Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

WGN said this morning: “Periods of rain and thundery downpours are to persist into Tuesday evening, maintaining a flood threat across the entire metro area.” Just what we need.

“Chicago lies on the warm side of a front extending from the southern Plains, to lower Michigan. Unseasonable, moisture-rich Gulf air is being focused along this boundary which separates polar air from unusual warmth, more typical of late April. The ground is frozen and where it has melted, soils are saturated.” Yep.

Regrets, I’ve had a few. Here’s one: I could have seen Cab Calloway live. He was still performing in the 1980s, with more vigor than anyone over 80 can expect to have.
But I didn’t seek him out. I’ve got no excuse.

Sometimes, you do the next best thing. I thought of that on Sunday evening when Ann and I went to see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at the Old Town School of Folk Music in the city. At one point, frontman Scotty Morris and his hoppin’ band did a cover of “Minnie the Moocher.” It wasn’t Cab, it couldn’t be, but it was a gas.

The whole show was a gas: rousing swing revival tunes by enormously talented musicians who’ve been playing together for decades. Loud but not too loud, brassy but leavened by strings, as much of a righteous riff as I’m ever likely to reap. It might be the 21st century, but they’re the cats shall hep ya, even so.

Morris, in his suit and tie and what must be his trademark fedora, sang and alternately picked guitar and banjo, and did a little patter for the audience. Not too much, but he included the fact that the band has been together for 25 years this year.

“Twenty-five years ago, the most famous band in the world was Nirvana,” he said. “I think they had four hit songs that year. So I figured that was the perfect time to start a swing band.”

According to the band’s web site, it “was named Big Bad Voodoo Daddy after Scotty met Texas blues guitar legend Albert Collins at one of the latter’s concerts. ‘He signed my poster “To Scotty, the big bad voodoo daddy.” I thought it was the greatest name I had ever heard on one of the greatest musical nights of my life.’ ”

Morris and eight other men took to the stage and made the music come alive via trumpet, all manor of sax, clarinet, trombone, double bass, keyboard, drums and more, playing and jumping and swinging, while their instruments reflected the variable colored spotlights of the venue. Smoke and the clink of glasses would have added to the ambiance, but we don’t get those in the 21st century (or even earlier: the difference between Preservation Hall in 1981 and 1989 was smoke).

BBVD did an energetic mix of swing standards — “Minnie” with all the call-response Hi-De-Ho you could shake a stick at, but also “Diga Diga Doo,” “Mambo Swing,” “The Jumpin’ Jive,” and “I Wan’na Be like You” — along with tunes of their own. Neo-swing, you might call those, or the commonly used term, electroswing.

Such as “Why Me?”

The video is fun, and I like the recorded version, but it isn’t as much fun as the live version. I suspect it’s their biggest hit, if you can call it that, because they did it during the encore.

Though BBVD has always been a touring band, I think they were also promoting their latest record on this tour, Louie, Louie, Louie. Record indeed, since vinyl copies were for sale in the lobby.

Named, according to Morris, after the three Louies: Armstrong, Jordan and Prima. “We stole a lot from them,” he said. Well, sure. They stole from the best and made it their own.

The Philadelphia Story

We all went to see The Philadelphia Story on Sunday at the movie theater of a nearby mall — a special showing, just like Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Casablanca recently. Oddly enough, Ann suggested we see it. And she wants to see next month’s showing, Vertigo.

That, I told her, is a very different movie from The Philadelphia Story. Truth is, I’ve forgotten most of the details of Vertigo. I’ve only seen it once, in the summer of ’81, and I wasn’t entirely taken with it. I might think differently now. Or not. Guess I’ll find out.

As for The Philadelphia Story, it was as charming as ever. Think this was my third viewing. After it was over — and after Ann discussed the structure of the movie, with some astuteness beyond her years — it occurred to me that “love triangle” isn’t an apt term for the story.

Better would be a love triskelion, with Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) as the focus, and the three men, Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart) and the stiff and put-upon George Kittredge (John Howard), all connected to her for different reasons.

When I got home, I looked up Virginia Weidler, who memorably played the bubbly younger sister, Dinah Lord. I figured she might be the only named member of the cast to still be alive. But no, she died in 1968 at only 41. Seems that Ruth Hussey survived the longest, dying in her 90s in 2005.

Of course there’s a lot of witty banter in the movie. My favorite line — which I didn’t remember from previous viewings, though I don’t know why not — was by Uncle Willie (Roland Young). Dexter had suggested going off for some of the hair of the dog that bit them. Uncle Willie thinks that’s a fine idea:

“C’malong, Dexter, I know a formula that’s said to pop the pennies off the eyelids of dead Irishmen.”

Stinkin’ Badges

All of us went to a screening of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre on Sunday, one of the old movies that TCM shows in movie theaters periodically, in this case for the 70th anniversary of its release. I can take or leave Ben Mankiewicz doing the introduction, as he might on television, but for someone who hasn’t seen the movie, I guess they’re informative.

No one else in the family had seen it. I had, on tape about 25 years ago. Good to see it again, and on the big screen. Like for Casablanca, the movie didn’t fill the house, but there was enough of an audience for an audible chuckle when the subject of badges came up, as most of us knew it would.

Remarkably, “Stinking Badges” has its own Wikipedia page.

This is the kind of thing I wonder about when I’m watching a movie again: just how far would a peso go at the time when the movie is set (1925, despite the appearance of some later-model cars)? Maybe that came to mind because I was handling pesos recently.

Early in the movie, Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) panhandles three times from the same well-dressed American in Tampico — played by director John Huston — eventually claiming not to realize it was the same man, who tells him off. The well-dressed American clearly gives Dobbs a Mexican peso of immediate post-Revolution vintage: one of these, I could see.

A very common coin at the time: from 1920 to 1945, about 458.6 million of them were minted. It’s a nice coin, composed of .7199 silver and weighing 16.66 g (12 g silver) though not as weighty as a U.S. Peace dollar of the time, .9000 silver and weighing 26.73 g. So what was Dobbs receiving when he got one?

According to the movie at least, which I realize had no obligation to be accurate, enough to buy a meal or a few drinks or a haircut with change left over. The haircut scene was interesting for another reason: Bogart was bald by this time, but after the pretend haircut and oiling of his hair, he didn’t look like it. Probably the work of hair stylist Betty Delmont, if IMDb is accurate.

Also, McCormick (Barton MacLane) promised Dobbs and Curtin U.S. $8 a day for working on his oil rig. That’s about U.S. $114 in current money, but what did it mean in pesos in 1925, when the cost of living was surely a lot less in Mexico?

Curious about the exchange rate, I did some looking around and found this interesting table posted by the St. Louis Fed: average annual exchange rates to the U.S. dollar in the 1920s. That would be the Coolidge dollar that Cole Porter sang about being the top. To answer the question about pesos, it seems that ca. 1925, the rate was about two pesos to the dollar. So if Bogart could get 16 pesos a day, when he could feed himself for two or three, that’s not bad.

Of course, Dobbs and Curtin didn’t get any of that until they beat it out of McCormick. You’d think that if McCormick had made a habit of swindling oil-rig workers, and still walked around openly in Tampico, he’d at least have carried a pistol.

Another thing I noted while looking at the table. In 1922, a French franc was worth about 8.2 U.S. cents. By 1926, the rate was 3.2 U.S. cents to the franc. No wonder Hemingway could afford to drink himself silly in Paris, and Liebling could afford to eat himself fat. Further examination of the table traces the course of the great inflation not only in Germany, but also in Poland and Hungary.

One more thing: when looking into the value of the 1920s peso, I happened across an interesting essay about the economics of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by a Wake Forest economist named Robert Whaples.

Toward the end of the essay, Whaples offers this observation: “In these scenes and others, the film examines altruism; bargaining and negotiation; barriers to entry; creation of capital; capital constraints; compensating wage differentials; contract enforcement; corruption; cost-benefit analysis; credence goods; debt payment; deferred compensation; economies of scale; efficiency wages; entrepreneurship; exchange rates; externalities; fairness; the nature and organization of the firm; framing effects; game theory; gift exchange; incentives; formal and informal institutions; investment strategies; job search; the value of knowledge; labor market signaling; selecting the optimal location; marginal benefits and costs; the marginal product of labor; natural resource extraction; opportunity costs; partnerships; price and wage determination; property rights and their enforcement; public goods; reputation; risk; scarcity; secrecy; sunk costs; supply and demand analysis; team work; technology and technological change; the theory of value; trade; trust; unemployment; and the creation and recognition of value and wealth.

Can any other movie offer more?”

CDMX

Something I didn’t know until recently: Mexico City, which has more autonomy than it used to, is no longer in the Distrito Federal, which it had been since 1824. Two years ago, the federal government of Mexico signed off on a name change, which the city’s government had wanted, to simply Ciudad de México, abbreviated CDMX.

On Wednesday, December 27, Lilly and I flew to Mexico City, returning on New Year’s Day 2018 — or actually early January 2, since the return flight was late. We stayed at a hotel in the Zona Rosa, just south of Paseo de la Reforma, a major thoroughfare, but also within walking distance of the Roma neighborhood.

We spent our time as dyed-in-the-wool, first-time tourists, seeing impressive places and structures, visiting grand museums, walking along interesting streets, eating a variety of food, taking in as much detail as possible.

Considering that Mexico City is a vast megalopolis — all too apparent from the air as we arrived in the daylight and left at night — we experienced only the slimmest sliver. But an endlessly fascinating sliver.

Adding immeasurably to the trip was the fact that my old friend Tom Jones — known him nearly 45 years — was in Mexico City at the same time. In fact, I’d suggested the trip to him on the phone last summer, when I called him to hear about his experience in seeing the eclipse. He’d been a fair number of other places in Mexico over the years, more than I have, but not Mexico City, so he was open to the suggestion.

So the three of us went a lot of places together in the city. Tom has an impulse for photobombing.
The first place Lilly and I went, not long after we had arrived, was the enormous Zocalo (formally the Plaza de la Constitution), which was packed with holiday revelers enjoying a temporary ice-skating rink and amusement-park slides. We circumambulated the square, said to be the second largest in the world after Red Square, and spent some time inside the vaulting Catedral Metropolitana, which opens onto one side of the Zocalo.

The second day, with Tom joining us, was for large museums in the even larger Bosque de Chapultepec, the city’s equivalent of Central Park: the Castillo de Chapultepec, a grand palace along European lines and now a history museum; and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, an epic museum devoted to the many and varied cultures of pre-Columbian Mexico (or more precisely, pre-Cortez).

All that makes for tired feet, so the third day was less intense. Even so, we got a good look at a small part of the charming Coyoacan neighborhood, which includes the Museo Frida Kahlo. The lines were too long to visit Frida, but not to get into the Museo Casa Leon Trotsky a few blocks away.

The next day, December 30, was exhausting, but completely worth all the energy and money we spent, because we got to visit the renowned Teotihuacan, which is to the northeast of the city, in the State of Mexico, and climb its pyramids. From there, we went back into the city to see the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe — the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe — a pilgrimage site I’ve been curious about since I encountered The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Des Plaines.

And as if that wasn’t enough for a day, we returned to Castillo de Chapultepec on the evening of the 30th, along with four of Tom’s friends from Austin who were also visiting Mexico City, for an outdoor performance by the astonishingly talented dancers, singers and musicians of the Ballet Folklórico de México.

On the last day of 2017, we slept fairly late, but were out and about after noon, for a visit to the Palacio de Belles Artes, a striking building with art exhibits and some astonishing murals, especially the Diego Riveras. More Rivera murals were in the offing at the Palacio National, the last large site we visited.

We were tired on the evening of the 31st, but not too tired to walk a few blocks from our hotel to the Paseo de la Reforma. One of the city’s two main New Year’s celebrations was being held around the Angel de la Independencia, a famed gold-colored statue atop a tall column in the center of a Paseo de la Reforma traffic circle. The event featured live music by well-known (I was told) Mexican bands, a countdown just like at Times Square, except in Spanish, and then fireworks: a bang-up way, literally and figuratively, to start 2018.

A Christmas Carol, Suburban Chicago Version

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is an excellent mid-sized theater that would fit in anywhere in the city, but it happens to be in suburban Arlington Heights. We went to see a production of A Christmas Carol there on Saturday.

Another nice detail: they produce paper tickets. This was Ann’s.
The soulless ticket cartel might be eager to get rid of paper tickets, but venues ought to be eager to keep them. People keep them, especially if they show was good. They’re cheap long-term bits of marketing.

Ann had never seen A Christmas Carol on stage, and neither had Yuriko. The last time I saw it was also at the Metropolis — almost exactly 10 years ago, when I took Lilly.

This production had everything it needed to have, particularly an actor (Jerry M. Miller) who could handle Scrooge’s dour initial disposition that slowly melts to his inevitable conversion to altruism. A Christmas Carol without that is a limp rag indeed.

Since it’s based on a novella, and not a source play, stage versions are going to differ, as the movies do. There was more singing and dancing in this version than others I’ve seen. Each of the Christmas spirits got a song-and-dance by a troupe, for instance, which was pleasant enough. This version also featured Bob Cratchit as the story’s narrator, which was a little odd.

A couple of important lines were omitted. Lines I think are important, that is. Old Fezziwig, who seemed reasonably prosperous — he had apprentices, after all — but who also knew that life was about more than making money, got none of his lines. He was mentioned in passing by Scrooge, and he got to dance, but that was about it.

“Yo ho, my boys!” said Fezziwig. “No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer. Let’s have the shutters up,” cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, “before a man can say Jack Robinson.”

When faced with the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge didn’t ask it a most important question.

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

Just quibbles. Now I’ve done my bit to introduce my children to the Dickensian part of Christmas. If you’re going to celebrate the holiday in this post-Victorian world, you should know it.

Adios, November

Three yawning months of meteorological winter ahead. That’s what counts for winter: December, January and February. Never mind what anyone says about the solstice. But at least no heavy snow or ice is forecast for now.

Back again to posting around December 10.

What did we do to deserve this sunset? A late November event, as seen from our deck.
On Thanksgiving, the girls and I watched Airplane! on demand. What is it about that movie and its rapid-fire, throw the jokes against the wall to see if they’re funny structure? I’ve watched it a number of times since I saw it when it was new, and it’s funny every time.

Unlike another movie I paid good money to see in 1980: The Hollywood Knights. That was a mistake. So much so that sometime afterward I invented my own personal scale of movie quality: The Hollywood Knights Scale, from zero to some unspecified large number, zero being the worst.

The Hollywood Knights comes in at exactly 0 on my idiosyncratic scale. I’ve seen some bad movies in my time, but that ranking is still valid as far as I’m concerned (though I’d have to put, say, Patch Adams at 0.1).

Not familiar with The Hollywood Knights? Wiki gives a pretty good summation: “The ensuing antics include, among other things, a sexual encounter involving premature ejaculation, a punch bowl being spiked with urine, an initiation ceremony involving four pledges who are left in Watts wearing nothing but the car tires they are left to carry, a cheerleader who forgets to put on her underwear before performing at a pep rally, several impromptu drag races, and the lead character of Newbaum Turk (Robert Wuhl) wearing a majordomo outfit and singing a version of ‘Volare’ accompanied by the sounds of flatulence. Mooning also plays a prominent role in the film…”

None of those things necessarily make the movie unfunny. After all, Airplane! includes jokes about drug abuse, pederasty, oral sex, a sick child, and African-American dialect. There are ridiculous visual gags, such as Ted Striker’s drinking problem or pouring lights on the runway. Punning is rampant (don’t call me Shirley). Yet it all works as a comedy. The writing, directing, acting, timing and entire conceit as a spoof of more serious movies are vastly better than anything The Hollywood Knights did.

Speaking of odd things in movies, this is a still from Animal Crackers.

That’s supposed to be part of an outdoor patio of a lavish home on Long Island. The characters, who are not really that important in the scheme of the comedy, are the wealthy homeowner’s daughter and her honest but poor boyfriend. What caught my eye was that structure behind them.

According to the imdb, the uncredited art director for the firm was the German-born Ernst Fegté, who was working in Hollywood by 1925, and who had a busy career. Now what, I can imagine him thinking, would a wealthy Long Island socialite want for her patio? Something — modern.

The movie was made in 1930. Here’s something else from exactly then, a cover of Radio Listener magazine that I saw at the early Soviet art exhibit at the Art Institute last weekend.

It’s a Peakaboo Stalin. Lenin figured in a fair number of the works, but Stalin was only an up-and-coming character during most of the period. A little like Fonzie, though — pretty soon he’s going to take over the show.

One more thing, and naught to do with movies or the Soviet Union. I took Lilly back to UIUC on Sunday, and en route arranged to take a picture of this roadside attraction in Kankakee. Almost literally roadside, since it’s best seen from I-57.
“28 feet tall, Abe stands in front of a heavy equipment rental lot, and holds signs that promote whatever its owner feels strongly about at the moment,” says Roadside America.

I’ve seen him with a sign, but for the moment he holds none. Just as well, I figure. A sign in Honest Abe’s hands is gilding the lily.

Tuesday Before Thanksgiving Leftovers

Back on Sunday, November 26. A good Thanksgiving to all.

At about 9 p.m. on November 21, I went outside and there he was. Orion, just rising in the southeast. Winter’s here. Fitting, since it will be well below freezing until tomorrow morning.

Visited the library again recently. Did another impulse borrowing: a box set with five Marx Brothers movies on five disks. Their first five — The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. I’m going to work my way through them over Thanksgiving because it occurs to me that, except for Animal Crackers and Duck Soup, I haven’t seen any of them in more than 20 years. Maybe 30 in some cases.

A booklet comes with the box, including reproductions of the movie posters. The Cocoanuts is praised on its poster as an All Talking-Singing Musical Comedy Hit! Talkies came along just in time for the Marx Brothers.

I’m glad the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville is a long-standing success. I remember visits there as far back as 1984, for meals or music, such as a show by Kathy Mattea sometime in the mid-80s, and always chocolate chunk cheesecake. But I wasn’t glad to read the following in the Washington Post this week:

Nashville, first on ABC and now CMT, has made the 90-seat venue so incredibly popular over the last five years that it’s impossible to get in unless you have a reservation (snapped up seconds after they’re available online) or wait in line outside for hours.”

Hell’s bells. Not that I visit Nashville often enough for this to affect me, but still. The thought that the Bluebird has lines like a Disneyland ride bothers me.

Still, I have many fond memories of the 1980s Blue Bird, along with a number of other small Nashville venues I used to visit, such as the Station Inn, Exit/In, Springwater, 12th & Porter, the Sutler, and Cantrell’s.

The Station Inn offered bluegrass. One fine evening ca. 1985 I saw Bill Monroe himself play there. Some years earlier, I went now and then with friends Neal and Stuart. After ingesting some beer, Stuart in particular was adamant that the band, whoever it was, play “Rocky Top” and “Salty Dog.” Usually the band obliged.

Something to know: the Osborn Brothers released the first recording of “Rocky Top” nearly 50 years ago, on Christmas 1967.

While putting the “detach & return” part of my water bill in the envelope the other day, I noticed in all caps block letters (some kind of sans-serif): PLEASE DO NOT BEND, FOLD, STAPLE OR MUTILATE.

Two of the classic three. Poor old “spindle.” As neglected as the @ sign before the advent of email. As for “bend,” that’s an odd choice. I bend paper a lot, but unless you fold it, paper pops right back.

Correction: Not long ago, I recalled a kid that came to collect candy at our house one Halloween in the late ’90s, dressed as a Teletubbie. I had the time right: it was 1998. But oddly enough, I actually saw two little kids as Teletubbies, at least according to what I wrote in 2004:

“That year, all the kids came during the day, and I have a vivid memory of two kids aged about three to five, dressed as Teletubbies in bright costumes that looked like they could have done duty on the show itself.”

Odd. Memory’s a dodgy thing. How much remembering is misremembering? Or are the details that important anyway?

Thursday Havering

A lot of the ads popping up lately on YouTube have been to promote Canadian tourism. Mostly the ads depict, in music video style, young people doing the kind of vigorous activities that (some) young people must imagine is the essence of traveling to exotic places like Saskatchewan. Actually, one today featured the Yukon.

I’m all for visiting Canada, and encouraging people to do so, but the ads don’t really speak to me. Besides, Canada’s not really top of my mind in November. Then again, it’s good to plan ahead, so you can visit Canada, and even the Yukon, during that short window of opportunity when the place is pleasantly warm.

I never knew until recently that The Proclaimers did a charming version of “King of the Road” back in 1990. No one does it like Roger Miller, but I smile when I hear lyrics like, “destination Bangor, Maine” in that burr of theirs.

“King of the Road,” in the way things go on the Internet, soon leads to a song stuck in mid-60s amber, “Queen of the House.” Even better, the song is done in a Scopitone.

I was in the city not long ago with a camera in the front seat, so I took a few pictures while stopped at traffic lights. Such as this place. So very Chicago.
Then there was Thunderbolt.
It’s an ax throwing venue, only the second one in Chicago, according to the Tribune, opening this spring.

“Ax throwing — indoor or outdoor — is a skill-based sport; [owner Scott] Hollander likens it to pool or darts, where participants can take the competition as seriously or lackadaisically as they please,” the paper says.

“Easygoing ax throwers can book an hour at a lane for $15 per person Wednesdays and Thursdays, and for $20 per person Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Food and nonalcoholic drink is allowed and can be consumed at the plywood stands behind each pair of lanes or at the picnic tables in the building. Thunderbolt also is available for bachelor or bachelorette parties, birthday parties and corporate events.”

What do I think of when I hear about ax throwing? Ed Ames, naturally. Tomahawk, but close enough.

Casablanca at 75

Yesterday we all went to see Casablanca on the big screen. It was in a few theaters nationwide on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of its late 1942 release.

At $4.50 a pop, how could I pass that up? I checked, and the other movies showing at the same multiplex are Thor: Ragnarok, Daddy’s Home 2, Murder on the Orient Express (starring Kenneth Branagh’s facial hair, I’ve read), A Bad Mom’s Christmas, Jigsaw, Boo! A Madea Halloween, Happy Death Day, Geostorm, It, My Little Pony: The Movie, Seven Sundays, and, interestingly, two Bollywood features: C/o Surya and PSV Garuda Vega.

I’ll never live long enough to confirm this, but I suspect that not a single one of those other titles will be revived for a 75th anniversary showing, or for any other year.

Ann had never seen Casablanca before. I didn’t expect her to know, for instance, much about the geopolitical background of the movie, such as why “Vichy” might be important, so I spent a few minutes beforehand explaining a few things to her. I went as far as whistling a few bars of “La Marseillaise.”

She said that sounded familiar — of course it does, it’s an aural shorthand for “France” in English-speaking media — but she didn’t know what it was. I said it was the national anthem of France, and that the movie puts good use of it.

Rick Blaine has been characterized as a stand-in for the United States and its isolationist ways before Pearl Harbor, and I suppose there’s something to that. After all, Victor says to Rick (and I think it’s too-good-by-half Victor Laszlo’s best line): “Welcome back to the fight. This time, I know our side will win.” An optimistic line, that. It’s sobering to think that the movie was not only set when the fate of mankind was in the balance, it was made then.

I’ve seen Casablanca a number of times (not sure how many) since the first time in film class in 1983, so I could focus on details, such as the evocative sets, especially Rick’s. Carl Jules Weyl, who did the splendid sets on The Adventures of Robin Hood not long before and on The Big Sleep a few years later, was the art director.

It also occurred to me how well Victor and Ilsa were dressed. Awfully stylish for a couple barely staying ahead of Nazis pursuing them across the Mediterranean and then North Africa. We never see the luggage that Rick sends Victor off to deal with at the airport, so he can have a moment to tell Ilsa what’s what, but it must have been a steamer trunk or two.

But that’s overthinking the matter. This is the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course the luminous Ingrid Bergman is going to be dressed to the nines, even in a war-torn world.

Something else I noticed this time was a line with distinct foreshadowing, spoken by Major Strasser to Ilsa: “My dear, perhaps you have already observed that in Casablanca human life is cheap.” Indeed. As it turns out, cheap for Major Strasser, the only major character who dies on screen. And I never get tired of hearing Capt. Renault say, “Round up the usual suspects.” When my film class heard that, we cheered.

Ann wasn’t entirely sure what nationality Renault was supposed to be, so she asked me after the movie. I suppose that’s a function of not watching enough old movies with French policemen or soldiers in them. The kepi is all earlier generations needed to spot a Frenchman, but that must not be so any more.

I also suggested to Ann that she pay attention to the supporting and minor characters, who are widely regarded as one of the chief delights of the movie. Especially these two.

I’m glad to report that Ann liked the movie. It’s entirely possible that she’ll see it again when she’s older, and get more out of it, as one does with good movies re-watched or books re-read. Maybe she will see it around the 100th anniversary. I’m sure Casablanca will still be watched then.

Thursday Tidbits

Last night Northern Illinois dropped below freezing, and it wasn’t a lot warmer during the day. A taste of winter, dressed like fall.
Fall colors, ChicagoI didn’t know until recently that Lotte Lenya, who can be heard here singing “Mack the Knife,” or maybe more properly “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” played Rosa Klebb, the SPECTRE operative who tries to off James Bond with her poison-tipped shoe in From Russia With Love.

Not an important thing to know. Just another one of those interesting tidbits to chance upon.

A rare thing: a YouTube comment that’s actually funny. It’s at a posting featuring “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!” sung by Oscar Seagle and the Columbia Stellar Quartette, recorded January 25, 1918.

Someone calling himself Xander Magne said: ” ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition’ ain’t got s–t on this, sonny. Damn 30s kids with their jazz and their swing and their big band and their ‘World War 2.’ We used to have a Great War and it was Great and you liked it!”

One more thing I saw at the International Museum of Surgical Science, a polemic cartoon by Edward Kemble that was part of a display about patent medicine, the Pure Food & Drug Act, etc.

International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago“Palatable Poison for the Poor.” Whew. Good thing that’s not possible in the 21st century, eh?

Again, too melancholy a note on which to end. Here’s something I saw just before Halloween. Pumpkin π.

Pumpkin π

A bit o’ pumpkin whimsy.