Bad Movie of the Week

OK, the title is a dead give away.


The producers must have done all right at the box office with Frankenstein, because the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein followed four years later in 1935. Boris Karloff recapitulates his role as the monster, and Elsa Lanchester plays the title role as well as that of Mary Shelly, the author of the original story in 1818.

The movie starts with the well-known scenario:

Shelley had travelled in the region of Geneva, where much of the story takes place, and the topics of galvanism and other similar occult ideas were themes of conversation among her companions, particularly her future husband, Percy Shelley. The storyline emerged from a dream. Mary, Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for weeks about what her possible storyline could be, Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made. She then wrote Frankenstein.

In the opening scene (it’s a dark and stormy night), Mary follows up by relating to her companions a sequel to her story Frankenstein. Of course, with a title like Bride of Frankenstein, viewers will know they are in for a bad rehash. They will be right.

However, I am impressed with the photography, direction and some of the acting. It would appear that during the time between the first movie came out in 1931 and the sequel came out in 1935, somebody build some decent motion picture cameras. The optics were vastly improved. The sound track is clear, as well.

The sequel commences with the destruction fo the monster. Villagers have hounded the beast to a mill or some other such building and have burnt it down with him inside. Satisfied, they head off to resume their lives, secure in the knowledge the creature is dead. But is he?

In the original movie the monster drowned an innocent child, and in the sequel the child’s father ventures into the ruins of the burned building to look for the burnt corpse of the monster. He falls into a pit of water, where the monster waits to drown him. Next the monster casts the man’s wife into the pit to her death. Frankenstein’s house keeper Minnie sees all of this and screams. She runs away to alert the other, but nobody believers her when she tells them the monster is still alive.

Henry Frankenstein recovers from his injuries (see the original movie) and unites with his bride for their wedding night. However, Frankenstein’s old mentor, Doctor Pretorius arrives to interrupt the wedded bliss and coaxes Frankenstein into another bio-genesis experiment. In his laboratory he shows Frankenstein a number of miniature human beings he has created, and he wants Frankenstein to work with him to create a bride for the monster (still alive).

Right about here I had to laugh, because the scene is right out of one of my favorite Jonathan Winters monologues. I don’t have the text, but it goes something like this.

Scientist: Look what I have here.

Reporter: No, I don’t think..

Scientist: Look, I say!

Reporter: OK, I’ll look. (Scientist pulls back a small sheet.) Ah. I hope I didn’t see what I think I see. A little man, just six inches tall. (some gibberish) He speaks!

Scientist: Yes. And I have over ten thousands of them in these drawers here. (pulls open a drawer – much more gibberish). And tomorrow I’m going to release them to the world.

Reporter: Doctor, you’re mad.

Scientist: Yes. Wait, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to release them now. (many drawers opening – much gibbering from little men)

Reporter: Doctor, those little men, where are they going, what are they looking for?

Scientist: They’re looking for little women, you fool.

It has got to be that Jonathan Winters lifted this directly from Bride of Frankenstein.

Anyhow, Pretorius and his helpers steal the corpse of an 18-year-old girl and create a woman to be the bride of the monster.

Meanwhile the monster has numerous adventures. Everywhere he goes people are revulsed by him and try to kill him. He strikes back and becomes further alienated. He is captured and escapes. He befriends a blind hermit, but the intrusion of some hunters disrupts his attempt to live a normal life. He finally winds up at Pretorius’ laboratory, where Pretorius and Frankenstein have completed construction of his bride. She is feminine in a ghoulish sort of way, but she is utterly repulsed by the sight of the monster who is presented to her as her new mate.

The monster reacts to this rejection by pulling the big electrical switch that destroys Pretorius’ castle and everybody in it while Frankenstein and his wife make their getaway.

My favorite performance in this movie is the housekeeper played by the marvelous Irish actress Una O’Connor. O’Connor later got to play a housekeeper in Witness for the Prosecution and a shopkeeper in Random Harvest, both minor roles played to the hilt by a jewel of talent. The one thing that puzzled me watching the movie, which was supposed to be set in Germany or Switzerland is where did she get that Cockney accent? Oh well, that’s the world of show business.


First to Fight

I like to do anniversary posts, such as my current series of 70th anniversary posts on events of WWII. I’m not going to wait for 2018, the 100th anniversary of these events. I just finished reading the book, so now is a good time to do the review.

I made a vow never to purchase another hard copy book, but a few days ago I broke down. Half Price Books was having a 1/2 off sale, so I picked up three books related to military history. This one is from WW-I.

Book Dust Jacket

I am slightly acquainted with the events of the Great War, which later came to be known as World War One after it turned out there was going to be a World War Two. I knew loosely the United States Marines were somehow involved in the Battle of Belleau Wood, but I always pictured it as something like Battle of the Ardennes, which ranged over many miles. It turns out the geographical scale of Belleau Wood is minuscule, but it’s impact is lasting. It was the battle that produced the Marine Corps that exists today.

The subtitle of The Miracle at Belleau Wood is The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps. Here’s the story. Former Marines and anybody else thoroughly familiar with the Corps can skip on down. The book is by Alan Axelrod.

The United States Marine Corps was established in 1775, the year before our country declared its independence from England. The idea was that our navy (what there was of it) needed some people on board to manage man-to-man combat. The navy needed soldiering skills, something usually lacking in sailors. So the Corps was founded to support landing parties and shipboard fighting. Marines were also expected to act as on-board enforcers.

Early in the history of the United States Marines saw land combat when we decided to take on the Barbary Pirates (“shores of Tripoli”). We later used Marines to fight in Mexico (‘halls of Montezuma”). With the demise of sailing vessels, close-in ship-to-ship fighting fell out of fashion, and boarding parties became a thing of the past. We just stood off and traded shots with ships almost on the horizon. Marines manned the guns in those days, as did sailors. But sailors did that anyhow, so what need was there for Marines.

Marines still worked security on ships of ever increasing size. Two ships I was on had Marine detatchments of about 50 men. In particular, one day when we were loading ammunition I observed a Marine with a loaded weapon standing guard over some strange looking pieces of munition. I did not have to ask what kind of bombs these were.

So, that was the deal. Sailors were sailors, and Marines were soldiers. Sailors received some basic training with small arms but rarely needed those skills in their daily duties. A former boss of mine is a certified gun nut (small arsenal of handguns). He is also a Ph.D. in mathematics and former U.S. Navy officer. The first weapon he ever fired in his service tour was a 16-inch gun. That means 16-inch bore. On my ship we had pilots, whose job was to fly off and be mean to the opposition. Ordinary sailors loaded the ammunition, and when there was no ammunition that needed to be loaded we chipped paint and repainted where we had chipped off the paint.

Anyhow, by the beginning of the 20th century powers that were had begun to doubt the usefulness of the Marine Corps. We had ships that needed sailing, and we had sailors for that. We had land battles that needed to be fought, and we had soldiers to do the fighting. We didn’t need the Marines. Teddy Roosevelt proposed eliminating the Corps. Then The Great War came along.

Congress had repealed the president’s executive order to eliminate the Corps, and the Marines had been allocated a strength of 17,400. Major General George Barnett was commandant of the Marine Corps, and he saw the war as a chance to expand the Corps. In 1914 (the year the war started) he sent a contingent to observe what was going on. Colonel John A. Lejeune analyzed the findings, particularly with regard to the war’s modern aspects: trench warfare, poison gas, machine guns and airplanes. The Marines were going to need to fight a modern war.

As tensions with the Axis powers ramped up, President Wilson ordered an increase in naval strength, including 7000 more Marines. Recruiters had no problem filling their increased quotas. With the slogan “First to Fight,” the Corps attracted men who did not want to get caught in the draft and spend the war peeling potatoes. Recruiters were able to be selective. They rejected 75% of applicants.

Barnett’s idea was to make the Marines a select force—training was intense, and marksmanship was emphasized. In fact, compared to European forces, United States Marines and Army placed much more importance on firing for effect. French commanders had ideas that seem to have been left over from the previous century when ranks of soldiers from opposing armies faced each other on flat ground and fired into masses of colored uniforms. Shooting skills were destined to play a large part in the effectiveness of American forces once they showed up on the forward line of defense. Jeff Shaara’s fictional work, To the Last Man, based on history, emphasizes this point.

Marines arriving in France in 1917 were put to work unloading ships and keeping order. Their colorful dress uniforms got themselves likened to glorified bellhops. Marine commanders had other plans for their troops—they wanted Marines in the fight where they could distinguish themselves. Therein was a problem.

British and French forces welcomed America’s entry into the war. They had been fighting a 20th century war with 19th century tactics. The supposed method for pushing the German army out of its defensive trenches was to run masses of troops into the teeth of German machine guns. The result was sometimes to lose more than 18,000 dead in a single afternoon. The European armies needed fresh American bodies to fill the gaps as their own soldiers were taken off to cemeteries behind the lines. American commanders did not want any part of this. They wanted American troops to fight as American groups under immediate command of American officers. They waited for their chance.

That chance came in June of 1918.

With the Russians knocked out of the war, Germany army Quartermaster General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff used newly-available troops and resources in a push to knock France out of the war. By late May the Germans had advanced on Château-Thierry, just 35 miles northeast of Paris. This caused great panic, on the part of the French at least. For them the capture of the capital city would be tantamount to defeat. The German advance in that region needed to be stopped at all costs. Could American commanding General Pershing supply some units to hold off disaster? Pershing was eager, and he could.

Elements of the American Third Division (army) moved in and foiled the Germans’ plan to cross the Marne at Château-Thierry, and the Second Division was rushed forward to block the Germans in the Belleau Wood area. The attached Fourth Marine Brigade would figure prominently in the battle.

If the Ardennes is a forest, Belleau Wood is a game preserve. It’s about half the size of New York City’s Central park, and it really was a private hunting ground for “a wealthy Parisian sportsman.” In 1918 it was wild, rugged, completely un-manicured, a tangle of uncut growth and a jumble of freight car-size boulders. It was a perfect defensive position, and the Germans made the most of it.

The Germans were skillful in the use of the machine gun. They had early recognized its strength as a defensive weapon and had developed tactics to a fine edge. Machine gun squads were specially selected. They were men who would not retreat and would (almost) never surrender. In Belleau Wood gun positions were carefully positioned to protect each other from attack. The Germans were prepared to make this a killing ground. They were not prepared for the kind of men who would come to kill them.

This was a crazy time for the world. The Maxim machine gun was the first self-powered machine gun, invented in 1884 in England by American-born Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim. The Germans adopted it and made excellent use of it. They produced their own version for the war and paid royalties to the patent holder.

Rushed into the fight on a few hours notice, the Marines prepared to advance on the Wood in evenly-spaced ranks, as they had been trained by the French. As somebody who has never seen organized combat, I can only wonder what people were thinking back then. Author Axelrod wonders, too. There was no waiting for dark. There was no creeping along the ground behind bits of cover. There was no firing of smoke shells to provide concealment. There was no artillery bombardment to even frighten the machine gunners. The approach to the German positions concealed in the woods was across a wheat field, in one region a march of 400 yards. It was recipe for slaughter.

The American approach was to lean into the withering machine gun fire as though walking into a gale wind. Where the distance was short the advance wave was able to reach the woods and engage the enemy. The advance that attempted to cross 400 yards of wheat was reversed, although some men managed to crawl forward into the trees.

What amazed the Germans, however, was the action of the Marines as they advanced. They aimed their rifles and killed Germans one by one.

This tactic was something the Germans were unaccustomed to during the four-years of combat. They understood artillery, machine gun fire and massed rifle fire. These threats were impersonal, and if you were exposed there was nothing you could do about it. If you got hit, you got hit. It was all a matter of chance. The German troops were mentally prepared to take the chance.

The Marines’ rifle fire, however, was personal. A Marine put you in his sights and killed you personally. And Marines were very good at this. If a Marine shot at you, you were very likely to take the hit and die. The Germans did not like that.

What’s more, as the battle progressed over the next few weeks, the ferocity of the Marines’ fighting spirit fell upon the Germans. The Marines seemed to take a personal interest in their victims. They wanted to kill Germans. They liked to use the bayonet, on or off the rifle barrel. They got in close to the enemy and made each encounter a fight to the death. The Marines quickly got the name teufelhunden, literally “devil dogs.” They began to ship out German machine gunners who had surrendered. In the end the American Marines prevailed and established a history for themselves.

Elsewhere American troops gained the reputation for tenacity and effectiveness. Other units distinguished themselves on the ground, particularly in the last month of the conflict in Europe. An Army battalion commanded by Major Charles White Whittlesey held place in a wooded slope protruding into the German front from 2 to 8 October, most of the time completely cut off from friendly forces. The battalion resisted all offers from the Germans to surrender and suffered tremendous casualties while posing a constant threat to the German line and inflicting heavy losses on the Germans who tried to rout them. The men were a collection of roughnecks from such places as the American Mid-West and Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, and they fought like thugs. The Germans called them “New York Gangsters.”

On the same day that Whittlesey’s battalion was relieved Alvin York from the backwoods of Tennessee used his shooting skills to kill twenty of the enemy after his squad infiltrated the German lines. York and his seven surviving troops brought 132 prisoners back to American lines.

On 11 November the Germans were finished. Ludendorff had resigned the previous month, and he went home to blame politicians back home for Germany’s defeat. He joined up with an ex-corporal of the army who was promising to regain German honor and dominance, but instead took the country down to the gates of Hell.

The American Army came away from the war with renewed respect, and the Marines earned a reputation that would ensure their permanence.

As it has turned out, in more recent conflicts the Marine Corps has been misused as front-line troops when their real value is as a shock force. However, the most recent news on the home front is the Secretary of Defense wants the Marines to be whittled down to an elite cadre, somewhere between the Army Special Forces and front line troops. They will likely be carried to combat regions aboard Navy ships and will be “The First to Fight.” They will travel light and take strategic objectives but will not be put into extended battles of attrition that will sap the strength of this elite corps.

The other two books I picked up at the Half Price Books’ half price sale are Enemy at the Gates, the history of the Battle of Stalingrad by William Craig, and World in the Balance, a history of the Battle of Britain by Brooke C. Stoddard. I previously reviewed the movie that seems to be based on Enemy at the Gates. The happy news is the book provides a lot more detail and contains about 1000 times as much reality as the movie. I will review these other two books in April.

Axelrod’s book seems to be thoroughly researched and includes an abundance of personal quotes from people who took part in the battle. Like all books I have read, however, this one can benefit from hard-eyed proof reading. For example on page 23 the text reads:

Ludendorff’s first offensive was launched along the Somme River, beginning on March 21, 1918, days before the United States declared war.

Of course, the United States declared war in 1917. Not many readers who are recent high school graduates will notice that typo.

Bad Joke of the Week

A married couple in their early 60s were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in a quiet, romantic little restaurant.

Suddenly, a tiny yet beautiful fairy appeared on their table. She said, ‘For being such an exemplary married couple and for being loving to each other for all this time, I will grant you each a wish.’

The wife answered, ‘Oh, I want to travel around the world with my darling husband.’

The fairy waved her magic wand and – poof! – two tickets for the Queen Mary II appeared in her hands.

The husband thought for a moment: ‘Well, this is all very romantic, but an opportunity like this will never come again. I’m sorry my love, but my wish is to have a wife 30 years younger than me.’

The wife, and the fairy, were deeply disappointed, but a wish is a wish.

So the fairy waved her magic wand and poof!…The husband became 92 years old.

It turns out that fairies are female.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

No, this isn’t about the movie. I’m going to do a review of the movie sometime later this year. This is about gold, the metal. But first a little story.

Count The Money

This came over the news many years ago, before the Internet even. Two elderly women lived together and had their savings in a bank account. It was, as I recall, $16,000. They didn’t trust banks. How did they know their money was still there? To be sure their savings were still secure, they went to the bank and withdrew the money in cash and counted it. I think they had done this more than once. In any event, while they had the cash in hand somebody robbed them, and took the money. In cash.

Keep that story in mind. It’s going to come up later. Meanwhile, back to the move. Remember, I won’t be reviewing the movie today, but there is something in the movie that makes a point.

In Mexico during the 1920s three Americans down on their luck pool their resources and go prospecting for gold. They rely on the savvy of old and experienced prospector (Howard, played by Walter Huston). During their search, Howard reminds them why gold is so expensive. One, it’s rare. There’s not a lot of it. Two, due to item one, it costs money to find it and to get it out of the ground and into little shiny blocks of pure metal. That’s why people are going to pay the three of them a lot of money for any gold they can bring back.

So, here is the scenario I am getting to: Somebody approaches me and says, “I have gold. Do you want to buy some?”

And I say, “Sure. How much?”

And he says, “$1000 an ounce for as much gold as you can afford.”

So I’m thinking that’s a real bargain. Really? Then I ask myself, “Why?” When I get this gold, what am I going to do with it?

Actually, gold is a very useful material. It’s pretty and yellow (gold) and always stays that way. That’s because it’s almost chemically inert. Pull some gold coins up from the bottom of the Caribbean where they have been for the past 300 years, and they are still bright and shiny. Gold does not oxidize and does not corrode like most other metals. It takes a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acids to dissolve it. Also, it’s very ductile. If you had enough of it, and if it were cheap, you could make your plumbing out of gold. Simple machinery could extrude miles and miles of gold tubing that would be easy to cut and bend into any shape you wanted for your home plumbing project. And it would never corrode. Also, since gold does not oxidize (and it conducts electricity) you can use it wherever an electrical connection needs to be made. In fact, critical electrical connections (computer board connectors) are plated with gold to prevent the formation of unwanted and insulating oxide layers. And a bunch of gold serving dishes would look nice sitting on your breakfast table.

In practice, here is how our current gold supply is distributed (with British spelling):

A total of 171,300 tonnes of gold have been mined in human history, according to GFMS as of 2011. This is roughly equivalent to 5.5 billion troy ounces or, in terms of volume, about 8876 m3, or a cube 20.7 m on a side. The world consumption of new gold produced is about 50% in jewelry, 40% in investments, and 10% in industry.

Only 10% of available gold is ever put into practical use. OK, consider that jewelry is a practical use, then 40% is investment. People buy gold, just to know they own something that is universally agreed to be expensive.

But, recall Howard’s description. Gold is expensive in large part because it costs so much to produce. That makes it a good investment? Really? You tell me it cost you a lot of time and money to produce an artifact, and because of that I am expected to pay you a lot of money for it? I don’t think so. Call me an engineer if you want, but I pay for usefulness.

So, this entire posting is about the 40% of the gold that is an investment. This has a history. A long time ago gold was used for money. Look up the definition of money. Money is supposed to represent something else of real value. It could represent an amount of accumulated labor or a useful product food or manufactured goods. When somebody performed a day’s labor and was paid in gold, the laborer knew that he could sometime in the future exchange that gold (money) for something of value equal or nearly equal to the labor performed. And gold was impossible to counterfeit.

A person taking gold in exchange for goods or services could be sure he would not wake up the next morning to find that overnight the streets had not been paved with worthless gold bricks. Gold would remain hard to find and produce. Gold made for a good form of money.

Except that gold did and still does represent an expenditure of resources that could never be recovered if it were used for money alone. Suppose it costs you $950 to produce an ounce of gold (exploration, mining, transportation, extraction). Now you are selling it for $1000 an ounce. That represents only $50 an ounce value in excess of the cost of producing the gold.

In practice, people have found this is not an effective way to produce money. Money is supposed to represent the value of goods and services. Money is not supposed to be an actual product of goods and services. Else we will be back to a barter system of economy, and that is not typically a very robust economy.

On the other hand, paper money is based on trust. It is effectively a form of credit. It’s a promise of redemption in like value. Of course, left unchecked, this results in unbridled inflation—a depression of the worth of money. This has happened, an iconic example being the period in 1923 in Germany when money became cheap enough to burn in place of kindling in a stove.

All this brings me to my story.

I see a lot of this on TV. A pitchman is selling gold. Gold is a good investment. I should buy gold as a hedge against inflation. I can purchase gold without paying a broker’s commission (gee, thanks). Wait, there’s more.

With my large purchase of gold I will receive free a chest to put my gold in.

Wait! They are going to ship the gold to me? I’m going to keep the gold in my house in a little box? I may take the seller’s word that the gold I receive really is gold of the advertised purity, but when I go to sell it, which I will have to do to recoup my investment, I will need to convince some buyer that it really is gold of the advertised purity. This is a transaction cost that will erode the value of my investment. Then there is the matter of having the gold in my house. Recall the two elderly women mentioned at the beginning of the post. I would have to be crazy to keep a sizable investment in my house in the form of something readily converted to cash.

Somebody is either stupid or crazy here. Strange how the word “crazy” keeps popping up. If you want to invest in gold, invest as you would with any other commodity. Purchase gold futures. Of course, you have to trust the concern that sells and holds the commodity for you, but that is likely safer than keeping your net worth in a box in the back of your closet. You don’t even have to purchase futures. You can still purchase real gold. Just don’t be stupid enough to take possession. Every time gold changes hands there is a cost of the exchange that is not recoverable. You could, for example, approach a bank that has considerable gold reserves in a vault and purchase some of that gold. Your gold will remain in the vault, and you would save the expense of essaying the gold during each transaction. And you would not wind up like the two women who had the need to feel and touch something to be assured of its value.

Bad Movie of the Week

Sunday is Bad Movie if the Week time.

Some movies are bad because they are meant to be bad (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman). Some are accidentally bad. Somebody tried to make a good movie, but it didn’t turn out the way they wanted. This movie is bad because nobody took enough care to come up with a good script, good direction, good cinematography or good acting. It does have some star players, however.

From Wikipedia

Take the High Ground views for all the world like an army recruiting poster. Here’s the plot, which you can also read from Wikipedia:

Sergeant Thorne Ryan is first seen on a hill in Korea in May 1951, that was the first year of the Korean War. His troops are attacking an enemy position. One of his troops sits down on a rock to take a drink from his canteen and is killed by a sniper’s bullet.

The scene switches to Fort Bliss in Texas, where Ryan is a drill sergeant facing a new batch of raw recruits. Short story, he makes soldiers of them all. He meets a woman, develops an attachment for her, she leaves on a train. His group of newly trained soldiers ship out on a train, and he confronts the next batch of new recruits.

There is no plot. The dialog is flat. Character development is almost completely lacking.

The drill sergeant is supposed to be tough. That is supposed to be part of the plot. The problem is the drill sergeant in the move is not all that tough. Watch the video. A recruit drops his mess kit, and the drill sergeant picks it up for him? Anybody who has ever been through boot camp knows this is pure fantasy. There is more, of course.

According to Wikipedia the original idea was to show a Marine boot camp, but the Marines were wary of depicting rough boot camp training. Maybe I’m missing something here.

I recorded this movie on DVD from Turner Classic Movies. It was part of a Karl Malden day series. The series had some really good Malden movies, but this is not one of them. Richard Widmark is Sergeant Ryan. Also featured is the athletic Russ Tamblyn as one of the recruits. He doesn’t have any of his spectacular dance sequences, but viewers in 1953 were preparing to see him dance in the near future in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and West Side Story.

High Noon

Readers will notice that I seldom review a movie made after 1970. There really are lots of good flicks under the age of 40, but I am assuming many of my readers have already seen them. This one is from 1952.

From the DVD liner notes

High Noon was shot in stunning black and white by cinematographer Floyd Crosby. What is striking is Crosby’s use of high-key imagery. Almost every frame has some stone cold black and brilliant white with pale midrange. I just finished watching the DVD again, and I did not notice a single image that could not stand alone as a work of poster art. Composition, framing and content are dead-on every time.

Fred Zinnemann, originally from Vienna, Austria, directed, that is once somebody taught him to speak English. If you think an Austrian cannot possible direct an American western, then you may need to know something about the influence of American film on foreigners. I once worked with a guy from Ethiopia. He said in his home country American movies were his favorite. He saw Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven, and he practiced until he could walk like that.

Anyhow, Zinnemann knew he had to portray the isolation of a man shunned by his own people and forced to face the threat of death alone. Also critical to the movie is the element of time. The leader of a gang of outlaws is scheduled arrive on the noon train, and the movies starts only an hour and twenty minutes before noon. There’s not much time, and time ebbs relentlessly toward the appointed hour. A third element is a new bride. The hero and his bride are married right at the moment word comes of the threat. Ex town marshal Will Kane cannot flee the coming showdown, and his wife, a Quaker, will not tolerate having him engage in another gunfight. She prepares to abandon him to his fate and to leave on the noon train.

Zinnemann depicts the loneliness with scenes of Kane stalking the empty town streets, desperately seeking the aid of anybody willing to help him. A high boom shot shows Kane walking down an empty street under a cloudless sky, the sun casting his shadow at the ground beneath his feet. Zinnemann depicts the coming of the fateful hour with shots of ticking of clocks that grow larger and more ominous as noon approaches. I first saw this movie in my home town theater, and I recall the trailer that previewed the week before. Prominent in the preview is the swinging pendulum of a clock, counting off the minutes until doom.

Zinnemann heightens the coming of doom with shots of the railroad tracks, the two rails converging to a point toward the horizon beyond the town. When the crucial time arrives Kane is sitting alone in the marshal’s office, having just written his will. The clock on the wall ticks. There are shots of people who have abandoned him, themselves sitting alone in their homes, waiting for the appointed time. There is a shot of the chair where the convicted killer sat years earlier and vowed revenge. The shot is split by the sound of the train’s whistle out on the prairie. Then the camera returns to the railroad tracks converging on the horizon. Smoke from the engine billows into the sky, and the train appears, growing larger as it approaches the town. Death is coming.

If an Austrian can direct an American western, then a Russian, Dimitri Tiompkin, can write the musical score. The main theme is Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, alluding to the abandonment by Kane’s new bride. The opening scene of the movie shows a lone rider out on the prairie with the rhythmic beat of the music in the background. Later in the movie the pendulum of the clock swings to the beat of the music.

Lyrics are by Ned Washington, an unlikely western music writer. He gained much acclaim, including Academy Awards, one When You Wish upon a Star in the Walt Disney animated classic Pinocchio. The theme song describes the hero’s dilemma:

The noonday train will bring Frank Miller.
If I’m a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer
Or lie a coward, a craven coward,
Or lie a coward in my grave.

OK, that is dire, and it sets the mood of the story.

Gary Cooper is Will Kane, and the beautiful Grace Kelly is his new bride in her first major film role. Other notables frame this classic:

Lloyd Bridges is Kane’s reluctant deputy. Lon Chaney, Jr. is an aging ex marshal. Harry Morgan is one of those who declines to come to Kane’s aid. Lee Van Cleef is Jack Colby, one the gang members. Mexican actress Katy Jurado gained attention for her role as Helen Ramírez, a former love interest of Kane’s.

Producer Stanley Kramer used the script by Carl Foreman to craft the story, and he purchased the rights to The Tin Star, a magazine story by John W. Cunningham, which had a similar theme.

My copy of the DVD has a section on the making of the movie. Leonard Maltin explains the process and relates fascinating details. Zinnemann’s previous experience with low-budget films was instrumental in keeping production costs to $730,000, which was low even by the standards of the early 1950s. North American box office receipts in 1952 were $3.4 million. Shooting took about a month.

Western singer Tex Ritter sang the movie’s theme song, and his son John Ritter tells how thrilled his father was to also sing it when it won at the Academy Awards presentation. John Ritter’s children also cherish their grandfather’s place in history.

Lloyd Bridges’ son Beau was a great fan of Cooper’s, so he was allowed to view the fight scene in the livery stable between Copper and his father from the hay loft. Things went well until Cooper won the fight and threw a bucket of water on his father, then Beau burst out laughing. The shot had to be done over.

Zinnemann and Crosby wanted to get the shot of the train coming into town and stopping right in front of the camera, so they both got between the rails and signaled the train to start. The white smoke on the horizon looked great, but then there was black smoke, and that looked OK, as well. They did not know the black smoke indicated the train’s brakes had failed, and at the last moment they realized they had to jump for their lives. The camera tripod hooked on a rail, and the camera was smashed, but the film was saved.

The film depicted people in official positions shirking their responsibilities, and this upset a number of those overly concerned with the red scare of that period. The KKK and the Un-American Activities organization picketed the opening, and Bridges and Crosby were placed on studio blacklists, not necessarily because of their involvement with the film. David Crosby relates for us his father’s frustration during this time. Foreman left the country and relocated to a more friendly climate in England even before the film was released.

My copy of the movie lists Cooper and Grace Kelly on the front, but in the movie credits Kelly is listed way beneath other character players. The film gained four Academy Awards, including Cooper’s only one. Cooper was 50 years old when the film was shot, and he had only another ten years left to live. Kelly was 22 at the time, and viewers were supposed to overlook the age difference in the married couple. My thinking was that Bridges should have played the Will Kane part, but Cooper got the role because by that time he was the iconic western hero.

If you have not seen the movie, and you plan to see the movie, and you do not want the plot spoiled for you, then stop reading right now and go watch the remaining sessions of the Jay Leno Tonight Show on TV. I’m going to explain the plot to you next:

Three rough looking men meet out on the prairie and ride into town. They are outlaws who had been run out of town by the town’s retiring marshal, Will Kane, and people recognize them as they ride through and head for the train station. There is fear and loathing on the part of some; a matronly woman wearing a crucifix crosses herself and hurries away. The is elation on the part of some rowdies hanging around waiting for the saloon to open (it’s Sunday). They look forward to the return of the lawlessness of previous times.

At the station a telegram arrives advising that condemned killer Frank Miller has been pardoned by “politicians upstate.” The thinking is he will arrive on the next train (at noon) and will join the other three outlaws to pursue a promised vendetta against Kane and others who sent him to prison. The telegram is delivered to Kane right after his wedding and right after he resigns and turns in his badge. A clock on the wall shows 10:40 a.m. The noon train will arrive in one hour and twenty minutes. Town’s people advise Kane to not wait to face the gang, but to leave town with his wife as originally planned. Out on the prairie Kane turns the horse-drawn carriage around and heads back to town. This move makes good tactical sense. If he continues on to his planned destination, the outlaws will overtake him and his bride out on the prairie, where they will be absolutely defenseless.

I’m leaving out a lot of interesting detail, but suffice it to say that Kane tries fruitlessly to enlist assistance in combating the outlaws. Kane’s new bride makes preparations to leave on the same train that is carrying the killer to the town. The clock ticks down to noon, and the train whistle blows. The killer steps off the train at the station, and Kane’s bride gets aboard. The four outlaws prepare their weapons at the station and walk into town, leaving their horses at the station, never to be picked up by their owners. Before the train leaves, Kane’s bride gets off the train and hurries back into the town. She seeks refuge in the marshal’s office.

Kane arms himself and stalks the town, trying to catch sight of the outlaws. Then one of the outlaws makes a bonehead move. The four pass a store window, and one outlaw spots a womans bonnet on display. He walks back and smashes the window and steals the bonnet. He hooks it onto his gun belt where it still remains when he is lying dead in the street a few seconds later.

Kane hears the breaking of the glass and gets the drop of the outlaws. They open fire, and Kane responds. Only three outlaws are left.

Kane runs for cover in the livery stable. A bullet hits nearby, driving him to hide in the hay loft. One of the gunmen dashes into the livery stable and fires multiple shots into the loft above him. But Kane has moved and all the shots miss. He kills the gunman. Only two are left. One is convicted killer Frank Miller, and the other is Jim Pierce.

Miller and Pierce set the barn on fire, and Kane releases all the horses, riding for safety on one of them. A shot brings him off his horse, and he takes refuge in a store. The killers move in. Kane is trapped.

Pierce is shooting from the alley beside the marshal’s office, and he stops to reload. He never finishes. A shot from a window of the marshal’s office catches him in the back, and he falls dead in the alley. Kane’s bride has forsaken her Quaker convictions and has saved her husband’s life.

Miller enters the marshal’s office and captures the bride as a human shield. He confronts Kane from the street, holding the bride in front of him. When Kane comes out into the street to challenge the gunman, his bride drops to the ground, and Kane dispatches Miller with a couple of well-placed shots.

Magically the town’s streets fill with people, who bring the carriage around. Kane tosses his marshal’s badge into the dirt and departs with his bride without saying another word.

OK, if you have followed all of this or have seen the movie, you are thinking what I am thinking. Realism has been not only been discarded, it has been booted over the moon. Four men dead on the ground, and nobody is even looking at them. Kane is wounded, and he and his wife have endured a harrowing experience, and they continue their journey across the prairie in a horse-drawn carriage. Nobody pauses, even to take a drink of water. And nobody has to use the bathroom before starting on the trip? This is Greek drama transported 2500 years forward. Enjoy.

Bad Joke of the Week

Aren’t you glad it’s Saturday? It’s time again for the Bad Joke of the Week. Today I am clearing out the trash bin and putting up a small collection of bar jokes. Here are some, in no particular order:

Two peanuts walk into a bar. One is a salted.

A sandwich walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey! We don’t serve food here.”

A potato walks into a bar, and all eyes were on him!

A termite walks into a bar and says, “Is the bar tender here?”

So Jesus walks into a bar and says, “I’ll just have a glass of water.”

A dyslexic walks into a bra.

An Aggie walks into a bar. He is carrying a duck under his arm. The Bartender says, “You can’t come in here with that turkey.” The Aggie says, “A lot you know, fella. This is a duck.” The bartender says, ” I was talking to the duck.

A blind man walks into a bar.

The photo that got me arrested

Several months back I posted an item about the photo that got me “arrested.” As I mentioned, I did not legally get arrested, since the people who technically “arrested” me had no cause or authority to do so. As I also mentioned, I was in a good mood that day and did not file charges against the people involved, and I did not sue the city they worked for. I am still in a good mood.

Since the incident over three years ago I have moved to San Antonio, and I am back to my old habits. I photograph what interests me. And that sometimes causes trouble. Here are some examples.

Also while I was in Anaheim, California, I set out to photograph the fireworks at the Disneyland theme park. There is a mall across the street from the park, and I wandered over to see if there was a good vantage point from the top floor. Also I was hoping to find an ice cream store. No such luck. Instead I was accosted by a mall cop. To make the story short, he threatened to have me forcibly removed from the premises if I took any photographs. In a vague way he cited international terrorism as the basis of his concern. OK.

At a Spanish mission park in San Antonio, operated by the National Park Service, a park ranger threatened me with action if I took photos for resale. He cited a federal regulation that applied. I considered escalating the situation, but Barbara Jean was with me and restrained me, else there might have been trouble. In fact the ranger was in error about the regulation he referenced. There is no federal regulation against selling photos you take in a national park. I post my photos with a number of agencies, and I have sold many images of the San Antonio missions. One agency has sold 13 copies of this image, for example. All the others have sold more.

My house in San Antonio is in a new neighborhood; it was completed in 2010. Construction is still going on, and I always try to get photos of the construction. I want to track the progress. Also, there is a potential for photo sales through my agencies. In fact, I have sold multiple copies of images of my own house under construction, including one that features only the SOLD sticker on a front window. It’s just crazy.

Earlier this year Barbara Jean and I headed downtown in the afternoon for dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse. We were gone two or three hours, and when we got back a neighbor told me that his house had been burglarized, in the middle of the afternoon. Somebody had kicked in the front door and many items were taken. The thieves had simultaneously done the same to two other houses, all within a few hundred feet of each other. We all considered this would have been a good time for me to have been walking around with my camera instead of lallygagging around at Spaghetti Warehouse. Since that time I have made a habit taking my camera with me on my walks around the neighborhood. Some people do not like this. And they are not my neighbors.

This morning a crew started pouring concrete for a new house across the street, and I took some photos. I even took one from the window of my computer room just for fun. Here it is:

Rear Window

Anyhow, all this time I have figured that somebody, sometime was going to object, and I ran through my mind what would go down. I got melodramatic. As mentioned, I did not tell the firemen in Anaheim “Up your nose with a rubber hose.” I was thinking I would not be so polite in my own neighborhood. I was thinking of what I would do or say. One thing I thought of saying was, “Would you mind taking your concerns to somebody who gives a fat rat’s ass?” I also considered pointing out the sign recently posted at the entrance to our neighborhood (one way in, one way out) that alerts visitors they are on candid camera. Today the time came.

This afternoon I was taking a walk to see how things were going in the neighborhood, and a pickup truck stopped nearby. The driver got out and asked me if I was “in charge” here. My thinking is that I am not in charge even in my own house, so I told him no. The driver told me he did not like for me to be taking photos of his stuff. He said some of his stuff had been stolen.

OK, if you have had your coffee today, you are by now thinking what possible connection there could be between my taking photos and somebody stealing his stuff. Possible the same connection with international terrorism and photos at an outdoor mall. I did not laugh. I did not tell the driver to take his concerns to somebody who gives a fat rat’s ass. I did point to the sign, a few feet away, and I told him that everything in this neighborhood gets photographed. I told him that if he had any complaints he needed to take them to the police. I am 100% sure he will not take any complaints to the police. Then I photographed his license plate as he got into his truck. I have blocked out part of his plate number, even though I am not legally obligated to do so.

Obscured license number

I suspect his concern is not that my photographs will relate to any of his stuff being stolen. I suspect that my actions make some of his workers nervous. I suspect that some of his workers are in this country illegally. My thinking is there is nothing that causes his problem to translate into a problem for me. I am not the I.C.E., and if he has a problem with photographs he needs to take his concerns to somebody who gives a fat rat’s ass.

Bye bye, Bachmann

Readers, you should have guessed by now that this is going to be a slow news day. I am scraping the bottom of the frying pan for this. Wait! That’s not the correct metaphor. Anyhow:

Photo from the Huffington Post

Some months back I served up in this space the sad news of the departure of Michele Bachmann from the election cycle. In that posting I share with readers my delight in Bachmann’s outlandish treatment of the truth, if that’s what it was supposed to be. She had previously made unsubstantiated statements on a variety of topics:

In a 2006 debate she wanted to tell people that ”there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact or not…. There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.” She was subsequently unable to identify any such Nobel scientists when challenged.

She told Anderson Cooper on CNN:

“The president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day,” Bachmann said. “He’s taking 2,000 people with him.

So, those many weeks ago I had my little bit of fun, and I conclude with:

Michele Bachmann has amused us long enough. It was time for her to go.

No! I take it all back. It’s not time for Bachmann to go. She needs to stay, if not for the good of all mankind, then for the good of the country. She was not just a flash in the pan. She has much more to give us and will in the future continue to be forthcoming. For example:

Speaking at the CPAC conference on Saturday, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann came up with a relatively new line of attack on Pres. Obama. The Obamas are living too high in the White House on your tax dollars with public employees to walk their dog while disabled veterans can’t even get a White House tour. Here’s the quote:

“A new book is out talking about the perks and the excess of the $1.4-billion-a-year presidency that we’re paying for. And this is a lifestyle that is one of excess. Now we find out that there are five chefs on Air Force One. There are two projectionists who operate the White House movie theater. They regularly sleep at the White House in order to be readily available in case the first family wants a really, really late show. And I don’t mean to be petty here, but can’t they just push the play button? We are also the ones who are paying for someone to walk the president’s dog, paying for someone to walk the president’s dog? Now, why are we doing that when we can’t even get a disabled veteran into the White House for a White House tour? That isn’t caring!”

Damn, that’s damning! The President and his wife (otherwise known as First Lady Michele Obama) and his children are living in abject luxury, all the while the president is cutting back on essential services (White House tours), ostensibly to comply with some silly law passed by the Democratic (and Republican) Congress. And, it’s all true. We know it’s true, because it was published in a book.

Bachmann is not lying. It is in a book. That is true. Wait! Where have I seen this before? Now I remember. I’ve seen it lots of times in my debates with creationists and other nut cases. My opponent in the debate will say something like, “I believe…,” which makes the entire statement true or at least not demonstrably false. The person debating me would say, “I believe the Earth is only 6000 years old,” and that would quite possibly be true. The person could actually believe that, and there was never any way I could dispute the statement. If I really wanted to make a case of the matter I could respond with something like, “I am sure that is what you believe, but we are debating the facts, not your beliefs.” I did this on one occasion, and that pretty much ended the debate.

Anyhow, Bachman pointed to this book as the basis of her statement about the President’s luxurious lifestyle.

The 1.4 Billion Dollar Man

The book is by John F. Groom (oops, see the photo). Eric Black’s post indicates that Groom is a Republican lobbyist, and from that I can only guess that he is not inclined to favor the current president. However, much of what he says may be at least partially true:

It may well cost $1.4 billion a year to run the White House.

Washington Post “Fact-Checker” Glenn Kessler put the statement under the microscope. There is indeed a recently published book by a Republican lobbyist that calls Obama “The $1.4 Billion Man” (that’s the title). Kessler finds that more than half of the budget that’s attributed to the White House goes for Secret Service and, to run the figure up that high you have to count policy staff that works at the White House. Yes, the White House groundskeeper helps take care of the Obama’s dog, just as the same guy has done for every presidential dog since Richard Nixon’s Irish Setter, King Timahoe. Kessler notes that the annual cost of operating the White House during the tenure of George W. Bush was $1.6 billion.

You can get the Kindle edition on Amazon for $2.99. That’s a lot less than $1.4 billion.

When Dana Bash of CNN attempted to interview Bachmann about the $1.4 million man, Bachmann wanted to change the subject to the administration’s failures related to the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi last year. Bachmann chided Bash for bringing up the trivial dog-walking point when she should have been more concerned with the deaths of four Americans. Bash reminded Bachmann that it was Bachmann who brought up the dog-walking point in the first part. Then Bachmann walked very fast away from the reporter and the reporter’s questions.

No, I do not want Michele Bachmann to exit the stage. Our country needs her. I appreciate having Bachmann in the public spotlight. I enjoy following her remarkable statements on public matters, both critical and trivial (dog walking). And the best think I like about Michele Bachmann, the thing I appreciate most is that she works for the other side.

The Quiet Man

I am thinking I did not see this movie when it first came out. What I am sure of is that I viewed the trailer at the local theater in my home town, and I came away from that viewing with the scene of John Wayne throwing his bride Maureen O’Hara on the bed. Wow! What a tough guy! What a great looking woman! This was going to be exciting.

From the DVD case

John Wayne is The Quiet Man, who left his Ireland home as a young boy and immigrated to the United States. Here he led a rough life, working in the steel mills in Pennsylvania and gaining fame and wealth as a professional boxer. Now he has quit the boxing business after killing an opponent in a match, and he wants to return to the place of his birth and to live in retirement as a gentleman farmer. He purchases the cottage where he was born. He is now a quiet man.

Barry Fitzgerald is the archetypical Irishman, the local jack of all trades, carriage driver and match maker. Wayne spies the comely O’Hara and engages Fitzgerald to arrange the match. The problem is that O’Hara is an orphan and lives with her brother, played by Victor McLaglen. Ireland in the 1920s was much like Ireland in the Middle Ages. The brother is head of the family, and the sister cannot get married without the brother’s permission. A hoax is perpetrated, and the brother gives permission.

When the hoax is revealed after the wedding the brother withholds his sister’s dowry, which was to include a sizable amount of money. Wayne has neither concern for ancient Irish customs nor any concern for the dowry. He is hot only for O’Hara and tells the brother to forget about the dowry. O’Hara is outraged at her husband’s response and accuses him of cowardice. This incites a wedding night feud, hence the tossing of the bride on the bed scene.

Only the local Reverend Playfair, himself a former boxer, knows of Wayne’s professional past, and Wayne will not fight due to memories of his last, tragic bout. In the end Wayne and the brother have it out in a brawl that progresses through the countryside and into the local pub. The brother is beaten, and the two brawlers get drunk and return to the cottage where the bride has prepared dinner. It’s all Irish, all the way. Enjoy.

Although I may not have seen this film originally on the big screen, I have seen it multiple times since on TV, and I have the DVD. The scenes are dear to my heart. Ten years ago I happened to be driving through the Irish countryside when I spotted a sign that said “Quiet Man Bridge,” and there was a sign pointing off down a country lane. We went, and there it was. There was the stone bridge across a creek where Wayne and Fitzgerald sat in a horse-drawn carriage while Wayne pointed out his boyhood home and described his plans.

The original bridge preserved for posterity

We drove on (many miles) to the town of Cong in County Mayo, where the village scenes were filmed. Much had changed in the 51 years since John Ford brought his production crew here, but the town maintains a lively tourism industry based on the notoriety. See the movie if you get a chance.


John Wayne as Sean Thornton
Maureen O’Hara as Mary Kate Danagher
Barry Fitzgerald as Michaeleen Oge Flynn
Victor McLaglen as Squire “Red” Will Danagher
Ward Bond as Father Peter Lonergan
Mildred Natwick as The Widow Sarah Tillane
Francis Ford as Dan Tobin
Arthur Shields as Rev. Cyril Playfair
Eileen Crowe as Mrs. Elizabeth Playfair
Charles FitzSimons as Hugh Forbes
James Fitzsimons (as James Lilburn) as Father Paul
Sean McClory as Owen Glynn
Emily Eby as Mave Campbell
Jack MacGowran as Ignatius Feeney
Philip Stainton as Anglican Bishop
Paddy O’Donnell as Train platform conductor.