Bad Movie of the Week

Number 228 of a series

I was trying to figure out how this came to be, and I was thinking some Hollywood types were sitting around brainstorming ideas. Somebody probably said, “Let’s do a spoof movie.” And somebody else said, “That’s been done before,” but the first guy said, “No, I mean a spoof of a spoof,” and the second guy said, “Like what?” Then the first guy said, “Take National Lampoon’s Vacation, for example,” and the second guy said, “That’s ridiculous. That turkey is not going to come out until 1983. That’s nine years from now.” But the first guy was persistent, and he said, “I mean, suppose there was a spoof of a western movie.” The second guy said, “So?,” and the first guy said, “Let’s assume there was such a movie, so let’s make a spoof of that movie.” And the second guy said, “That’s never going to work. But, what the hey! We’ve got spare cash, and I know some funny guys looking for work right now. So what are we going to call it?”

And the first guy responded, “Let’s call it Blazing Saddles.” And the second guy said, “Ugh, that’s God awful. Just do it, and let me know when it’s done.”

So, here it is, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video (whence the screen shots) and featuring

Details are from Wikipedia.

Even the title is a spoof. “Blazing Six Guns.” Get it? Anyhow, the movie gets rolling into PC territory immediately. There’s a gang laying a railroad line out in the hot sun, and the crew comprises Chinese and Negroes mostly, and foreman Taggart uses language like “chink” and “nigger” when referring to them. Watch this review get flagged.

So Taggart needs to check for quicksand, and he directs Bart and another to take a hand cart into the suspicious area, where they promptly sink into the quicksand. Taggart thinks it’s a big joke, and he laughs while Bart comes up from behind and whacks him on  the head with a shovel.

So the rail line needs to be routed through a town called Rock Ridge. But first the evil Gov. William J. Le Petomane and attorney general Hedley Lamarr need to exterminate all living residents of the town, who happen to be white people named Johnson. We know that the governor’s sweet assistant Lili von Shtupp, the “Teutonic Titwillow” is going to be able to apply her obvious talents.

Meanwhile, outside the window, a public hanging is in progress. and Bart is to be one of the hangees, having been summarily convicted of bashing a white guy over the head with a shovel. The evil ones decide their first tactic is to run in a ringer sheriff to rile the citizens of Rock Ridge, making them vulnerable when the governor’s gang of cutthroats comes riding down on them.

So they pull Bart out of the punch line and pin a star on him. He’s thankful.

The Johnsons of Rock Ridge are thankful they are getting a new sheriff to replace the one that was just killed, and there is a big celebration in progress with a band playing. Somebody posted on a building with a spy glass watches for Sheriff Bart’s arrival, and at last he spots him riding across the desert. He is dumb struck at what he sees. He calls down to the crowd that he sees the sheriff coming, but he’s a n…er. A blast from the band drowns out the first syllable, and it’s interpreted as “He’s near.”

Then Sheriff Bart comes riding down the street, and all festivities stop. This movie is going to be a long spoof about racism in the Old West.

Not feeling very welcome, Sheriff Bart settles himself into the jail, where he plays chess with the Waco Kid. The kid has given up gunfighting and turned to drink instead. But he’s still blazing fast. He demonstrates by snatching the black queen off the board without Sheriff Bart even seeing his hands move.

Things are not turning out the way the evil officials planned, so the governor runs in  Lili von Shtupp to sap some of the sheriff’s vitality. It works the other way, as Lili acquires a fondness for black sausage.

But the evil band is coming to Rock Ridge to wipe out all the Johnsons, having recruited from all the evil tribes of the world. Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid figure they need to employ wit to defeat them, and they slow the invading horde by placing a toll booth along the invasion route.

The main line of defense is a fake town, constructed overnight by recruits from the railroad gang. The evil gang comes riding in to confront cardboard citizens strolling down the street between false front buildings.

The Waco Kid uses his skill with a pistol to set off explosive charges in the town to wipe out the invaders, and the town is saved.

Except, that the melee is now out of control, and as the camera pans back we see the action is occurring in the Warner Brothers back lot in Burbank, California. The chaos spreads beyond of the western set and into the set of an elaborate stage show.

And it goes downhill from there.

This is a silly movie, propelled by a lot of lame humor based on racial stereotypes, sight gags, and even flatulism, introducing the famous campfire scene. Whoopee!

This may have been the high point of Cleavon Little’s career. He died of cancer in  1992.

Slim Pickens turns in a classic performance, having already been a standout in Dr. Strangelove and The Getaway. where he had a bit role.


Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out in 1984, about the time I was moving back to Texas and was absorbed with other things. For some reason I never saw it through until recently were it is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s The Natural, starring Robert Redford as some kind of baseball sensation. I caught some it on TV a few decades back; I caught the part where Roy Hobbs (Redford) strikes out The Whammer and then goes to meet a woman in a hotel room, where she shoots him. And I watched the very end where Hobbs hits the game-winning home run and wins the pennant. I must have missed all the rest until a few days ago, when I sat myself down and viewed all two hours plus. I came away with the assurance the story could have been told using 30 minutes fewer feet of celluloid. Here’s how it goes. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s the early 20th century, and Hobbs is a farm boy whose father teaches him baseball. He’s a whiz.

But the father dies suddenly, and Hobbs finishes growing up on his own. Near where his father died lightening strikes a tree, and the boy plucks away a log from the trunk. He shapes the log and fashions a baseball bat, which he brands with a hot iron: “Wonder Boy.” And he adds a bolt of lightening.

He says goodbye to his high school sweetheart, Iris Gaines (Glenn Close) and catches a train to try out as a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. It’s a steam locomotive, so the train has to stop for water. On the train is a pro ball player, known in the movie only as ‘The Whammer’ (Joe Don Baker),  and looks a lot like Babe Ruth. There is a fairground next to the tracks, and Hobbs wows patrons by consistently knocking down all the wooden milk bottles in a carnival game.

A challenge is issued, and a large bet is laid. Hobbs will strike out The Whammer. Three straight whiffs is the challenge. The Whammer watches the first ball go by and swings at the remaining two. He is not amused.

In Chicago Hobbs accepts the invitation of a woman, Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), who was on the train. He comes to her hotel room, where she shoots him in the gut. Then (we learn later) she kills herself. We also learn she has previously killed other athletes, all using silver bullets.

Years pass within one splice of the film, and we see Hobbs as a 30+ player recruited from  a minor-league team by a scout for the New York Knights, a bit of fiction from  Bernard Malamud, who wrote the book of the same name.

We eventually learn that Hobbs is on the team as part of a scheme by The Judge (Robert Prosky), co-owner of the team. The Judge needs for The Knights to not win the pennant, because if they lose, then team manager Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) has to give up controlling interest in the team. So The Judge has been recruiting losers, such as Hobbs, and he has bribed  another player to lose. Shades of Eight Men Out.

Pop doesn’t want to play the unknown Hobbs and keeps him on the bench for game after game. But the crooked player dies crashing into the outfield wall, and Hobbs gets invited to batting practice. He hits ball after ball into the stands. His first time at bat in a game he really does hit the cover off the ball. While the opposing team chases an unraveling ball of twine, Hobbs trots the bases.

Things are no longer looking bright for The Judge. The Knights have been losing games on end, but Hobbs begins hitting a stream of home runs, inspiring the team, which now begins to play major league ball.

The Judge runs in a woman of casual virtue, Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), to distract Hobbs, and she screws his brains out so consistently his game drops off. Paris is also Pop’s niece. Hobbs is in a terrible slump, and so is the team.

But in Chicago, Hobbs’ fame catches the attention of Iris, now grown, single, and with a son.

At bat, close to once more striking out, Hobbs spots Iris in the stands, and he slugs a homer.

Hobbs dumps Paris, but his stomach wound flares up, and he misses games in the hospital, where the silver bullet is removed from his stomach. Seeing he is needed to win the pennant-winning game, Hobbs takes himself out of the hospital and suits up for the game. Now comes the drama.

Game runs are on base, and Hobbs needs to hit a big one. Iris sends in a note telling him her son is also his, and he’s at the game. Hobbs whiffs a couple of pitches and then splats a fowl ball into the stands. Bad news, that swing has shattered Wonder Boy, and Hobbs tells the bat boy to go select a winner for him.

And here comes the fatal pitch.

Hobbs swats it into the lights behind the outfield for a home run. As he trots the bases electric lights continue to shatter in a cascade of sparks.

Hobbs retires from ball, and we see him and his son tossing a ball on the farm as Iris looks on.

What gives this movie interest is the intro. All is going well for Hobbs, and you would never believe a mysterious woman will shoot him in the gut, sidelining his career.

It’s not adequately explained why Hobbs never went back to hook up with Iris after his life-shattering experience—didn’t even write.

By the time of his return to baseball, Hobbs is a once-burned, street-wise, 36-year-old. And he still falls for the floozy sent in to throw off his game.

See the picture of Hobbs and the bat boy examining the shattered Wonder Boy? Watching Hobbs bat the ball into the stands we see Wonder Boy fall harmlessly to the ground as Hobbs heads for first base. It is obviously not broken.

The winning hit shatters a flood lamp. Then lights begin to shatter all over the field. People, this does not happen.

This plot device of bringing it all down to a final pitch that will decide the pennant is getting old. It was getting old 34 years ago, and it is not going to pick up additional sparkle anytime soon.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 227 of a series

I didn’t need to  dig into the Amazon Prime Video archives for this one. It’s a new release. From Wikipedia:

Acts of Violence is a 2018 action film starring Bruce Willis, written by Nicolas Aaron Mezzanatto, and directed by Brett Donowho.

Filming began in Cleveland, Ohio in March 2017.

With a running time of 86 minutes, it was released in a limited theatrical engagement as well as on video-on-demand by Lionsgate Premiere on January 12, 2018.


Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video. Here’s the plot.

Deklan MacGregor is a war veteran suffering mental issues. He can’t get help from the V.A. Here he is consulting with a therapist, right before he erupts and storms out.

Meanwhile, Detective James Avery teams up with Detective Brooke Baker (n the right) as they prepare to raid a street drug distributor.

The raid goes off much as planned, except the body of a young woman is found on a bed in this den of inequity. A GPS tracker has been implanted in her wrist. Also (we learn later) the drugs involved are a cut of carfentanyl, used to tranquilize large animals, such as elephants and rhinoceroses. Also, as the raid draws to a close, Detective Avery chases the operation’s honcho to the roof of the building, where there is a struggle for survival. The honcho goes over the edge and clings by his fingers. Avery tells him goodbye and watches him fall. The druggies are members of a gang headed by Max Livington. He’s a really bad dude who uses threats of violence and also murder to keep his empire in line. As a side operation, Max runs a string of sex slaves.

Back at the office Avery winds down in the manner of all hard-bitten police detectives. He empties the bottle into his coffee mug.

Meanwhile, Deklan is celebrating the impending marriage of his brother Roman to a sweet girl named Mia.

They go to separate bachelor and bachelorette parties, and while the women are celebrating Mia is confronted by one of Max’s gang. She rebuffs him and goes outside to phone Roman. A white van rolls by, and the guys working for Max scoop her up and drive off into  the night. This is not looking good.

When the brothers get an inkling that something is wrong, they spring into  action and track down Mia’s cell phone to a gang house. Deklan and Brandon are ex-military, and they are carrying their sidearms. They phone for the police, but they don’t wait. They assault the house and rescue some sex slaves. Mia is not there. They are in trouble with the police for their extra-legal action, and Deklan has a conference with Avery. The outlook is not good. Mia’s information will be entered into a database, and the attempt to locate her will be included in ongoing operations to track down all such women.

Meanwhile, Mia is having a rough time. The scenario is a direct appeal to pathos. Beautiful, helpless woman in a short cocktail dress is bound and held prisoner by a ruthless sex slave gang. Our heart goes out.

But Mia is not all that helpless. She breaks free from her bonds and gets the attention of the two who scooped her up. The two are in the midst of packaging drugs for distribution, and when they go to check out the commotion she is causing, she attacks them and runs out the door, just in time to be snagged by Max and his sidekick. Max is not pleased his two underlings have been so foolish as to violate his instructions by bringing a sex slave prospect to the drug center. He decides to have the sidekick shoot these two delinquents. Then he changes his mind. He will have the lovely Mia do it. He places the pistol in Mia’s hand and pulls the trigger, dispatching one of the pair, leaving the other with a reminder to not step out of line again.

The brothers decide the police are no help, so they arm up and prepare to take down Max’s gang on their own.

They start by ambushing four of the gang, killing three and taking the fourth prisoner. They intimidate the live one and get him to cough up Max’s full name and the location where they are holding Mia.

They raid the place, killing a number of the drug traffickers. But Mia has escaped and is fleeing across a rail yard. Again a scene of intense pathos. She hitches a ride with an elderly motorist, but the GPS tracker, by now implanted in her wrist, gives away their position, and Max’s men track them down and kill the driver, taking Mia prisoner and preparing to ship her off to Las Vegas, along with the rest of Max’s product, which is what he calls his sex slaves.

Max has previously cut a deal with the powers. They will let him slide in return for rolling on his mob. This latest bit by the vets appears to Max to be unfair play, and he orders retribution on any and all who have been messing with his operation.

The brothers, released by Avery, are given 24 hours to finish their business with Max before the police haul them in for disturbing the peace. They assault Max’s preparations to relocate, using sniper fire to suppress resistance while two of the brothers move in close with automatic weapons. They rescue Mia, but Max retaliates. When the brothers return to Brandon’s house, the gang has already come and gone. They have ransacked the house leaving Brandon’s wife Jessa dead.

In mourning, Mia and the brothers wait for the police to come. Max and his gang come first, headlights shining in through the window. A hail of automatic weapon fire disrupts the peace, and the brothers scramble to defend the house. They prevail in the end, with Mia contributing some deadly fire power. But Brandon is now dead, and Max has escaped, wounded. The police arrive and clean up  the mess, hauling the brothers off.

In true Dirty Harry manner, Detective Avery slams his badge down on his boss’s desk and walks out. He goes to where Max is trying to recoup his shattered empire, and he does not waste words. He stitches Max with a few rounds from  his sidearm.

Later we see the surviving brothers and Mia enjoying a gathering in the back yard with Mia and Roman’s new baby.

Yes, this is the cookbook vigilante action film, possibly traceable back to  Billy Jack. There is also a whiff of Dirty Harry and Death Wish. Combat veteran, psychically damaged, comes home after dealing with the bad guys only to discover the bad buys are also back home. And the cops, hands tied by protocol and bureaucracy, are woefully ineffectual. It’s time for the real action heroes to suit up and set matters right. Little is believable.

The police are going to let Max walk in return for rolling on his organization? It’s something that exists in the minds of imaginative screen  writers. The military vets are going to use their combat experience to take down a street gang in a frontal assault? The supposedly conflict-wise warriors go off to battle without first protecting the home front? Following one home defeat, the murder of Jessa MacGregor, they sit around and wait for the inevitable retaliation from Max’s gang. Max, cool street fighter that he is, figures the best way to take on a trio of combatants is to stand at the curbside and spray the house with automatic weapons fire. Despite having the advantage of firepower, numbers, and initially surprise, Max’s hardened fighters are defeated utterly, all killed, except Max. Again, according to the movie script cookbook, the sole survivors are the two top antagonists. Avery tracks Max down for a final duel, which in this case is a variation on Dirty Harry. Max is unarmed, but that counts for nothing, and there is no taunting, and there is no final grapple for supremacy, Avery executes Max with an absence of drama. What a surprise ending!

Bruce Willis previously appeared in RED, since reviewed. I have also reviewed Fire with Fire. I have a hankering to review some of the Die Hard movies, and I will if they ever pop up on Amazon or Hulu.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is from 2010 and is currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s Shutter Island, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as Edward “Teddy” Daniels, a U.S. marshal, sent to investigate the escape of a dangerous mental patient at Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor. It’s 1954, and Teddy brings along his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). They cross to the island by way of a ferry, the only transportation.

On the crossing the two converse. Chuck inquires of Teddy’s personal life, and Teddy recalls his lovely wife, now deceased.

The facility is ominous, with guards, electrified fences, multiple layers of gates.

The escaped inmate is Rachel Solando, who was committed after she drowned her children. Teddy investigates the escape. Staff at the facility cannot locate the dangerous escapee. She was locked in a secure cell, and was later found to be absent, with no signs the cell had been compromised. Teddy questions the staff, and receives suspicious responses. An orderly who swears he saw and heard nothing later admits he left his post for a bathroom break.

Teddy continues to have flashbacks from his past. His wife was killed in a fire at their apartment, a fire set by an arsonist, also mentally ill and is now, Teddy suspects, at the facility.

In another flashback Teddy recalls the time during the war his men liberated Germany’s Dachau death camp, and they murdered the guards.

A storm is raging, and we are beginning to recall Shakespeare’s The Tempest again. The two marshals change our of their wet clothing and don orderly’s uniforms. Without getting deeply into  the plot, Teddy and Chuck head into the island wilderness to see what’s been going on. Teddy suspects the Shutter Island facility is being used by the federal government to conduct mental experiments on people. He suspects the critical activities are going on within a lighthouse adjacent to the island.

Teddy has been warned he will not be allowed to leave the island and that the staff have means to deem him insane and to incarcerate him. In a climactic encounter, Teddy swims to the lighthouse and confronts Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the head psychiatrist. Cawley advises Teddy that he has been a patient at the hospital for two years, ,and then Chuck enters, revealing he is Dr. Sheehan, Teddy’s psychiatrist for all this time. The entire plot has been one to get Teddy to acknowledge his true past and progress toward a cure.

Teddy then recalls how, two years previous, he returned from an assignment to find his wife had drowned their children in the lake. Teddy thereupon shot her to death, which act precipitated his descent into psychosis.

Before Teddy can be put on the path to a cure the staff need to determine whether he has truly come to  accept reality, and Dr. Sheehan (Chuck) interviews him on the steps of the hospital. Teddy pretends to have relapsed into psychosis, telling Sheehan he would rather die as a psychotic than live with his past. Sheehan gives a nod to the staff, waiting to take Teddy away, Teddy walks away with them to resume his confinement.

You do not need to be reminded this is a 1950s film. You can tell, because the men are wearing hats and somebody is smoking in almost every scene. There are noticeable lapses, such as in a scene where Teddy goes deeply into a dungeon-like section to confront patients locked behind bars. There are no lights so Teddy lights one match after another to see. They got the lighting all wrong. There are no shadows where there should be some, and we can still see clearly after the match has gone out. It would have been better to have played that scene with some kind of artificial light to make it more realistic.

This is based on Dennis Lehane‘s 2003 novel of the same name. The Kindle edition is $9.99, and it might be worth a read. Maybe next time I take vacation and need something to read on the plane.

There is no Shutter Island in Boston Harbor, but there is a Long Island, which Lehane visited as a child and which became the inspiration for Shutter Island.

The Awful Truth

Number 5 in a Series

The title of this series derived from that of an old movie, but I use it to highlight that for some people the truth is often sorry news. The topic today is not a movie but a recent book by James R. Clapper, retired Air Force lieutenant general and most recently Director of National Intelligence. The book is Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence. I obtained the Kindle edition from Amazon after catching an interview with General Clapper on CNN. It’s 431 pages, but it’s an interesting read, provided stuff like intelligence and truth are of interest.

It’s a story of a life, quite literally, in the national intelligence business. Clapper is about five months younger than I am, and his father was in the Army signal intelligence field. So Clapper grew up in that world, traveling with his parents as his father was posted to exotic places following the fall of fascism. An early memory was arriving with his mother in Cairo, a visit that terminated abruptly somewhat later when King Farouk made a pass at his mother, and his father took a swing at the king. Someday let me tell you about my exciting childhood growing up in Hood County, Texas.

Anyhow, young James showed great promise and naturally drifted into military intelligence and eventually into  Wasington  bureaucracy. The key to the book is Clapper’s perspective on the current tussle over fact and truth in the Donald Trump administration, viewed with the vision of a person who spent a long career learning how to sift fact from fiction. He leaves a grim reminder that fiction is on the ascendancy. I’m going to present this perspective by way of showing pertinent clips from the book and adding elaboration when available. Start here with Clapper’s reaction to the outcome of the 2016 election:

I was shocked. Everyone was shocked, including Mr. Trump, who’d continued on Election Day to cast doubt on whether he would accept the election results as legitimate. Having a few minutes alone, I kept thinking of just how out of touch I was with the people who lived in Middle America. I’d been stationed in heartland states repeatedly during my military career, particularly Texas, and I had traveled extensively as an agency director in the early 2000s and again during the past six and a half years as DNI, meeting with Intelligence Community employees outside of St. Louis, speaking at the University of Texas at Austin and with the Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, and visiting many other places. I’d joked to audiences about just how out of touch people in Washington were, and I’d never failed to draw a laugh, sometimes applause. Working down in the “engine room” of our national security enterprise—“shoveling intelligence coal,” as I liked to say—I never recognized just how much frustration with and resentment toward Washington those communities had, and just how deep the roots of their anger went. But Donald Trump had, and he’d appealed to them more than I’d realized or liked.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 1-2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It came as a surprise to most right-thinking people that fact no longer mattered, being cast aside over a call to our basest impulses. This is from the Introduction, and there’s more from this section summarizing Clapper’s take on the situation.

I also thought about the warning on Russian interference in the election that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and I had issued to the American public a month earlier. We’d agonized over the precise wording of the press release and whether naming Russian president Vladimir Putin as the mastermind and puppeteer of the Russian influence operation would cause an international incident, drawing Jeh’s department and the Intelligence Community into the political fray. Reading responses to exit polls, I realized that our release and public statements simply hadn’t mattered. I wasn’t sure if people were oblivious to the seriousness of the threat we’d described or if they just didn’t care what the Russians were doing.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I wondered what President Obama was thinking and if he regretted his reticence to “put his thumb on the scale” of the election—as he put it—by not publicly calling out the Russian interference while Putin was effectively standing on the other end of that scale. At the same time, I was no longer sure it would have mattered to the people in Middle America if the president had presented everything we knew about Russia’s massive cyber and propaganda efforts to undermine American democracy, disparage former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and promote Donald Trump.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I didn’t realize it then, but the Russians were just as shocked as we were. They’d succeeded beyond their wildest imagination and were completely unprepared for their own success. The Russian propaganda network in the United States, formerly known as Russia Today and since rebranded as just “RT,” was jubilant in calling the election for Mr. Trump: “That’s what this is, a defining moment in global history, that America is willing to turn the page and possibly isolate itself from the rest of the world.” They declared, “The next speech that Donald Trump gives to the world will be one of the most important speeches in the history of the world.” As the anchors reveled in Trump’s victory, the crawl at the bottom of the screen continued running lines intended to delegitimize Clinton’s win, such as SEVERAL STATES REPORT BROKEN VOTING MACHINES. The Russian internet troll factory scrambled to stop its #DemocracyRIP social media campaign, set to run from its fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 3). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

After the election, the CIA and the FBI continued to uncover evidence of preelection Russian propaganda, all intended to undermine Clinton and promote Trump, and the Intelligence Community continued to find indications of Russian cyber operations to interfere with the election. At a National Security Council meeting on Monday, December 5, President Obama gave us more explicit instructions. He wanted the CIA, NSA, and FBI—each agency with the mission-specific tradecraft and capabilities to determine what the Russians had done—to assemble all their findings, encompassing the most sensitive sourcing, into a single report that he could pass on to the next administration and to Congress. He also asked us to produce a paper for public consumption with as much information from the classified version as possible. And critically, he wanted all of this done before he left office. The highly classified IC assessment that resulted was, I believe, a landmark product—among the most important ever produced by US intelligence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 3-4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

For me, there was no specific moment in that time, no flash of insight when I understood that our primary adversary for nearly all of my half century as a US intelligence professional was—without exaggeration—hacking away at the very roots of our democracy. That realization slowly washed over me in 2016 in a tide that continued to rise after the election, and even after I’d left government and the new administration had transitioned into power. My concern about what I saw taking place in America—and my apprehension that we were losing focus on what the Russians had done to us—is ultimately what persuaded me to write this book, to use what we had learned in our IC assessment to frame my experience and our collective experience as Americans.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

My hope is to capture and share the experience of more than fifty years in the intelligence profession, to impart the pride that intelligence officers take in their work, the care with which they consider the ethical implications of surveillance and espionage, and the patriotism and willingness to sacrifice that they bring to the job. And finally, I intend to show that what Russia did to the United States during the 2016 election was far worse than just another post–Cold War jab at an old adversary. What to us was a sustained assault on our traditional values and institutions of governance, from external as well as internal pressures. In the wake of that experience, my fear is that many Americans are questioning if facts are even knowable, as foreign adversaries and our national leaders continue to deny objective reality while advancing their own “alternative facts.” America possesses great strength and resilience, but how we rise to this challenge—with clear-eyed recognition of the unbiased facts and by setting aside our doubts—is entirely up to us. I believe the destiny of the American ideal is at stake.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And that pretty much sums up the book’s introduction. Any more, and I would have pasted here the entire text. I will skip over much that details Clapper’s career in military intelligence, highlighting only a few excerpts. Then I will close out with events most of us recall from watching TV. First some career highlights. Here’s something that came up in another book I reviewed recently:

Many of the prominent code crackers of World War II had been women who’d stayed with the agency after the war, and NSA in the 1960s was appreciative of their contributions and more open to having them in leadership positions than the rest of government or corporate America. My dad had worked for several of these women in the 1950s, including Juanita Moody and Ann Caracristi, who in 1980 would shatter the glass ceiling as deputy director of NSA. Hearing him talk about these individuals as smart, capable leaders, without his making a big deal about their gender, made a bigger impression on my views of women than any feminist views my mother ever expressed.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 19). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

His years in military service encompassed historical transformations:

family. The most indelible experience I had was processing the dishonorable discharges of two airmen who were roommates in the barracks, and who had been “outed” (which was not a term used back then) as homosexual. In the day, there was—by regulation—no other recourse. They automatically lost their security clearances and were expelled from the service. At best, homosexuals were given general discharges; some received dishonorable. These two individuals were model airmen: superb Russian linguists, meticulous about their military responsibilities, and devoted to serving their country. I remember thinking what a waste of talent it was, in addition to being a profound injustice, and it viscerally bothered me that I was forced to play a part in their unceremonious dismissals.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 21). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In those days intelligence was largely historical, telling people what had happened, not what was happening and certainly not forecasting what was going to happen.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 22). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Because of the size of the Soviet Union and China, high-frequency Morse code was the primary way to effectively communicate across such vast distances, so the entire Eurasian landmass was ringed with SIGINT sites, stretching from Japan to Turkey to Britain. Each signals intelligence station employed hundreds of GIs—soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines—copying “dits and dahs” around the clock, day in and day out.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 25). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In February 1959, the Air Force attempted the launch of its first “overhead” collection capability—Corona. The first launch vehicle never left the pad. In assessing America’s early successes in space photoreconnaissance and just how much they changed the game against the Soviets, people tend to forget that in 1959 and 1960 our first thirteen attempts at Corona failed.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 26). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Tensions between North and South escalated, and US Air Force B-52s continued to fly patrols parallel to the DMZ. The North Koreans, in turn, put their air-defense systems on high alert, flew MiG fighters on frequent patrols, and dispatched their submarines out to sea. We intercepted communications indicating that Kim Il-sung might order an invasion into South Korea. I stayed in the office for about three days without going home, communicating via Teletype with an Army major who was my counterpart in South Korea. The sense of an imminent war was palpable through the crisis, and it took several weeks for the situation to stabilize enough for us to fall back into a regular rhythm.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 34). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I had not fully appreciated the consuming siege mentality that pervades North Korea until I visited and engaged directly with senior officials there. The leadership elites in the North work hard to maximize paranoia among the population. Portraying the United States as an enemy that’s constantly on the brink of invading it is one of the chief propaganda themes that’s held North Korea together for the past sixty years. They are also deadly serious about any perceived affronts to the Supreme Leader, whom they literally consider a deity. The DPRK is a family-owned country and has been that way ever since it was founded in the 1940s. Because of its history, the DPRK sees developing nuclear weapons as its insurance policy and ticket to survival. North Korea wants to be recognized as a world power, and its entire society, including their conventional military forces, suffers for the relentless, single-minded commitment to develop and field these weapons and delivery systems to threaten the United States. Neither they nor we really know if their weapons work, but in many ways, it doesn’t matter. They achieved nuclear deterrence long ago, because we have to assume that if they do launch an ICBM at the United States, it will reach our shores and detonate. They have effectively played their nuclear hand to the hilt, for without even proving they have the relevant capability, they’ve capitalized on nuclear deterrence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 49-50). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Reading the account of  his own career, which nobody will deny is factual, you have to conclude that James Clapper came to be knowledgeable about all facets of intelligence gathering and analysis. He gives the impression of one who values true and useful information, but he reemphasizes that the job of intelligence agencies is to present proper detail and the significance of intelligence but at the same time not to extrapolate and not to suggest consequences. Military, law enforcement, and politicians bear the responsibility for taking action.

His service in Washington provided Clapper with insight into  a number of personalities, insight that eventually became reflected in news headlines. One such person was two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When Clapper applied to head up the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (then NIMA), Secretary Rumsfeld had to sign off on his hiring:

Almost as soon as I sat down, Rumsfeld was off on a rant about Congress, complaining about partisan politics and how too many members catered to their constituents over the best interests of the nation.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 90). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper found the meeting uncomfortable, resulting in this exchange:

As my thirty-minute appointment extended to forty-five minutes, I thought that if I was a wagering man, I’d bet he’d be out of the job before Christmas. The interview came to a merciful end. He stood, shook my hand, and wished me luck. Outside, Staser saw my quizzical look and told me I had the job.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 91). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“Staser” is “retired Vice Admiral Staser Holcomb, who had been Secretary Rumsfeld’s military assistant the first time he’d served as secretary of defense and who was now serving informally as Rumsfeld’s “executive headhunter,” recruiting people for senior positions in DOD.” [Page 87]

A subsequent encounter with Secretary Rumsfeld led ultimately to Clapper’s firing from head of NIMA.

At that lunch, Mike and I both advocated establishing a strong DNI, rather than creating a weak figurehead that would diffuse or confuse authority, and we told the secretary that he should back legislation that would align the three “national” agencies under a DNI. The agencies could still fulfill their combat support responsibilities, but they would produce better intelligence under an authority whose full-time focus would be on integrating their work. We appealed to him to support improving how intelligence functioned, rather than protecting the existing bureaucracy. Secretary Rumsfeld cut short the lunch and left, missing a good dessert. Mike would later say that my discourse that day was the reason my NGA directorship was ultimately terminated early.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 105). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“DNI” is Director of National Intelligence, and “NGA” is a subsequent abbreviation for the agency that was NIMA.

Another personality eventually to become notable is Lieutenant General Michael Flynn:

When I first went to Russia in 1992, I was taken aback, even disappointed, at seeing the run-down infrastructure and the plight of Russian citizens. It was graphic evidence that behind the formidable Soviet military power was a third- or fourth-rate economy. On a subsequent trip, I visited GRU headquarters—the Russian military intelligence agency that was DIA’s nominal counterpart, much as the KGB was CIA’s. (I don’t know if I was the first DIA director to visit GRU, but I do know that Lieutenant General Mike Flynn was not the first DIA director to visit there in 2013, as he claimed.) There we found Soviet military equipment being sold at bargain-basement prices to raise funds to keep the agency functioning, so DIA bought jets, tanks, guns, antiaircraft systems, and whatever else we thought would be useful to study and exploit, as well as anything we wanted to keep off the black market.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 79). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

General Flynn served briefly in the administrations of President Obama and President Trump. Prior to that he became noted for keeping his own facts, which facts have come to be called “Flynn facts.”

Mike had spent his career, particularly the decade since 9/11, on the tactical edge of battle. He had never directed a large organization before, and he made some of the same mistakes I’d made as a new DIA director in 1991, including not properly engaging the workforce before undertaking a major reorganization. He could have rectified the situation, but he didn’t address the civilian workforce’s concerns when they were brought to him, and he made matters worse by increasingly demanding that civilians behave like uniformed service members. Stories started leaking out of DIA that he was using analysts to chase down crazy conspiracy theories, which the workforce had dubbed “Flynn facts.” He also clashed with his boss in the Pentagon, Mike Vickers, and publicly criticized the president’s policy decisions, asserting that the president should refer to terrorists as “Islamic extremists.”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 331). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As General Flynn exited military life and entered politics, his persona became more flamboyant and his discourse more strident:

With the Trump team setting the agenda, the convention seemed to revel in pessimism about the state of the nation and the direction it was heading. On Monday, Mike Flynn led the crowd in chanting “Lock her up!” in reference to the Clinton email scandal. He seemed so consumed by partisan anger that I barely recognized the man I’d traveled the world with when he’d still been in uniform.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 341). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper notes with alarm Flynn’s actions as he entered the Trump administration:

Three days after candidate Trump released his December 7 anti-Islam statement, former DIA director and retired lieutenant general Mike Flynn appeared in Moscow at a gala for RT. He was seated beside Putin at dinner and was paid forty-five thousand dollars to speak. I knew Mike well, and it boggled my mind that he would so knowingly compromise himself.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 330). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

RT is the new name for Russia TV, a television network funded by the Russian government.

The book addresses the matters of Bradley Manning—an Army private—and Edward Snowden, both of whom filched classified information, eventually shared world-wide by WikiLeaks. For details of these episodes you might want to read the book or wait for separate blog postings that concentrate on these matters.

People who want to discredit our intelligence and law enforcement services have found a target in Clapper’s statements before a Senate “worldwide threat assessment hearing” on 12 March 2013. His response to a question from Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon has become fodder for a host of those seeking to avoid the embarrassment of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and more. Senator Wyden posed a question during an open session:

And this is for you, Director Clapper—again, on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer, because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘‘The story that we have millions, or hundreds of millions, of dossiers on people is completely false.’’ The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions, of Americans?

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 207). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Of course, Director Clapper knew of the NSA program to track phone traffic related to conversations that included suspicious foreigners, and he knew that these conversations sometimes involved American citizens, people who might not be involved in illegal activity. The program was a closely kept secret, because it would not be a good idea for spies to know the NSA was doing this. Senator Wyden demanded a yes or no answer, which the question did not deserve. There was hardly any response Clapper could have made, even beyond a yes or a no. If he told the senator that he was unable to answer that question in an open meeting, that would have given a strong signal that the NSA was monitoring telephone traffic, and he would have been guilty of divulging classified information. But the senator referred to “dossiers” on Americans, something which the NSA was not compiling in the manner indicated. Clapper answered no to that question, which was technically correct, but which later turned out to be something used to torch him.

The theme of this book is the fading esteem for fact and truth in the new government, and I will finish with some pertinent quotes.

For the past several years, I’d watched as “unpredictable instability” instability” around the world had prompted angry populations to rise up against their governments and societies. It led to al-Qaida, ISIS, and their ilk proliferating from Afghanistan to Southwest Asia and into North Africa and Europe. It led to civil wars in Libya and Syria and a global refugee crisis unlike anything the world had seen since the end of the Second World War, which my dad had helped end. Unpredictable instability brought pain, war, and suffering to the world. In the United States, it gave us Donald Trump.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 357). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I was far from being the only person who was shocked by the outcome, and as the Russians scrambled to stop their #DemocracyRIP social media campaign, President-elect Trump’s circle seemed to have no strategy for shifting from campaign mode to administration-transition mode. Rather than working with the State Department, or even contacting it, Trump was taking calls from world leaders, apparently from whoever could get his personal cell phone number. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull famously obtained it from professional golfer Greg Norman and was one of eight world leaders to call Trump with congratulations on the day his victory was announced. With no State Department involvement, no one briefed the president-elect on bilateral issues or existing agreements, and the United States has no official record of what was said during those conversations.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 357-358). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There was and remains no doubt the government of Vladimir Putin dreaded the possibility Hillary Clinton would be elected, and they worked against her candidacy from the get-go. When Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee they shifted their focus and worked toward his election. As seen from the foregoing, toward the end they feared Trump would lose and focused on discrediting the American election process.

During his final weeks employed by the government, Director Clapper had the opportunity to read the world’s response to Donal Trump’s election:

I traveled from Oman to Kuwait and then to Jordan, where I had lunch with King Abdullah on Friday. The king tried to hide his pique that there had been no communication between Trump’s team and his government. He ended the lunch early, and I watched wistfully as someone carried off my plate after I’d had only a couple of bites of a superb steak. The next day, I flew from Jordan to Israel, ending another trip to the Middle East with a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He seemed a different person, jubilant with the results of the election. He couldn’t stop smiling and noted that he’d had a terrific conversation with the president-elect within hours of Trump’s delivering his victory speech. I congratulated him, and he gave me another of his cigars.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 359). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The election of Donald Trump is one of the few joys shared by Putin and Netanyahu. There was valid concern the new administration would seek to minimize the actions of the Putin government.  Members of the intelligence community sought to forestall these efforts while they still had the directive to do so.

Regardless of our cooperation with the Trump transition team, we hadn’t forgotten what Russia had done. The FBI and CIA were coming across new evidence of Russian activities relating to the election every day, and I was starting to see that the scope and scale of their effort was much bigger than Jeh or I had understood when we’d released our statement in October.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 361). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The concerns of the intelligence agencies turned out to have merit. The words and actions of Donald Trump following the election make it clear he sees this Russian business as a threat to his legitimacy:

As we discussed those possibilities in the White House Situation Room, the public dialogue about Russian interference was heating up. Seeming to fear it called the legitimacy of his election into question, the president-elect responded defensively whenever the subject was raised. In an interview with Time magazine on November 28, he countered a question on Russian activities with, “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point.” Asked who he thought had hacked the Democrats’ email accounts and IT systems, he responded, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

We knew it was not someone in New Jersey, and I was fairly certain that President-elect Trump knew that as well. At an NSC meeting on Monday, December 5, President Obama told us he wanted CIA, FBI, and NSA to integrate all their relevant intelligence into a single report to pass on to the next administration and Congress. He also asked us to derive from it an unclassified document for public consumption with as much information from the classified version as possible. And critically, he wanted all of this done before January 20—the end of his administration.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 361-362). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

On Friday, December 9, unnamed “officials briefed on the matter” leaked the effort to the press, saying the CIA and FBI had reached the conclusion that Russia had helped Trump win. The leak wasn’t quite accurate, and certainly wasn’t helpful, but the immediate response from President-elect Trump’s transition team was even worse. Under the seal of “President Elect Donald J. Trump,” the team published a press release that—with no preamble—began, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’” It was stunning. Based on rumors from anonymous sources, the president-elect had lashed out reflexively to delegitimize the Intelligence Community—the same IC that would be serving him in forty-two days, that was already giving him President Obama’s PDBs. The attack was disturbing, as was its demonstrably false assertion that his victory was one of the “biggest” ever.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 362-363). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Fact was dying a quick death.

The president-elect seemed increasingly desperate to make the story of Russian interference go away, constantly denying there had been any impact on the election or any interference at all. On December 28, he said that it was “time for the country to move on to bigger and better things.” President Obama didn’t want to focus on the Russian issue during his final weeks in office, either, but he wasn’t simply going to “move on.” On December 29, he ordered new sanctions against Russia and declared thirty-five known Russian spies in the United States to be persona non grata and sent them home. He also closed the two Russian-owned facilities in Maryland and New York. I didn’t think that response was commensurate with what they’d done to us, but I also knew we weren’t prepared to take more drastic steps. We waited to see how Putin would respond, fully expecting a reciprocal retaliation.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 365-366). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The same day, as was confirmed when he later pled guilty to lying to the FBI about it, National Security Adviser-designate Mike Flynn called Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, assuring him not to worry about the sanctions and asking that Russia not retaliate. On the following day, Putin announced he would not expel anyone from Russia and would not respond in kind to the new US sanctions, saying he would wait to work with the next US presidential administration. Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin)—I always knew he was very smart!”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 366). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper details the Russian propaganda successes:

We showed unambiguously that Putin had ordered the campaign to influence the election, that the campaign was multifaceted, and that Russia had used cyber espionage against US political organizations and publicly disclosed the data they collected through WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, and the Guccifer 2.0 persona. We documented Russian cyber intrusions into state and local voter rolls. We described Russia’s pervasive propaganda efforts through RT, Sputnik, and the social media trolls, and how the entire operation had begun with attempts to undermine US democracy and demean Secretary Clinton, then shifted to promoting Mr. Trump when Russia assessed he was a viable candidate who would serve their strategic goals. We added historical context to show just how much of an unprecedented escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort all of this represented, and we assessed that the election operation signaled a “new normal in Russian influence efforts.” The Russian government had done all of this at minimal cost and without significant damage to their own interests, and they had no real incentive to stop.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 366-367). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As events moved toward the change in government, the president-elect became strident in his denunciation of truth:

On Tuesday President-elect Trump attempted to undercut our assessment before its release, tweeting, “The ‘intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 367). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

At 8:30 on Friday morning we were back on Capitol Hill, presenting our briefing to the “Gang of Eight”: the party leaders in the House and Senate and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Our presentation was fast-paced and terse, as we had to leave by 9:30 to stay on schedule. I departed the Capitol with the impression that the leaders of both parties were taken aback, both by the extent of the Russian operation and by the thoroughness with which we’d documented the facts and evidence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 373). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The matter of the Steele dossier (think “Pee Pee Tape”) was first broached to :the president-elect at a briefing in Trump Tower:

As we closed the briefing, Jim Comey took advantage of a pause in conversation to address the president-elect. We’d agreed that one of the two of us would bring up “one additional matter,” a subject “best discussed on a one-on-one basis” with the president-elect. The additional matter was a dossier—a collection of seventeen “pseudo-intelligence” reports created by a private company—which I first learned about from John Brennan a week or so after we’d been tasked to conduct the IC assessment. I didn’t know until after my tenure as DNI that the dossier had begun as opposition research against Mr. Trump during the Republican primary race and then, sponsored by the Democrats, had continued to expand during the general election campaign. The memos covered a wide range of topics all related to long-standing interactions between Trump, his associates, and the Russians. It further alleged that the Russian government had compromising material on the president-elect and his team, which it had not disclosed during the course of the election or since.

Some details in the report were salacious, but in our professional opinions, the more ominous accounts alleged ties between members of the Trump team and the Russian government. Because we had not corroborated any of the sources used to generate the dossier, we had not included it as part of our IC assessment. We knew that at least two congressional members and some of the media had copies of the dossier, and that it could be published—in whole or in part—at any moment. While we could neither confirm nor refute anything in the document, we felt what I expressed as a “duty to warn” the president-elect that it existed and that it potentially could be made public. I wondered at the time—and have often done so since—what the reaction would have been had we not warned the president-elect about the existence of the dossier, and he later learned we had known about it and chosen not to tell him.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 375-376). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The Steele dossier and the matter of the “Pee Pee Tape” continues to roil the debate and to be a subject of attacks on the intelligence agencies. For me, it’s a never ending source of mirth;

During the course of briefing the incoming administration, Clapper received clear signs there was no plan to follow advice regarding the Russian government operations. He took action to ensure some pertinent facts would get out.

Before we cleared the conference room, the Trump team had already begun drafting their press release about our meeting. I overheard their first point, that the US IC had assessed that the Russian interference did not change the outcome of the election—which was very different from our acknowledgment that we hadn’t, and couldn’t, assess its impact. We had to let it pass. In the hallway I took the opportunity to engage Tom Bossert, who in turn introduced me to the vice president-elect. I spoke with them briefly, suggesting that the new administration consider asking Nick Rasmussen to stay on as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, which it did.

In the car on the way back to Newark Airport, I called Brian Hale (who only requested to be described as “tanned and rested” if we mentioned him in this book) and told him to publish the unclassified IC assessment immediately.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 376). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper emphasized the word immediately.

The facts of the Russian operation continued to be a political football, in play by both parties.

For the next two hours, as the American public, the Russian government, and the rest of the world watched, we answered questions about the Russian cyber and influence operation. The senators, and simultaneously the media, sought to parse our every word, Democrats looking for collusion between Trump’s team and the Russians, Republicans for evidence of a conspiracy that the IC was attempting to undermine the president-elect.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 379). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When I finally had the free time to check on world events, I found that all the contentiousness of the hearings and briefings had been completely overshadowed by other breaking news: BuzzFeed had published the now-infamous dossier on Trump, the one that Jim had warned the president-elect about five days earlier. In a classic case of “shoot the messenger,” Trump publicly blamed us for the publication of the dossier—yet another indication to me that his administration would not appreciate anyone’s speaking truth to power, particularly if the truth was politically inconvenient.

I woke Wednesday to find that Trump had tweeted another early-morning attack on us: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” I was floored by the analogy, and Jewish communities in the United States and abroad called for him to apologize and retract the statement. That afternoon in my office, I watched the president-elect in a televised news conference, doubling down on his Nazi tweet, again alleging that US intelligence agencies had “allowed” the dossier to leak—as though we had any control over a document we’d discovered already “out in the wild.” He continued, “I think it’s a disgrace. And I say that, and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.” Not helping the situation, the New York Times quickly published a story apparently intended to clarify that he meant to refer to US intelligence as the Stasi, not the Gestapo.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 379-380). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Following his retirement, General Clapper watched unfolding events with a combination of humor and horror (my interpretation):

And I watched from the outside as the new administration struggled to govern while contending with the new president’s aversion to inconvenient facts.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Contrary to all the images and data, Sean Spicer berated the media for their coverage, announcing, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Telling them the White House would hold them responsible for misrepresentations, he took no questions.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

An hour and a half later, President Trump was on camera at CIA headquarters. When I’d heard the first place he would visit as president was the CIA, I naïvely wondered if my appeal to his higher instincts had somehow had impact. No. He took to the microphone and began rambling about the “dishonest media,” the size of his inauguration crowd, and his belief that military and law enforcement people had voted for him en masse, lumping the CIA into those categories and saying, “Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did. But I would guarantee a big portion, because we’re all on the same wavelength, folks.” He expressed his support of the IC with “I want to say that there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump. There’s nobody.” He briefly interrupted himself to say, “The wall behind me is very, very special,” and then resumed his self-aggrandizing diatribe. The problem was that the sacred wall he was standing before—with its 125 stars representing fallen CIA officers—is the CIA’s equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, not a place for politics or boasting. I considered putting out a statement, but John Brennan expressed that he was “deeply saddened and angered” and that “Trump should be ashamed of himself,” and I felt that covered it.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Neither the book nor outside information identify James Clapper as a Democrat or a Republican. Throughout he comes across as holding decidedly progressive views, on the promotion of  women and on equal treatment of people of all kinds. He leaves no doubt he considers the current president as both corrupt and an enemy of the truth.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 226 of a series

This one’s old enough to drink. It’s Event Horizon, from 1997. A little explanation.

I took physics in college, and I had to do a number of term papers. One was my explanation of an event horizon. It’s this: if two events occur far enough apart in space-time, then one can have no influence on the other. That almost fits into the theme of this movie, only the title derives from Event Horizon, a space craft. To summarize the plot it’s best to think of Shakespeare’s The Tempest brought forward into the 21st century.

I watched a live staging of the play decades ago, and a very bad production is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. I tried watching it through but dozed off a couple of times. Anyhow, the Shakespeare plot involves a sorcerer who uses his magic to delude his enemies into believing they are stranded on an island. Thus empowered, the sorcerer achieves his ultimate goal. The movie plot has much the same elements.

This is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) is the designer of Event Horizon, He dreams he is aboard a derelict Event Horizon, all aboard are dead, and debris and bodies float about, following random air currents. He wakens, and he is aboard a rescue vessel named Lewis and Clark. He touches photos of his late wife.

Event Horizon was a secret experimental craft designed to achieve superluminal travel. It disappeared years previously on its initial trip to Proxima Centauri, the star nearest the sun. Event Horizon has now reappeared in orbit around Neptune, and the crew of Lewis and Clark is about to go there and figure out what  happened. They enter “grav tanks” to protect themselves during their ship’s violent trip to Neptune.

A less appropriate crew of a critical mission is hard to imagine. They lack the cohesion and stability we have come to expect from modern astronauts, various ones having conflicts that eventually doom their performance on the mission. The remainder of the crew is:

They reach Event Horizon and make entry. The amazing gravity drive is revealed. It accomplishes much the same as the device in Contact, invoking similar concentric rotating rings.

Things begin to go badly. The gravity drive activates, and Justin is partially sucked into the drive portal. He comes free heavily damaged and later attempts suicide by exiting an air lock.

Event Horizon had entered an alien universe and returned a being in its on right. Like the sorcerer of The Tempest, it plays on the minds of the crew with the aim to condemn them to self-destruction. One by one members of the rescue crew encounter apparitions that drive them to their doom. Peters sees a vision of her son, and she follows it through the doomed ship until she falls to her death. So much for the benefits of artificial gravity.

Skipping over the remaining plot details, only three of the rescue party survive. They enter a section of Event Horizon that serves as an escape capsule, and Miller severs it from the remainder of the craft by detonating explosive charges, sacrificing himself in the process. Days later a rescue party arrives to find the three survivors in grav-tanks. Rescuers release Lieutenant Starck and the other two, including Justin, from the grav-tanks.

This could have been a great techno thriller, but I’m guessing the producers had Shakespeare more in mind. Probes into the characters’ psyches introduce distraction from could have been an interesting tale of man-machine conflict.

Neil also appeared in The Hunt for Red October, previously reviewed, and also The Piano and Jurassic Park, both in 1993.

The Awful Truth

Number 4 in a Series

These are troubling times. The truth is becoming an endangered species. The history of threats is long. This is a story about The Washington  Post.

Katharine Graham was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, who purchased The Post at a bankruptcy sale in 1933. Katherine (Kay), went to work for the newspaper in 1933, and in 1938 she married Phillip Graham, then a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. When Eugene Meyer died in 1959 he bequeathed management responsibilities to Phillip instead of to his daughter. Eventually Phillip Graham’s health deteriorated, ,and he ended his own life in 1963. Katherine assumed management of the paper for the following twenty years. She died in 2001. 1971 was a critical time for The Post, it was marginally profitable, if at all. It was at this point the nature of The Post changed forever.

The story is told in the movie The Post, which was released last year and which features Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradlee. An in-law lent me a copy of the DVD, whence these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Who would have thought there could be such drama in a movie where nobody gets killed, there are no sexual encounters, and huge amounts of money are not stolen in armored car heists? This movie packs tension and suspense into a 116-minute run time, and to give it justice I am illustrating with 35 images. There’s going to be more after a short review of the plot.

The opening scene shows young State Department military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), suiting up to head off into combat with U.S. troops in Vietnam. This is in 1966, a time when the heat was building fast. Forget my having promised nobody would die. We see troops being killed in an ambush.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is in-country, and Ellsberg hears the secretary tell others he has great confidence in the way things are going. This is contrary to what McNamara has said in private, and it is contrary to what Ellsberg has put into his reports. Back home and working for the Rand Corporation, Ellsberg observes the government, now under a new administration, continues to propagate the myth. He takes action in the form of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and also the terms of his top secret clearance. In small packets he filches sections of the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, a document that traces “United States Department of Defense history of the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.” He eventually makes copies of the document before returning the originals. He releases the copies to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Katherine Graham is discussing the financial situation of  The Post. The solution is to take the paper public, executing an IPO, selling stock in the company to investors while retaining majority control.

Editor Ben Bradlee and his staff are others concerned about the newspaper. They are located down the street from the most powerful government in the world, yet their competitor, The New York Times, is getting first breaks on important political stories. Bradlee confers with his staff, and they conclude that Times reporter Neil Sheehan has been off the grid for days. What is he working on? Does The Times have a big story in gestation? Bradlee hands an intern $40 and tells him to take a train to New York, head over to The Times on 43rd Street, and find out what Sheehan is up to.

The intern crosses the street to the Times building, and he asks a UPS delivery man what floor the newsroom is on. The man tells him it’s the 6th, and while his back is turned, the intern steals an envelope from the top of the man’s stack and carries it into the building. He has no idea where to find Sheehan, so he gets on the elevator. Others get on. One of them is holding a markup of the next day’s front page. There is a big blank space with the name “Sheehan” written in. The intern hands over his purloined envelope to the man on the elevator and returns to Washington and tells Bradlee what he saw.

Simultaneously, Catherine has had a conversation with McNamara, who happens to be a personal friend of long standing. McNamara tells her there is hot water with The Times. They are about to run a story that is not complimentary to McNamara. Bradlee is desperate to get a lead on that story.

Meanwhile, Catherine negotiates with the bankers on the IPO. They want to  purchase stock at $24 and some change a share. That will mean The Post will lose the financial  wherewithal for 25 reporters.

The Times hits the street with the Pentagon Papers story, and is promptly enjoined by the government from publishing additional information. Bradlee is desperate to get ahead of the curve on this story, but his chances are grim.

Then, a bomb shell. A young woman steps out of a crowd on the street and enters the Post newsroom with a package. She places it on top of the typewriter of the first mature reporter she comes to, and then she leaves without saying anything more. When the reporter opens the package he discovers excerpts from the Pentagon Papers.

Bradlee has his entry into the story. But the most that can be determined is the source of the leak is possibly Ellsberg. Post reporters try to track him down. There is no Google, so they use the telephone. “May I speak to Daniel Ellsberg?” “Who?” Another call, “Daniel Ellsberg, please.” “He’s not in.” Bingo! Since there were no cell phones for the NSA to track in those days, they employed the time-tested use of random pay phones on the street. Assistant Editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) makes the critical connection.

It’s a crucial time for The Post. The paper goes public on AMEX at the moment its value may drop close to zero.

But the pay phone operation yields gold. In a motel room Bagdikian meets with Ellsberg and receives a boatload of paper.

He carries it back to Washington, purchasing a first class ticket for it. At Bradlee’s house he gets help unloading his cargo from the taxi. Bradlee’s daughter is out front selling  lemonade.

Inside, the living room is turned into a sorting center. The papers are in no special order, and the editors need to make a story out of the mess.

Katherine Graham reaches a crisis as McNamara drops by for some serious talk.

McNamara protests that he had to make difficult decisions, and the reputation of the country is at stake. Katherine reminds him of the men who went to Vietnam under false pretenses, some of them friends and relatives. Also, there are those who died.

The Post has the story. To publish or not to publish? There is grave legal danger. Company lawyers urge holding off. Editors argue otherwise. If the government can deny publican in advance, then free press in the United States will be gone forever. Katherine says, “Do it.”

The story is proofed and sent down to the composing room by pneumatic tube. There the mechanical process of putting together news pages is put on  display. It is awsome to watch.

For the past many years newspaper composition has been done by computer. Something like Microsoft Word is used to create the page, and most likely something like laser printers are used to generate what is called “cold type.” The cold type is an aluminum foil with ink-philic areas forming the print, text and half-tone images. Then the foil is wrapped on a printing drum, and rolled against an inking drum. Ink transfers to the foil, which then rolls over a rubber “mattress,” which picks up the ink image. The rubber mattress drum then rolls over the paper, printing the image on the paper. It’s called “offset printing.”

In the old days they used “hot type.” The composing machine had a keyboard that selected molds for the characters. Molten metal (mostly lead) poured into the molds, making hard-face type. Pages of these metal typefaces were then mounted on drums which rotated, picking up ink and transferring ink to paper. These were huge machines.

The page is composed and then assembled into the presses. The printing deadline is nigh. It’s time to shit or get off the pot. Katherine receives stern advice not to publish. Bradlee is there. She tells him to roll it. He picks up the phone, rings the press floor and says, “Go.” The operator presses the critical button, setting in motion a train of events that cannot be reversed. It starts with a loud alarm bell. The presses are about to  turn, so people better get out of the way.

And the die is cast. Miles of newsprint run through the presses.

Workers scoop up bundles and bind them for distribution.

Workers at the dock load the bundles onto trucks.

Trucks roll out of the plant. There is no turning back now.

A staffer signals Bradlee that Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel William Rehnquist is on the line. Rehnquist advises Bradlee that publication of the story will be a violation of the Espionage Act. Bradlee thanks him for wasting his time (my words).

The story is already on the street. Literally. Bundles of papers are dropped off the backs of trucks for pick up by distributors, including a drop-off point in front of the White House.

Katherine wanders the newsroom, fretting over the consequences.

The Times reports the status. It has been enjoined from publishing, temporarily, while The Post escaped the ban.

There is no ambivalence elsewhere. Newspapers almost without exception join The Post, republishing the story. It is obvious to all that freedom of the press is at stake. Also significant, The Post has come up from  being a hometown newspaper. Any concerns on the part of the bankers can now be dispelled. The newspaper’s value has escalated.

The Supreme Court takes the case immediately.

Katherine Graham, waiting in line to attend the hearing, is approached by a government worker, a young woman carrying a box of documents into the chamber. She escorts Katherine into the chamber and reminds Katherine that she agrees with what The Post is doing. In the hearing a judge asks whether The Post would have published plans for the D-Day Invasion. The Post lawyer responds that a survey of past situational assessments hardly compares to a military operation. As Katherine exits the building, women along her path look on in admiration. Women are coming to power at this time, and she is clearly an exemplar.

The phone rings in the newsroom. The Court has reached a decision. It’s 6-3 in favor of The Times. Siding with the majority, Justice Black wrote, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” In particular, the First Amendment has the intent of protecting the press and not the government.

Katherine continues to get the feel of her newspaper, visiting the composing room.

Strolling with Bradlee through the press room by the trucking dock.

Not all are pleased. A closing shot shows the outline of Richard Nixon months later, viewed through a White House window. The voice is likely ripped directly from the Oval Office tapes that would later haul him down. He says, “no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House.”

One year later a security guard checks a door in the Watergate office complex that has had its lock taped over, and a resident at the adjacent Watergate Hotel phones police to report people using flashlights in the office complex. Two years after that, Nixon was forced to resign.

Ellsberg was subsequently prosecuted for his actions, but government misconduct in obtaining evidence against him resulted in the case being thrown out with prejudice. The Watergate break-in was associated with attempts to discern any connection between Ellsberg and the Democratic National Committee.

In more recent cases, people with access to classified data have leaked the contents, perhaps with Ellsberg in mind. To be sure, Ellsberg was guilty of a crime, and it was proper to prosecute him. What is not proper is to claim to be a martyr for a cause and not to suffer consequences. My thinking is that being a martyr means you are dead. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, public good was done.

I have held a government security clearance in the past, and I always took the papers I signed seriously. I was promised jail time and even execution if I divulged classified information. Beyond that, I find humor in government attempts to stifle dissemination of information once it is leaked. What happens when classified information is compromised is that it immediately becomes available to our country’s enemies, and the only result of restricting additional dissemination is to  keep the secret from the American people. Which is often the purpose. There are things that would be damaging if our enemies has access, and that would be even more damaging if the voters have access. Yeah, it goes that way.

I have previous critiqued the case of Edward Snowden, and I have low regard for his actions. He revealed our government was doing some unsavory things (spying on friendly governments), but these were not illegal actions. Furthermore, divulging this information was damaging to our intelligence operations, unlike releasing the Pentagon Papers. Snowden wants to come home as a hero, forgetting that one must first die to become a martyr. He chose to seek refuge with one of this country’s most worrisome enemies, and it is my hope he will remain there to enjoy the fruits of his folly.

The fate of The Washington Post is a primary theme of the movie, and it’s a problem that has been amplified by emerging technologies. The list is long. The advent of cold type (offset printing) eliminated the jobs of multitudes of typesetters. Word processors and laser printers eliminated the work of many cold type composers. Word processing software has streamlined the story creation and editing process, definitely reducing the number of openings for spell checkers. The advent of Web publishing is threatening to eliminate all print journalism. Now anybody with a cheap computer and an Internet connection can be a publisher—that you are reading this now demonstrates the point.

A thing that cannot be eliminated easily is the work of source reporters, people who do the leg work, go to the sites, interview the people, record what they observe, and make it all into a coherent story that somebody will pay to read. Others attempt to take the place of these journalists, and the result has been a dilution of truth in the news. The ability to publish with minimal cost and with zero accountability is working adversely to mold public opinion. Concerned readers can work to counter this by underwriting mainstream journalism. If you are like me, you are no longer settled to the point you can receive a daily newspaper, 1/4 of which you might read, at your door every day.

The recourse, a path I have taken, is to subscribe to mainstream news on-line. We have a president who seeks with determination, to undermine mainstream news, casting outlets, such as The New York Times,  as “fake news.” He also echoes, “Failing NYT.” And the NYT is down on subscriptions and  revenue since decades past. In response to the president’s attacks I have counterattacked by obtaining an on-line subscription to The Times. My few dollars a month subscription gets me the news I am looking for in a form I can use in my work. Quotes, even from decades past, can be tracked down and copied for quotation in my postings.

Readers concerned about the survival of truth in news are encouraged to subscribe on-line. Nearly all publications include  this option. Consider subscribing to one or more of the following:

  • New York Times
  • Washington Post
  • Los Angeles Times
  • Dallas Morning News
  • Houston Chronicle
  • Boston Globe
  • Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Kansas City Star
  • Detroit Free Press

There are many more. An on-line subscription means the-ink to-paper intermediary is being  eliminated, writers are getting paid for their efforts, and healthy sources of information are being preserved. Act for your own best interests.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 225 of a series

People who follow this series possibly will not believe it, but I never heard of it before. Here it is. In Great Britain there was a drama series based on the character of Paul Temple, a crime fiction writer who lends a hand solving actual crimes. Starting in 1938 a series based on the character ran on British radio, and ultimately there were four movie adaptations. This was the first, Calling Paul Temple, with John Bentley in the title role. This came out in 1948, 70 years ago, and it is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from  Wikipedia.

The movie runs for 90 minutes, and I watched it through once. That said, I found the plot intertwined enough to fuzz my diminishing wit, so I will fall back to sketching the plot and explaining what I was able to discern.

The opening scene you can tell is on a train, because everything is shaking  and swaying back and forth, and there is train noise. It’s the night express from London to Canterbury, and the conductor is going around punching tickets. When he gets to one compartment the occupant a comely and apparently well heeled blonde woman is dead. Further examination reveals she has been knifed. When the shade to the compartment is pulled down, the word “REX” is revealed written on the inside. This is the third of the Rex murders, and police are baffled.

There is more to come. We can tell this production spares no expense by the lavish set that opens scene two. It’s a swank night club, and patrons are sitting around at tables enjoying sumptuous meals while the floor show features a smashing blond chanteuse, Norma Rice (Celia Lipton) with a lovely voice delivering forth an absolutely vacuous number that goes on and on, chewing up celluloid by the yard.

Much as she is wonderful to look at, we are glad when the song is over, and she retires to prepare for her next number. At a table we see Paul Temple and his gorgeous wife (Dinah Sheridan) named, incongruously, “Steve.” They are joined by Sir Graham Forbes (Jack Raine), apparently with Scotland Yard. He wants to discuss the Rex murders.

He could not have come to a more auspicious place for the discussion, because immediately after her opening number, Norma goes to her dressing room to change. While there she pens a note to Sir Graham, asking him to come to see after her second number. She says she may be able to help him with the Rex murders.

Her dresser takes the message and heads for the club floor, and in the corridor she encounters a woman dressed in a gray suit going  the other way. The woman enters Norma’s dressing room.

Shortly, Norma makes an entrance and sings another number, accompanied by a bevy of charming womanhood. At one point in her song she is near the top of those stairs, seen in the shot above, when she collapses and falls down the stairs. Of course she dies. Of course she has been poisoned.

Paul and Steve accompany Sir Graham go up to Norma’s room to look for clues. The dresser tells about the woman in gray but can give no additional details. Steve strikes something with the toe of her shoe, and it’s a unique lipstick. Not thinking it might be a clue, she filches it for herself, and it is never revealed again in the movie, although there are subsequent references to this particular cosmetic brand from Egypt.

And now I’m going to cut out a lot of stuff. Paul scans the news, which is about the murders and the “girl in grey.” Also, on a road trip to Canterbury, Paul and Steve get ambushed by a man who is waiting alongside the road in a classic touring car and gets off four shots at them, sending their roadster into the bushes. They catch a lorry back to London.

The touring car traces back to one Dr. Kohima (Abraham Sofaer). It was his car alongside the lonely English road, but he was not driving, and neither was his chauffeur, who was on vacation in  Ireland. Somebody “borrowed” the car and then returned it. The mystery deepens.

Paul decoys Dr. Kohima out of the room on the premise of phoning about his car while Paul rifles the doctor’s files. He discovers the names of murdered women among the doctor’s patients. This is suspicious. Also, Dr. Kohima is Egyptian.

It deepens further when Dr. Kohima’s assistant, Mrs. Trevellyan (Margaretta Scott), pulls Paul aside and confides. She cannot talk at the office. She must meet him at her place after work. She gives Paul the address and the time to meet, 6:30.

Well Paul and Steve show up at the appointed time, only to find the door ajar and Mrs. Trevellyan gone. The clock on the mantle displays 6:15, and they shortly discover it is not running. They find a scrap of paper with four names produced by a typewriter in all caps: Mary Anderson, Lady Hackwill, Agatha Ladycross, and May Haddington. In script at the bottom is “Sent. B.T.” Steve holds up a desk pad to a mirror to read another cryptic message. Then they discover the ticking sound they hear is not the clock, but it is a time bomb. Steve rips the explosive charge loose and tosses it out the window, whereupon it goes off with a deafening roar. The timing mechanism is left intact for future examination.

It later turns out, as Mrs. Trevellyan explains, that she was lured out of her flat by a hoax phone call.

Skipping over some more detail, the woman in gray comes to  Paul’s flat while he and Steve are at lunch, and she sends the houseboy (Shaym Bahadur as Rikki) to  fetch Paul. After Rikki leaves, the woman starts to  pen a note to Paul. The note reads:

Mr. Temple,

In case anything should happen to prevent me seeing you, this is to tell you that REX is

She never gets to finish the note. The doorbell rings about that time, and she goes to the door.

Whoever was at the door shoots and kills the woman in gray, who then falls dead on the floor inside.

Skipping over more detail.

The whole deal is a blackmail plot. Somebody has snooped on Dr. Koshima’s files and is using information on patients to extort money. One guess is that some victims are being murdered to put the scare into the others. Then Paul’s friend Edward Lathom (Alan Wheatley) tells Paul that he is being blackmailed, as well. He cannot reveal his guilty secret, and he intends to pay off. He has been  instructed to leave the money in the Old Friar’s Monastery in Canterbury.

Paul and Steve arrange to be there when the blackmailer comes to collect. The collection agent turns out to be Mrs. Trevellyan.

Winding this down, Paul and Steve get lured back to the monastery, and are captured by a villain I was unable to identify but who binds them to a pillar and opens a sluice from the river to flood the chamber, sentencing them to a slow death. Along come reinforcements, and they are rescued.

Which brings it all to a head. The usual suspects gather in Dr. Kohima’s office to settle matters. Mrs. Trevellyan, who has been in a hypnotic trance induced by the doctor is now brought around. She had been blackmailed into divulging Kohima’s files. She is ready to reveal the name of the blackmailer. In the darkened room a shot rings out. She is wounded, and the perpetrator makes his escape.

It’s Edward Lathom. But the outer door is locked, and he can’t get out.

Neither can the others escape the inner office, for that door locked automatically, as well. Paul scales a drain pipe and corners Lathom in an upper floor. They struggle over the gun. A shot rings out. Lathom appears at the top of the stairs with the gun. Paul jumps him from behind and subdues him on the stairs. The murder mystery is resolved.

It’s a convoluted plot, and I left a lot out. A bunch of it is contrived. In multiple instances (3) we have victims about to reveal what they know, only to be cut short at the last moment. Mrs. Trevellyan survives. The woman in gray is murdered in Paul’s apartment and the next scene shows the crime mess all cleaned up and no sign of police snooping about looking for clues. Somebody ambushes Paul and Steve on the road to Canterbury, using Dr. Kohima’s car, which leads Paul and the police back to Kohima and the undoing  of the blackmailer.

Production quality is at or above par for the period, vis the elaborate nightclub set swarming with extras. Acting is dead on, and director Maclean Rogers keeps the action and the scenes visual and dynamic. I imagine Francis Durbridge‘s original plot exhibited more relevance, which was then subverted for the exigencies of making the movie.

Son of Snake Oil

I may need to  start a new series

First some history. I have a gym membership, and I spend some time on the treadmill. The treadmills come equipped with cable TV, and you can punch in the channel you want. I was strolling and scanning CNN when they went to a commercial break. The first thing that caught my attention was this.

Some call me skeptical, and some call me cynical, but I’m cool with that. No surprise ,the first thing that popped into my mind was the F-word. No, it’s not the word you’re thinking of, but it’s a word you do not use when describing somebody’s business if you don’t want to get sued.

So I watched the ad, and I figured it would show up on YouTube back home, and here it is. Follow the link to watch.

Listening, I caught the correct pronunciation, and it’s re-VI-tive. You purchase one of these things—easy payment terms are offered—and you crank it up and put your feet on it—don’t know if you’re supposed to stand on it—and it sends electrical impulses into your legs, causing your muscles to contract and not, and the result is supposed to be less pain. Assuming you had pain to begin with.

Here’s a guy using it sitting down. The claim is you only need one session a day.

See the image at the top. This is “clinically proven.” Do we know what that means? They don’t elaborate. They do mention—see image number 2 above—the device is “FDA Cleared.” I wondered about that. They have an ad site on the Web, and there is additional language:

FDA Cleared: Giving you peace of mind

OK, not much. Another site was more informative:

What Does “FDA Cleared” Mean?

According to the organization, FDA cleared means that a device has been submitted to the FDA along with a 510(k) premarket notification, showing that it is “substantially equivalent to a device that is already legally marketed for the same use.”

In other words, “FDA cleared” does not mean that the FDA has approved the device, that they’ve confirmed it works as advertised, or that they’ve even tried it in the first place.

The Food and Drug Administration explains more on their site: From there I snooped further and pulled up this document. I have a copy in case this link ever goes stale, and the critical wording is this:

Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Document Control Center – WO66-G609
Silver Spring, MD 20993-0002

􀆏 John J. Smith, MD, JD
Regulatory Counsel
Hogan Lovells US LLP
Columbia Square 555 13th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Re: K143207
Trade/Device Name: Revitive IX (OTC)
Regulation Number: 21 CFR 890.5850
Regulation Name: Powered Muscle Stimulator
Regulatory Class: Class II
Product Code: NGX, NUH
Dated: November 7, 2014
Received: November 7, 2014

Dear Dr. Smith,
We have reviewed your Section 510(k) premarket notification of intent to market the device referenced above and have determined the device is substantially equivalent (for the indications for use stated in the enclosure) to legally marketed predicate devices marketed in interstate commerce prior to May 28, 1976, the enactment date of the Medical Device Amendments, or to devices that have been reclassified in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (Act) that do not require approval of a premarket approval application (PMA). You may, therefore, market the device, subject to the general controls provisions of the Act. The general controls provisions of the Act include requirements for annual registration, listing of devices, good manufacturing practice, labeling, and prohibitions against misbranding and adulteration. Please note: CDRH does not evaluate information related to contract liability warranties. We remind you, however, that device labeling must be truthful and not misleading.
If your device is classified (see above) into either class II (Special Controls) or class III (PMA), it may be subject to additional controls. Existing major regulations affecting your device can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Parts 800 to 898. In addition, FDA may publish further announcements concerning your device in the Federal Register.
Please be advised that FDA’s issuance of a substantial equivalence determination does not mean that FDA has made a determination that your device complies with other requirements of the Act or any Federal statutes and regulations administered by other Federal agencies. You must comply with all the Act’s requirements, including, but not limited to: registration and listing (21 CFR Part 807); labeling (21 CFR Part 801); medical device reporting (reporting of medical device-related adverse events) (21 CFR 803); good manufacturing practice requirements as set forth in the quality systems (QS) regulation (21 CFR Part 820); and if applicable, the electronic product radiation control provisions (Sections 531-542 of the Act); 21 CFR 1000-1050.
If you desire specific advice for your device on our labeling regulation (21 CFR Part 801), please contact the Division of Industry and Consumer Education at its toll-free number (800) 638-2041 or (301) 796-7100 or at its Internet address Also, please note the regulation entitled, “Misbranding by reference to premarket notification” (21 CFR Part 807.97). For questions regarding the reporting of adverse events under the MDR regulation (21 CFR Part 803), please go to

for the CDRH’s Office of Surveillance and Biometrics/Division of Postmarket Surveillance.
You may obtain other general information on your responsibilities under the Act from the Division of Industry and Consumer Education at its toll-free number (800) 638-2041 or (301) 796-7100 or at its Internet address

Sincerely yours,

Felipe Aguel -S for
Carlos L. Peña, PhD, MS
Division of Neurological
and Physical Medicine Devices
Office of Device Evaluation
Center for Devices and Radiological Health

I have omitted some uninteresting stuff to leave room for the uninteresting stuff I did not omit. I am sure you are as impressed at the thoroughness of our government agencies as I was upon going through this very professionally-prepared document.

Final analysis: the FDA has not tested this device, and it goes without saying they are not vouching for its effectiveness. Buy it if you wish. Use it if you wish. Complain or don’t complain. Some have (excerpts):

15 Consumer Reviews for Revitive (2.7 on a scale of 1 to 5)

Got scammed by these guys

I tried to place an order yesterday, May 16th, at 3:49 AM and their associate said my order did not go through. I told her to hold while I call Discover and she agreed. I get through to Discover and they said she put two charges on my card for $394. She did not hold one minute to hear this. I called back several times to speak to supervisors and other associates on phone, and now they give me the run around that they do not see my name in their system nor phone number. Two charges pending on my credit card are sure showing up for $394. I have contacted to inform them of their scamming associates. Never will I attempt to do business with this company!

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

Swollen leg and ankle.

  • By David Wardley,
  • Auckland, New Zealand,
  • May 12, 2018
  • Verified Reviewer

Swollen right leg and ankle for nearly three years and getting worse. Arthritic right foot too. Leg scan last week showed no clots. Compression socks helped a but slow progress. After only three days of Revitive use while watching the 6 o’clock news, leg calf and ankle is back to normal size, foot is much better too, and pain is gone. Believe it!

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend [gave it 5 stars]


I don’t know if you can say it’s a fake or scam, but it’s not any good if you have much pain. It may help tired feet and legs, but it’s worthless when it comes to diabetic pain. I think it’s way overpriced, and I’d never buy one thinking it was going to help, believe me, I have one built in. I know they will never print this because they know it’s the truth, I’ve been typing this just for fun I guess, but I tried. Good luck, I hope it helps you more than it did me.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend [gave it 1 star]

It may not be the snake oil of legend, but it could pass for the son of snake oil.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This seems to be the penultimate of The Falcon franchise, from 1948. About time. It’s Appointment With Murder, featuring John Calvert as Michael Waring, The Falcon. This time the notorious adventurer is working for an insurance company interested in recovering from an $80,000 loss. It runs for 66 minutes, but the plot is unnecessarily intertwined.

The opening shot shows two pairs of shoes, one pair of which is worth noting. I never figured out why women wear these things.

Anyhow, the one in the steeple-jack heels is Lorraine W. Brinckley (Catherine Craig), and she is finishing her walk with shady art dealer Norton Benedict, played by Jack Reitzen. Lorraine is proprietor of Brinckley Art Gallery, and the two examine a valuable painting by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna. Benedict has sold it to Lorraine, and she hands him an envelop with cash. They examine the painting, which appears to be uncatalogued and also wanting a mate, which object is next on  her list to acquire.

Switch to Milan, where The Falcon is also after the Mantegna. He deals with painter and art forger Giuseppe Donatti (Peter Brocco), who claims to  have painted the reproduction he is trying to sell. Donatti’s shady partner, Martin Minecci (Ben Welden), looks on.

Only, Minecci turns up murdered, and The Falcon returns to America with the painting. After an adventure at customs in New York, he journeys on to Los Angeles, where he barges in on Lorraine, seeking to get the two Mantegna’s together for the insurance company.

The plot becomes too involved. The Falcon takes his painting along with Lorraine’s, and he deposits the pair at a baggage check in the train station. He tears the claim tickets in half, and hands Lorraine half the pair. That way the two of them will need to stick together as they seek to find a buyer for the two Mantegnas. The reason for this is not clear. But Lorraine conspires with Benedict to obtain both paintings.

Somebody, apparently Benedict, sends two thugs to abduct The Falcon, and they take him to a warehouse space and proceed to slap him around in an effort to obtain his half of the claim tickets. The Falcon turns the tables on the thugs and escapes in a blazing gunfight.

Benedict and Lorraine go back to the claim check and convince the clerk to hand over the checked items when shown only the torn halves. But The Falcon has been a step ahead. He has checked a bird cage and a bird and has swapped out half of the new claim tickets for those he purloined from Lorraine.

Now Benedict shows his true self, and he resorts to his trusty pistol, which weapon he apparently used on the unfortunate Sr. Donatti. They go back to The Falcon’s hotel to collect the two paintings, The Falcon alerts the police. The desk clerk gets involved and is killed in an exchange of gunfire. The police arrive and subdue Benedict as he attempts to make an escape with The Falcon as a hostage.

The Falcon returns the two paintings to the insurance company, and he hands a wire recording he has made that will show Benedict’s culpability and also will exonerate Lorraine. And that is very much the plot, though I left out a few details.

What’s wrong with the movie is the whole lot of foolishness put forth as a plot. Here it is.

An Italian count had the two paintings. He claims they were lost in the war (Italy lost). The insurance company paid off on the claim. Now the company wants its money back, because the paintings are being returned to the count. That’s not the way it works. First, this is a war casualty, which claims are typically not covered by insurance policies. Second, The insurance company has the paintings, and they want the count to return the money he was paid. But that’s not the way it works. When an insurer covers a loss, the client gets to keep the money. If the company can recover the loss, then they own the recovered item. It’s up to the insurance company to recover their loss by disposing of the recovered item.

The Falcon is working for the insurance company. Early in the movie he and Lorraine have both paintings. That should have been the end of the movie. Aha! The paintings were stolen. We have them. Call the police. Seize the paintings. Hand them over to the insurance company. The movie is over. For reasons not made clear The Falcon wants to enter into a scheme with Lorraine to pair the two paintings and sell them for more than $80,000. That’s crazy.

The Falcon goes to Milan to meet up with Donatti. He has the other Mantegna, which he claims to have painted himself. How does  this painting later turn out to be a real Mantegna?

When The Falcon arrives at Donatti’s studio, there is a gorgeous American model posing. The Falcon makes a dinner date with here. We later see he never keeps the date.

When The Falcon is in Donatti’s studio, Donatti and Minecci endeavor to speak English. They continue to speak English when they are alone without The Falcon.

During the flight back to America, another passenger contrives to slip contraband into The Falcon’s valise. But The Falcon gets wise and turns the smuggler in to the customs agents. This is a pointless side bar to the plot, having nothing to do with the story.

The Falcon slips the hotel clerk a note telling him to alert the police. The clerk phones the police from the back room and then engages Benedict in a gun fight and is killed. Nothing more is said about the poor clerk, whose body lies ever more stiff on the floor while the movie continues toward an end.

It is obvious Lorraine has conspired with the murderous Benedict to double-cross The Falcon, but in the end he absolves her of any complicity, and the two go off together for a night on the town. Yeah, let’s hope he never turns his back on her in the future.

Like I said, the plot is just crazy.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is one I missed when it came out. It’s Sleepers from 1996, featuring such notables as Kevin BaconRobert De NiroDustin Hoffman., and Brad Pitt. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, allowing me to get these screen shots. Details are from  Wikipedia. This is a crime, social justice, courtroom drama, with a story going back to 1966. It takes two and a half hours to run, so I had to wait for some serious slack time to watch it.

Four kids grow up in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, which I will explain later. Suffice it to say, in those days this was not the toniest place in town. It’s also the setting for West Side Story.

Anyhow, the place is the definition of multi-ethnicity, with scads of Italians, Hispanics, Jews, maybe some Irish, but I couldn’t tell. The four pals live in the streets, and about the time their hormones are beginning to kick in their lives go to shit in single day. They hit upon the grand idea of ripping off a hot-dog vendor, and they end up making off with his cart. When the cart goes down the steps to the subway and puts a man in the hospital the law cracks down on them with a vengeance.

They are sent to Wilkinson Home for Boys, a place in upstate New York that is dressed out as a prep school but is in in actuality Attica writ small. The guards brutalize the boys, employing beatings and sodomy. One boy who helps in a scheme to humiliate the guards in a touch football match is beaten to death. The boys remain quiet, under threat of retaliation, and they vow to carry their debasement to their deaths.

But one, Michael, has taken an interest in The Count of Monte Cristo, the story a man, falsely imprisoned, who escapes and plots vengeance.

Thirteen years after they get out it’s 1981, and two of the boys are hardened criminals, one with a record of multiple murders. The two are in a pub one evening when they spy the key guard, Sean Nokes (Bacon). They sit themselves across the table from him, introduce themselves, and shoot him multiple times.

Unfortunately,  there are multiple witnesses, and the men are put on trial for second degree murder. One of the kids, Shakes (Jason Patric), has grown up to become a newspaper reporter. Another, Michael (Brad Pitt), is now a prosecuting attorney, and he wrangles the job of prosecuting his two pals. The back history of the four is secret due to their age at the time of their crime, so Shakes’ scheme is to get the two killers off and also to work justice on the Wilkinson Home and its guards. He arranges for washed-up lawyer Danny Snyder (Hoffman) to defend the killers. His scheme is to throw the case.

A part of the scheme is to bring back one of the guards, a friend of Nokes, to testify as a character witness for the victim. Snyder has all the dope on the Wilkinson guards, and his cross-examination eviscerates the corrupt Wilkinson culture.

Additionally, a friendly priest (De Niro) testifies he was attending a Nicks game with the two killers at the time of the crime. The killers are not convicted, and after the trial they meet for the final time in their lives. Within a few years both the killers are dead from their life styles.

It’s an interesting story and one that could have been told in less than two hours, but I had the time. As a historical  note it’s the tale of a place whose time has passed. Hell’s Kitchen came to my attention while I was still in high school and before West Side Story. Out of high school and in the Navy, I got a glimpse of Hell’s Kitchen when my ship docked on the Hudson shore. One of the guys in my division was from the neighborhood, and he went by for a visit and got knifed.

A few years later I was back, doing some work at the Post Office building nearby, and we would sometimes wonder over to Manganaro’s for lunch. This was in the early 1970s, and at the time it was not a place you wanted to be alone or after dark.

Times have changed:

Since the early 1990s, the area has been gentrifying, and rents have risen rapidly. Located close to both Broadway theaters and the Actors Studio training school, Hell’s Kitchen has long been a home to learning and practicing actors, and, in recent years, to young Wall Street financiers.

It does take some of the spice out of the story.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Back to Amazon Prime Video (these screen shots) for another bad movie, and this is not really old old one. It’s The Sand from 2015, and you know it’s going to be a teenage slasher movie from the opening scenes. Details are from Wikipedia.

Yes, we see a wild spring break party on a beach at night, and all stops are out. There is massive drinking, hijinks, and screwing of another girl’s boyfriend. We’ve all been there. You have? What’s it like?

A huge egg-like object casts up on the beach, arousing some curiosity and thereafter ignored.

Until the morning. Kaylee (Brooke Butler) is the first to come around, and the sun is already up. She’s finished the night in the lifeguard shack with Mitch (Mitchel Musso). When she looks around everybody else is gone except for her boyfriend Jonah (Dean Geyer), who is ensconced in the front seat of a convertible with another girl, Chandra (Meagan Holder). Another couple are in the back seat.

Marsha (Nikki Leigh) has spent the night close to nature on top of a picnic table. She is the first to die, except for those already missing. Kaylee is the one with the brains, and she spots the problem when the sand devours a bird. She suspects there’s something wrong with the sand, and she shouts warnings. Marsha ignores this good advice and steps onto  the sand, only to have her body dissolved into the sand.

During the night Gilbert (Cleo Berry) got really drunk, and they painted a dick on his face and stuffed him in a trash barrel, where his massive hulk has become stuck.

The boy in the back seat of the car gets out and is devoured. Jonah figures he has found a way to get across the sand and to freedom by placing two surfboards, one after the other, on the sand. But in his last stretch to reach the table the sand shifts the board he is standing on, and tendrils reach up from the sand and infest his abdomen. He does not die, but he reaches the top of the table with horrendous injuries.

Since the partiers had the foresight to lock their cell phones in the car trunk (to prevent the evening’s festivities appearing on YouTube), they cannot phone for help. Fortunately Rex (Jamie Kennedy), the beach patrol commander, arrives in his patrol car, but he is a total shit head, and the kids tell him so. He does not believe their story about the sand until it devours him alive.

Eventually the sand gets everybody else except Kaylee and Chandra, and they make it to the patrol car, taking Jonah with them. At night the creature in the sand attacks again, this time with enormous octopus tentacles. Kaylee defeats the sand thing by pouring gasoline on it and  throwing in a book of lighted matches.

Come daylight another person drops by and raps on the window. Jonah is dead, and the sand is free of the menace. Another closing shot appears to be an aerial view of Santa Monica Pier. Wikipedia tells me the creature is revealed as a giant jellyfish, retreating back  to the ocean and in search of another beach full of people.

And that’s the plot. If the writers had wanted to stretch it they could have gotten into how the survivors explain what happened to all the others, but that would not have been much excitement. Wikipedia further calls attention to “Blood Beach – a 1981 film with a similar premise.” What we have is a great opportunity to ogle college girls in skimpy outfits and even some bare tits. That aside, the production could have done with better F/X. Depictions of people being consumed by the sand often employ some local image blurring, which we are supposed to assume is what it looks like when a human body dissolves. Sub par for a 21st century production. This was distributed by Taylor and Dodge.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It’s sometimes nice watching a movie you’ve seen before. This is Rear Window, but it’s from 1998 instead of Rear Window from 1954. Sixty-four years ago Alfred Hitchcock hatched his plot with James Stewart as the action photographer laid up with a broken leg, whiling away his days watching his neighbors out the rear window of his Greenwich Village apartment. Now it’s Christopher Reeve as a quadriplegic architect in much the same situation. This is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

We see the opening scene, and we know exactly what is going to happen. A car is speeding down a dark and winding road. Oh, Jesus. Somebody stop this. But the plot cannot be rewritten, and the woman fumbles with her cell phone as her car drifts across the double yellow line.

Eventually that gets around to Jason Kemp (Reeve), a prisoner of his wheelchair while he is comforted by his ex-wife, worried about her alimony.

But Jason gains enough mobility to  resume work for his architectural firm, which work he accomplishes from  his apartment. He whiles away his down time watching his neighbors out his rear window.

His firm has hired a new partner to work with him to complete the project he had been working. She’s Claudia Henderson (Daryl Hannah), and she’s almost as sexy as Grace Kelly.

Just as 64 years ago, there is a married couple living across the air shaft, and they are continually fighting. He’s a sculptor, producing massive steel works in his adjacent studio. She’s a blond bombshell alcoholic. When he begins to knock her around, Jason phones 911. The police come and arrest the sculptor, but he bails out and returns to the apartment.

There is a dark and lonely night, and Jason, unable to sleep, hears screams and sees the flashes of light as lots of welding goes on across the way. The next morning the wife is gone. Yeah, you’ve seen this movie before. A portage company comes and hauls off a large steel sculptor.

Jason phones his policeman friend, the one who worked the case of his fatal collision. He is Detective Charlie Moore (Robert Forster), and he is skeptical of Jason’s suspicions. As 64 years before, he checks out the disappearance of the wife and reports back that she went off to Rhode Island for a few days. He phoned there and talked to her. Then she returns to the apartment, but much changed.

It’s not the same woman. Claudia is sure of it. When she left she did not take her jewelry and her perfume. What woman doesn’t do that? Almost word for word from Grace Kelly. So Jason stirs the pot, sending anonymous emails to the sculptor (Ritchie Coster). That gets things going, and in the absence of Raymond Burr, the sculptor pays Jason a visit in the middle of the night. He has in mind eliminating Jason as a witness.

But help arrives in the form of Jason’s caretaker Antonio Fredericks (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and finally Detective Moore.

The sculptor goes to trial, but they have not been able to find the body, because they have not been able to find the sculpture. Then Jason’s building project is completed, and Claudia cuts the ribbon. The coverings fall back revealing, the sculpture.

Not so fast. They still do not find the body, and the case against the sculptor goes on without a corpus delicti. Meanwhile, Claudia has acquired an affinity for Jason, and they two get romantic, with the expectation that in the future modern medical science will enable their relationship to become physical.

The movie ends with the camera zooming in on what appears to be the sculpture of interest. The director wants to leave the mystery hanging.

This was Reeve’s first film after his 1995 crippling accident. He ultimately died from his injuries in 2004. Wendell Corey played the cop in Hitchcock’s film, and Thelma Ritter was dynamite as his caretaker.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

You knew it was coming sooner or later, and here it is: Escape From New York, the poster child for bad movies and now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s by science fiction writer John Carpenter, and  it stars Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a hard-boiled former special forces guy turned bad and now headed for the slam. This came out in 1981 through AVCO Embassy Pictures. I will give just a few highlights.

It’s the bad new days, and America’s crime rate has soared 400%. The government response is naturally to construct a bigger stalag to hold them. They have chosen Manhattan Island, making viewers wonder why the idea took this long. The rule is, you go in, you never come out. The opposite shorelines are walled off and manned with guards carrying furious firepower. We see an escape attempt by boat thwarted through the use of air-to-ground missiles.

Snake is being prepped to enter the land of lost and forgotten men (and women).

But wait! Drama develops. The President’s plane is hijacked and flown into a Manhattan skyscraper. Remember,  you saw this plot device first here. Before impact the president, with a mysterious valise chained to his wrist, is ejected inside an escape pod, and the prisoners capture him alive.

Well, the government has to get him back, because in 24 hours he will participate in a conference that will save the world from nuclear annihilation, and the critical item is an audio tape the President carries inside the valise.

Snake lands a glider atop on of the World Trade Center towers and makes his way to the street below, where it’s Mad Max on steroids, which answers the question of whether this scene was stolen from Mel Gibson, or was it the other way around. It turns out that Gibson’s dystopic setting came later, in 1985, and so was possibly inspired by Escape. The two films share other plot devices.

Of course, Snake does not immediately confront the President’s captors and hustle him back to the land of the midnight nuclear attack. There has to be some excitement first. And there is. Snake runs into a litany of prior acquaintances, who persistently ask upon spying his face, “I thought you were dead.”

Possibly Mad Max producers got a load of their ideas from this movie. Here Snake is compelled to defeat the reigning ruffian in a gladiator fight to the death before a screaming mob of social outcasts.

But he wins the fight, rescues the President, and, with the help of others, including a cab driver played by Ernest Borgnine. He escapes across the heavily-mined 69th Street Bridge (originally designed for railroad traffic) and delivers the President and the tape, which was so desperately needed to save the world. The man, now cleaned up and re-suited, stands before the TV cameras and delivers his presentation. And he plays the tape. But Snake has substituted the right tape for one he found inside the escape cab, and the man can only stand and grimace as “Bandstand Boogie” belts out to his audience.

No bad deed ever goes unrewarded and Escape from L.A. came out in 1996, the year prior to the setting of this movie and with Russell again playing the role of escape artist.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Saw this one before. Must have been on TV, because I don’t have a copy. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s Marathon Man from 1976, based on a novel of the same name by William Goldman. It’s from Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia. Here’s a quick overview.

Opening  titles show Thomas Babington “Babe” Levy (Dustin Hoffman) on a running trail, apparently along the Hudson River near Columbia University, since we soon learn he is a graduate history student there. The scene switches back and forth with a sequence showing an old German immigrant withdrawing a packet of something precious from a bank safety box. As he exits the bank he brushes up beside a man wearing a blue blazer, and he slips the packet into  the man’s hand, and the two go their separate ways. This movie is supposed to be a super suspense thriller, but it kicks off with grand comedy.

Mr. Szell (Ben Dova) gets into his car and shortly gets involved in a road rage tussle with an immigrant Jew. The exchange between the two involves racial slurs and some common German insults: “Gehen Sie zum Teufel!” (Go to the Devil or Go to hell). It ends when both drivers crash into a fuel truck and are incinerated. Babe, crossing a bridge on his run, observes the conflagration.

Cut to Babe’s brother, Henry “Doc” Levy (Roy Scheider), from all appearances a very shady operator. He is the person the late Mr. Szell passed the packet to. Anyhow, he’s now in Paris, up to something nefarious. He drops off the packet to another suspicious character, and he notices the man seems surprised to see him, alive. When he returns to his car a time bomb hidden in a baby carriage detonates near his car.

Things continue to unravel. He goes to the opera to for an agreed meeting with the suspicious man. When he gets to the specified opera box, he finds the man has been murdered. As he exits the opera he warns off a woman who is coming to  meet him. She disappears into the darkness and is apparently murdered. Back at his hotel room he kills another man who comes to murder him. Something is afoot.

He discusses the situation with his partner in suspense, Peter Janeway (William Devane).

Meanwhile, down Uruguay way, Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier), is the brother of the other, late, Mr. Szell. He changes his appearance in  preparation for coming to the United States. His brother’s death has made it necessary for him to be doing what his brother had been doing  for him.

Meanwhile, Babe’s fortunes improve. Researching in the school library (before Google), Babe spies a very interesting woman. She is stand-offish, but he pursues her to great success. She is Elsa Opel (Marthe Keller) from Switzerland.

Only she is not from Switzerland. Doc comes to New York to visit Babe at his apartment. Meanwhile Elsa and Babe have been attacked in Central Park by muggers wearing suits. Doc is most interested in this. The brothers also get into  a heated discussion of their father, who was a victim of the McCarthy witch-hunts and subsequently shot himself with a .45 Colt.

Doc treats Babe and Elsa to dinner at a swanky restaurant, where he quickly determines that Elsa is a phony. She is not from Switzerland, but from Germany.

Doc pays a visit to Dr. Szell, who is now in New York, his appearance disguised. He is der weiße Engel (the White Angel), a notorious Nazi fugitive who performed grotesque medical experiments on Jewish prisoners. In a face-to-face confrontation Dr. Szell guts Doc with a blade he hides in his sleeve. Doc makes it back to Babe’s apartment, mumbles a few words, and dies.

The police come. Janeway comes. The police leave with Doc’s body. Janeway questions Babe and warns him some people may come calling. Janeway will keep an eye out.

The people come while Babe is in the bathtub. As they work at breaking down the bathroom door we get to see Dustin Hoffman’s bare butt. Sorry, no screen shots.

They take Babe to visit Dr. Szell, who performs dental procedures without anesthetic as a way of obtaining the answer to that question that has burned for all time in our brains, “Is it safe.”

But Babe escapes, and he learns Janeway is in on the scheme. Here comes the part for the marathon runner as Babe outdistances Janeway down darkened Manhattan streets. He contacts Elsa, and she picks him up in a car, driving him to this house out in the middle of nowhere. Babe immediately suspects Elsa, and that suspicion proves to be true.

As they wait, Babe exhibits his father’s pistol, which he has kept all this time. Presently Janeway arrives in a car with two other gunmen. In a ridiculous standoff, Babe kills the two accomplices and rushes outside the house. Elsa makes a move, and Janeway shoots her dead. Babe blasts a few rounds through a window and kills Janeway. Now it’s just Babe against the evil Dr. Szell.

Szell has gone to the bank with the safety box key, and he has retrieved a passel of diamonds from the valult. He is now confronted with a mystery. He has been in the Uruguay outback since 1945, and he knows nothing about the jewelry business. He needs to find out what his treasure is worth. New York is the place to go. We see Szell visiting jewelers, apparently on 47th street, the city’s diamond market place. Unfortunately for Szell, these shops are run almost entirely by Jews, some of whom are Holocaust survivors.

One jeweler, a survivor, thinks he recognizes Szell from the concentration camp days. A woman on the street, played by Madge Kennedy, knows immediately he is der weiße Engel, and she runs down the street shouting this out. The jeweler comes out and confronts Szell, who slashes his throat with his famous sleeve knife.

But Babe has been stalking Szell, and he confronts  him on the sidewalk with his father’s pistol, saying “It isn’t safe.” He forces Szell to go with him to a city water plant, where there will be a final  showdown. Wary of any knife trick, Babe keeps his distance and names the price for Szell’s life. He takes the valise full of diamonds and tells Szell he can  keep all that he can swallow. He punctuates his demands by periodically tossing a few diamonds into the water.

But quickly Szell has had enough, and he is sure Babe will not shoot. Babe throws the remaining treasure into the water, and Szell tumbles down  the steel spiral stairs, falling on his own blade. We see Babe running along the Hudson, pausing to toss the pistol over the chain link fence, into the water.

Great suspense, mystery, action, drama—from beginning to end. However, there is no point to this narrative except to thrill viewers with suspense, mystery, action, and drama. Olivier was being treated for cancer while making this film. He obtained an Oscar nomination for performance, beat the cancer, and lived another 13 years. This was Ben Dova’s only film appearance. It was Madge Kennedy’s final film. She died 11 years later.

Wacko Right Wing Religious Fanatics Say The Darndest Things

Number 17 of a continuing series

I like to tell people that right-wing religious fanatics say the darndest things, and I don’t have far to go when looking for examples. Most recently (see the above link) I caught a video of right-wing religious fanatic Paul McGuire appearing on the Jim Bakker Show. He was there with co-author Troy Anderson, and much of the discussion centered on the book. Jesus will forgive me, but I had to purchase a copy. It is Trumpocalypse, and the Kindle edition is $14 ($13.99), delivered in seconds to my computer. Remember, I read these so that you won’t have to.

Anyhow, it’s worth a stroll through the 316 pages to see what passes for wisdom in some circles. I did that and picked out some bits for your enjoyment. First, some stats:

  • The word “conspiracy” appears 31 times.
  • Hillary Clinton is mentioned 51 times.
  • President Obama is mentioned 58 times.
  • There are 22 references to the Rothschild family.
  • “Apocalypse” appears 18 times, always capitalized.
  • There are 51 references to variations of the term “end-times.”
  • “Occult” appears 113 times.
  • “Deep state” appears 32 times.
  • Variations of “supernatural” appear in  52 places, sometimes in reference to the title of a work.
  • “Multi-dimensional” does not appear anywhere in any form in the book, despite author McGuire’s recent statement on the Jim BakkerShow that President Trump is currently engulfed in a battle with “advanced beings” who possess ‘supernatural multidimensional’ powers.”
  • And finally the book uses “Illuminati” 147 times, always capitalized.

It is worth noting that many of these references occur in passages McGuire quotes from others. Fact is, a significant bulk of text consists of quoted passages. Here is the context of some of these references, with key phrases highlighted.

“[The Economist] also happens to be owned by the Rothschild family and has a knack for touching on Illuminist pictures, hints, and outright disclosures guaranteed to make conspiracy theorists do a double-take,” explained S. Douglas Woodward, an Oracle and Microsoft executive and prophecy expert. “This year it has truly outdone itself. (By the way in 1988 the magazine predicted on its cover that in 2018 there would be a one-world government with a global currency and singular economic system. That is sure to pique any Bible prophecy buff’s interest.)”

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 3). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

Throughout the 2016 presidential race, the world became intensely fascinated with the prophecies involving Trump and former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and how a series of seemingly unrelated events—the populist uprising against the globalist elite and an explosion in occult phenomena—align with what prophecy scholars believe is a convergence in end-time markers.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (pp. 2-3). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

In recent decades, and largely during the Obama administration, many Americans watched with dismay as their nation—one the Pilgrims dedicated to God in the Mayflower Compact four centuries ago—underwent a radical and malevolent transformation.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 7). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

The best-known of the purported thirteen Illuminati families, according to the special publication Secret Societies: The Truth Revealed, are the Rothschilds and Rockefellers. In his book Our Occulted History: Do the Global Elite Conceal Ancient Aliens?, Jim Marrs wrote that the Rothschilds believe they are descended from Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah. In this belief system, the “Anunnaki/Nefilim,” according to interpretations of ancient stone tablets from Sumer, are extraterrestrials who visited Earth in “fantastic flying machines” long ago and manipulated the “DNA of primitives on Earth”—creating “kings and dynasties” among “the new hybrids.” The term “Nefilim” is the biblical “Nephilim.” A growing number of Bible scholars say Nephilim were the offspring of women and fallen angels as described in Genesis 6:1–4, Numbers 13:30–33, and Jude 4–8. “The practice of dynastic kingship based on a royal lineage traceable to the gods has affected nations and governments up to the present day, as evidenced by the fact that the Rothschilds of today claim kinship with Nimrod,” Marrs wrote.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 100). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

[Referring to Donald Trump] The stunning victory of “the chaos candidate” not only confounded the predictions of pundits and pollsters but also created an eschatological mind-twister for students of the Apocalypse who are convinced the world is on the fast track to the end of human civilization.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 1). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

Since his thunderbolt election, Trump’s presidency has ignited end-time mania among Christians, Jews, Muslims, New Age adherents, and others curious as to how his presidency may fit into an increasingly mystifying prophetic puzzle, and whether the controversial and bombastic billionaire could paradoxically be a “John the Baptist” figure who will help usher in the “Messiah” and ultimately the Second Coming.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 2). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

These allegations of widespread occult influence in Washington, DC, came amid growing concerns about a “Deep State coup” and an explosion in occult phenomenon in America and worldwide.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 87). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

In what was perhaps the strangest presidential election in American history, the headlines shortly before Election Day 2016 hinted at the dark underbelly of a “diabolical scandal”—one that involves not just Bill and Hillary Clinton, but the “Deep State” and occult elite globally:

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 86). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

Finally, potential wars and nuclear conflicts are simmering around the world in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, the Pacific Rim, and Israel. A 2015 Brookings Institution poll found that 79 percent of evangelical Christians believe violence in the Middle East is a sign that the end times are “nearer.” The poll found that 81 percent of evangelicals believe Christ will return but are unsure when it will happen. A total of 73 percent say world events will turn against Israel as the world gets closer to the Rapture (the belief that Christians will be supernaturally removed from Earth to join Christ in eternity).

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 34). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

The “Illuminati” is a term that holds tremendous fascination with some right-wing religious fanatics, and the book is loaded with  references:

“We are having an incredible outpouring of occult things, of various alternative religions that are occult-based like Wicca, and even the Satanic Temple group that is getting so much press,” says Rev. William “Bill” Schnoebelen, a biblical authority on alternative religions and the occult and former Druidic high priest. “When I was into this stuff in the 1960s, it was all kind of in the closet. It’s now out in the open and it’s been mainstreamed… We have turned the reins of the culture over to Hollywood, and it’s been a disaster because the media, for the most part, are entirely owned by the Illuminati. All these different entertainers—Miley Cyrus, Madonna, and whatnot—are totally sold out to the devil’s agenda, and because of that, they have this enormous influence on the culture, especially with younger people, and we are losing this battle.”

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 89). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

For many years, an odd mix of investigative journalists, whistleblowers, prophecy experts, and others warned of the dangers of globalism—sounding the alarm that the wealthy elite and secret societies were planning a global coup to launch a world state, cashless society, and New Age–Illuminati-based religious system.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 95). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

The occult elite view themselves as “god-kings.” The term “Illuminati bloodlines” refers to the belief that certain families born thousands of years ago are genetically descended from entities who visited Earth from outer space or another dimension, but whom the Bible describes as fallen angels.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (pp. 99-100). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

Throughout history, members of secret societies have wielded enormous influence over the world’s most powerful empires. The Newsweek publication “Secret Societies: Infiltrating the Inner Circle” lists the names of the better-known secret societies: Druids, the Order of the Assassins, Knights Templar, Rosicrucians, and the Bavarian Illuminati. Semisecret societies like the Freemasons, Yale University’s Skull and Bones, Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg Group, Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, and Club of Rome are often the topic of books, films, and media articles. Among these groups, the Bavarian Illuminati—a historical secret society founded May 1, 1776, by Adam Weishaupt, a professor at the University of Ingolstadt—has captured the world’s imagination and has been the focus of blockbuster books like Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code and films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Celebrities often flash the Illuminati “pyramid signal” in music videos and during concerts.

McGuire, Paul. Trumpocalypse: The End-Times President, a Battle Against the Globalist Elite, and the Countdown to Armageddon (Babylon Code) (p. 102). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

And that is as far as intend to take this. Don’t look for a complete review of the book. This should suffice. Readers can view the excerpts and come to their own conclusions. Mine is that there is another world out there. It’s a place where truth and fact tread lightly, being required often to pull back as unfounded thought rumbles through.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Here’s one from 1955, and it’s in color. It’s A Man Alone, starring Ray Milland and Mary Murphy. It also features Ward Bond and Raymond Burr, who was beginning to make a name for himself in films about that time, having been the wife killer the previous year in  Rear Window. The movie is currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s from Republic Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening shots show a man alone (hence the title) in the desert, when his horse meets with an accident.

The man is Wes Steele (Milland), and he has the unpleasant task of shooting his crippled horse. That leaves the man alone and afoot in the desert with an empty canteen and a wad of cash stuffed in his shirt. Seeking to survive, he treks across the barren landscape until he happens upon the remains of a stagecoach holdup and massacre. A woman passenger and a man passenger have been shot dead. Likewise the driver and the woman’s small child. A strongbox that had contained cash is empty on the ground.

For some reason, not explained in the film, the man pulls the driver’s shotgun out of its scabbard and extracts two (apparently spent) shells. He replaces the shotgun. He takes for himself a canteen of water from  the coach, and he releases the trace horses, keeping one for himself. He rides the horse into the nearest town, leaving the other three horses to arrive ahead of him.

The three horses arriving alone stir some talk in the local saloon. The deputy sheriff wanders out into the darkened street to investigate while the man, who has just then arrived, is tying up his horse. In the darkness there is an excess of caution, and the deputy pulls his gun. The man, hearing the sound, pulls his piece. The deputy is wounded seriously in an exchange of fire, and the man seeks shelter in the darkened street.

The first place he finds an unlocked door is the local bank (or some other business). He lets himself in quietly, and eavesdrops as the stagecoach robbers discuss the day’s disastrous caper. The leader of the operation seems to  be a man known only as Stanley (Burr). His hired gunman named Clanton (Lee Van Cleef) describes the reason he had to kill all the passengers was the woman pulled off his mask and identified him. Their partner in crime, Luke Joiner (randon Rhodes) is aghast at the whole business and announces he wants to take his cut and get out of town. We know what this usually means in a criminal gang. There is only one way to deal with somebody who’s getting cold feet.

Steele, listening in the adjoining darkened room, makes a careless move and kicks a spittoon. Joiner goes into the room and fires off a shot. He is rewarded by two shots in the back from Clanton.

Steele makes his getaway in the dark and finds an unlocked cellar door. He lets himself in, and he hides behind the woodpile when a sweet young thing comes down the stairs. She is Nadine Corrigan (Murphy), and she is the sheriff’s (Ward Bond) daughter. The sheriff is in bed upstairs with yellow fever, which is why his deputy was the one taking the bullet earlier.

Steele hides out in the cellar overnight, and in the morning he reveals himself to Nadine. He shows his kinder side by helping her care for her ailing father. Over time an attraction develops.

Steele learns of Stanley, and he figures his gang was responsible for the massacre. One night he sneaks out and confronts Stanley, intending to stomp his ass into the ground.

That he does, leaving Stanley for dead. But Clanton spots him on the street and follows him back to the sheriff’s house. Soon a vigilante mob gathers, demanding Steele be turned over for hanging.

But in the meantime, Nadine has overheard delirious mumblings from her father, and she figures he has been covering for the gang of bandits. She examines her father’s books and spots suspicious wealth.

The sheriff, now recovered, wants to turn Steele over to the mob. Nadine convinces him he must do something honorable to atone, so he spirits Steele out of town in the dead of night, taking him into the desert and pointing the way to escape. Then he returns to the town to face his own justice.

The town’s people turn on him and proceed to string him up. But we know that Steele is not the kind of man to cover his own ass and leave somebody else to swing.

Before the noose can be tightened, Steele appears on the street and orders the Sheriff released. Steele tells the town’s people of Stanley’s complicity in the past string of robberies and in the massacre. Stanley and his men take refuge in the saloon, and one of  the gang volunteers to go out and mediate. Once on the street the man gives up Stanley, informing the people that Stanley is the ring leader. Canton shoots him in the back.

That triggers a gunfight in the saloon, where Steele kills Clanton and another gang member. The sheriff enters and arrests Stanley. He leads Stanley out into the street, prepared to face his own justice. Steele allows as how he will stay on in the town, and the movie ends there in the street with Nadine and Steele in a loving embrace.

And the plot is much too contrived. It has the stamp of Ray Milland, who directed it, all over—a story of fall  and redemption, pulling memories of The Lost Weekend, for which he earned an Oscar. The year before this movie he arranged the murder of his wife in Dial M for Murder, Late one night decades ago, I caught The Thief on TV, a film that has no dialog. I swear, that night I watched this from beginning to end without blinking, waiting for somebody to say something. That’s the kind of stuff Milland was famous for.

Of course, Raymond Burr went on to become more famous as Ironside, playing the title role in the long-running TV series.

The year before, Mary Murphy appeared in The Wild One with Marlon Brando, becoming famous for asking, “What are you rebelling against?” (“What’ve you got?”). She was Fredric March‘s daughter in The Desperate Hours, also starring Humphrey Bogart. Ward Bond finished up his career five years later as the wagon master in Wagon Train on TV.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It’s been more than two years since I signed up for Amazon Prime Video, priming myself to catch a few old movies I have not seen in decades. There are two I have been especially on the lookout for, one being Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford. This one is Baby Boom, with Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard. It came out in 1987 from United Artists. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

The title is, of course, from the period following the end of World War Two. A bunch of people put off procreating during the war—besides, a few million American males were off fighting Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, and they weren’t getting much nookie. When the soldiers came home, and the wartime economic sanctions ended, people began making up for lost time. The result was the Baby Boom, a population explosion that is only now subsiding.

However, this is a different story. It’s about feminism in the work place, where, 30 years ago at least, women were finding their way into the work place, even the upper reaches. This story is loaded with lessons about conflicting career with family. Men, of course, are excepted from this conundrum. As one male character in the story—the big boss—says, he can have it all. He works a never-ending treadmill, creating wealth and moving into the business stratosphere. Meanwhile, his faithful (we hope) wife is managing his living side—home, community, children. He may not actually know how many children he has.

J.C. Wiatt (Keaton) is a woman who believes she can have it all. She is a human dynamo, a high-level management consultant at an upper west side Manhattan concern. She is often referred to as “Tiger Lady.”

Her love life is as structured and as spare as one of her management reports. She lives, unmarried, with an investment broker. Their sexual encounters are unspontaneous and brief. Her life is about to change.

J.C. is on track for partnership and is given to opportunity to haul in a massive food distribution company as a client. Then a phone call arrives in  the middle of the night, and the next morning she is at the airport to take delivery on the inheritance from a distant cousin. It’s a baby, Elizabeth (Kristina & Michelle Kennedy), and J.C. is the only surviving  heir.

Truth be, Elizabeth is a huge water balloon dropped into the midst of J.C.’s career prospects. Here is a woman who barely has time for a roll in the hay with her boyfriend, and Elizabeth is going to suck up every second of J.C.’s spare time and also carve a gaping hole in her career prospects. Realizing the only way to avoid drowning in this whirlpool, J.C. decides her salvation requires dumping dear Elizabeth onto somebody else.

The adoption papers J.C. signed give her the option of shedding this sweet child through adoption. At the critical moment, J.C.’s iron will caves to her humanity. She sees the kind of soulless parents about to take Elizabeth off to Minnesota, and she reneges on the deal. Elizabeth is going to be hers forever.

Of course, that sinks J.C.’s career. Although she snags the fat and juicy client, her boss back-shelves her and gives the account to a back-stabbing subordinate. J.C. responds by purchasing a Vermont country home and taking Elizabeth to live in the upper reaches.

We all know that is not going to work out. The country estate turns out to be a money pit, purchased well above market value. J.C.’s woes come to a head when the local handyman announces her well, the place’s sole source of water, has run dry. Here she loses it completely, going into a rage, and collapsing face up in the snow.

When she wakes she is looking into the wise and kind face of Dr. Jeff Cooper. Dr. Cooper’s warm and caring manner decompresses J.C., and she unloads all her troubles on him, including her lack of sex for the past six months. Only then does she discover Dr. Cooper is a veterinarian, not an M.D. She is so furious at this humiliating herself, that she vents her rage on Cooper, subsequently rebuffing all his attempts at friendship and more.

But, during the time before Vermont turned into a vast snowfield, J.C. has amused herself by harvesting the estate’s generous crop of apples. Now, with nothing left to do in the winter, she gins up a formula for gourmet apple sauce for Elizabeth. Then she realizes a business opportunity and begins to market gourmet baby food. Using her deep marketing skills, J.C. launches Country Baby, which quickly becomes a market challenge.

Meanwhile, romance is building with Dr. Cooper, and J.C.’s sex-free life comes to an end. This spiritual bliss is intruded upon by a phone call from her previous employer. The giant food distributor wants to purchase Country Baby, and J.C. drives back to New York City to look over the offer. It is grand beyond compare. $3.5 million cash purchase price, plus a juicy position for J.C. in the corporation with perks that would make Donald J. Trump salivate.

And she turns it all down. She drives back to Vermont, back to Elizabeth, back to setting her own pace, far from the towers and canyons of Manhattan, and back to the bed of Dr. Jeff Cooper. We know as the end titles roll that another baby boom is in the making.

What a sweet story, but there is a lot that’s wrong with the story. Some enumeration:

  1. J.C. Wiatt is supposed to be a top-of-the-class business executive, yet opening scenes reveal a school girl response to  being offered a partnership. Whatever happened to  Tiger Lady?
  2. She meets the envoy from London, bringing Elizabeth into the country, and she signs the transfer papers without reading them and not realizing she is taking charge of a baby. Does a hard-nosed business person ever miss fine details such as these?
  3. We watch in dismay as J.C. fumbles again and again as she attempts, in  vain, to manage the baby and her career. Any working parent standing on the sidelines could have advised her, hire a qualified governess right now. Instead, we see J.C., famous for requiring subordinates to cancel social plans and work through the weekend, needlessly sacrificing attention to her work in order to personally manage Elizabeth. To be sure, this is a major part of the story. It’s a real life woman, an actual human being, whose parenting instincts come immediately to  the surface when faced with the circumstances.
  4. She purchases this estate out in Vermont, sight unseen. Can anybody believe this? I’m a fumbling engineer, but I would never make a major purchase such as this without a first-hand look and a professional appraisal.
  5. I watched the progress of time. The story starts during the summer when Elizabeth enters as a one-year-old baby. Then there is the first winter in Vermont. Then there is spring, as we see the apple trees blossoming again. Then there is another apple harvest, which takes us to another autumn. Now J.C. starts her company. Now we see the company growing. Time must be passing by. And Elizabeth does not seem to get that much older. Elizabeth was played by twin girls over a 5-month shoot. Anybody who has watched a daughter grow up will recognize the time warp that intrudes into this plot.

Anyhow, this is a nice morality play. The real things in life are those that are close to the heart, and as an engineer I use the word “heart” figuratively.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. I’ve heard that before. It means what might be good for one person is not so good for another. This is Another Man’s Poison, It’s from 1951, and it features Bette Davis and Gary Merrill in the lead roles. As usual, I’m getting these screen shots from Amazon Prime Video, where it’s currently streaming. Angel Productions cranked this one out. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s a set-piece drama.

The film rolls, and we see a woman walking. Rather, we see the woman’s feet and legs. She walks and walks, all the way through the title sequence. She comes to a railway station at night somewhere in Yorkshire, England. A steam locomotive is puffing to a stop as the woman enters a public phone booth and places a call. She’s Janet Frobisher (Davis).

She is phoning Larry Stevens (Anthony Steel), who really cannot talk right at this moment, because he is with somebody else, Chris Dale (Barbara Murray). We are later going to find out that Chris is Janet’s secretary, and Larry is Chris’s fiancée and at the same time Janet’s secret lover. Janet asks Larry to come over to her house right away. This is going to get interesting.

As Janet finishes her suspicious phone call, the local veterinarian, Dr. Henderson (Emlyn Williams), intrudes and asks some embarrassing questions. Such as, why did Janet walk nearly a mile from her house to place a phone call.

Henderson gives Janet a lift home in  his war surplus Jeep. Inside, Janet fines she has an unexpected visitor. It’s George Bates (Merrill), until then unknown to Janet, but a recent accomplice with Janet’s husband in a bank heist that went wrong. He insists on seeing her husband. Unfortunately that is not possible at the moment, since Janet just minutes previous murdered her husband by allowing him to drink poison. Hence the title.

Yes, we now get down to the substance of this plot and it proceeds from  there. George’s idea is to dispose of the husband’s body in the local pond and then to assume his identity, since nobody in the neighborhood has ever met the husband. Janet resists, but George can be very persuasive, threatening blackmail.

Over the next few days their lives are swept up in a whirlwind of intrusive characters and also back-biting. Larry and Chris arrive, Chris to stay, since she lives in the house. Henderson contrives all manner of reasons to return to the house, and he expresses opinions about the identity of Janet’s new-found husband.

George lusts for Janet, Larry lusts for Janet, all the while stringing Chris along. Things get acrimonious. Janet has a beloved horse, and George takes the animal out for a ride in the rain against Janet’s wishes. He shoots the horse out of spite, claiming the horse broke his leg. Henderson arrives with the news the horse’s only injury was a pistol bullet in the head. Henderson departs, leaving his surplus Jeep at Janet’s house. The brakes have gone out completely.

Larry and Chris have it out, and Chris departs, moving out of the house. Larry goes after her. Janet has a plan. She convinces George to go after Chris and to take the Jeep. Of course the Jeep crashes, but George is only injured. He is now very hostile.

All seems to be finished for Janet, and she prepares to drink the poison she gave her husband.

Then she has another idea. George is about to depart and to blow the whole matter sky high. Janet proposes they have a farewell drink. We know where this is going. But George is suspicious, and he refuses the drink Janet offers. Instead he pours himself a shot from the fatal flask.

Henderson arrives, informing he knew all along about the subterfuge. When Janet’s husband arrived he gave him a lift to the house. He has always been aware the husband is not George.

Janet is distraught and suffers a collapse. Henderson gives her a drink, from the flask.

And that’s the end of the movie. It’s 90 minutes of fabricated melodrama, and after watching this through I was never able to figure out why Janet walked to the train station to make the phone call. She should have had plenty of privacy at home, since she had just killed her husband. A bunch does not make sense.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is currently streaming on Hulu, and I avoided watching it, because I knew what it was going to be about. It’s Parkland, from 2013, produced in part by Tom Hanks through American Film Company
Playtone, and distributed by Exclusive Media Group. The screen shots are from Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Parkland, as everybody who lived in Dallas knows, stands for Parkland Memorial Hospital, the Dallas County hospital. It’s the public service hospital for the county, where you go if you’re having a baby, and you can’t afford medical care. It’s supported by a county-wide tax, but people from neighboring counties make use of the facility. It’s where they took President Kennedy when he was shot a few blocks away in November 1963. And that’s what this story is about, but not all the events take place there.

22 November 1963 dawns like any other day, much as did 7 December 1941 and 11 September 2001. People are going about their business, not realizing that shortly their lives are going to be upended. Dr. Charles James Carrico (Zac Efron) is preparing to start his day as resident, meaning the go-to doctor of the day. He is soon to receive the most important patient in the world.

Everybody knows that President Kennedy will be in Dallas this Friday. People are making preparations. The President has spent the night in Fort Worth, about 35 miles to the west. He will fly into  Dallas Love Field in the lat morning and will tour through downtown about noon.

Among those getting ready is Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who has his 8mm movie camera and is looking for an elevated spot to get a good view.

The plot move quickly, and Mr. Zapruder watches through his viewfinder as the history of the 20th century pivots. The stricken President is driven directly to Parkland.

Shocked at seeing the most important person on the planet lying, likely already dead, on his operating table, Dr. Carrico has to be coaxed to commence the fruitless task. We see the awful conclusion as Jackqueline Kennedy reacts to the fatal pronouncement.

Everybody already knows the main plot, but this film dwells on the back story, the people not in the news that day. As news announcements disclose that Lee Harvey Oswald has been arrested after murdering a cop in south Dallas (Oak Hill), his brother Robert (James Badge Dale) hears the news at work. He leaves immediately, his life in Dallas at an end.

Reaction to the murder among law enforcement officials is swift and wrought with recrimination. Lee Oswald had been a known trouble maker, and nobody had been able to prevent his getting at the President.

Law enforcement is about to be further embarrassed, as Oswald is murdered while in police custody. Dr. Carrico loses the second most important patient on the planet.

The following Monday a state funeral is held for President Kennedy, with the symbolic empty saddle and burial at Arlington Cemetery. Robert is left to bury his brother in a donated grave site. No pallbearers are available, and news photographers volunteer. As Robert begins the task of shoveling dirt over Lee’s coffin, workers standing by pitch in to help.

It is all over, and the world goes on.

The seamy underside of the historic event is played out.

Government officials prepare to load the President’s body onto Air Force One, but the county coroner objects. The law requires an autopsy before the body can  be released. This is a murder case. The Secret Service has the guns, and the coroner is overruled, this following a physical struggle.

Abraham Zapruder realizes he has world history inside his camera, and he takes it to the Dallas Morning News. They realize they can’t develop the 8mm, so they recommend the Kodak lab north of Love Field, a place I have used. The lab does not normally process 8mm, but the task is assigned to a specialist at the lab, who develops the film, making copies for Zapruder, the Secret Service, and the FBI. Zapruder is immediately set upon by hoards of media outlets, bidding for the priceless cargo. He ignores the ringing of his phone until he finally picks it up. Life magazine is calling, and he grants them an audience, because he respects the publication. As Zapruder, in his office at work, sets conditions for use of the images (no shots of the President’s head exploding from the impact of a bullet), people outside his office are pounding on the door and slipping offers in writing under the door.

We see Robert visiting his brother in jail and speaking to him by phone through a glass partition. Afterward the police wonder what was said. It is not realistic such a conversation would have been private.

The police advise Robert to move away from Dallas and to change his name, which he does.

Lee Oswald’s mother is shown as a shrewish bitch, convinced Lee is innocent and the victim of a conspiracy. She boasts of the expected wealth to come her way from her son’s notoriety, this before Lee is murdered.

Some historical accuracy is lacking. An account published shortly after tells of the scene in the Parkland emergency room. The doctor worked on Kennedy’s frontal injuries before turning the body over. He saw the massive head wound and only then realized it was “incompatible with life.” The film does not show this bit.