Richards, died in 2021. Now, under the leadership of Bob McCalden, the APS is back (The Irish Times ). Here’s the society’s website.

The apostrophe plays a small but critical role in these pages. My favorite apostrophe: the one that brought me a box in the mail, marked RATTLE OK.

Related reading
All OCA apostrophe posts (Pinboard)


For Mac users only: Adam Engst explains The Hidden Secrets of the Fn Key (TidBITS).


“I’m a mash-up of childhood innocence and toxic masculinity, Zippy!” Zippy meets a Sluggo-head with muffler-man pants in today’s Zippy.

Venn reading
All OCA Nancy posts : Nancy and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Healing up

Our narrator, Hermann Karlovich, is nothing if not self-conscious. He boarded a metaphorical bus when embarking on his narrative:

Vladimir Nabokov, Despair (1966).

I was surprised to see “heal up” here. I think of it as contemporary (right now) American language, but the Oxford English Dictionary has a citation from 1676: “A fontanel had been made in the same leg, which he was forced to heal up.”

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[First published as Отчаяние [Otchayanie] in a Russian literary journal in 1934; then in book form in 1936; then in Nabokov’s English translation in 1937; then in revised form in 1966.]

On the waterfront, continued

Those three guys hanging out on the waterfront? Geo-B has them covered.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Vagaries of shopping (Premium edition)

Might someone have an idea why a store would be wiped out of Premium Saltines days before Thanksgiving? Is there some traditional dish that makes use of them? I welcome your thoughts.

Three mascots

In today’s Zippy, three mascots: Gertrude, L’il Softee, and Good Sam. I remember Gertrude from childhood. I remember Good Sam from a highway. L’il Softee is known to me only from today’s Zippy and a subsequent Internet search.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, you can buy vintage toilet paper on eBay.]

Being a liberal

“Perhaps more than ever, there is an urgent need for a clear understanding of liberalism — of its core commitments, of its breadth, of its internal debates, of its evolving character, of its promise, of what it is and what it can be”: Cass Sustein offers thirty-four statements to explain why he is a liberal (The New York Times, gift link).


Jimmy Carter’s statement on the death of his wife Rosalynn is worth thinking on.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

White Rose Tea

I went to Brooklyn Newsstand to look for White Rose advertisements. Why not? In the 1930s they were plentiful. In the ’40s and ’50s, the brand appears mostly in supermarket advertisements — just a name and a price. As I’ve said in a previous post, White Rose was once ubiquitous in New York.

I see a strong modernist impulse in these seasonal ads:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 9, 1934. Click for a larger view.]

The stylized server puts me in mind of the work of Otto Neurath and Rudolf Modley: see, for instance, Modley’s Handbook of Pictorial Symbols (1978). If you don’t have an Internet Archive account, take a look at The New York Primer (1939). Modley founded Pictorial Statistics Incorporated (what we might now call an infographics company) in 1934.

[Brooklyn Times-Union, January 21, 1935. Click for a larger view.]

I was startled to see this image: are those cheeks, or eyes? Either way, these home-bound pedestrians seem to have stepped from a page of Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

Related reading
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard) : A short history of White Rose, Inc. : White Rose pencils, from the collection of my late friend Sean Malone

On the waterfront

[31 President Street, Waterfront District, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Just some grocery store in the Waterfront District. Notice in the windows the signage for White Rose Tea, a brand once ubiquitous in New York. Notice too the three gentlemen standing on the corner. The guy on the right certainly looks ready for his close-up. He puts me in mind of Tony Galento, the ex-fighter who played Truck in On the Waterfront. And here we are, on the waterfront.

And if you look closely, you can see next to the corner store an outpost of the International Longshoremen’s Association.

The corner store and several adjacent President Street properties are now gone. In their place today, GreenSpace@President Street, a community garden. The darker brick building past the fire hydrant, 115 Van Brunt Street, is the only building still standing on that block.

[Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard) : A short history of White Rose, Inc. : White Rose pencils, from the collection of my late friend Sean Malone

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Steve Mossberg, is YAUDS — Yet Another Ultra-Difficult Stumper. I made an inauspicious start with 9-D, three letters, “Eight dashes, for short.” I can’t believe I got the whole thing.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, letters, “Patagonian purrer.” I guesed. Could it be? It could.

1-D, four letters, “Jump-on-tail skateboard stunt.” OLLIE doesn’t fit. Now I know two skateboard stunts.

3-D, four letters, “Word from the Greek for ‘measure.’” I think I knew this, sort of.

6-D, twelve letters, “Venue offering theme rooms and costumes.” I’m relieved to find a tame answer here.

11-D, ten letters, “Unimaginable extent.” Happy to have seen it right off.

16-A, nine letters, “Drop-off remark.” Ha.

21-A, ten letters, “Understood.” The answer feels like something from a more reasoning time.

22-D, three letters, “What I might mean.” Tricky.

24-A, six letters, “Head turners.” My first thought was SPINES. Chalk that up to Pilates.

25-D, ten letters, “Salmon and squid.” The answer shouldn’t have surprised me but did.

30-D, three letters, “Proposal prelude.” A word due for a comeback.

31-A, three letters, “Craft that benefits craft.” A value-added clue.

35-A, four letters, “Delivered pitches.” I am wise to you, Steve Mossberg.

40-A, seven letters, “Folders for photos.” Very clever.

42-D, six letters, “Where clerical work is done.” Unexpected, even given the misdirection.

43-A, ten letters, “It’s not just a number.” I like the quaintness.

54-A, three letters, “He covered RMN’s reelection campaign for Rolling Stone.” Maybe the only giveaway in the puzzle.

56-A, nine letters, “Treat in a snow-capped wrapper.” But is it? Is it really? To me, the name itself says No, I am not a treat.

My favorite in this puzzle: 26-A, seven letters, “Modern verification solicitation.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 17, 2023

How to improve writing (no. 115)

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want to have coffee with me — or tea, whichever I want:

One of Joe and my favorite parts about being on the campaign trail is meeting supporters just like you. I truly mean that, Michael.
“Joe and my” is just embarrassing.

Get me rewrite:

“Joe and I agree that one of our favorite parts,” &c.

“Something Joe and I both love about being on the campaign trail,” &c.

And yes, I’ve told them, or someone.


I finally read to the end of the e-mail:
If you’d like the opportunity to sit down for a Cup of Joe — with Joe and I — consider making a contribution to our campaign today.

November 29: They got it together. Witness this invitation on the platform formerly known as Twitter: “Have a cup of joe with Joe and me.”

Thanks, Rachel.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[Formatting as in the original. Bold, underlining, and italics always add authenticity to one’s writing. This post is no. 115 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]


From an e-mail interview with Steven Millhauser (Los Angeles Review of Books ):

Oddly enough, reading has rarely created in me a desire to see more of the world. Reading a work of deeply imagined fiction seems to replace the outer world so completely that I ask nothing except not to be disturbed.
Related reading
All OCA Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

E.M. Forster on books on Frasier

From E.M. Forster, “A Book that Influenced Me,” collected in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951):

I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.
I spotted a few words of this sentence on the band that runs across the bookshelves of Niles Crane’s library.

[“Sharing Kirby,” November 20, 2001. Click for a larger view.]

That’s Kirby Gardner (Brian Klugman) on the ladder, son of onetime high-school goddess and Frasier crush Lana Gardner, née Lynley (Jean Smart).

No disrespect to the actor, but I think Frasier jumped at least a baby shark with the introduction of Kirby. Here he’s rearranging Niles’s library, pausing now and then to read and eat Cheetos. (Don’t worry: he’s wearing gloves.) Why is Kirby working for Niles? Because Frasier, claiming to feel guilty about not getting Kirby an internship at KACL, has talked Niles into hiring the lad. In truth Frasier is getting revenge for Niles’s not sharing a rare wine find. Kirby is no prize:
Kirby: I fudged a little bit on my job history.

Frasier: So you never actually worked at NASA.

Kirby : Or Burger King!
The book that influenced Forster: Samuel Butler’s Erewhon.

[Lots of English majors in those writers’ rooms.]

Domestic comedy

“Is it raining on the phone, or outside?”

“On the phone.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Welcome to Illinois

[As seen at a rest area recently.]

Yeah, not a great look for a state.


[Click for larger fruit.]

A distant relation of Mac? It’s not saying.

Related reading
All OCA pareidolia posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Madeline Kripke’s dictionaries

“We don’t really know how many books it is”: Atlas Obscura visits Madeline Kripke’s dictionary collection, now housed at Indiana University. The Kripke collection may be the largest collection of dictionaries ever amassed.

A must-see: two pages from Dobie Gillis: Teenage Slanguage Dictionary.

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with hallucinate and Matilda.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

A “Now and Then” surprise

[Click for a larger view.]

A surprise: liner notes inside the sleeve, by the music writer John Harris. They explain, among other things, what’s up with the assemblage on the back cover. It’s the work of an American artist, Chris Giffin, purchased by George Harrison in 1997. Harris writes that Olivia Harrison “recently decided to have a closer look at it”:

“I put it on the mantlepiece,” she says. “Then the phone rang. It’s Paul, and he begins to remind me of this third song with Real Love and Free as a Bird. I said, ‘I remember it.’ He said, ‘It’s called Now and Then.’ I’m standing there with the phone in one hand, looking at the clock that said Now and Then. I was sort of dumbfounded. I said, ‘I think this is George saying it’s OK.’”
Here, from Oregon Art Beat, is a 2010 feature about Chris Giffin and her art. There are many clocks.

“My terrible predicament”

Riding in a carriage, Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O’Connor tells Jenny Petherbridge that God has made him a liar:

Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1936).

Dr. O’Connor (an unlicensed gynecologist) is the novel’s great talker, a man who knows he should have been born a woman (we would call him trans), a teller of his own troubles, a confessor to his friends, a philosopher of the night. This recounted reconciliation of father and son is the only moment of human reconciliation in Nightwood. And as so often happens in the novel, one character is talking past one another: “Jenny had shrunk into her rug and was not listening.”

Related posts
5 Patchin Place : Smith going backward

[It doesn’t matter if the doctor said what he said to his father only to comfort him: it’s still a moment of reconciliation.]

Monday, November 13, 2023

Screensavers, lost

I was disappointed to discover today that Yuji Adachi’s Fliqlo screensaver, which turns the screen into a flip clock, no longer works in macOS Sonoma. The Fliqlo website mentions a bug in Sonoma’s screensaver engine.

So I decided to renew my acquaintance with Simon Hey’s Word Clock screensaver, which works — but now uses an inordinate amount of memory. For the first time in ages, I could hear the MacBook Air fan firing up as the screensaver ran. The Activity Monitor showed Word Clock using close to 1GB of RAM.

I then tried two humble built-in screensavers, Drift and Hello, and with each, the fan fired up. I shouldn’t have been surprised: online discussions report enormous amounts of memory use with so-called legacy screensavers. The Apple screensavers named for versions of macOS (Sonoma, Ventura, Monterey) seem to work without problems, but the swirling colors aren’t to my taste. And I wouldn’t dare try one of Sonoma’s new video screensavers.

The simple though unhappy fix, at least for me, is to skip using any screensaver, at least until a Sonoma update fixes the engine trouble.

“I adore ice-cream”

Still in a villa on the Mediterranean. The mysterious caller has identified himself as Mr. Walter Prodger, an American friend of mother’s late husband. Miss Anderson, mother’s companion, has joined mother, daughter Milly, and Mr. Prodger for lunch. Milly has announced that she’d like to go to America — “awfully.”

Katherine Mansfield, “The Doves’ Nest” (1923).

Related reading
All OCA Katherine Mansfield posts (Pinboard)

“C'est un très beau Monsieur"

In a villa on the Mediterranean. Two Englishwomen — Milly and her mother — a French servant, and a mysterious caller.

Katherine Mansfield, “The Doves’ Nest” (1923).

Related reading
All OCA Katherine Mansfield posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Whom is not calling

The professor in me wants to get this said:

In yesterday’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, the clue “Receptionist’s pronoun” takes the answer WHOM. The answer appears to play on the well-known formula of telephone etiquette: “Whom should I say is calling?” The pronoun who, not whom is what’s appropriate there. I think the puzzle’s constructor, Matthew Sewell, must know that, but not every solver will.

Flipping the sentence arounds makes the right choice clear:

I should say he — not him — is calling.
I should say she — not her — is calling.
I should say they — not them — are calling.
I should say who — not whom — is calling.
“Whom should I say” is a hypercorrection, a mistake that comes about in an effort to avoid a mistake, as when someone says “between you and I” in the mistaken belief that me is always mistaken.

I am trying to remember the last time I spoke to a telephone receptionist. The best I can do is say back in the day.

A missing word

David Skinner tells the story of “the only major expletive left out of Webster’s Third”: “Philip Gove and ‘Our Word’” (The American Scholar ).

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard) : The Story of Ain’t (Skinner’s history of W3)

Tires and skins

[31 Frankfort Street, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I went looking for a tax photograph of 53–63 Park Row, the now-demolished World Building, whose name was the answer to a clue in yesterday’s Newsday Saturday Stumper: “Where Pulitzer’s Big Apple office was.” The World Building, aka the New York World Building, aka the Pulitzer Building, is amply documented online (for instance), but no tax photograph is available. And for whatever reason, tax photographs of several streets off Park Row are relatively few. But there is a photograph for this building with the tires, right across from the Frankfort Street side of the majestic World.

No. 31 had several lives. William Whitlock, a sea captain, lived there at the end of the eighteenth century. An 1845 directory shows Herman Wendt, a cutter (fabric? leather?), living at no. 31. An 1851 directory shows James Gibson, a tailor, and Louis Madis, a barber, living at this address.

At some point no. 31 must have been repurposed for commerical use. By 1901 the address housed the Fulton Rubber Type, Ink and Pad Manufacturing Company.

[The American Stationer (September 28, 1901). Click for a larger view.]

Frankfort Street was home to many tanners and leather-goods merchants. If you click for a larger tax photograph, you’ll see a name: John F. Kaiser Co. Inc. And there he is in the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory, a dealer in skins:

[Click for a larger view.]

Which doesn’t explain the tires.

What now occupies this space, and much more than this space: One Pace Plaza West, on the campus of Pace University. The World Building was torn down in 1955 to make way for a broadened entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Doggett's New-York City Directory (1845). The directory distinguishes glass cutters and stonecutters from “cutters.”
The New York City Directory (1851).
Joseph Alfred Scoville, The Old Merchants of New York City (1864).

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Dustin pronouns

In today’s Dustin : Hayden learns a valuable lesson about pronouns.

That’s a snarky summary of what happens in the strip.

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A Perry Mason whom : All the King’s Whom : Aunt Fritzi’s whom : Linus’s whom : Lou Grant’s who : Lucy’s whom : Mooch’s hypercorrection

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is exceedingly difficult. But I got it, after at least an hour’s worth of staring. I started with 30-A, three letters, “Joey of fiction” and 31-D, four letters, “Publisher of Firestarter excerpts (1980)” and began to fill in the puzzle’s eastern edge. Toughest section: the southwest, where I was long in a 52-A, fifteen letters, “Precarious position.”

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

3-A, eight letters, “In high gear.” Groan.

5-D, ten letters, “Possible peppers partner.” But the answer need not begin with P.

8-D, four letters, “Resa alternative.” I thought this clue might be about wines I’ve never heard of. No.

14-D, five letters, “Slide stuff.” Very out of the way.

17-D, five letters, “Pit of the stomach.” Clever clueing.

19-A, seven letters, “Mideast word for ‘lighthouse.’” I guessed right and learned something.

21-D, seven letters, “With added zest.” An adverb won’t help.

23-A, thirteen letters, “Where Pulitzer’s Big Apple office was.” My first (wild) guess: MADISONSQUARE.

25-D, ten letters, “Pet kept for pest control.” I wanted BODEGACAT.

38-D, three letters, “Desserted?” Kinda awkward.

39-A, thirteen letters, “Tonic cocktails.” Eww.

47-D, four letters, “Big shock.” Talk about misdirection.

58-A, four letters, “Moviedom’s ‘Eighth Wonder.’” This answer helped a lot on the way to filling in the southwest.

My favorite clue in today’s puzzle: 1-A, four letters, “Receptionist’s pronoun.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Veterans Day

The Great War ended on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day was observed the next year. In the United Kingdom Armistice Day is now Remembrance Day. In the United States, Armistice Day is now Veterans Day.

In 1923 Armistice Day fell on a Sunday.

[“A Woman’s Plea.” Brooklyn Standard Union, November 10, 1923.]

Like Lysistrata, the speaker of these words reverses Hector’s declaration in Iliad 6: war shall be — already is — the concern of women. The key passage, if the text above is difficult to read:

Nations to-day still compete in preparing for war. Not only is war a bitter fruit of the tree of violence and hate but also a root which strikes deep down into the soil of a competitive and unfriendly world.

In this world-problem and world-task none are more deeply concerned than women. It is we who supremely suffer and mourn when wars rage and sudden death destroys our youth.

But we are not without hope.
Followed by a plea for letters urging that the United States join the Permanent Court of International Justice, also known as the World Court. The United States never did.

[Hector to his wife Andromache: “War is the work of men, / Of all the Trojan men, and mine especially” (trans. Stanley Lombardo, 1997.]

Friday, November 10, 2023

Desk reboot

I have long been a horizontal organizer. Any surface will do. (What’s a floor for?) Students coming to my office sometimes said “This looks just like my room!” They were delighted. Me too.

My desk at home has always accumulated objects — after all, it’s just another horizontal plane. These photographs from 2015 and 2020 will give you an idea. But hey, look at me now:

[Click for a larger view.]

I traded in my old desk (a kitchen table) for an inexpensive standing desk, which meant that I needed to think about a new horizontal plane. Almost three weeks later, it’s still devoid of clutter. Where did everything go? Into a six-drawer storage cart or a trashbag. Neatness, or at least invisiblity, counts.

A related post
FEZiBO standing desk : Five desks

Scotch, bourbon, and radio English

A contentious moment from A Letter to Three Wives (1949), written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Rita (Ann Sothern) and George (Kirk Douglas) are making ready for a party. She: a writer of radio serials. He: a schoolteacher. She has a question for him:

“Where’s the Scotch?”

“I didn’t buy any.”

“Why not?”

“Too expensive. Bourbon’s a better drink anyway.”

“But the Manleighs are a cinch to want Scotch. People in show business, you know what I mean, those kind always drink Scotch.”

“Well, I know what you mean, but I wish you wouldn’t say it in radio English. ‘That kind,’ not ‘those kind.’”

“There are men who say ‘those kind’ who earn $100,000 a year.”

“There are men who say, ‘Stick ’em up,’ who earn more. I don’t expect to do either.”

“Nor are you expected to pay for the Scotch.”

Thursday, November 9, 2023

NYRB sale

Attention, shoppers: New York Review Books has all books on sale: buy two and get 20% off; buy three and get 30% off; buy four or more and get 40% off. Free shipping for orders of $75 or more.

The Four Seasons Reading Club (Elaine and me) placed an order this afternoon for Anton Chekhov, Helen Keller, and Jean Stafford. Two copies of each book, of course. As I’ve written in another post: One could do worse than be a reader of New York Review Books books.

Cora, Nick, Ticonderoga

[Lana Turner and Cecil Kellaway as Cora and Nick Smith. From The Postman Always Rings Twice (dir. Tay Garnett, 1946). Click for a much larger view.]

Yes, I know — Lana Turner! But there’s also a pencil in the picture, and it’s pretty clearly a Dixon Ticonderoga. The distinctive ferrule is the giveaway.


Here’s Lana Turner with what appears to be a Mongol pencil. It’s a Getty photograph, so I don’t dare reproduce it here. Thanks, Brian.

Related reading
More OCA Ticonderoga posts (featuring Timmy Martin, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov, and other pencil-users)

Twelve movies

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

A Letter for Evie (dir. Jules Dassin, 1946). It’s a poignant premise: secretaries at a uniform manufacturer tuck “Dear soldier” letters into outgoing shirts. When Evie O’Connor (Marsha Hunt) tucks her letter into a shirt with a 16½″ neck, she ends up corresponding not with the shirt’s hunky recipient, “Wolf” Larson (John Carroll), but with meek and mild Johnny McPherson (Hume Cronyn), who picks up Evie’s discarded letter and writes back. A Cyrano-like story of mistaken identities develops, with wonderful comic performances from Cronyn and Hunt. I knew from Pride and Prejudice that Hunt could be funny, but I didn’t know that Cronyn and Norman Lloyd (here, a prissy exec) were was a skilled comic actors. ★★★★ (TCM)

[As Matt Thomas has reminded me, Hume Cronyn has a fine comic role in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.]


Whiplash (dir. Lewis Seiler, 1948). Improbable and really good: Dane Clark plays Michael Gordon, a painter smitten with Laurie Durant (Alexis Smith), a nightclub singer married to Rex Durant (Zachary Scott), a no-good nightclub owner and former boxer. Laurie sticks with Rex because of a botched operation by her brother, which left Rex paralyzed and using a wheelchair. Rex’s scheme to turn Michael into a boxer — Mike Angelo (get it?) — is in truth a scheme to get him killed and out of the way. Strong script, strong performances, lots of ambience, but a ridiculous number of punches. ★★★ (TCM)


The Postman Always Rings Twice (dir. Bob Rafelson, 1981). “Why remake a perfect movie?” Elaine asked. Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange turn Frank Chambers and Cora Papadakis into a feral pair. The sex scenes, which might have shocked some moviegoers in 1981, look farcical — nasty and brutish, though not short enough. And granted, the movie already runs over two hours, but the oddly truncated ending leaves Frank’s fate and the meaning of the title somewhere offscreen. ★★ (TCM)

[Here’s Lana Turner’s hilarious comment on this remake, which she admits she didn’t watch.]


The Postman Always Rings Twice (dir. Tay Garnett, 1946). We watched to be reminded how great this one is. John Garfield’s boyish energy (him with his itchy feet); Lana Turner’s iciness and reluctant vulnerability, Cecil Kellaway’s authority and cluelessness; Hume Cronyn’s sleaziness; Alan Reed’s (the voice of Fred Flinstone!) thugishness: everyone here is perfect. The best shots: the lipstick rolling along a floor — twice. What I’d like to see now is a movie about Cora’s life before the Twin Oaks. ★★★★ (YT)


From the Criterion Channel’s Pre-Code Horror feature

Thirteen Women (dir. George Archainbaud, 1932). Irene Dunne and Myrna Loy star in a bizarre story of one woman’s murderous revenge on thirteen sorority sisters. Occult themes dominate at first (with a swami who does horoscopes); racism emerges as a significant element later in the story. Trains and a trapeze act are among the settings for vengeance. It’s startling to see Myrna Loy as a persuasive vamp. ★★★★

Murders in the Rue Morgue (dir. Robert Florey, 1932). Greil Marcus speaks of the old, weird America; I think of movies such as this one as glimpses of an old, weird (imaginary) Europe — a world of castles, mad scientists, and damsels in distress. The mad scientist is Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi), who kidnaps women to use in his efforts to meld human blood and ape blood; the damsel is Camille (Sidney Fox), who attracts the interest of both Mirakle and his ape Erik. Lurid in the extreme, with some ghastly violence. Viewers who grew up with What’s My Line? might be startled to see Arlene Francis in her first movie role as “Woman of the Streets,” writhing on a cross in Mirakle’s laboratory. ★★★★

Murders in the Zoo (dir. A. Edward Sutherland, 1933). Lionel Atwill, looking like a crazed, waxen-faced Charles Boyer, plays a zoologist who’ll stop at nothing — nothing! — to keep rivals away from his wife (Kathleen Burke). This movie is a bizarre mix of corny comedy (from Charlie Ruggles as the zoo’s press agent) and unnerving violence: think alligators, snakes, and sutures. And when the cages open, things really get out of control. With Randolph Scott as the zoo’s resident scientist. ★★★★

[The other movies in this feature: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Svengali, Doctor X, Freaks, Island of Lost Souls, The Most Dangerous Game, The Old Dark House, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Black Cat, The Raven. I’ve seen and can recommend them all with varying degrees of enthusiasm.]


A Letter to Three Wives (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1949). Trouble in suburbia: three women receive a letter from the beautiful (and never seen) Addie Ross, announcing that she’s run away with one of their husbands. Extended flashbacks follow, giving the dynamics of three relationships: newlyweds just out of the Navy (Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn); a writer of radio serials (Ann Sothern) and a schoolteacher (Kirk Douglas); a woman living right by the railroad tracks (Linda Darnell) and a department-store owner (Paul Douglas). Tensions abound: money and manners (the frumpy, ill-at-ease Crain, her assured, affluent husband), money and culture (the lucrative work of writing popular dreck, the unlucrative work of teaching English), money and sexual ethics (a man who refuses to marry and a woman who refuses to be kept — or played). Commenting on events is catty Addie, voiced by Celeste Holm. ★★★★ (TCM)


Deception (dir. Irving Rapper, 1946). The director and the principals of Now, Voyager — Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains — in an ultra-posh post-war noir. Henreid is Karel Novak, a cellist, long thought dead in Europe, newly arrived in the States; Davis is Christine Radcliffe, a pianist and Karel’s one-time lover; Rains is Alexander Hollenius, a petulant composer and Christine’s keeper. When Hollenius writes a cello concerto for Karel to perform, things get complicated. Great sets (rooms as big as houses) and great scenes of performance, with Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s music, Henreid’s torso, and other people’s arms. ★★★★ (TCM)


Isle of the Dead (dir. Mark Robson, 1945). The inspiration: a late-nineteenth-century painting by Arnold Böcklin. The premise: during the Balkan Wars a Greek general (Boris Karloff) and an American newspaperman are stranded on an island with an odd assortment of residents and visitors, among them the caregiver (Ellen Drew) to an ill woman. The housekeeper believes that the caregiver is a vorvolaka, a malevolent undead being — and when the island is beset by plague, it begins to look as if she might be right. Next to The Seventh Victim, it’s probably the strangest Val Lewton production I’ve seen. ★★★★


The Fake (dir. Godfrey Grayson, 1953). A solid sender, with Dennis O’Keefe as Paul Mitchell, an American charged with protecting Leonardo’s Madonna and Child during its exhibition at the Tate Gallery (which plays itself in several scenes). Mitchell’s work-life balance becomes challenging as he tries to uncover an art-forgery ring while wooing museum employee Mary Mason (Coleen Gray). Strong Hitchcockian overtones, a score derived from Pictures at an Exhibition, and unexpected human-interest scenes — among them a conversation with a sidewalk chalk artist and a visit to a shelter for unhoused men. Eeriest moment: the three panels. ★★★★ (TCM)


Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art (dir. Barry Avrich, 2020). A beautifully made documentary about sheer ugliness: the story of a prolific forger, a con artist, an emissary, and the gallery director who marketed the forger’s fakes of Motherwell, Pollock, Rothko, and other Abstract Expressionists (“Ab Ex,” as they say in the movie). Did the gallery director, Ann Freedman of M. Knoedler & Co., know that she was selling fakes? The documentary leaves little doubt that she should have known and did know. A story of art as valuable property, in which the only meaning of “appreciation” is rising prices for what one sells or buys — I mean acquires. ★★★★ (N)

[Anne Freedman is still selling art].

Related reading
All OCA “twelve movies” posts (Pinboard)