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Alice Adams (1935)
This movie is a Place in the Sun turned around with a female instead of a male hoping for happiness by means of marrying up. It has always been nicer to be rich than poor, but even more so 90 years ago when being poor meant leading a life of unrelenting drudgery. Young women of today may criticize Alice since they do not understand the context of the time she lived in. Poor people did not have washing machines or vacuum cleaners and could not afford maids; birth control was largely ineffective and often legally and morally condemned; divorce was frowned upon; and employment opportunities for the average woman were limited to dull, low paying jobs. A married woman did not work. That would really have marked the family as low class. Most women would have accepted marrying a $30 a week clerk, living in a shabby rented apartment and cooking and cleaning and raising five children and living hand to mouth. If your husband got drunk and slapped you around, that was just too bad. If you wanted to escape your small town and make it big in the city, you'd more likely have to settle for being a waitress or seamstress, unless you had looks good enough to sell as a taxi dancer or night club chorus girl. However, if you were a respectable poor girl of spirit but unremarkable talents, your best hope was to mingle with the rich folk and be accepted by them. Enter Alice Adams. The rich folk were snobbish about people of Alice's class; so Alice was snobbish to her own family. The rich did not associate with servants and sneered at those who did. Ditto Alice. Alice's mother wanted to spare her daughter the squalid life she had had to endure. Alice had to be pretentious. Unfortunately, pretentious people are not attractive to those in the class they are trying to rise above, or to those in the class they are trying to reach. The window of opportunity is very short. A woman not married by age 26 was an old maid who had to settle for less than she could have gotten six years earlier. The somewhat frantic tone of Alice reflects her awareness that if she's to succeed, it had better be soon. Before judging her character, imagine yourself in her position.
White Heat (1949)
The real story
D'Autremonts' bungled train robbery in 1923 left 4 dead
By Paul Fattig Copyright © interRogue & The Mail Tribune 1998, Medford, Oregon USA oct11,1998
ASHLAND -- An old wreath over the north portal of Tunnel No. 13 at the Siskiyou Summit is the only visible reminder of the deadly crime. Three railroad employees and a mail clerk were killed when the Southern Pacific's "Gold Special" was held up by the D'Autremont brothers 75 years ago today.
One of those who died shortly after noon on Oct. 11, 1923, was Ashland resident Elvyn Dougherty, the mail clerk. "It was a terrible thing," said Eagle Point resident Nancy Rinabarger, 70, whose mother, Blanche Dougherty, was left a widow with a young son. "He wasn't supposed to work that day. He was subbing for someone else. "I wasn't born then, but I know she had a lot of hardships," she said of her mother, who later remarried. "Since the case wasn't solved right away, they (detectives) even followed her for some time. That was hard on her."
Her half-brother, Raymond Dougherty of Redding, the boy left fatherless by the dynamite blast, will be 80 next month. But he declined to comment about the trauma caused by the 1923 incident, saying it was "personal."
After all these years, what has become popularly known as the West's "Last Great Train Robbery" is still remembered with pain by those whose families lost loved ones. "Four lives were lost and three lives were changed so they that were never the same," said Salem resident Mike Yoakum, a former Rogue Valley resident. "It was a compound tragedy."
The D'Autremonts included twins Ray and Roy, both 23 at the time of the crime, and their teenage brother, Hugh. Before the crime, Ray served time in a Washington state prison for labor union activity. During that time, he came up with a plan to make his family rich.
"Hatred ate away at my compassion as I saw how the people in power cheated and stole from the masses," he told author Larry Sturholm for the book, "All for Nothing." "Thousands of women and children were starving and dying, thousands more, honest working men, were receiving less than half of what they should," he added.
But Ray's action indicated he wasn't interested in honest work. After his release from prison, he and his twin brother traveled to Chicago where they hoped to join big-time gangsters during the Roaring '20s. Unsuccessful, they returned to Southern Oregon where they began studying shipments on Southern Pacific trains. After all, the train through the Rogue Valley still carried the nickname of the "Gold Special" because it once hauled large quantities of gold from the mines.
They had heard rumors that it would be hauling up to a half million dollars in gold as well as a shipment of cash on Oct. 11.
The twins, who recruited their younger brother, picked the 3,107-foot-long Tunnel No. 13 because it would be easy to hop aboard the train as it labored slowly to reach the crest of the summit. Railway regulations required the engineer to test the brakes at the top of the pass by bringing the southbound train to a near stop just north of the tunnel.
The brothers studied the site, and established a hideout a couple of miles from the tunnel. They also stole explosives from a construction site in northern Oregon.
On the day of the crime, Roy and Hugh jumped on the train. Ray waited at the other end of the tunnel with the dynamite. After scrambling up on the baggage car, the two brothers climbed over the tender and jumped down into the engine cab. Hugh ordered engineer Sidney Bates to stop the train near the south end of the tunnel.
The twins packed the dynamite against one end of the mail car containing the mail clerk. The blast ripped open the entire end of the car, killing the clerk and setting fire to the railroad car. The brothers couldn't see into the car because of the smoke and dust. And they couldn't get the train moved out of the tunnel because of the mangled car.
The second man to die was brakeman Coyle Johnson, who had walked through the thick smoke in the tunnel, startling the brothers. Ray, carrying a shotgun, and Hugh, armed with a .45 semiautomatic, shot Johnson. Perhaps angry over not finding any money or gold, perhaps afraid of leaving witnesses, the brothers then shot to death railroad fireman Marvin Seng and engineer Bates.
They fled into the woods, prompting a massive manhunt that included the federal government, Oregon National Guard troops, local posses and angry railroad workers. But the brothers laid low, then slipped through the dragnet.
It wouldn't be until 1927 that Hugh was caught while serving in the Far East in the military. An Army buddy recognized his face on a wanted poster and turned him in for the reward. The twins were arrested a short time later in Ohio.
Robinson Crusoe (1954)
seeing it again over a half century later
I had read the story of Robinson Crusoe before I saw the movie at our 5th run neighborhood theater and found the movie to be a pretty straightforward recreation of the book. It was impressive. I was interested in the story. If there were allegories, I didn't recognize them. Bunuel? Never heard of him. Robinson Crusoe was another on the list of color films, like Disney's Treasure Island and Great Locomotive Chase, The Searchers, Shane, The Command, Sign of the Pagan, Fort Ti, that were much more alluring than the usual B&W fare and better remembered.
Now, in the 21st century I watched it again and it lived up exactly to my expectations. Still no allegories, but isn't that a refreshing change? I probably overrate it at 9 because of the nostalgia factor. It would be an ideal movie to take a pre-teen grandson to.
A King in New York (1957)
"If you want to send a message, use Western Union."
Mr. Chaplin should have heeded Goldwyn's advice. A telegram is terse and to the point. If the message of this movie is to call attention to the evils of McCarthyism, the message has been diluted by jabs at TV advertising, Cinemascope, teenagers, and by the inclusion of dragged out archaic slapstick, and an implausible romance. Falling fully clothed into a bathtub was old twenty years earlier. The business with the fire hose went on much too long and looked as if it had been lifted from a 1918 Chaplin short.The denouement is witless. If only HUAC could have been wiped away by spraying it with a fire hose. The kid, Rupert, had a stage father instead of a stage mother.
Caught in the Act (1941)
a dumb-a movie
Up until the 1950s, Italians in the movies were usually sinister gangsters or buffoons named Tony who sold bananas from pushcarts. This movie raises the buffoon character one level. His name is Mike and he is a competent construction foreman. However, after 15 years working for the same company in the construction trades, he seems never to have heard of crooked contractors, and he's still a talka like-a dis. As the movie opens, Mike has been afraid to ask his boss for the afternoon off to attend his daughter's wedding. The boss calls him in to the office before Mike can ask for time off and promotes him to the exalted position of sales rep for the company. I guess there's more to Mike than we see because you get the impression he'd have trouble keeping the banana pushcart business straight. Now for the "plot": as Mike is driving home, a glamorous blonde jumps into his car at a stoplight and forces him to drive at high speed to the suburbs. Naturally, the blonde is, by some coincidence, the moll of the gangster who is trying to create trouble for Mike's boss who won't buy the gang's porous concrete. Naturally, the police see Mike driving the gangster's girl friend and assume Mike is one of the gang. Naturally, the police arrest Mike and, when he tells them who his boss is, they naturally arrest the boss. When Mike is arrested, his wife assaults the cop, and she is arrested and, naturally, placed in the same cell the blonde is in. That's all the synopsis you'll get as I don't want to be blacklisted for writing spoilers. I only stayed to the end because nobody has ever seen or rated this movie before. My public service gesture for the New Year.
California Straight Ahead! (1937)
trains against trucks...again
Competition between railroads and trucking companies seems to have been a popular topic. Usually, the truckers were the bad guys who resorted to dirty tricks to put the railroads out of business. Paradise Express, made the same year as this movie, featured Harry Davenport as the owner of a beleaguered short line railroad. In the early 1950s, Ealing Studios made the Titfield Thunderbolt along the same lines. In California Straight Ahead, for variety's sake, the truckers are the good guys and the railroad the villain. The plot is typical: an airplane parts manufacturer has a shipment that has to get from the plant in the Midwest to San Francisco before an anticipated dock workers' strike shuts down the port. The manufacturer won't get paid if the goods aren't shipped. The factory apparently has plenty of inventory because they let the railroad and John Wayne's trucks both have a complete load to transport, but only the carrier that gets to the port first before the strike will be paid. And away they go. The trucks, in addition to the usual mechanical problems, also have problems inflicted by railroad goons. The details are hazy in my mind since I saw this movie once over 40 years ago. You can probably create your own scenario in your head and not be far off. The ending was a jaw dropper. I don't remember its exact real name but, as everybody stood on shore watching the freighter full of airplane parts sail west, we saw its name on the stern: Shigetsu Maru Yokohama.
The Jackie Gleason Show (1952)
60 years before the Jackie Gleason Show was the 1890s.
And now it's been 60 years, more or less, since the peak of the Jackie Gleason Show. I don't know how many geezers in 1954 pined for the good old days of Harrigan & Hart, and it seems odd that the present day senior citizens cackle at their memories of Jackie Gleason. In 1954, there was no videotape of the 1890s which the old folks could refer to for a cold splash of reality and maybe put an end to their babbling. But now there is a filmed record of the early 1950s TV shows of Gleason, Jimmy Durante, the Ritz Brothers, Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle et al, and you can watch most of them on Youtube. Painfully dumb is the only way to describe most of it. I just finished watching a 1951 clip featuring Reggie van Gleason, III. The Three Stooges are high art in comparison.
If I could reach into a barrel of all of Gleason's skits and pull some out at random to create a complete show, I would find:
At the top of the show, he recites verbatim the Mutt & Jeff cartoon from the previous Sunday funnies.
Ralph: One of these days Alice, Pow! right in the kisser.
Charlie Bratton: Hey Clem, what's that slop you're eating? Clem: Some day I'm going to kill that man.
Fenwick Babbit unbuttons and rebuttons a sweater with about 30 buttons and says "You're a nice man".
Reggie: Mmm boy are you fat.
Stanley Sogg: Tonight's movie is brought to you by Mother Fletcher.
Weirdo: I'm with you. Jackie: Oh no you're not!
I can't find any Rudy the Repairman quotes and you needn't look for any on my account. This show may have been a landmark of early television but it has very little entertainment value today.
Red Nightmare (1962)
Your tax dollars at work: the Cleavers meet the pod people
This Department of Defense sponsored inanity was done better 20 years earlier by Disney in his cartoon about the little boy living in Naziland. By 1962, it was completely redundant to preach to the American people how nasty it must be to live under a Communist dictatorship. There were recent examples of the suppressions of the uprisings in Poland and Hungary, first person testimonies by refugees and articles by the 100s in the popular magazines. Castro's mass executions of his opponents were even more recent. It would have been terrible if all those well off, white Christians in the movie had to surrender their way of life. No s**t, Dick Tracy.
I understand there have been cuts to the original release, and the 28 minute version I saw was not complete. Nowhere in that version is there any clue about what Communism is, besides nasty, and how it could possibly take over the US. Not necessary. Superimpose this lesson over the barrage of propaganda films that preceded it that gave valuable clues on how to recognize a Communist, and you have contributed to a mood of hysteria. How to recognize a Communist: does he read Pravda on the subway? Does he speak against our government? Does he not wear a flag lapel pin (no, no, that was later)? is he an atheist (Jew is close enough)? Does he stir up discontent by advocating better treatment for blacks? Does he think signing loyalty oaths is silly? Maybe there's nothing you and I can do to stop an ICBM, but we sure can stop the subversive worms from destroying us from within. Red Nightmare is just the coach's halftime locker room speech to keep the team fired up against people who call each other comrade and talk about commissars and the proletariat.
The Looking Glass War (1970)
an obtuse movie version of a satirical novel
POSSIBLE SPOILERS In the novel, British military intelligence in 1961 was looking for something to justify its existence. Some ambiguous aerial photos suggested the East Germans had constructed a missile site. Instead of sharing this information with... who? (sorry I don't know the other intelligence service. MI6?) the military people, who had not run an operation in years, decided to do what they knew best: send one of their now aged WWII spies with WWII equipment ( a 40 lb. tube radio with different crystals to change transmitting frequencies) into East Germany to verify the existence of the missile installation and radio back his findings. The East Germans were mystified by the strange radio messages until an old sergeant vaguely remembered how English spies had sent out messages 20 years earlier. The poor spy's floundering around created an international incident and the military intelligence people were ordered to pull the plug on the operation. LeCarre's caustic comments on the military intelligence service were swept aside and the movie was made treating all the bumbling as a serious spy story. Ah well. In 1961 the cold war was very serious business.
Zoo Parade (1950)
an early TV classic
I agree with reviewer Krorie that Zoo Parade, primitive as it was, was more enjoyable than the later more sophisticated Wild Kingdom, perhaps because, in those days of early TV, everything was live and everything was magical. Marlin Perkins and his straight man sat at a desk and keepers brought in animals for Marlin to explain to the audience. At intervals, the straight man would tell us about Ken L Ration and its magic ingredient: chlorophyllin that helped stop doggie odors. That was the first time I'd heard of chlorophyllin which, losing the final "in" became wildly popular as chlorophyll and was added to toothpaste and chewing gum (and I don't know what else). Every product with chlorophyll was green. The gum looked like green Chiclets. I distinctly remember the day six keepers carried out a python to exhibit. I don't know which came first, but there was a Chas Addams cartoon showing a bunch of zookeepers holding a python. As Marlin told us about the python the Zoo Parade keepers were holding, the snake suddenly had a bowel movement all over the hand of the keeper at that point of the snake's anatomy. You could see the other keepers biting their cheeks and trying hard to stay serious. At the end of every show as the credits rolled and the theme song played, there was a cartoon picture of the dog on the Ken L Ration label whose eyes moved back and forth. This was high tech stuff and a cartoon of the star of the show with moving eyes was also used at the end of the Groucho Marx and Jerry Colonna shows. It's hard today to give the show a star rating. I might have given it 10 stars in 1952, but lots of stuff from 1952 is unwatchable today.