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.

Bad Movie of the Week

OK, Saturdays are good for really bad movies. Turner Classic Movies on cable TV, where I get most of my stuff, loads up Saturdays with the really bad movies you don’t want to miss. And this one is bad; it’s so bad that it’s really good.

Poster from

You don’t even have to see this one to know it’s going to be bad. Just take a look at the title. It’s as though the producers wanted to telegraph badness to all who might come to see. The title asks the question, just how many different ways are there to spell “Academy Award nominations, stay away from my door?” One way is Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Not much mystery left, is there?

The television newsman is on camera, reading the news for all to see. And that’s what viewers are seeing: a man reading news live on TV. People, I have been there. I have actually seen news programs that involved a man reading news on television. But, on with the story.

The hot news is of a strange object spotted in the region of the Barents Sea. Then South Africa. Then other places. The news reader concludes the object is headed straight for the California Coast. That’s good for the producers of the movie, because it allows them to film this pot boiler using some acreage north of Los Angeles, convenient to the area’s film production companies.

Nancy Archer is rich beyond imagination, plus sexy and good looking in a dowdy kind of way. She is unhappily married to Harry Archer, who seems to spend much of the movie sitting a booth in Tony’s Bar and Grill, eating the face and neck of his girl friend, Honey Parker. You can tell there’s going to be trouble.

Nancy flees the scene of the smooching pair and encounters the thing from space along a lonely California road in that region that looks a lot like north of Los Angeles. Nancy screams. In cheap movies women always scream instead of doing something rational. Getting to the point, Nancy encounters a giant humanoid from the space ship and heads back to the town to report the incident to the sheriff. Since Nancy is a notorious kook and a lush besides, nobody takes her story seriously. However, since she is richer than all the rest of the county combined, the local law establishment follows up on her report and goes looking for the space craft.

Later, Nancy and Harry go looking, and they find the space craft and the being from outer space. Harry has brought along a pistol, and he empties it at the creature and flees, abandoning Nancy at the scene. The creature apparently hand carries Nancy back to her house and leaves her to be found. Nancy’s doctor sedates her and she is left alone. Later when Nancy’s loving husband goes up to her room to give her a lethal overdose of medication, he discovers she has grown to immense size. Hence the title of the movie.

Nancy never recovers, and later she awakens and strolls into town to take her revenge on Harry and his girlfriend. Nancy tears the roof off Tony’s Bar and Grill, and a heavy beam crushes Honey to death. Nancy takes Harry in her great hand, and they both die when Nancy encounters a power line.

The end.


Allison Hayes as Nancy Fowler Archer
William Hudson as Harry Archer
Yvette Vickers as Honey Parker
Roy Gordon as Dr. Isaac Cushing
George Douglas as Sheriff Dubbitt
Ken Terrell as Jess Stout
Otto Waldis as Dr. Heinrich Von Loeb
Eileen Stevens as Nurse
Michael Ross as Tony the Bartender / Space Giant
Frank Chase as Deputy Charlie

The film was produced by the Woolner Brothers (1958) with an estimated production cost of $80,000. It made about $480,000. Eat your heart out Heaven’s Gate.

In case you can’t wait to see this one when TCM next shows it, you can borrow my copy. Else you can ask Greg Aicklen to have it on for Friday Night Movie sometime.

It was the end of times

OK, that’s a two hours of my life I will never get back.

I am currently unemployed and plan to stay that way for the next few years. Which is supposed to give me lots of time to do stuff I like to do plus some time to also do a few things that I don’t like to do but which need doing anyhow. So, I got this in the mail:

Prophesying the end of times

So, why not. I knew where the place was. It was the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Abe Lincoln in San Antonio. It’s just a 40-minute stroll from my house. I could attend all the seminars over the next ten days and do a nice write-up about the coming of the end of times and the anti-Christ. It would be an interesting study.

I know a little about the history of the SDAC. Specifically this:

The Millerites were the followers of the teachings of William Miller who, in 1833, first shared publicly his belief in the coming Second Advent of Jesus Christ in roughly the year 1843.

Ultimately Miller predicted the end of the world for 22 October in 1844. The day came and went, and John Tyler was still president of the United States. This reversal eventually came to be known as The Great Disappointment. Other things have come and gone, but the Earth still revolves around the sun, and two of John Tyler’s grandchildren (as of last year) are still alive.

Apparently many of Miller’s followers had sorely counted on the coming of the end of times and had disposed of their earthly belongings, since they didn’t think they would be needing them come 23 October 1844. The Seventh Day Adventist Church was one off-shoot of the scattering of Miller’s true believers.

I figured that if anybody had the inside on current thinking about the end times, this was going to be the place to get it. This could still be so. I went last night to see for myself.

The presentation was, as I mentioned, the first of a days-long series of lectures. The speaker was Lynnwood Spangler, a one-time plumber who has found his calling as an energetic evangelistic speaker. The series that started this week was about the 99th such presentation Spangler has given since he started down this path. Here is what was promised for the series:

Grand Opening: Why do bad things happen to good people?
The psychics versus the prophets
Defying the death decree

Followed by:

Impossible deliverance
Life’s greatest mistake
How near is the end?
The incredible good news of Revelation
The issue that divided the world
The anti-Christ Beast
The Beast’s greatest deception

I must say that Spangler is one great presenter. He would do well in politics if he ever decided to run for office. Else, if you ever decide to run for office you might want Spangler to introduce you.

On the other hand, my disappointment was that I was expecting something different than what was delivered. I was hoping for some deep insight into the thinking of current-day end times promoters. What I got was more along the lines of a Jesus pep talk. My problem is that I have lived too long in the real world and have acquired too much of a taste for specifics. What references that did come out of last night’s talk include the following:

About 588 BC Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (Iraq) besieged Jerusalem. About July and August the following year Jews were deported to Babylon as slaves. The book of Daniel chronicles the tribulations of Daniel and other captives. God was punishing the Jews because for five centuries they had slacked off in various ways, including failure to keep the sabbath.

Anyhow, Daniel was a good person, as were the other captives, but God was letting this kind of thing to happen to them, because they had been slacking off. In his talk Spangler eventually got around to telling us that God wants from time to time to show us what bad things the Devil can do, so he allows them to happen. Spangler mentioned that God chooses the ungodly to do his work for him.

As for one cause of our current tribulations, obviously God is dissatisfied with us. Spangler gave an example. The United States was founded as a Christian nation. People came to the English colonies in America to escape religious persecution in England. Things have changed. In more recent times others have come, and hese people are not from England or even from Western Europe. They are bringing with them other customs, other ways of life, other languages, other religions. In trying to be an open society we have attempted to accommodate these changes.

In accommodating other religions we have diluted the Christian basis of this nation. God is not pleased. We have started to suffer God’s wrath. It’s going to get worse. God will see to that. There are twenty alarm lights for the end of times. We have already seen all twenty. We are in the time of the end. The end of times is approaching.

I won’t be heading back to catch the remaining lectures. As great a presenter as he is, Spangler seems more interested in cheer leading for Jesus than on making his argument for prophecy. For his audience at the SDAC that seems to be a satisfactory mix, and I am guessing big crowds will be attending the remainder of what is a better described as a religious revival.

Just Brakes?

So, I have this 13-year-old car, and I had the brakes serviced before. New brake pads were installed back in Carrollton, long before I moved to San Antonio. Anyhow, I was not satisfied with the performance of the brakes recently, so I took the car in to have the brakes, inspected/fixed. That was interesting.

The service manager told me they performed full service. Not Just Brakes. So, the first thing the mechanic did was remove the engine air filter and examine it. He said he could not see through it, and it probably needed to be replaced. I found that curious, because I have never been able to see through an engine air filter, even when it was new out of the box. I told him I always did that myself. I probably had a new one back in garage.

They got the car up on the jacks, and I went across the street for some lunch. When I came back the mechanic said the rotors were probably warped. They might need to be turned.

“Warped?”. I asked how much run-out he measured. He could not tell me. But he did offer to put the rotors up on the lathe for me to see the warpage. He chucked a front rotor up and brought the lathe tool up close to the rotor while it was tuning on the lathe. “Are you about to cut to rotor?” I asked. He said no, he was just bringing the tool up close to the rotor surface so I could see the warpage. I did not see any.

Ultimately he chucked up each of the four rotors up in turn, and I never could visually detect any run-out. I asked him if had a dial indicator (gauge). He said they did not have one in the shop, but that was something they were planning to acquire. I wondered at this. These gauges cost in the order of $200. How are you going to measure run-out if you don’t have a gauge?

While the mechanic had the air filter out he also disconnected the air intake manifold and showed me some trouble that needed to be fixed. It was carbon buildup, and I needed a gas treatment (about $70) to fix the problem. I asked where the carbon came from, and he said it was from the fuel. I reminded him that this was a fuel-injected engine, and the fuel was injected directed into the cylinders. (There never is any fuel in the air manifold.) He pointed to a black ring inside the manifold. That was carbon. I touched the black ring with my finger. Nothing came off on my finger. To me the black ring looked more like the surface of a gasket. I told them I did not think I needed the fuel treatment.

He said the belt was cracked and should be replaced. I doubted the belt was cracked, but I figured this was a good time to have it replaced rather than doing it later.

He showed me a front brake caliper that needed rework. I had both front calipers reworked.

I got out for about $418. I may head over to a tool shop and purchase a dial indicator for myself. I really would be interested in knowing if my brake rotors are warped and how much.

Whenever I have an interesting experience with a product or service I like to pass the information along. Hopefully you will find my experiences as interesting as i do.

Bad Joke of the Week

A woman was at her hairdresser’s getting her hair styled for a trip to Rome with her husband. She mentioned the trip to the hairdresser, who responded:

“Rome? Why would anyone want to go there? It’s crowded and dirty. You’re crazy to go to Rome. So, how are you getting there?”

“We’re taking Continental,” was the reply. “We got a great rate!”

“Continental?” exclaimed the hairdresser.” That’s a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they’re always late. So, where are you staying in Rome ?”

“We’ll be at this exclusive little place over near Rome’s Tiber River called Teste.”

“Don’t go any further. I know that place. Everybody thinks its gonna be something special and exclusive, but it’s really a dump.”

“We’re going to go to see the Vatican and maybe get to see the Pope.”

“That’s rich,” laughed the hairdresser. You and a million other people trying to see him. He’ll look the size of an ant. Good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You’re going to need it.”

A month later, the woman again came in for a hairdo. The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome.

“It was wonderful,” explained the woman, “not only were we on one of Continental’s brand new airplanes, but it was overbooked, and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot.

And the hotel was great! They’d just finished a $5 million remodeling job, and now it’s a jewel, the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us their owner’s suite at no extra charge!”

“Well,” muttered the hairdresser, “that’s all well and good, but I know you didn’t get to see the Pope.”

“Actually, we were quite lucky, because as we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder, and explained that the Pope likes to meet some of the visitors, and if I’d be so kind as to step into his private reception room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me.

Sure enough, five minutes later, the Pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down and he spoke a few words to me.”

“Oh, really! What’d he say ?”

“He gave me some amazing news. He said he was planning to retire later this month. He asked me to keep it a secret until he had a chance to make a formal announcement. Then he asked me where did I get that awful hairdo.”

Bad Movie of the Week

Jet Pilot

For some reason the United States Air Force gave this movie its full support. It features enormous formations of F-86 fighters plus the night interception of a B-36 bomber and the flight of a rocket test plane. The flight sequences are one of the movies best attractions. Besides Janet Leigh.

John Wayne is Colonel Jim Shannon, whose squadron is on station when a Soviet “Yak-12” defects to an Alaskan base. As the plane taxis to a halt, Shannon and other brass confront the defecting pilot. Out of the plane steps… Janet Leigh as Lieutenant Anna Marladovna. She is stunningly beautiful, which is what Leigh got payed for. And that is what makes the film.

The plot is transparent and the dialog is stiff and filled with Cold War rhetoric. Marladovna turns out to be Soviet spy Captain Olga Orlief. By then Shannon and Marladovna are madly in love, and Shannon marries her to prevent her from being deported. Eventually he defects to the Soviet Union with his new bride as part of a ploy to obtain intelligence about Soviet air capabilities. Anna/Olga learns that her husband is scheduled to be eliminated, and the two of them escape back to the safety of the United States.

Did I mention this movie has some really great flying sequences? War hero and test pilot Chuck Yeager and jet pilot Charles Rayburn Cunningham were assigned by the Air Force to do some of the flight sequences. Did I also mention Janet Leigh?

Wacko billionaire Howard Hughes produced this monstrosity and did some of the direction. Production started in 1949, but Hughes got involved in editing, which he loved to do, because he was a tremendous aviation enthusiast. Production dragged on for years, and the movie was put on the shelf. It was only released for viewing in 1957 after Hughes had sold the RKO studio. It was one of Hughes’ favorite films, and he watched it a number of times in his later years.

Time is running out!

For most of my life I have been hung up on computers. I was always interested in ways to accomplish a given task in the least amount of time, and computer technology presented a field with excellent opportunity to explore this problem. I saw this movie when it first came out, and one thing I liked about it was the problem it presented. What is the minimum time a person requires to escape a deadly situation?

A recent event event provided some illustration. Timothy McVeigh loaded a rental truck with explosives and drove it to the federal building in Oklahoma City. His plan was to park the truck in front of the building and detonate the explosive cargo. He survived and was eventually executed but not before recounting the events of that day.

McVeigh wanted to make sure there were no failures in the detonation process, so he rigged his charge with two fuses. One was a five-minute fuse, which was the primary. The other was a two-minute fuse that was to work as a backup in case the primary failed. Driving the streets in Oklahoma City McVeigh stopped at a traffic signal and lit the five-minute fuse. Then he continued. He encountered another traffic light and stopped again. Then he continued to the federal building, parked at the curb and lit the two-minute fuse. Then he got out of the truck and walked away. He was in an alley a block or so away when the bomb went off. He was knocked down by the blast but was able to proceed to the getaway car he had stashed previously.

Forget about McVeigh and his bomb. Supposed the threat is an atomic bomb. How much time would you have? Maybe only a Split Second.

The obect of all the attention (from TCM video)

Forget about the plot summary in Wikipedia. The contributor got the details all wrong. However, the theme is still correct, and the story goes like this. Skip the ending if you don’t want it spoiled:

Larry Flemming is a reporter sent to cover an atomic bomb test in Nevada. He gets pulled from that assignment to cover a prison escape story.

Sam Hurley and Bart Moore have escaped and are picked up in a getaway car driven by an accomplice who does not speak. He’s just called Dummy. Sam is a notorious killer who shoots at the slightest provocation. Bart has been wounded in the escape.

Driving to the scene of the prison break, Larry meets Dorothy Vale at a roadside café. She is the quintessential hard luck kid. Stunningly good looking and absolutely broke, she is trying to get to Reno to get a cabaret job. Larry gives her a ride.

Meanwhile the outlaws run into a road block and turn back. They have anticipated this. Sam knows about the planned bomb test, and he plans to lie low in an abandoned mining town inside the blast zone. Nobody will look for them there. By now the viewer is beginning to get an idea of what’s about to happen.

The outlaws stop at a gas station, and Sam kills the lone attendant. Then they wait for a car to hijack. Along comes a married woman, Kay Garven, and her boyfriend, Arthur Ashton. She is headed for Las Vegas to divorce her doctor husband, Neal Garven. They are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Heading out with his hostages in the hijacked car,  Sam finds an envelop in the car that reveals Garven’s husband is a doctor. Just what they need for the wounded Bart. They stop at a settlement along the road, and Sam makes some phone calls. He phones the doctor at his office and tells him to meet them at the ghost town, else his faithless wife will be killed.

I, as would any sensible person watching this movie, have by now noticed one thing in particular. Garven and Ashton stopped for gas at the station where they were hijacked. The outlaws loaded everybody up in the car and took off without filling up. Soon the car runs out of gas.

Larry and Dorothy conveniently come by. Kay stands fetchingly beside the stranded car, and of course, Larry stops to help. Now there are three outlaws and four hostages in Larry’s station wagon. Good thing the director thought to give Larry a station wagon instead of a coupe, else some of the hostages would have been eliminated at that point in the story. And there would not have been as much drama later on.

At the ghost town, about a mile from the test site, the outlaws and hostages settle in to wait for Dr. Garven. The bomb is scheduled for detonation at 6 a.m., and Sam plans to make his getaway at 5. The hostages have few questions about what’s going to happen to them.

After dark another person arrives at the ghost town. It’s Asa Tremaine, an old prospector who lives in the town. He knows about the bomb test is preparing to leave post haste. These plans are derailed when Sam displays his pistol and the situation is explained. The movie is in black and white, and it would be totally lacking in color if not for Arthur Hunnicutt, who plays the part of Tremaine.

Hunnicutt appeared in a number of films in the early 1940s before returning to the stage. In 1949 he moved back to Hollywood and resumed his film career. He played a long string of supporting role characters – sympathetic, wise rural types, as in The Red Badge of Courage (1951), The Lusty Men (1952),The Kettles in the Ozarks (1955), The Last Command (1955, as Davy Crockett), The Tall T (1957) and El Dorado (1966). In 1952, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the Howard Hawks Western, The Big Sky.

Also Jan Sterling as Dorothy Vale. What a knockout!

Anyhow, about this time Sam begins to cozy up to the two women but not both all at once. Kay is most receptive, and Arthur objects. When he objects too strongly Sam guns him down and has his body dragged outside by Dummy.

At one point Sam goes outside to pour water into the radiator in Sam’s car and discovers that it runs immediately out the bottom. That means that now they really do need for the doctor and his rent car to arrive.

Sam again tries to put the move on Dorothy, but now she rejects him flat out. She points out that if she ever teams up with him she will likely end up like Arthur. Dorothy wins the admiration of the audience and most likely of all present, including Larry.

Kay is desperate to save her life and is openly receptive to Sam’s advances. She really is a naughty girl. The doctor finally arrives, sees the dead body on the porch, comes inside and patches up the wounded outlaw. He advises the outlaws that Bart will not survive a trip across the rough roads in the region. It turns out that will not be necessary.

Knowing the bomb will be detonated at 6 a.m., Sam prepares to leave at 5. As 5 a.m. approaches he prepares to tie up the hostages to ensure they do not survive the blast. About that time they hear the five-minute siren. The test time has been moved up an hour due to weather. The outlaws have only five minutes to get clear.

From TCM video

Sam orders Dummy to hold off the hostages while he helps Bart to the doctor’s rent car. There is a fight. Dummy does not make it to the car, but Kay does. She crowds in with Sam and Bart, and they drive off, leaving Dummy to fend for himself. These are, after all, really bad people.

The old prospector leads the remaining hostages to an abandoned mine. They leave Dummy lying on the floor, hors de combat.

The getaway car speeds toward safety with Kay urging Sam to go faster. They are going the wrong direction. Presently the car arrives at the test site. There is the tower with the bomb, just a few hundred yards away. Sam tries to turn the car around and gets stuck in the sand. The countdown runs down.

With less than a minute to go the hostages crowd into the abandoned mine, and the getaway car heads back toward the ghost town. Do the math. The radius of complete destruction is one mile. On these roads the rent car is limited in speed. There is not enough time. They are not going to make it.

As the getaway car speeds back through the ghost town time runs out. The bomb detonates in a blinding flash. Old wooden structures are blown away and flashed into flames. The car tumbles wildly. We can hear Kay screaming inside the car.

Much later the survivors clear some blast rubble and emerge from the mine. They see the mushroom cloud ascending into the sky. The remains of the ghost town and the getaway car are totally engulfed in flames. We know for sure that Larry and Dorothy are going to get together sometime in the future.

Don’t cry for me, Venezuela

“The truth is, I never left you.”

It could become a great song if “Venezuela” had fewer syllables. Anyhow, the parallel with Eva Peron came immediately to mind. A populist political icon, cut down by cancer in his prime.

Most of what I know about Eva and Juan Peron I got from the 1996 movie. She was low-born in oligarchical Argentinian society. However, through drive and initiative and some artful social climbing she replaced Juan Peron’s first wife and attained the position of first lady of the country. However, Peron’s government matched well with the definition of Fascism.

The populist leader was intolerant of both left-wing and conservative opposition. Though he used violence, Perón preferred to deprive the opposition of their access to media.

Over 60 years after her death, Eva Peron is still revered by a large class of Argentinians, but there is still an undercurrent of resentment and unfond memories. People still leave flowers at the tomb of Eva Duarte Peron in a cemetery in La Recoleta District of Buenos Aires, but a statue in a nearby park shows signs of vandalism. We wonder if something similar holds for the future of Hugo Chávez.

Eva Peron’s heroic statue in La Recoleta shows signs of vandalism.

Recently somebody reposted an image on Facebook, apparently from the OccupyWallstreet account.

The following text accompanies the image:

“Wealth inequality in Venezuela is half of what it is in the United States. It is rated the ‘fifth-happiest nation in the world’ by Gallup. And Pepe Escobar writes that, ‘No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform.’ Venezuela has undertaken significant steps to build food security through land reform and government assistance. New homes are being built, health clinics are opening in underserved areas and cooperatives for agriculture and business are growing.”

No published facts dispute these claims. What must be noted, however, is that, like Peron,  Chávez employed a heavy hand to work his aims and to stay in power.

In 2008, Human Rights Watch released a report reviewing Chávez’s human rights record over his first decade in power. The report praises Chávez’s 1999 amendments to the constitution which significantly expanded human rights guarantees, as well as mentioning improvements in women’s rights and indigenous rights, but noted a “wide range of government policies that have undercut the human rights protections established” by the revised constitution. In particular, the report accused Chávez and his administration of engaging in discrimination on political grounds, eroding the independence of the judiciary, and of engaging in “policies that have undercut journalists’ freedom of expression, workers’ freedom of association, and civil society’s ability to promote human rights in Venezuela.” The Venezuelan government retaliated for the report by expelling members of Human Rights Watch from the country. Subsequently, over a hundred Latin American scholars signed a joint letter with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs criticizing the Human Rights Watch report for its alleged factual inaccuracy, exaggeration, lack of context, illogical arguments, and heavy reliance on opposition newspapers as sources, amongst other things. The International Labor Organization of the United Nations expressed concern over voters being pressured to join the party.

Like Argentina, Venezuela grew from an oligarchy, and Chávez’s supporters might claim that a heavy hand is sometimes required to unseat an entrenched social structure.

In 1989, Carlos Andrés Pérez (1922–2010), the candidate of the centrist Democratic Action Party, was elected President after promising to oppose the United States government’s Washington Consensus and financial policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nevertheless, he did neither once he got into office, following instead the neoliberal economic policies supported by the United States and the IMF. He dramatically cut spending, put prominent men in governmental posts. Pérez’s policies angered some of the public. In an attempt to stop the widespread protests and looting that followed his social spending cuts, Pérez ordered the violent repression and massacre of protesters known as El Caracazo, which “according to official figures … left a balance of 276 dead, numerous injured, several disappeared and heavy material losses. However, this list was invalidated by the subsequent appearance of mass graves”, indicating that the official death count was inadequate. Pérez had used both the DISIP political police and the army to orchestrate El Caracazo. Chávez did not participate in the repression because he was then hospitalized with chicken pox, and later condemned the event as “genocide”.

All apologetics aside, Chávez has gotten into bed with some very curious supporters of human rights. A short list includes Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong-un. Beyond that, he often put his own political agenda ahead of the common good. I largely ignored Chávez until he made news by rejecting disaster relief aid from the United States.

Our government may find Chávez and his administration odorous, but Chávez gloried in picking fights with the United States. And it was not often that the truth was allowed to get in the way. Conspiracy theories abounded. For example, our intervention in Libya was aimed at seizing Libyan oil. Even as Chávez lay dying his government was putting out the word he had been poisoned by American agents.

[Vice President] Maduro speculated that Chávez had been poisoned or infected by enemies, and expressed a belief that the claim could someday be tested scientifically. It was unclear whether Maduro was referring to Chávez’ cancer, or his respiratory infection. During the same address, Maduro announced the expulsion of an attaché to the U.S. embassy for what he called “a plot against the government” of Venezuela. Chávez himself had claimed to be “a victim of U.S. assassination attempts.”

It was not only the United States that caught the ire of Hugo Chávez.

At the meeting on 10 November 2007, Chávez repeatedly interrupted the speech of the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to call the Prime Minister’s predecessor, José María Aznar, a “fascist” and “less human than snakes”, and accuse Aznar of having supported a failed coup d’état aimed at removing Chávez from power. Zapatero had earlier irritated Chávez by suggesting that Latin America needed to attract more foreign capital to combat its chronic deepening poverty but that Chavez’ socialist politics scared investors out of Latin America.
Chávez’s attacks became so strong that Zapatero, who is usually considered deeply opposed to his predecessor’s policies, defended his predecessor, pointing out that Aznar had been democratically elected and was “a legitimate representative of the Spanish people”.
Although organizers switched off Chávez’s microphone, he continued to interrupt as Zapatero defended Aznar. While the interruption and defence were taking place, Juan Carlos leaned forward, turned towards his fellow head of state, and said “¿Por qué no te callas?” (“Why don’t you shut up?”). Both sides continued their accusations and defense with little regard for the remarks made by Juan Carlos. It was only later after the event that the phrase had been known to have reached fame. It was noted that he addressed Chávez using the familiar form of “you”, which in Spanish is usually used for friends, family, or children—and can be regarded as insulting when used in other circumstances—and some people believe that Juan Carlos was addressing Chávez as if he were an insolent child.

Insolent child, I would contend, is dead on. Also, Chávez’s use of the term fascist is ironic. If he had been curious he might have first looked up the definition of fascism:

Fascism … is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism[.] Fascists seek to unify their nation through a totalitarian state that seeks the mass mobilization of the national community, relying on a vanguard party to initiate a revolution to organize the nation on fascist principles. Fascism views political violence, war and imperialism as a means to achieve national rejuvenation, spirit and vitality and asserts that superior nations and races should attain living space by displacing weak and inferior nations.

Another definition I am familiar with is that fascism is a form of government administration that insinuates itself into the major aspects of society and the lives of individuals. In other words: government intervention in almost everything. Chávez’s administration came close to matching that description.

Savior of the Venezuelan people or self-consumed opportunist. It’s likely there was some of the former and much of the latter.

Backs to the wall

There is no good anniversary date for this movie review. I missed the 70th anniversary three years ago. The events happened before I was born.


For the history-impaired, here is a summary of the situation. Great Britain and France went to war with Germany in 1939 after Germany invaded Poland. They had previously agreed in a treaty to help Poland in such a situation. For the rest of 1939 practically nothing happened.

The Brits attempted to thwart German advances into Norway in 1940, but they were defeated there, and Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. Great Britain sent a large expeditionary force over to France to check German movements, just as in 1914 and with the same result. In May of 1940 the Germans invaded The Netherlands, Belgium and then France. Resistance in France quickly collapsed, and by the end of the month 300,000 French and British troops were pinned against the English Channel at Dunkirk. Two thirds of those troops were able to escape, leaving behind all but small arms. France capitulated and agreed to an armistice with Germany, which involved a partition of the country. The northern part of France was occupied by the German Army, and the rest was under the rule of the collaborationist French government headquartered in Vichy. England stood alone, its back to the wall. Only the English Channel separated England from a German invasion. The Battle of Britain was about to begin.

The movie opens with the breath-taking view of a British Hurricane fighter coming right at the screen in a sweeping turn. The pilot continues onward and executes a victory roll above a French road that’s crowed with retreating soldiers and French refugees. The victory roll is typically performed when a pilot returns following a victory in air combat. Such victories were rare over the French battle front during that period.

At a grass landing field in France the pilots get word the invading Germans are close by. They quickly refuel the remaining flyable aircraft and head out. Ground crews board trucks and flee. Those remaining at the field douse the remaining aircraft and prepare to set them ablaze. This proves to be unnecessary, because German Bf-109 fighters, some at grass-top level, sweep over the field and demolish the grounded aircraft.

The scene shifts to England and from there on out alternates between scenes of Germans on the Continent preparing to invade England and British airmen working desperately to fend off the Luftwaffe. It’s a critical situation. Britain has only about 650 fighters. Germany has about 2500.

Even though Prime Minister Winston Churchill has promised the French full aid and support, Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding insists that any British air support sent to the front will deplete resources needed to defend the British Isles. His plan is to hoard RAF pilots and aircraft and to use them only against air attacks on the island.

A meeting in neutral Switzerland between the British and the German ambassadors is cordial and chilly. They are on a first name basis. The German ambassador urges that Great Briton leave the continent to Germany in return for a non-aggression promise. He tells the British ambassador that the British are avoiding the issue and just stalling for time. There is a not-to-subtle threat of invasion if the Brits do not fall into line. The British ambassador is typically British. He has a stiff spine and reminds the German that “the last little corporeal who tried it came a cropper,” an allusion to Napoleon and Hitler, both of whom previously held that rank. The German is advised not to threaten or to dictate to the British “until you are marching up Whitehall.” And even the British will not be inclined to listen to German dictates.

The German ambassador departs, and the British ambassador remarks that the German was right in one respect. The British are stalling for time. “And it’s running out.”

And that’s the history of the Battle of Britain, and that’s the theme of the movie. The RAF hoards its resources and works to wear down the Luftwaffe as it attacks the island. Britain is ramping up construction of new fighter planes to replace those lost in combat and is constructing additional weapons manufacturing facilities.

One resource is most crucial of all, that resource is trained fighter pilots. In the UK at the time there was no lack of those willing. Men came from other countries to join the fight. Pilots in training broke regulations and went out looking for a fight with the Germans. In the movie we see fliers from conquered countries, including Poland and Czechoslovakia jumping at the chance to get into combat. However, to produce a fighter pilot you first need to teach somebody to fly an airplane, then you need to get their flying skills up to a level near that of the Luftwaffe pilots, and you need to teach them how to fight. Pilots with ten hours or less flight time in a Spitfire fighter go up against seasoned German pilots. Many do not survive their first combat mission.

The flight sequences are some of the best rated in all the motion picture industry. Planes that look amazingly like Spitfires fill the sky. Production of the movie incorporated a fleet of 12 flyable models, some slightly modified to fit the actual period of combat. There are twin-engine bombers that are supposed to be German  Heinkels but are actually Spanish copies of that type. Spanish versions of the German Messerschmidt Bf 109 flesh out the Luftwaffe force. Many aircraft are shot down in the movie, and it’s obvious that these are models. Twin-engine scale models were used to depict German bombers crashing into the English Channel. Radio-controlled models were used in place of actual Stuka dive bombers. Camera aircraft flew the sky for the combat sequences, and the combat scenes are deadly realistic.

The plot follows the actual battle that took place over the summer of 1940. After some early skirmishes over the Channel in July, the Germans got serious with an attack on British radar stations on 12 August. Several stations were knocked out, but the Germans, looking at reconnaissance photos, figured the job was done and fatally ignored the stations afterward.  Aldertag was Eagle Day, 13 August, when the Luftwaffe initiated a serious effort to suppress the RAF’s front-line airfields.

The RAF’s key battle tactic was to first detect enemy formations with radar, then track their flight. At the appropriate time the RAF fighters would launch and head on an intercept trajectory. This meant that RAF fighters entered the fight with fresh pilots and a full load of fuel. Coming in from France, the Germans had to head for home as soon fuel got low, at which time the Brits still had plenty of fuel and vigor to take advantage of knowing that the enemy planes had no option except to go east.

From previous sources I got the idea that the tension between Air Vice Marshal Leigh Mallory and Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding was greater than depicted in the movie. Dowding was a proponent of his “big wing” tactic. Fighter formations were to group into large formations before attacking the enemy. Vice Marshal Mallory and Vice Marshal Keith Park saw the situation at a lower level, and they observed that it took too long to form up once the enemy was located. Besides which, formation flying requires too much of a pilots attention at a time when he needs to be looking for the enemy. During the battle fighter pilots often ignored the rules and headed directly toward the Germans as soon as they launched. I have the feeling that the pilots’ own instincts won the day and resulted in ultimate victory over the Germans.

Luftwaffe command made a rough calculation based on the number of aircraft the British had at the start of the conflict and the number still present in the south and concluded the British were leaving the Scottish coast undefended. They sent in a largely unescorted bomber group from Denmark and Norway, suffering heavy losses against no British losses.

Stuka dive bombers proved to be easy targets, even for raw RAF pilots, and that aircraft exited the Battle of Britain in the early stages. Complaints from bomber crews resulted in the requirement that German fighters provide close support rather than range afield picking fights with the Spitfires. This turned out to be a disaster for the Germans, as it allowed the RAF to conserve its fleet, all the while still working a war of attrition on the bombers.

Not shown much in the movie were the German attacks on other targets besides the airfields. During one night attack a German flight lost its bearings and bombed the City of London. That proved justification for the RAF to bomb Berlin, which it did almost immediately. The previous year Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, had boasted, “No enemy bomber can reach the Ruhr. If one reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Goering. You may call me Meyer.” “Meyer” was terribly embarrassed by the bombing of Berlin, and he diverted the Luftwaffe’s attention from the RAF to the British cities. This was an act of pique and not reason, and this kind of action was to characterize German policy throughout the war. It’s why I contend that Hitler and others like him turned out to be our greatest allies during the war. Göring’s blunder saved the RAF and was instrumental in the British victory in the Battle of Britain.

German fighters took off from bases in Northern France, but they still had fuel for only about 15 minutes over London. German pilots who bailed out over England were captured, but British pilots who wee able to escape a downed aircraft were able to rejoin their units, sometimes on the same day. The movie depicts a scene in the German pilots’ mess toward the end of the Battle of Britain. Early in the war the long, bountiful table was attended by young pilots in high spirits, eager to fight. A scene toward the end shows many empty chairs and a chill in the air. Summer was coming to an end, and so was the Battle of Britain.

The movie ends when British pilots arrive at the ready shack on an English base and wait for the day’s orders. The phone rings, but it’s only tea time. The pilots sit in chairs on the grass, smoking, reading. One looks out the window at the sky. No Germans come.

Back in France truck columns carry assault troops and assault boats back up the road they had taken to the coast weeks earlier. The Battle of Britain is over, and the British have won.

I enjoy this movie immensely, and I watch it on the order of once a year. However, I could easily do without the subplot that involves squadron leader Colin Harvey (Christopher Plummer) and his wife, played by Susannah York. Now, Susannah York is cuter than should legally be allowed, and I could look her all day. However, the movie is supposed to be about air combat, military strategy and the Battle of Britain. Anything else is a distraction. York does turn in a good performance, however. She is an officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and she sees front line duty on an air field. Shocked by the sight of the bodies of five women under a tarp after a German air raid she collects her resolve and discards her innocence for the remainder of the movie.

Judgment at Nuremburg

Some personal recollections and comments.

In 1933 the Nazis came to power in Germany and immediately embarked on a program to suppress all opposition and to cement their hold. It was to be a 1000-year Reich. They subverted the army, the police and the courts to the role of party servants. In addition to eliminating the political opposition, they began to eliminate those they deemed undesirable in their ideal society. Under their control, the German armed forces made war on neighboring countries, conquering much of Western Europe and overrunning large parts of Eastern Europe. Entire populations in these countries were rounded up and exterminated on an industrial scale. In the end Germany was defeated by a coalition of those they had attacked. The acts of the German nation in starting a war and in committing atrocities against humanity were considered to be universal crimes, and after the final German collapse those deemed responsible were sought out and brought to trial. Among those brought to trial were German judges who had participated in the subversion of the legal process to enable the Nazi’s atrocities. This movie is a fictional depiction of one such trial.

Poster from

Judgment at Nuremberg began life as a television drama. Producer and director Stanley  Kramer picked up the script and produced one of the most outstanding films of the 1960s. It’s in black and white, as best fits the harshness of post-war German.

The film opens with graphics from Pacific Title with the distinctive touch of Saul Bass. The title sequence includes the assembly of a screen-size Nazi swastika graphic which dissolves into the swastika at the ZeppelinFeld in Nuremberg. Patton’s troops blew up the swastika when they passed through in 1945 and filmed the event. The German folk song Wenn Wir Marschieren (when we march) plays during the showing of the ZeppelinFeld swastika, sung by a lusty male chorus accompanied by a military band. The demolition of the building’s ornament ends the title sequence, and the music stops.

The story begins with Chief Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) entering the German city of Nuremberg in 1948 to begin the last of a series of trials of Nazi war criminals. The war has only just three years ended, and destruction everywhere. Readers will note that during the first year of the war the Luftwaffe entered into a campaign to bomb British air bases and ultimately cities. The Brits responded in kind and Air Marshal Sir Arthur Travers Harris proclaimed:

The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.

As I posted previously, the Brits and the Americans gave the Germans retribution times over, and by the end of the war there was not a major German city left intact. My earliest memories of Europe were areal photos of block after block of bombed out buildings with no roofs and nothing alive inside. The opening scenes of the movie present this view.

The judge has come from the United states to serve on a tribunal (three-judge court) to try the case of four German judges. One of them is Ernst Janning, a learned and previously a highly respected judge in the German courts. The part is played by Burt Lancaster in one of his most significant roles ever, even though he gets in only a few paragraphs of dialog in a motion picture that runs for three hours.

This is nearly an all-star cast. Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift testify as victims of the Nazi court system. Maximilian Schell is Hans Rolfe, a German lawyer who defends the accused. Richard Widmark is the American military prosecutor. Marlene Dietrich is the widow of a German officer who was previously tried and executed for war crimes. Werner Klemperer is Emil Hahn, another of the accused German judges. Knowledgeable viewers will remember Klemperer as Colonel Wilhelm Klink in the TV show Hogan’s Heroes. William Shatner played Capt. Harrison Byers, Judge Haywood’s assistant in this movie, but in later life he was promoted to Starfleet Commander.

I’m not going to summarize the plot. There is drama throughout, and many telling issues are raised.

The prosecutor summarizes the case he is going to submit. The Nazis needed to give their actions the cloak of legality, so they required the courts to rubber stamp their actions. They passed draconian laws that punished the slightest hint of opposition. For example, in the documentary The World at War a German woman recounts the episode of Kristallnacht (crystal night). Jewish businesses were savaged throughout the country, and the following morning the woman’s husband came upon a scene of destruction and remarked that this was just terrible. A Nazi official demanded the husband’s name, and he was subsequently summoned for interrogation and punishment. From that day forward he was required to perform daily a menial government task. Other infractions met harsher retribution. There was a tremendous inflation of the death penalty. More specific to this trial, Ernst Janning was accused of presiding over a drumhead count trial that convicted and sentenced to death an innocent man.

During the trial the prosecutor displays a sequence of video clips obtained when Allied troops overran Nazi death camps. The prosecutor was present during this action and takes the stand to testify. The clips show piles of bodies of prisoners, some killed by retreating guards just hour prior to the arrival of Allied troops. The death count is staggering. Millions, mostly Jews, including one hundred thousand Germans, were methodically killed.

Defense lawyer Rolfe responds with references to the American destruction of entire Japanese cities with the associated killing of hundreds of thousands of non-combatants, including young children. The results are the same in both cases. If there is blame here, then there is plenty to go around. Of course, the uncomfortable fact is the Americans won the war, and there were no legal consequences to the American military command.

Rolfe also attempts to make the case that the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s was occasioned by very harsh circumstances. Communists were attempting to seize control (so were the Nazis). There was massive unemployment (worse than in the United States at the time). Drastic measures were needed. The civil rights (and lives) of a few could be sacrificed if the end was stability, prosperity and the restoration of German national honor. At the time that Janning lifted his eyes from the plight of innocent prisoners at the dock, who could know that the hundreds would eventually become the millions. Watching the film you may also wonder what kind of German national honor is associated with suppression of human rights, mass murder and unprovoked war.

Montgomery Clift is Rudolph Peterson. From all appearances and from his actions, he is mentally limited. He is unable to make a sentence using the words hare, hunter, field. Prior to the Nazi’s coming to power, he and his family were communists. The Nazis broke into the family home and attacked his father. Peterson and his brothers drove the Nazis out into the street, beat them up and turned them over to the police. A few days later the Nazis were in power and were gaining full control of the country. The men who had broken into the Peterson home were not prosecuted. However, later that year when Rudolph Peterson applied for a driver’s license, he was confronted by a Nazi official, one of the men he and his brothers had beat up. Peterson was subsequently brought to the court of one of the judges on trial and was ordered to report for sterilization. Ultimately he was forcibly taken to a medical facility and sterilized (castrated) by a doctor, who obviously objected to being ordered to do such a thing.

Attorney Rolfe on cross examination elicits that Peterson’s mother died in a mental institution, and that his father was able to find work only as a railroad crossing attendant. He manually raised and lowered the barricade at a railroad crossing. Neither Rudolph Peterson nor any of his family were ever able to obtain employment above the level of menial labor. A stated goal of the Nazis was to eliminate the unfit from German society, and laws were passed to have the  mentally deficient sterilized.

Rolfe further cites a ruling in another case:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

For the court’s enlightment Attorney Rolfe cites the words of the judge in that case:

Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

He then observes that it is not likely everybody in the courtroom would be familiar with the ruling, since it is not from any of those on trial here but was from another court. Then he identifies the citation and carefully draws out the name of the judge: United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

So, it was not only those on trial here, and it was not only German courts that upheld forced sterilization. In fact, eighteen years after this movie was released two people in the United states were forcibly sterilized before such laws were finally abolished.

Although Rolfe was correct in pointing out that American courts have upheld such laws, it was apparent the Nazis applied them whenever they were beneficial in suppressing political opposition.

In 1935 Irene Hoffman (Judy Garland) was an orphan of 16, and her benefactor was a Jewish businessman named Lehman Feldenstein, who had been a close friend of Irene’s parents while they were living. He owned the building where the girl lived. Feldenstein had been accused of having sexual relations with Irene, a non-Jew, and this offense was punishable by death under one of the Nazis’ laws. Now a grown and married woman, Irene relates how she repeatedly denied the accusations. Emil Hahn (Werner Klemperer) was the prosecutor, and he had taken Irene into a separate room before the trial and demanded that she not pursue her denial of the charges. He told her she would be prosecuted for perjury if she persisted, and her testimony would not make any difference. Hahn had made a mockery of the trial. It was a public spectacle, and many high-ranking Nazi officials attended. There was no semblance of fairness, and Feldenstein was sentenced to death. Irene was sentenced to two years in prison for perjury. Both sentences were carried out. The presiding judge was Ernst Janning.

The scene is a powerful performance by Garland, just eight years prior to her death. Dorothy of Oz is nowhere to be seen. This was Academy Award stuff. Both Garland and Clift earned nominations with just a few minutes each of screen time. Schell won for best actor, and Abby Mann won for best writing for a screen play based on another medium.

In the movie Americans are not popular in post-war Germany. Nobody likes an occupying force, even if that force has just delivered the people from hell. Judge Haywood is staying in a large house conscripted from war widow Frau Bertholt (Dietrich). The house keepers tell Haywood that her husband was charged and executed for the Malmedy massacre. Haywood meets the widow Bertholt, and they have a distant interaction over several scenes in the film.

During the time of the trial critical events transpire in Europe. Communists topple the Czechoslovakian government, and the Soviets blockade overland supplies to the isolated city of Berlin. The Soviet Union is poised to incorporate all of Eastern Europe into the USSR. America and its allies need the Germans’ help. The continued trials of Germans are a source of friction, and politicians are urging the tribunal to go easy on the defendants. Judge Haywood is being faced with a proposition much like that which faced Ernst Janning after the rise of Nazism.

The judge realizes this and declines to go down the road taken by Ernst Janning. All four are convicted and sentenced to life. Americans become even more unpopular in Germany.

In a final scene before he leaves Germany, Judge Haywood visits Ernst Janning in his jail cell. The German tries to explain his past mistakes, which he has admitted in court. He says that at the time he thought he was doing some good for his country. He says he never thought it would turn out the way it did. Haywood’s response caps off the entire movie. He says, “Herr Janning, it ‘came to that’ the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

The end notes to the film point out that none of those convicted were still serving their sentences in 1961. The reference to the massacre at Malmedy in Belgium is spurious. The Nazi officer in charge of that event was Joachim Peiper. On 17 December 1944 at the outbreak of the Battle of the Bulge, a detachment of American soldiers was captured and herded into a field. The Germans opened fire. Some soldiers fled and eventually escaped back to American lines. About a month after the killings American forces regained the territory and located 84 bodies of soldiers in the snow. Most showed head wounds that indicated post-combat execution.

Peiper survived the war and attempted to escape capture, but he was finally caught on 28 May 1945, and in August of that year he was identified and charged with the crimes. Not only had his men killed the Americans at Malmedy, but they had killed a number of groups of prisoners, and had murdered approximately 100 civilians (including children) at Stavelot. Peiper was tried for the crimes at Dachau in 1946 and on 16 July 1946 he was sentenced to death. Due to irregularities in obtaining testimony and in the conduct of the trial plus a mood on the part of the Allies to put the whole mess in the past, Peiper’s execution was not carried out. Nor were any of the many other death sentences from this court carried out. In 1956 Peiper was released from prison and eventually settled in France. Eventually his presence became known, and he received death threats. In July 1976 he was attacked and killed in his home by persons unknown.

It’s not true that no German war criminals were still serving prison terms at the time the movie was produced. Albert Speer was not released until 1966, and Rudolph Hess was never released, dying in prison in 1987. Speer subsequently wrote a book Inside the Third Reich, about pretty much about that topic. The e-book (PDF)is available from me for free by e-mail.

From IMDB here is a list of the cast.

Spencer Tracy as Chief Judge Dan Haywood
Burt Lancaster as Dr. Ernst Janning
Richard Widmark as Col. Tad Lawson
Maximilian Schell as Hans Rolfe
Werner Klemperer as Emil Hahn
Marlene Dietrich as Frau Bertholt
Montgomery Clift as Rudolph Peterson
Judy Garland as Irene Wallner
Howard Caine as Irene’s husband, Hugo Wallner
William Shatner as Capt. Harrison Byers
John Wengraf as His Honour Herr Justizrat. Dr. Karl Wieck – former Minister of Justice in Weimar Germany
Karl Swenson as Dr. Heinrich Geuter – Feldenstein’s lawyer
Ben Wright as Herr Halbestadt, Haywood’s butler
Ed Binns as Sen. Burkette
Torben Meyer as Werner Lampe
Martin Brandt as Friedrich Hofstetter
Kenneth MacKenna as Judge Kenneth Norris
Alan Baxter as Brig. Gen. Matt Merrin
Ray Teal as Judge Curtiss Ives
Virginia Christine as Mrs. Halbestadt – Haywood’s Housekeeper
Joseph Bernard as Major Abe Radnitz – Lawson’s assistant
Olga Fabian as Mrs. Elsa Lindnow – witness in Feldenstein case

The judge has come from the United states to serve on a tribunal (three-judge court) to try the case of four German judges. One of them is Ernst Janning, a learned and previously a highly respected judge in the German courts. The part is played by Burt Lancaster in one of his most significant roles ever, even though he gets in only a few paragraphs of dialog in a motion picture that runs for three hours.