Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Saw it before. Must have had the VHS at one time. Catching it now on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Sliver, staring that very hot (then) Sharon Stone. This came out in 1993, about the time Stone was still sizzling from Basic Instinct, to be reviewed later. It’s from Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s based on the book of the same name by Ira Levin, and I’m guessing the title comes from the apartment building that’s central to the plot. It’s a sliver of concrete, steel, and glass that shoots up in a tony neighborhood in Manhattan. It’s a thriller, with emphasis on eroticism and suspense. Lots of people die.

Opening scenes show a striking blond woman, Naomi Singer played by Allison Mackie, entering the building and taking the elevator to her apartment on the 20th floor. Closed circuit television (CCTV) follows her every move. She goes immediately to her balcony, overlooking the city, and takes in the view. Another person, not identified, enters her apartment using a key. He comes up behind her and caresses her. She responds at first. Then she is suddenly and violently thrown over the railing to her death. Thus begins the drama.

The next tenant of number 20B is Carly Norris (Stone), book editor for a New York publisher. She bears a resemblance to the late Ms. Singer.

Carly is newly divorced, having shucked off a seven-year, miserable marriage. She soon meets a number of other residents of the building, some of whom are about to die. One is Gus Hale (Keene Curtis), who first notices Carly’s strong resemblance to the former tenant. He aims to tell her some things he knows before he goes off to Japan for an extended stay. Later we observe his body in the shower, as seen on CCTV. Coverage throughout the building seems to be unlimited.

Unlimited includes Carly’s bathroom. Somebody watches her bathe erotically.

Nothing and nobody are missed. CCTV seems to cover every inch of the sliver building.

One of the downsides of Carly’s promising career is a morass of pressure exerted on her by people in power. She advertises herself as fiercely independent, a person who likes to be in control. Her boss, Alex Parsons (Martin Landau) wants her to review a book by Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger). She does not like Jack’s books, and she does not want to review his book. Alex wants Carly to work with Jack. Jack lives in the sliver building. He has already noticed Carly moving into the building. He is brash and pushy, just the kind of person Carly does not like.

Carly throws a party, and Jack crashes the party, uninvited. Another tenant is Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), who also attends. Somebody has gifted Carly with a telescope, already set up on the balcony. Party goers take turns exercising some erotic voyeurism through the telescope. It remains a mystery how the telescope got delivered and installed.

It turns out Zeke was the donor. It also turns out he owns the building. Both Jack and Zeke put the move on Carly, but Zeke has more oil (as in oily), and his rude sexual overtures are successful. There is much steamy sex, as much as can be allowed without garnering an R (X?) rating. Here Zeke has left Carly the gift of sexy bra and panties. At dinner in a swanky restaurant he demands she demonstrate she is wearing them. That she does, to the alarm of an elderly couple sitting nearby. She has to demonstrate the panties by removing them and passing them over to Zeke.

But Zeke has wired his entire building so he can spy on everybody and everything. He invites Carly to participate. She is spellbound and cannot look away. Tragedy and depravity are played out in front of them. Zeke, from time to time, interferes with these dramas, in one case levying an anonymous threat against a child molester, forcing the creep to mend his ways. But there is no doubt who is creepier.

Carly’s friend Vida Warren (Polly Walker) has something to tell Carly about the late Naomi, but she doesn’t. She is shortly murdered in the stairwell, and Carly hears the commotion and spots Jack standing over the body. Jack is arrested, but released on bond. There is a confrontation. Jack has a gun. Jack accuses Zeke of setting him up to take the fall for Vida’s murder and wants Zeke to confess. Carly and Jack wrestle for the gun, and Jack is killed. Police stop looking for the root of the sliver building murders.

But Carly’s suspicions grow. She sends Zeke out on an errand and uses the interval to search for video tapes. She finds the one showing Naomi’s murder, a tape Zeke said did not exist. She also finds Zeke’s gun, and when Zeke returns early and sees she has the tape, Carly holds him off with the gun, from time to time shooting out one of the myriad TV screens. In a glimpse she catches the identity of Naomi’s murderer. It is not Zeke. He empties the pistol into various TV screens and leaves.

And that’s the end of the movie.

My first impression was that for a woman as Carly purports herself to be, having the need to be in charge, she allows Zeke to run all over her. I would consider Zeke’s sexual approach to be crude and doomed to failure had I not witnessed the same method work (not for me) on a number of occasions.

People, a hidden TV camera in every bathroom? Is there any reason the tenants have not already sued Zeke’s socks off and taken possession of the building for themselves? There is ample evidence that unauthorized entrance is being made to Carly’s and other apartments, and nobody calls the police to investigate, much less a lawyer.

Reality is not what this movie is about. Watch it for yourself, but beware your glasses are going to steam up.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Missed this when it came out in 1960. I must have been out at sea at the time. Good thing. It’s The Walking Target, starring Joan Evans and Ronald Foster, not exactly headliners even in those days. This was released by United Artists. I caught it on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

After a very dramatic title poster, we see convict Nick Harbin (Foster) talking tough with the prison Warden. We are informed in no uncertain terms this is the California State Prison. The warden is talking tough right back. He lauds Harbin  for being such a straight arrow for five years, but there is a remaining account he needs to settle. That’s the matter of the $260,000 he and his gang stole in an armored car robbery. Harbin says no dice and walks out.

He walks into the arms of waiting ex-girlfriend Susan (Merry Anders). She is dressed to kill and there is no doubt she has in mind the 260K. Harbin gets physical with some pesky reporters, and he and Susan head off to his bungalow in the country.

Been there. This setting seems to have been shot in those hills up coast from Malibu, where a lot of studios still shoot rural scenery. Also at the cabin is Nick’s friend Dave (Robert Christopher). Doesn’t take much figuring to know lots of people are looking to snag the stolen loot.

Nick goes looking for an old sweetheart, Gail Russo (Evans). Way back when she ditched Nick and married Nick’s friend Sam Russo. Then Nick convinced Sam to go in with him on the armored car caper, and Sam got killed. But only after Sam and Nick sealed the cash inside a welded compartment of a car, now belonging to Gail. An old geezer, living in the late Sam’s garage, tells Nick that Gail has gone back home to Gold City, Arizona.

A flash back shows Sam bluffing his pretty wife, even as he and Nick make preparations for the heist.

The flash back shows the death of a third partner, shot by an armored  car guard.

When Nick gets back to the bungalow he finds old friend Dave and old girl Susan making out. The layout falls into place for Nick.

Other gangsters are after the loot, and they’ve contracted Dave to get it for a cut. Meanwhile, Nick tracks Gail to her diner in Arizona. She still has the car, and the money is still there.

The gangsters track Nick to the diner and put the squeeze on, threatening to work Gail over.

Guess who. The police have not been idle, and two arrive shortly. Both get shot, but one is only badly wounded. Nick prevails in a row with the gangsters, and he reveals his plan to return the money.

And everybody goes home.

Not a bad plot, if fairly straight line. Acting is about par, no great demands placed on the players. Some visuals don’t ring true.

The cops see what’s going on in the diner and they enter after kicking in the door. The first is apparently killed in the exchange of gunfire, and the second is badly wounded. He finishes out the movie without showing an ounce of remorse for his dead friend.

Nick meets Gail at the diner and tells her the money is in her car. The drive out into the boondocks where Nick cuts open the sealed compartment with a cutting torch. Five years before, there was ample welding and cutting equipment at Sam’s garage, but where is Nick getting the torch to cut the compartment open?

Interesting that Gail kept the used car for five years and never junked it or traded it in.

Nick organizes an armored car heist, no guns used, but two guards are clubbed senseless. Then one of the gang gets killed by the police. Usually that would mean a murder charge for Nick. He gets only five years. Of course, it had to be a short term, because there was no way Gail was going to keep the car forever.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

In 1889 the Brits set out to construct a rail line from Kenya to Uganda. This in competition with the French and the Germans. At the time the African continent was open to colonization, and European countries were invading en masse. During construction of a bridge over the Tsavo River the construction crew, mostly Africans and Indians, was beset by two man-eating lions, who would from time to time attack a worker, sometimes at night in his tent. At one time the Guinness Book of World Records listed this as the worst plague of man-eating lions at 300 killed. That has since been revised, and a figure of about a tenth that is now acknowledged. That’s the basis of this movie. It’s The Ghost and the Darkness from 1996 from Paramount Pictures.

British Army Colonel John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) is engaged to manage the project. He leaves behind in England his lovely wife, Helana (Emily Mortimer), pregnant.

Patterson teams up with construction foreman, Samuel (John Kani). Together they vow to finish the project on schedule. Samuel asks Patterson if he is married. Patterson tells him he is. Samuel tells Patterson he, himself, has five wives. He asks Patterson whether he loves his wife. Patterson tells him he does, very much. Samuel mentions he does not like any of his wives.

We get a preview of coming disaster, as tan forms move through the tall grass near the rail line.

The killings begin, as a worker finds himself dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and eaten by a lion.

Patterson has never seen a lion before, but he teams with fellow Brit Angus Starling (Brian McCardie) to stalk and kill the lion. At this, Patterson is successful, and all celebrate the vanquishing of the menace. Then the killings resume.

When Patterson, Samuel, and Starling stalk an attacking lion at the railway station, they spot another on the roof. There are two lions.

Patterson converts a railway car into a killing trap for the lions. A trap door will ensnare the lion, while accomplished killers from among the work crew will shoot from inside their protective cage. It does not work. These accomplished killers panic and fire wildly, hitting the cage bars and nary a lion.

Professional hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) appears on the scene. Together, Remington and Patterson stalk the two lions.

 

They succeed in killing one of the lions and celebrate with champagne and a restful sleep. Patterson has a dream. His lovely wife and newborn son arrive at the railway station, and she waves to him. Then he sees a tan form charging through the tall grass, onto the platform, and attacking his bride.

 

Patterson wakes up and sees Remington is gone. He finds Remington’s body out in the grass, where the lion has left it. Patterson constructs an elevated platform from which to shoot the lion, and he baits the area with fresh kill. When the lion comes it is an even match, and Patterson ends up killing the animal up close and personal with two blasts from a large-bore, double-barrel weapon.

The construction workers, who had fled earlier, return to the job on the train, as well as Patterson’s wife and son. No tan nform stalks from the tall grass. And that’s the end of the movie.

The Remington character is fiction. Amazon movie credits tell that Patterson killed both lions. The movie spends a lot of time with Patterson and Remington tracking the lions and discovering a lion den cave with a cache of human remains. No.

The bit about the accomplished killers in the railway car trap is beyond absurdity, engineered to entrap viewers into some extra suspense and drama. Three armed men unable to shoot a lion through the cage bars is too much a stretch.

The bridge, by now nearly 120 years old, appears in the beginning and end credits of the movie.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Ever since this came out in 2004 I’ve been wanting to see it, but I didn’t want to pay any money to see it. This week, April 2017, it turned up on Amazon Prime Video in conjunction apparently with the Easter holiday season. However, the film is not about bunny rabbits and Easter eggs, or even Easter. It’s an exotic bit of sadomasochism for adults, reflecting writer, director Mel Gibson‘s extremist views. It’s The Passion of the Christ, featuring Jim Caviezel as Jesus and Maia Morgenstern as Jesus’ mother Mary. The distributor was Newmarket Films. Details are from Wikipedia.

I’m not going to detail the plot. It’s whole cloth from the New Testament accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, otherwise unknown. None of these writers were present, nor likely even alive, at the time of the events. See Bible Gateway for the text.

Those brought up in a Christian  world already know the story. Jesus was a radical Jewish rabbi during the time of the Roman occupation of the region east of the Mediterranean, particularly Jerusalem. He came crossway’s with the Jewish authority, who, according to most accounts, kowtowed to the Romans as a means of maintaining their own position. Jesus preached unorthodox philosophies and was thought by many to be the promised messiah, the god-man come to save the Jews from oppression. This did not sit well with authority, neither the Jews nor the Romans, and when Jesus crossed the line by throwing a fit and wrecking a temple, the Jews, led by King Herod, saw their chance to get rid of him.

The Jewish authority paid one of Jesus’ disciples, named Judas, to finger Jesus, so he could be arrested by the Romans. This scene shows Judas, knave that he is, down on  his knees before the authorities, grubbing to pick up the 30 pieces of silver he has spilled. Too bad for Judas. Ever since, his name has become synonymous with duplicity and betrayal. Although lots of people get named Jesus these days (my neighbor down the street), almost nobody gets named Judas. Or Hitler.

Anyhow, the movie covers the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life, starting with the night of his arrest and culminating with his death by crucifixion the following day. Justice was swift in those days. We see Jesus and his disciples reposing in an olive grove, and it is dark. No street lights in those days. Jesus confers with a spectral figure in female form and gets a hint of his fate. The movie dialog is a mixture of Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew, languages I do not speak, so I can only follow the conversation through the subtitles. I’m guessing the specter informs Jesus he will  die and save all mankind from eternal damnation. But that’s just my interpretation.

Although the plot is  straight line with no parallel themes, there are flash backs in Jesus’ life to give perspective. Here he is in  better days, showing his mother a table he has built. He was a carpenter, according to biblical accounts.

Starting with Jesus’ arrest (Judas identifies him by kissing him on the cheek), the film is all about injustice and an escalating program of debasement, brutalization, and  torture of Jesus, ultimately resulting in his death. Famous characters from the biblical account are depicted in stereotypical rendition. Here is Roman Governor Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov), haughty and impervious. He attained a certain level of fame through the biblical account of his washing his hands after dealing  with the matter of Jesus. The movie shows the famous washing hands scene.

We see the Jewish hierarchy, standing so solidly with their Roman masters. The very picture of complicity. You have to dislike them.

The arresting soldiers begin by punching and kicking Jesus, putting him in shackles, then dangling him off a bridge by the shackles. The brutality is just beginning. The movie is all about this drum beat of brutal assaults. You have to wonder what kind of pleasure anybody has watching this.

Yes, Jesus must be crucified. The crucifixion to take place on a hill outside the city, and you have to wonder how come the crosses are not already set up there. History tells us the Romans used crucifixion routinely, and we don’t want to believe they constructed new crosses each time. Anyhow, it was a gruesome form of death, and it served to remind non-Roman subjects just who was in charge and what waited for anybody defying Roman rule.

However,  the movie has to follow biblical tradition, and a cross is constructed especially for him, in the city, and he has to carry it through the city gates and up the hill. Even though Jesus gets help (the Romans press an on-looker into service), it is an epic struggle, which is what this movie wants to show. Great injustice, cruel treatment to the extreme, the shameful killing of a hero of the people.

Here’s the part that a gaggle of true Christians are going to get off on. They lay the cross out on the ground and drive nails through Jesus’ hands to affix them to the cross arms. Then they drive a nail through his feet to affix them to the upright. That has got to be painful. It’s what crucifixion was all about.

Finally they stand the cross upright so Jesus can die by suffocation. The deal is, when you are hung by your hands, nailed in this case, you can’t breath, and suffocation comes eventually. Attaching the feet to the upright slows the process. According to history, the executioners would sometimes break a prisoner’s legs to hasten death. Believe it if you will, this was the humane thing to  do.

After Jesus dies great turbulence strikes the region. An earthquake destroys the temple, and a massive storm approaches. A soldier jabs Jesus in the chest with a spear to ensure he is dead, and then they all flee.

Friends and Jesus’ mother take down the cross and remove the body from it. There is a scene in the movie that exactly captures Michaelangelo‘s Pietà. A nice, if obvious, touch by Gibson. The body is placed in an ossuary in a crypt, a cave dug out of the side of a cliff. The crypt is sealed by rolling a large rock over the opening. The movie ends with the rock rolling back (presumably the following  Sunday) and Jesus walking forth.

No doubt, Gibson pulled out all stops depicting the brutality inflicted on Jesus. There is plenty of motion picture blood spurting in response to the nails being driven in. Tales of the Soviet gulags pale by comparison. The film is a reflection of Gibson’s ultra-religious views:

ibson was raised a Sedevacantist traditionalist Catholic. When asked about the Catholic doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, Gibson replied, “There is no salvation for those outside the Church … I believe it. Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She’s a much better person than I am. Honestly. She’s… Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it’s just not fair if she doesn’t make it, she’s better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.” When he was asked whether John 14:6 is an intolerant position, he said that “through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice… even people who don’t know Jesus are able to be saved, but through him.”[162] Acquaintance Father William Fulco has said that Gibson denies neither the Pope nor Vatican II. Gibson told Diane Sawyer that he believes non-Catholics and non-Christians can go to Heaven.

Gibson’s religiosity would be difficult to detect from his earlier films. Previously reviewed are Mad Max and Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome. Then there was the Lethal Weapon series, Payback, and Conspiracy Theory. I have watched, but not reviewed, We Were Soldiers, which features Gibson as the deeply Catholic Lieutenant Hall Moore.

What kills this movie is not only the fixation on sadism, but the plot, or lack thereof. There is no plot. If this had been a movie about a nameless woman, scooped off the street and tortured to death by some religious fanatics, the largely Christian fans would not only not watch it, but they would demand that nobody else should be allowed to watch it. The fundamentalist Christian audience gives a pass on the brutality depicted, because this is a bit of fiction ingrained in their faith, of scarce veracity at that.

No eyewitnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus wrote any of this stuff down. Accounts from biblical scholars hold that followers of Jesus scattered following the Roman crackdown, and the story was subsequently recreated from legends. The existence of an actual Jesus character is also questioned. Biblical depictions of Jesus’ birth do not square with know fact, heaping considerable doubt to the rest of the Jesus story.

Details of the movie do not jibe. Scenes of Jesus hanging on the cross by way of nails through his hands are recreated by having an actor supported from below. A real person supported as Jesus is shown would come close to dying before the camera’s lens. Perhaps more so.

Not wanting to be indelicate, but the movie shows friends of Jesus having removed his body from  the cross. They apparently pulled the nails. Not so. These were substantial nails, and a real carpenter would recognize the near impossibility of pulling them, having been driven through a four-inch timber and then bent over from the back side. The body would have been removed by cutting the hands. Realism is not a matter of concern here.

I had trouble with the language. The Romans speak Latin, and sometimes Hebrew when talking to the Jews. I don’t speak Latin, but it sounds as though the Romans are speaking Italian. They even speak with an Italian  accent. The Jews seem to switch between Aramaic and Hebrew, two of the three Semitic languages of the region, the other being Arabic. Gibson loaded the burden of  having actors speak these ancient languages on top of the more mundane production tasks. Not much is gained.

If you are a soaked in blood Christian, then this movie is for you. If you have any sense of propriety, you will  want to skip this snuff film.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Hey! Number 100 in the series.

This is a limited release that came out in 2005, so I’m seeing it for the first time in April on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s A History of Violence, featuring Ed Harris and William Hurt.

The opening scene is a notable cinematographic work. It’s a boom shot that runs for about four minutes, focusing initially on a chair sitting beside a door, outside a single-story motel. Presently Leland Jones (Stephen McHattie) emerges, followed by Billy Orser (Greg Bryk). As Billy exits the door, he straightens another chair that’s standing next to the door. Billy gets into the car parked out front, and Leland tells him to drive to the office, Leland will check out. Billy drives and stops in front of the office, and Leland goes inside, returning presently and taking over the driving. He mentions he had some trouble with the maid. It’s one continuous boom shot, following Billy as he goes into the Motel office to refill their water jug. Inside, Billy observes the bodies of the manager and the maid, and when a little girl opens a door to take a look, he shoots her with his pistol. These are two really bad dudes without any redeeming qualities. Turns out they are not long for the world.

The are on a cross-country spree of robbery and murder, and their fatal mistake is stopping to do Tom Stall’s (Viggo Mortensen) diner (somewhere in Indiana) They overplay their hand. It’s closing time, but the crooks crowd their way in. When Tom advises Charlotte (Deborah Drakeford), the waitress, to knock off and go home, the pair reveal their intent to rob the place. Leland directs Billy to show these locals they mean business by raping Charlotte. For an instant Leland takes his eyes off Tom, and Tom throws a pot of hot coffee in his face. The gun goes flying, Tom takes possession and puts four through Billy, who crashes backward through the front glass door. Leland, now on the floor, stabs Tom in the foot with a knife, and Tom plugs Leland in the back of the head.

Tom becomes a hero, and that is bad news. Tom cannot afford to be a hero with his face appearing in newspapers all over, especially Philadelphia.

Presently Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) shows up at Tom’s diner with a henchman. Carl recognizes Tom as Joey Cusack. The two have a history. In their most recent encounter Joey messed up Carl’s face, and more.

Meanwhile, Tom’s son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is experiencing life changes of his own. A bully, Bobby Singer (Kyle Schmid), who has been bearing down on Jack since near the beginning of the movie overplays his own hand. He pushes Jack too hard in the hall  at school and insults Jack’s girl friend, Judy Danvers (Sumela Kay). Jack stomps Bobby’s buddy and puts Bobby in the hospital. Tom doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and he strongly remonstrates Jack. It gets physical.

Carl and two henchmen show up at Tom’s house with the intent of taking Tom/Joey away with them—likely not a round trip. Tom resists, putting the two henchmen down for the count. When Carl prepares to shoot Tom, Jack comes up from behind and blows Carl away with a shotgun blast. A history of violence seems to run in the family.

Tom and his lovely wife Edie have had an intense and highly sexual relationship, but it begins to fall apart as Edie becomes aware of Tom’s double life. Tom figures he needs to  settle things for good and drives to Philadelphia to confront his nemesis, his brother Richie Cusack (William Hurt). Joey previously trashed a well-placed mobster (read “made-man”), and this has crippled Richie’s future in the mob. The only way Richie can fix the matter is to have Joey killed, and he sets a killer with a garrote on him. But Joey defeats the killer and Richie’s other henchman. He finally confronts Richie and puts a bullet in Richie’s head without hesitation.

Tom returns to  his home in Indiana, where his daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes) sets a place for him at the dinner table.

Yes, this is a good action movie. In addition to Jack’s tussle at school, there are three gunfights, and Tom wins two. He loses the second one, involving Carl, but Jack saves the day with his friendly shotgun. And that’s a bit much. On three separate occasions Tom turns the tables against overwhelming odds and receives minor injuries. This kind of stuff is legendary, for a reason. It does not happen in real life.

The opening scene is puzzling, as well. Leland and Billy have obviously spent the night in the hotel. Billy waits outside while Leland goes inside, presumably to rob and kill the manager. He kills the maid, as well. We hear no gunshots. His pistol does not have a silencer. We later learn he has a knife (in the diner). He must have knifed the two. That way other motel tenants don’t become curious. But Billy shoots the little girl with his pistol, making a lot of noise. Apparently they drive away unmolested.

There are any number of ways Leland and Billy could have been caught off guard by random people coming and going. Presumably they kill all witnesses, but why. They leave a trail of identity as they make their way cross-country. So, why kill witnesses? Makes for extra drama.

William Hurt appeared in a number of interesting productions, but I have only seen The Accidental Tourist, where he plays a travel writer with a dysfunctional family. Haven’t been able to catch this on the tube.

We remember Ed Harris from a number of notable works. He was John Glenn in The Right Stuff, Kristof in The Truman Show, and the German sniper in Enemy at the Gates.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

This installment will cover the year 1937 up through 7 May, 80 years ago. The first part of 1937 has few entries for Berlin Diary, the first one being 8 April:

BERLIN, April 8, 1937

April here and no Hitler surprise this spring yet. This may be a year of Nazi consolidation, building up the armed forces, assuring Franco victory in Spain, cementing relations with Italy (support for the Duce in Spain and the Mediterranean in return for his giving Germany a free hand in Austria and the Balkans), and giving the nerves of the German people a little rest.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 911-914). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And that was to be the case. During 1937 Germany’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War intensified. Shirer left Universal Services and joined forces with Edward R. Murrow in reporting the early weeks of the coming war.

BERLIN, May 3

Gordon Young of Reuter’s and I ran into Lord Lothian about midnight in the lobby of the Adlon. He arrived here suddenly yesterday to confer with Nazi leaders. Young asked him why he had come. “Oh, Göring asked me to,” he replied. He is probably the most intelligent of the Tories taken in by Hitler, Göring, and Ribbentrop. We wanted to ask him since when he was under orders from Göring, but refrained.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 926-930). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Lord Lothian will be an unfamiliar figure to all but historians. Here’s from his Wikipedia entry:

Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, KT CH PC DL (18 April 1882 – 12 December 1940), known as Philip Kerr until 1930, was a British politician, diplomat and newspaper editor. He was private secretary to Prime Minister David Lloyd George between 1916 and 1921. He played a major role in the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and was responsible for including the War Guilt Clause which he later felt was a bad mistake. After succeeding a cousin in the marquessate in 1930, he held minor office from 1931 to 1932 in the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald. In the late 1930s, he was a leading advocate of appeasement of Germany, emphasizing the harshness of the Versailles Treaty and the dangers of Stalin’s communism. From 1939 until his death in December 1940 he was Ambassador to the United States, Proving highly successful in winning Americans support for the British war effort, most notably the Lend Lease program, which passed Congress after his death.

By this time German President Paul von Hindenburg had been dead for over two years. On this day, 80 years ago, the great airship named after him came to a fiery end:

BERLIN, May 7

Hillman awakened me with a phone call from London about four a.m. today to inform me that the Zeppelin Hindenburg had crashed at Lakehurst with the loss of several lives. I immediately phoned one of the men who designed it, at Friedrichshafen. He refused to believe my words. I telephoned London and gave them a little story for the late editions. I had hardly gone back to sleep when Claire Trask of the Columbia Broadcasting System phoned to ask me to do a broadcast on the German reaction to the disaster. I was a bit ill-tempered, I’m afraid, at being awakened so early. I told her I couldn’t do it and suggested two or three other correspondents. About ten she called back again and insisted I do it. I finally agreed, though I had never broadcast in my life.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 930-936). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer’s tenure with Universal Service was to come to an end later in the year, as the Hearst conglomerate folded its operations to cut its losses.

From this point forward I will post on the 80th anniversary of a related entry. Entries are sparse for 1937, but from 1938 going forward events in Europe were coming to a boil. Shirer’s first-hand look has been hard to duplicate. Juxtaposed against the official history, it often provides chilling insight.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This is number 166 of the series, so by now readers are ready. You have been sure all the while that sooner or later this one was going to pop up, and here it is at last. It’s Sharknado, from 2013 out of Syfy Films.

I have to admit, I gave a lot of thought to searching this out. Nah, I thought. This is never going to show up on Amazon. I thought several times about checking, but each time it slipped my mind by the time I got around to firing up the computer. Today I was doing absolutely nothing (retired) and said to  myself, “Go right now to the computer and check whether Sharknado is on Amazon.” It’s there (as of 13 April), so I spun it up on the big screen, made some hot chocolate, and sat through it—about 87 minutes. Here it is. Wikipedia has the cast list:

  • Ian Ziering as Finley “Fin” Shepard, an ex-surfer who owns a bar.
  • Tara Reid as April Wexler, Fin’s ex-wife.
  • John Heard as George, a drunk man who spends all his time at Fin’s bar.
  • Cassie Scerbo as Nova Clarke, a bartender who works for Fin.
  • Jaason Simmons as Baz, Fin’s right-hand man.
  • Aubrey Peeples as Claudia Shepard, April and Fin’s daughter who feels left out.
  • Chuck Hittinger as Matt Shepard, Fin and April’s son in flight school.
  • Christopher Wolfe as Collin, April’s boyfriend.
  • Robbie Rist as Robbie, a bus driver.
  • Alex Arleo as Bobby, one of Matt’s friends in flight school.
  • Connor Weil as Luellyn, one of Matt’s friends in flight school.
  • Julie McCullough as Jonni Waves, a news reporter.
  • Adrian Bustamante as Kelso, a lifeguard.

With all that what you get is a spoof of all disaster movies. It’s junkyard Jaws and predictable to watch. What is not predictable is the opening sequence, a seamy drama that plays out in an empty theater.

A fishing boat is dodging a giant storm (hurricane) in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico. They are catching sharks, cutting off their fins, dumping the carcasses back. The aim is shark fin soup,  a delicacy in Asia. We see an Asian man negotiating money for the day’s catch. The captain and the buyer are miles apart on terms. The storm hits, guns come out. Topside, planning to keep the money, the buyer is eaten by a shark that blows aboard. Then the captain and presumably the remainder of the crew. The sharks exacting some revenge? Nobody knows, because nobody survives to tell this part of the story.

The hurricane moves north to California, and the scene shifts to Santa Monica Beach. Yeah, I can tell it’s meant to look like Santa Monica Beach, pier and all, but something tells me they shot this elsewhere and filled in with some views of Santa Monica Pier. Here is one shot that does remind me of Santa Monica Beach, at least Venice Beach. This one is for you, Steve.

Then the storm strikes. But first the storm drives sharks to the Beach, and the sharks start eating people. A comely lass on a surfboard makes a quick snack for a large shark. Fin decides it is getting too dangerous, and he closes his bar, ordering everybody out and to higher ground. Do they promptly get up and leave? No, not until sharks start flying through the front window. Fleeing down the pier Nova, who has had a previous, life changing encounter with sharks, blows one of the critters away with her weapon of choice.

The iconic wheel breaks loose, rolls down the pier, and crashes into a building.

A shark eats George, and the survivors, including Fin, Nova, and Baz make it to April’s (Fin’s ex wife) house in Beverly Hills. There they encounter Fin’s daughter Claudia and April’s boyfriend, Collin, an absolute jerk. You know he’s going to shortly get eaten by a shark, and you are not disappointed. He never makes it out of the house.

Fin’s son, Matt, is at Van Nuys Airport, and the survivors, including Nova, April, Claudia, and Baz head that way. They stop along the way so Fin can rescue some kids from a stalled school bus.

At the airport, Matt devises a plan to snuff the tornadoes that are tossing sharks all about. He will fly a helicopter into  the funnels and throw out home made bombs to deflate them. Nova goes along to toss the bombs,  but a flying shark snares the helicopter and consumes Nova whole.

The tornadoes are successfully quenched, but sharks are falling all over. One eats Baz. Fin faces off the last remaining, chain saw at the ready. The shark swallows him whole. But then we see Fin cutting  his way out of the shark’s belly with the chain saw. He reaches back in and drags out Nova, barely alive.

And that’s enough heroics for the day.

Special effects are overboard, but the plot is the definition of thunder struck. Fortunately, this was conceived as a comedy spoof, so everything is in its proper place. You want reality, go see Apollo 13.

I’ve been to Santa Monica Pier a few times, and I do recall the bikini bottoms, so that part is authentic. However, there is no building at the end of the pier for the giant wheel to roll into. That part is a small bit of fabrication.

Also, no home made bomb is going to stall a raging tornado. Compare an elephant and a mosquito in terms of energy dissipation, and you get the idea.

This production introduced a lively franchise, but this is the only one I’m going to waste my time on. Catch it on Amazon Prime Video or on Hulu.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

This installment will cover the year 1936. That year saw the continued territorial solidification of Nazi Germany, with the re-militarization of the Rhineland. Imposition of capital punishment for those opposing the Nazis became a harsh reality. The Nazis began to extend their reach beyond national borders as Germany and Italy threw their weight on the side of the Republican faction in the Spanish Civil War, and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. The year opened ominously and from there deteriorated without remorse.

BERLIN, January 4, 1936

The afternoon press, especially the Börsen Zeitung and the Angriff, very angry at Roosevelt’s denunciation of dictatorships and aggression, obviously directed mostly against Mussolini, but also meant for Berlin. Incidentally, an item I forgot to record: X of the Börsen Zeitung is not to be executed. His death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. His offence: he occasionally saw that some of us received copies of Goebbels’s secret daily orders to the press. They made rich reading, ordering daily suppression of this truth and the substitution of that lie. He was given away, I hear, by a Polish diplomat, a fellow I never trusted. The German people, unless they can read foreign newspapers (the London Times has an immense circulation here now), are terribly cut off from events in the outside world and of course are told nothing of what is happening behind the scenes in their own country. For a while they stormed the news-stands to buy the Baseler Nachrichten, a Swiss German-language paper, which sold more copies in Germany than it did in Switzerland. But that paper has now been banned.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 567-576). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Börsen Zeitung is not to be confused with the current publication, founded in 1952. Der Angriff (the Attack) was a propaganda sheet established by Joseph Goebbels. That somebody could receive the death sentence for disclosing manipulation of the press is telling of the Nazis’ need to strangle free information and also of their ruthless approach to the suppression of all opposition. Shirer’s continued conflict with Nazi repression was indicative:

BERLIN, January 23

An unpleasant day. A telephone call awakened me this morning— I work late and sleep late— and it turned out to be Wilfred Bade, a fanatical Nazi careerist at the moment in charge of the Foreign Press in the Propaganda Ministry. He began: “Have you been in Garmisch recently?” I said: “No.” Then he began to shout: “I see, you haven’t been there and yet you have the dishonesty to write a fake story about the Jews there….” “Wait a minute,” I said, “you can’t call me dishonest…” but he had hung up.

At noon Tess turned on the radio for the news just in time for us to hear a ringing personal attack on me, implying that I was a dirty Jew and was trying to torpedo the winter Olympic Games at Garmisch (which begin in a few days) with false stories about the Jews and Nazi officials there. When I got to the office after lunch, the front pages of the afternoon papers were full of typically hysterical Nazi denunciations of me. The Germans at the office expected the Gestapo to come to get me at any moment. Actually, I had written in a mail series, some time ago, that the Nazis at Garmisch had pulled down all the signs saying that Jews were unwanted (they’re all over Germany) and that the Olympic visitors would thus be spared any signs of the kind of treatment meted out to Jews in this country. I had also remarked, in passing, that Nazi officials had taken all the good hotels for themselves and had put the press in inconvenient pensions, which was true.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 576-588). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

There follows Shirer’s account of his confrontation with Propaganda Minister Wilfrid Bade. That a nation would have the office of Propaganda Ministry is startling, and that it would be called the Propaganda Ministry is more so. Bade was scooped up by the Soviets at the conclusion of the European war in 1945 and died in one of their prisons later that year.

It should be noted that not all the Nazis were on the same side of the English Channel:

BERLIN, February 25

Learn that Lord Londonderry was here around the first of the month, saw Hitler, Göring, and most of the others. He is an all-out pro-Nazi. Fear he has not been up to any good.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 619-621). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

About this time the French, with the aim at hemming in Nazi Germany, concluded a mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union, and the Nazis reacted in typical, scripted, fashion:

BERLIN, February 28

The French Chamber has approved the Soviet pact by a big majority. Much indignation in the Wilhelmstrasse. Fred Oechsner says that when he and Roy Howard saw Hitler day before yesterday, he seemed to be very preoccupied about something.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 622-624). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Stirrings became apparent within Nazi Germany as surreptitious plans for re-militarization of the Rhineland were conducted, even as denials flew:

BERLIN, March 6, midnight

This has been a day of the wildest rumours. Definite, however, is that Hitler has convoked the Reichstag for noon tomorrow and summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy, and Belgium for tomorrow morning. Since these are the four Locarno powers, it is obvious from that and from what little information I could pry out of party circles that Hitler intends to denounce the Locarno Treaty, which only a year ago this month he said Germany would “scrupulously respect.” My guess too, based on what I’ve heard today, is that Hitler will also make an end of the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland, though the Wilhelmstrasse savagely denies this. Whether he will send the Reichswehr in is not sure. This seems too big a risk in view of the fact that the French army could easily drive it out.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 627-633). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Rhineland is a German region adjacent to the border with France, and it had been decreed a military-free zone under terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The movement of German troops into this region was Hitler’s riskiest gamble at the time, and the lack of action by France and other Allied factions set the course for the coming of another world war.

BERLIN, March 7

A little on the careful side is right! Hitler on this day has torn up the Locarno Treaty and sent in the Reichswehr to occupy the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland! A few diplomats on the pessimistic side think it means war. Most think he will get by with it. The important thing is that the French army has not budged. Tonight for the first time since 1870 grey-clad German soldiers and blue-clad French troops face each other across the upper Rhine. But I talked to Karlsruhe on the phone an hour ago; there have been no shots. I’ve had our Paris office on the line all evening, filing my dispatch. They say the French are not mobilizing— yet, at least— though the Cabinet is in session with the General Staff. London— as a year ago— seems to be holding back. The Reichswehr generals are still nervous, but not so nervous as they were this morning.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 641-647). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Same day, Shirer assesses Hitler’s commitment to sincerity:

The quality of Hitler’s sincerity may be measured by his proposal to demilitarize both sides of the frontiers, thus forcing France to scrap her Maginot Line, now her last protection against a German attack.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 664-666). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Discussing Hitler:

He cleverly tried to reassure Poland in his speech today. His words were: “I wish the German people to understand that although it affects us painfully that an access to the sea for a nation of thirty-five million people should cut through German territory, it is unreasonable to deny such a great nation that access.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 699-701). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

To say that the German military command was nervous at this risky move is an understatement. This kind of action was counter to all good military experience, of which there was a considerable amount being wasted. The former corporal, in naive brashness, had successfully gone where the generals feared to tread. Shirer recalls observing Werner von Blomberg, commander of German armed forces:

After lunch I took a stroll alone through the Tiergarten to collect my thoughts. Near the Skagerakplatz I ran into General von Blomberg walking along with two dogs on the leash. His face was still white, his cheeks twitching. “Has anything gone wrong?” I wondered. Then to the office, where I pounded my head off all afternoon, stopping to telephone to Paris my story every time I had three or four hundred words. Remembered it was Saturday when New York came through by cable hollering for early copy for the Sunday morningers. Saturday is Hitler’s day all right: the blood purge, conscription, today— all Saturday affairs.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 702-706). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The same day:

Our Cologne correspondent phoned several times to give a description of the occupation. According to him, the German troops have been given delirious receptions everywhere, the women strewing their line of march with flowers. He says the air force landed bombers and fighters at the Düsseldorf airdrome and several other fields. How many troops the Germans have sent into the Rhineland today nobody knows. François Poncet (the French Ambassador) told a friend of mine tonight that he had been lied to three times by the German Foreign Office on the subject in the course of the day. The Germans first announced 2,000 troops, then later 9,500 with “thirteen detachments of artillery.” My information is that they’ve sent in four divisions— about 50,000 men.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 709-715). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer relates the apparent success of Hitler’s audacious move. What was possibly the last great opportunity to stop Hitler has been forfeited:

BERLIN, March 8

Hitler has got away with it! France is not marching. Instead it is appealing to the League! No wonder the faces of Hitler and Göring and Blomberg and Fritsch were all smiles this noon as they sat in the royal box at the State Opera and for the second time in two years celebrated in a most military fashion Heroes Memorial Day, which is supposed to mark the memory of the two million Germans slain in the last war.

Oh, the stupidity (or is it paralysis?) of the French! I learned today on absolute authority that the German troops which marched into the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland yesterday had strict orders to beat a hasty retreat if the French army opposed them in any way. They were not prepared or equipped to fight a regular army. That probably explains Blomberg’s white face yesterday. Apparently Fritsch (commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr) and most of the generals opposed the move, but Blomberg, who has a blind faith in the Führer and his judgment, talked them into it. It may be that Fritsch, who loves neither Hitler nor the Nazi regime, consented to go along on the theory that if the coup failed, that would be the end of Hitler; if it succeeded, then one of his main military problems was solved.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 722-731). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The same day:

LATER.— Dosch-Fleurot had an interesting story tonight from the Rhineland, where he’s been watching the German occupation. He reports that Catholic priests met the German troops at the Rhine bridges and conferred blessings on them. In Cologne Cathedral Cardinal Schulte, he says, praised Hitler for “sending back our army.” Quickly forgotten is the Nazi persecution of the church. Dosch says the Rhine wine is flowing freely down there tonight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 756-759). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer analyses the aftermath of the rearmament of the Rhineland:

KARLSRUHE, March 13

Here, within artillery range of the Maginot Line, Hitler made his first “election” speech tonight. Special trains poured in all day from surrounding towns, bringing the faithful and those ordered to come. The meeting was held in a huge tent and the atmosphere was so suffocating that I left before Hitler arrived, returning to my hotel, where over a good dinner and a bottle of wine, with most of the other correspondents, I listened to the speech by radio. Nothing new in it, though he drummed away nicely about his desire for friendship with France. Certainly these Rhinelanders don’t want another war with France, but this reoccupation by German troops has inculcated them with the Nazi bug. They’re as hysterical as the rest of the Germans. Later went out to a Kneipe with a taxi-driver who had driven me around during the day and had a few Schnaps. He turned out to be a Communist, waxed bitter about the Nazis, and predicted their early collapse. It was a relief to find one German here against the regime. He said there are a lot of others, but I sometimes wonder.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 763-771). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

No part of public life was left untouched by the growing power of the dictatorship. Vis, the matter of Dr. Hugo Eckener:

March 29

The new Zeppelin— to be called the Hindenburg— soared gracefully over our office yesterday. I was down to Friedrichshafen the other day to inspect it and it’s a marvel of German engineering genius. Yesterday it was doing “election” propaganda, dropping leaflets exhorting the populace to vote “Ja.” Dr. Hugo Eckener, who is getting it ready for its maiden flight to Brazil, strenuously objected to putting it in the air this week-end on the ground it was not yet The new Zeppelin— to be called the Hindenburg— soared gracefully over our office yesterday. I was down to Friedrichshafen the other day to inspect it and it’s a marvel of German engineering genius. Yesterday it was doing “election” propaganda, dropping leaflets exhorting the populace to vote “Ja.” Dr. Hugo Eckener, who is getting it ready for its maiden flight to Brazil, strenuously objected to putting it in the air this week-end on the ground it was not yet

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 772-781). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Then, later in April:

Goebbels has forbidden the press to mention Eckener’s name.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Location 788). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Hindenburg exploded in flames while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the following year, killing 36 people.

Civil war erupted in Spain, where Shirer and his wife had spent the year 1933. Germany and Italy were to intervene, and the conclusion was eventually to affect disastrously the fortunes of the Axis powers:

BERLIN, July 18

Trouble in Spain. A right-wing revolt. Fighting in Madrid, Barcelona, and other places.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 820-821). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Charles Lindbergh became America’s hero in 1927 with his solo flight from New York to Le Borget in France, where Shirer covered the landing. Lindbergh’s fame allowed him to wander into international politics, and his favorable slant toward the Nazis took much of the luster off his former glory:

BERLIN, July 23

The Lindberghs are here, and the Nazis, led by Göring, are making a great play for them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 822-823). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In 1936 Germany and Italy threw their full support behind Spain’s General Francisco Franco, sealing the doom of the Monarchists and ushering in a period of political oppression in Spain that was to last until Franco’s death in 1975.

BERLIN, November 18 The Wilhelmstrasse announced today that Germany (with Italy) has recognized Franco. General Faupel, who has done good work for Germany in South America and Spain, is to be Hitler’s Ambassador to Salamanca. Apparently today’s decision was timed to offset Franco’s failure to take Madrid just as he seemed to have it in his grasp. At first, I’m told, recognition was to coincide with Franco’s entry into Madrid, which the Germans expected ten days ago. Dodd tells me our consulate in Hamburg reported this week the departure from there of three German ships loaded with arms for Spain. In the meantime the comedy of “non-intervention” goes on in London. For two years now the policies of London and Paris have ceased making sense to me, judged by their own vital interests. They did nothing on March 16, 1935 and on March 7 this year, and they’re doing nothing about Spain now. Is my judgment becoming warped after two years in this hysterical Nazi land? Is it absurd or isn’t it absurd to conclude that

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 891-898). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

As the year 1936 drew down, the bizarre nature of a modern dictatorship continued to unfold.

BERLIN, November 25

We were summoned to the Propaganda Ministry today for an “important” announcement. Wondered what Hitler was up to, but it turned out to be merely the signing of an anti-Comintern pact between Germany and Japan. Ribbentrop, who signed for Germany, strutted in and harangued us for a quarter of an hour about the pact’s meaning, if any. He said it meant, among other things, that Germany and Japan had joined together to defend “Western civilization.” This was such a novel idea, for Japan at least, that at the end of his talk one of the British correspondents asked him if he had understood him correctly. Ribbentrop, who has no sense of humour, then repeated the silly statement, without batting an eye. It seems obvious that Japan and Germany have drawn up at the same time a secret military treaty calling for joint action against Russia should one of them get involved in war with the Soviets.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 899-906). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

If I have not mentioned Joachim von Ribbentrop previously, be advised here is one of Nazism’s most interesting characters. He rose to prominence through a curious route, as a wine merchant introduced to Hitler. He offered to work as a go between for Hitler with Franz von Papen, then Chancellor or Germany, later to be succeeded by Hitler. Ribbentrop became Nazi Germany’s foreign minister and was instrumental in many of the regime’s international intrigues. Winston Churchill, in his book World War II, recounts Ribbentrop’s lack of diplomacy, typical of Nazi diplomatic dealings:

However, Herr von Ribbentrop and his wife did not seem at all conscious of this atmosphere. On the contrary, they tarried for nearly half an hour engaging their host and hostess in voluble conversation. At one moment I came in contact with Frau von Ribbentrop, and in a valedictory vein I said, “I hope England and Germany will preserve their friendship.” “Be careful you don’t spoil it,” was her graceful rejoinder. I am sure they both knew perfectly well what had happened, but thought it was a good manœuvre to keep the Prime Minister away from his work and the telephone. At length Mr. Chamberlain said to the Ambassador, “I am sorry I have to go now to attend to urgent business,” and without more ado he left the room. The Ribbentrops lingered on, so that most of us made our excuses and our way home. Eventually I suppose they left. This was the last time I saw Herr von Ribbentrop before he was hanged.

Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Volume 1 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 4169-4176). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

1936 concluded with holiday celebrations and Germany’s further lurch into foreign militarism:

BERLIN, December 25

A pleasant Christmas dinner, and American at that, even to mince pie, with Ralph and Esther Barnes and their children. Ralph and I had to get up in the middle of it, though, to check on queries from New York about a sensational A.P. report that the Germans had landed a large body of troops in Morocco to help Franco. There was no one in the Wilhelmstrasse, as all officials are out of town over the holidays, so we were unable to get a confirmation or denial. Sounds like a fake, though.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 907-911). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Starting with 1937, once I get caught up, posts will appear on the 80th anniversary of Shirer’s diary entries. 1937 marked the beginning of the tumult that was to become another world war.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

In 1898 British Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson was put in charge of the construction of a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya. According to the movie, the schedule was tight, as Great Britain was in competition with the French and the Germans for dominance in the region. Presently the project was put in jeopardy by attacks from two lions. And that’s the basis of this movie, The Ghost and the Darkness. It stars Val Kilmer as the real-life Patterson and Michael Douglas as the fictional Charles Remington. I saw it before, and I may have once had a VHS. It is now available on Amazon Prime Video. This was released by Paramount Pictures in 1996. Details are from Wikipedia.

 

After opening scenes, showing Patterson being inducted into the project by Sir Robert Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson), we see Patterson on a train to the job site, along with Angus Starling (Brian McCardie), who plays fill-in roles in the plot, and who seems to have been injected primarily to add extra British flavor to an otherwise African story.

Together, Patterson and construction supervisor Samuel (John Kani) discuss how the construction will proceed. Samuel asks if Patterson is married and if he loves his wife. Patterson says he does, very much. Samuel reveals he has five wives, and he does not like any of them.

In a reveal, a scene shows a tan ghost moving through the tall grass near the construction site. Death is coming.

It comes in the middle of the night, as a lion drags a worker from his bed.

Patterson, who has hunted in India but has never seen a lion, takes up a rifle and hunts down and kills a lion face on. All want to think the lion menace is done.

But there are more attacks. Samuel and Starling team with Patterson to bait and hunt the attacking lion. As they stalk one lion through the train station,  they spy another on top of the building. There are two lions.

Patterson gets the idea from his experience in India of trapping and shooting the lions. He converts a rail car into a trap. A lion enters the open door. The door slams shut behind the lion. Experienced shooters inside, protected by a steel barrier, will then shoot and kill the lion.

It doesn’t work. The terrified shooters fire but hit nothing besides the steel barrier. The lion breaks free.

Enter professional hunter Charles Remington. He’s going to kill the lions. He’s brought along a platoon of Maasai warriors to help flush out the lions.

It doesn’t work. The lions to not respond as expected. The Maasai don’t understand why the lions are acting as they do. They call them the ghost and the darkness.

Patterson constructs a stakeout platform and proposes to lure a lion within shooting range. Remington is skeptical, but it works. A lion comes, there is great danger. Patterson kills the lion. One more to go.

Patterson and Remington celebrate their partial victory. Patterson dreams his young wife (Emily Mortimer) has come to visit with their new baby. As he rushes to greet her on the station platform he sees death racing through the tall grass. He can’t save her as the lion pounces. He wakes up. Remington is missing. A lion has killed him and taken his body out of the camp.

Patterson and Samuel plot to kill the remaining lion. The lion attacks in the night and pursues Patterson onto the partially completed bridge and then to a tree, where Patterson takes refuge. The lion follows. The double-barrel long gun that Samuel throws to Patterson falls to  the ground. Patterson falls, as well. The lion attacks. Patterson gets off a shot, wounding the lion. The lion persists. Patterson shoots him full in the face at point blank range.

The workers, who previously fled the lion menace, return, and the bridge is completed. And so is the movie.

Good drama, good action,  good acting, good photography. A whimsical plot. A few points:

Three experienced shooters confront a lion trapped inside the rail car, and they can’t get a shot between the slats of the steel barrier?

Nobody ever thinks to tie a few goats around the camp to give the alarm when a lion approaches in the darkness?

Patterson fends off a lion at close range? No way. A real lion would have been on  top of him in milliseconds. The director (Stephen Hopkins) stretched out the drama interminably. Gives us something to watch while Patterson  kills the lion.

Guinness Book of World Records, in an addition I previously owned, listed this episode as the world’s worst attack by man-eating lions. I recall the number 300, the movie, based on Patterson’s book, claims 135. Researchers think it was more like 28 to 31.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

This installment will cover the year 1935. It was during this year that Nazi Germany began to assert itself with overt rearmament and with moves to expand its territory. Here’s the first entry for 1935:

BERLIN, January 14, 1935

The good Catholics and workers of the Saar voted themselves back into the Reich yesterday. Some ninety per cent voted for reunion— more than we had expected, though no doubt many were afraid that they would be found out and punished unless they cast their ballot for Hitler. Well, at least one cause of European tension disappears. Hitler has said, and repeated in a broadcast yesterday, that the Saar was the last territorial

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 339-342). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Saarland was pivotal in the expansion of Nazi Germany. Wikipedia has the details:

In 1920 the Saargebiet was occupied by Britain and France under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. The occupied area included portions of the Prussian Rhine Province and the Bavarian Rhenish Palatinate. In practice the region was administered by France. In 1920 this was formalized by a 15-year League of Nations mandate.

The occupation rankled German nationalism at the time, and the return of Saarland was a key item on the Nazis’ political agenda, a cause that gave them considerable lift with their people.

SAARBRÜCKEN, March 1

The Germans formally occupied the Saar today. There has been a pouring rain all day, but it has not dampened the enthusiasm of the local inhabitants. They do have the Nazi bug, badly. But I shall come back here in a couple of years to see how they like it then— the Catholics and the workers, who form the great majority of the population. Hitler strode in this afternoon and reviewed the S.S. and the troops.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 349-352). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The French were supposed to be the enforcers of the partitioning, and there is general agreement that had they acted against the German incursion there would have been an immediate withdrawal into Germany. Some think that would also have spelled the end of Hitler’s political power. In  the event, no such action was taken by the Allies, and Hitler put the reoccupation of the Saar in his “win” column, one of an unbroken succession that was to continue until September 1939. Matters began to develop in diplomatic circles:

BERLIN, March 15

Simon, it’s now announced, will come here March 24. But all is not well. Göring has told the Daily Mail, which through Lord Rothermere, its owner, and Ward Price, its roving correspondent— both pro-Nazi— has become a wonderful Nazi mouthpiece and sounding-board, that Germany is building up a military air force.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 367-370). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

“Simon” was British Foreign Secretary John Simon:

In 1931, when the Liberals split once again, Simon became leader of the Liberal Nationals (later to become the National Liberals) who continued to support protectionism and Ramsay MacDonald‘s National Government after the departure of the mainstream Liberals under Herbert Samuel. Simon was never opposed by a Conservative candidate at Spen Valley after 1924, and over time, Simon’s Liberal Nationals became hardly distinguishable from the Conservatives, but some Conservative MPs continued to be known locally as “National Liberals” for decades after the Second World War.

Additionally:

Tonight the Wilhelmstrasse people protested against France’s increasing the period of conscription for the French army.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 371-372). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

France, which had taken no action in response to the reoccupation of the Saar, was beginning to acknowledge the heat of its historic nemesis across the border. The Nazi government, in calculated fashion, loudly disclaimed all actions by other powers in reaction to Germany’s increasingly threatening posture. Each time another government took defensive action, Goebbels’ propaganda mill ground out a response that worked to justify Germany’s increasingly aggressive moves. Later:

The Paris office told me tonight that the French were excited and were trying to get the British to do something, but that London was holding back.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Location 389-390). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Slack as the French were, the Brits were even less prone to react. There was a strong movement in the island nation to resist rearmament and to avoid additional conflict with Germany.

A theme began to be manifest, a theme with which all would grow to become accustomed:

BERLIN, March 17

The first paragraph of my dispatch tonight sums up this extraordinary day: “This Heroes Memorial Day in memory of Germany’s two million war dead was observed today amid scenes unequalled since 1914 as rebirth of Germany’s military power brought forth professions of peace mixed with defiance.”

Hitler and his henchmen were in the royal box, but he himself did not speak. General von Blomberg spoke for him, though it seemed to me that he was uttering words certainly penned by the Führer. Said Blomberg: “The world has been made to realize that Germany did not die of its defeat in the World War. Germany will again take the place she deserves among the nations. We pledge ourselves to a Germany which will never surrender and never again sign a treaty which cannot be fulfilled. We do not need revenge because we have gathered glory enough through the centuries.” As Hitler looked on approvingly, the general continued: “We do not want to be dragged into another world war. Europe has become too small for another world-war battlefield. Because all nations have equal means at their disposal for war, the future war would mean only self-mutilation for all. We want peace with equal rights and security for all. We seek no more.”

Not lacking was a battalion of air-force men in sky-blue uniforms who goose-stepped like the veterans they undoubtedly are— but are not supposed to be.

Every German I’ve talked to today has applauded these lines. One of the Germans in my office, no Nazi, said: “Can the world expect a fairer offer of peace?” I admit it sounds good, but Ebbutt keeps warning me to be very sceptical, which I hope I am.

Tomorrow, according to our office, the Times will take a conciliatory line. My guess is that Hitler has got away with it.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 407-452). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The restoration of German honor, the sense of righting historic wrongs, eventually the demand for lebensraum, would come to be justification for attack, invasion, subjugation, and mass murder. The product of years of covert military buildup increasingly showed through.

Ten years later, minus ten days, American forces crossed the Rhine at Remagen.

Shirer continues to observe the desperate plight of German Jews:

BERLIN, April 11

Many Jews come to us these days for advice or help in getting to England or America, but unfortunately there is little we can do for them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 466-472). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

BAD SAAROW, April 21 (Easter)

Taking the Easter week-end off. The hotel mainly filled with Jews and we are a little surprised to see so many of them still prospering and apparently unafraid. I think they are unduly optimistic.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 473-475). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Hitler continues to preach peace and to deny that which he is steadfastly planning:

BERLIN, May 21

Hitler made a grandiose “peace” speech in the Reichstag this evening and I fear it will impress world opinion and especially British opinion more than it should. The man is truly a superb orator and in the atmosphere of the hand-picked Reichstag, with its six hundred or so sausage-necked, shaved-headed, brown-clad yes-men, who rise and shout almost every time Hitler pauses for breath, I suppose he is convincing to Germans who listen to him. Anyway, tonight he was in great form and his program— of thirteen points— will convince a lot of people. It’s rather an amazing program, at that; very astutely drawn up. Leading up to it, Hitler screamed: “Germany needs peace…. Germany wants peace…. No one of us means to threaten anybody.” As to Austria: “Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an Anschluss.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 481-488). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Continuing, something all tyrants find necessary. His 13-point program, which he laid out this day, included an interesting point number 12:

12. Something should be done to prohibit the poisoning of public opinion among the nations by irresponsible elements orally or in writing, and in the theatre or the cinema.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 506-507). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

If anybody had not already noticed, it was now proclaimed that disagreeing with der Führer was not only unpatriotic, but also criminal.

Shirer notes that British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin has, on this day, replaces Ramsay MacDonald.

 

The British continue to make concessions to appease Hitler:

BERLIN, June 18

It’s in the bag, signed today in London. The Wilhelmstrasse quite elated. Germany gets a U-boat tonnage equal to Britain’s. Why the British have agreed to this is beyond me. German submarines almost beat them in the last war, and may in the next.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 523-525). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer tells of a conversation that day with a fellow correspondent.

Usually Norman Ebbutt presides, sucking at an old pipe the night long, talking and arguing in a weak, high-pitched voice, imparting wisdom, for he has been here a long time, has contacts throughout the government, party, churches, and army, and has a keen intelligence. Of late he has complained to me in private that the Times does not print all he sends, that it does not want to hear too much of the bad side of Nazi Germany and apparently has been captured by the pro-Nazis in London.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 529-533). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Wikipedia elaborates:

During his time in Berlin Norman Ebbutt became well acquainted with top government officials and counted Chancellor Heinrich Brüning among his friends. He was distrustful of Hitler and disliked the Nazis. In April 1933 he wrote in The Times: “Herr Hitler, in his speeches as Chancellor, has professed a peaceful foreign policy. But this does not prove that the underlying spirit of the new Germany is a peaceful one. Germany is inspired by the determination to recover all it has lost and has little hope of doing so by peaceful means. Influential Germans do not see ten years elapsing before the war they regard as natural or inevitable breaks out in Europe. One may hear five or six years mentioned.”

Later journalist and author Douglas Reed described the article as “a masterpiece of careful political forecasting, based on expert knowledge.”  However, Ebbutt felt his message about the real mood of Germany was not being fully conveyed to the British public, because of The Times and its editor Geoffrey Dawson.

A recalcitrant British press poorly served its readers during this period.

By October the reality of war was becoming impossible to ignore. Benito Mussolini’s fascist state was Hitler’s inspiration, and we owe much to Mussolini for the germination of Nazism and the rise of Adolph Hitler, an early spiritual follower. At the conclusion it was Hitler that showed the muscle and who became fascist Italy’s foster father, indulging enormous succor, ultimately fatally, as Mussolini’s failures dragged down the Nazi war effort.

The year wraps up with a recognition of journalistic reality in Nazi Germany:

BERLIN, December 30

Dodd called us in today for a talk with William Phillips, Under Secretary of State, who is visiting here. We asked him what action Washington would take if the Nazis began expelling us. He gave an honest answer. He said: None. Our point was that if the Wilhelmstrasse knew that for every American correspondent expelled, a German newspaperman at home would be kicked out, perhaps the Nazis would think twice before acting against us. But the Secretary said the State Department was without law to act in such a case— a lovely example of one of our democratic weaknesses.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 562-566). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

William E. Dodd was the American ambassador to Germany. He served a critical role during a critical time:

On October 12, 1933 Dodd gave a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Berlin, with Joseph Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg in attendance, and used an elaborate analogy based on Roman history to criticize the Nazis as “half-educated statesmen” who adopted the “arbitrary modes” of an ancient tyrant.[42] His views grew more critical and pessimistic with the Night of the Long Knives in June–July 1934, when the Nazis killed prominent political opponents including many dissenters within the Nazi movement. Dodd was one of the very few in the U.S. and European diplomatic community who reported that the Nazis were too strongly entrenched for any opposition to emerge. In May 1935 he reported to his State Department superiors that Hitler intended “to annex part of the Corridor, part of Czechoslovakia, and all of Austria.” A few months later he predicted a German-Italian alliance. Feeling ineffectual, Dodd offered to resign, but Roosevelt allowed him only a recuperative visit to the U.S. The President wrote to U.S Ambassador to Italy Breckinridge Long in September 1935 that he and Dodd had been “far more accurate in your pessimism for the past two years than any of my other friends in Europe.” In a note to Assistant Secretary of State R. Walton Moore that same month, he wrote of Dodd: “we most certainly do not want him to consider resigning. I need him in Berlin.” Dodd reported to Secretary of State Hull in September 1936 that Hitler’s domestic economic policies, rearmament, and Rhineland initiatives had consolidated his support to the point that he could count on the support of the German people for a declaration of war “in any measure he might undertake.”

Following a U.S. vacation of several months in 1936, Dodd devoted the fall to testing German reaction to a personal meeting between Roosevelt and Hitler, an initiative the President proposed, or a world peace conference. After a series of rebuffs, Dodd produced a report for the State Department dated November 28, 1936, which Assistant Secretary Moore commended and forwarded to Roosevelt. He decried the tendency of Europeans to refuse to believe that Hitler meant to carry out the expansionist plans he had outlined in Mein Kampf. He described Hitler’s success in outmaneuvering France and Great Britain diplomatically and forging ties with Italy and Spain. Assessing the current situation he wrote: “there does not appear to be any vital force or combination of forces which will materially impede Germany in pursuit of her ambitions.”

1936 was year that saw Germany start to exercise its military might, beginning with the re-militarization of the Rhineland. This was also the year Germany and Italy worked to tip the scales decisively in favor of the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. Coverage of 1936 will begin in the next installment of this review.