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.

Upon Saint Crispin’s Day

I’ve posted this before, but it was nine years ago, and besides, you can’t watch the St. Crispin’s Day speech often enough.

Laurence Olivier’s version is, of course, very accomplished, but somehow it doesn’t resonate with me like Kenneth Branagh’s.

As it happens, I’ve been reading about Agincourt in The Face of Battle by John Keegan (1976) these last few days. I’ve had the book a long time, though not 41 years, and only recently decided to get around to it. In Keegan’s capable hands, the historical Agincourt is every bit as interesting as Shakespeare’s.

September Pause

Back to posting again around September 17. Constitution Day. Maybe I’ll have finished the Federalist Papers by then.

It might also be warm again. A distinct October-like coolness has settled on northern Illinois since Labor Day.

Saw a cherry picker in the neighborhood recently. The man atop the equipment was repairing a street lamp that had gone a little funny. Not out, just flickering from time to time.

cherry picker

Why a cherry picker? Why not apples or lemons? And why do careless or unscrupulous researchers cherry pick their data? Why not grape harvest it?

Speaking of fruit, completely by chance down an Internet rabbit hole recently I came across the Citronaut — the first mascot of Florida Technical University, which eventually became the University of Central Florida. He’s an anthropomorphic orange wearing a space helmet, dating from 1968.

Florida produces citrus and shoots men into space, so it must have seemed like a bright idea. For a very short time. Says Wiki: “After one year, students petitioned the Student Government to establish a new mascot for the university.” Poor old goofy Citronaut was ignominiously dumped. You’d think he could have gone on to shill Tang or something.

The thought of Tang led me to another Internet rabbit hole. Eventually I came across the Tang Pakistan page. Is Tang popular in Pakistan? Could be. At least it seems more advertised there than its country of origin.

The About Tang page is in English, and includes such sentences as: “Being the king of flavours, its fruity and refreshing taste wins millions of hearts every day. Be it family gatherings, group studies, play days or summer struck – Tang is the Neverland for everyone to indulge, lift their moods and bond together to share good times.”

Not a peep about astronauts.

Over the Labor Day weekend, I watched The General on DVD. I’d only ever seen clips of it. It’s one of the most kinetic movies I’ve ever seen. Fittingly, with locomotives chasing each other and Buster Keaton all over the place, doing his own stunts. Funny stuff. I’m glad a movie more than 90 years old can still be so amusing.

Some scenes were flat-out amazing. Best known, probably, is when a locomotive causes a trestle to collapse, precipitating the engine into the river below. As I looked at that, I thought, that looks awfully real, not like a model. Turns out it was a real locomotive shot falling into a river (like the train fall in Bridge On the River Kwai).

Sean Axmaker writes in Silentfilm.org: “For the scene in which Johnnie sets fire to a bridge to prevent the North’s engine from crossing the river, Keaton had [set designer Fred] Gabourie construct a stunt trestle designed to collapse under the train’s weight. It was the only sequence that did not use existing track and it has been called the most expensive single shot in silent film history (Keaton biographies put the cost at $42,000).

“It is certainly the most expensive that Keaton ever executed. He had only one shot at the scene and ran six cameras to capture the spectacle. The engine that plunged into the river was one of the doubles used to stand in for the working engines and it rested there in the water, rusting away for 15 years until it was hauled out for salvage in the scrap drives of World War II.”

Later I looked up the female lead in the movie, Marion Mack, a one-time Sennett Bathing Beauty. She got tired of being in movies around the time talkies started, and lived a long time after, until 1989, including a career as an Orange County real estate broker. As for Glen Cavender, an original Keystone Cop who played antagonist Capt. Anderson, he lived until 1962. He seems to be an example of one of those actors that didn’t transition well to talkies, though he kept working.

The actual leader of the 1862 Great Locomotive Chase was James J. Andrews, a civilian scout for the Union Army. Things didn’t turn out well for him, since the Confederates hanged him. He lost out posthumously, too. This from Wiki: “Some of the raiders were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress for their actions. As a civilian, Andrews was not eligible.”

You’d think Andrews should get something, even now, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom or the Congressional Gold Medal, which go to civilians.

One more thing about a movie. Recently I happened across this video on You Tube.

It’s a remarkable bit of editing to go along with Elmer Berstein’s justly famous, magnificent Magnificent Seven main theme, right down to Steve McQueen’s smile in the last frame. The video featuring the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is also worth a watch.

Thursday Odd Lots

“What’s so funny, Dad?”

“That sign across the street.”

We were in Wisconsin during our recent trip, and had stopped at a place where I could access wifi. The sign was visible from there.

“That’s not funny.”

“Maybe it will be for you someday.”

What would happen if you used this granite for landscaping? Would your back yard suddenly cause you dread? Kafkaesque landscaping, now there’s a concept.

Looks like Kafka does some good work, though.

Here’s a sign you don’t see much any more, though I’m pretty sure that they were common once upon a time. I think even my high school cafeteria, which was in a basement, had one in the late ’70s. They’re so rare now that when you do see one in situ, you take note. Something like a working public pay phone.

Fallout Shelter Sign, Calumet, Michigan

This one is on Sixth St. in Calumet, Michigan. It even has a capacity number. What was once an unnerving reminder of the nuclear Sword of Damocles can now “add a cool tone to a man cave or retro game room,” according to Amazon, where you can pick a reproduction up from the Vintage Sign Co. for (currently) $18.99. The note also calls the item a “vintage style WWII metal sign.” What is it about basic chronology that flummoxes so many people?

Something else I saw, a little more recently, in Bucktown.

Bucktown, Chicago Shiva Shack

Shiva Shack? C’mon in for a bit of destruction and then transformation.

Also in Bucktown: a game of beanbag on the sidewalk.

Bucktown 2017

Maybe there to remind us what politics ain’t.

Recently I picked up The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992) by Paul Theroux. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a number of years. So far it’s a good read. I understand that he has a reputation as a snob, and some of that comes through in his writing, but I don’t know the man personally, so I wouldn’t have to put up with him anyway.

He writes well, at least about the places he’s been, and that’s all that counts. His description, early in the book, of hiking on the South Island of New Zealand, is a fine bit of work, and had the unfortunate side effect of making me want to drop everything and go do that. The mood passed.

Theroux’s work did influence me to go one place. In the early ’90s, I read his Sunrise With Seamonsters, a collection of essays and travel bits, and one piece included a mention of the Cameron Highlands on the Malay Peninsula. It’s a former British hill station, more recently a getaway place for Malaysians and the trickle of tourists who’ve heard of it. His mention of it was probably where I first heard of the place.

When I went to Malaysia for the first time, I made a point of going there, and did not regret it. Besides cool temps, you can enjoy jungle walks (unless you’re Jim Thompson), a butterfly garden, a nighttime view that can include the Southern Cross, and eating Chettinad cuisine on a banana leaf, with your hands.

This is what life is, according to the song.

Life's a Bowl of Cherries

Rainier cherries, which are in season now. Very popular around the house, and we buy them in large quantities while we can. I’m glad that there are still some foods, some fruits, that have a season.

I’m not all that keen on Rudy Vallee, but his version of the song is good. And the lip sync from Pennies From Heaven (1981) is amusing. I saw that movie when it was new, probably because Steve Martin was in it, but I don’t remember very much about it. Maybe I should watch it again. I know I was too young then to appreciate its songs.

Birds Above, Mud Below

More rain, more mud. Such is early April this year. At least the grass is green, even where it’s underwater.

The season also means active birds. At about 2 this afternoon, I was out on my deck — but not for a leisurely sit-down, which was pleasantly doable on Saturday — and noticed a lot of birds in the tree overhead. Who sounded like this.

At moments like that, you feel like you’ve stepped into The Birds.

I saw The Birds on television when I was very young, sometime in the late ’60s. I didn’t see it again for about 25 years, though in the interim I managed to see The 39 Steps, Lifeboat, Notorious, Rope, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie, and even Topaz (Hitchcock’s Henry VIII; can’t really recommend it). But I never got around to seeing The Birds as an adult until the early ’90s.

From the first time I remembered the birds pecking a woman to death, and a guy lighting a cigarette and blowing himself up at a gas station, as an indirect victim of the birds. I didn’t remember that Suzanne Pleshette played the pecked woman. Hey! That’s Emily Hartley being offed by birds!

Also, somehow I had it in mind that the movie depicted a worldwide attack by birds. So I was a little surprised to learn upon second viewing that the movie was about a local incident. In the hands of a lesser director — let’s say much lesser, like M. Night Shyamalan — the attack would have indeed been worldwide, and CGI birds would have destroyed the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, just for the birdy thrill of it all. Hitch would have had none of that.

Peanut Butter, Honey & Banana

Around lunchtime today, I had a hankering for a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. It had been good while. All of the ingredients were on hand, so voila!

I don’t take nearly enough pictures of the food I’m about to eat, so here it is. (I don’t think it’ll end up on Facebook, though.)

peanut butter, honey and bananaTom’s Tabooley in Austin used to serve a dandy pbh&b sandwich for a very modest price. At least it did in the summer of 1981, when I would eat there occasionally. I checked today and discovered that Tom’s Tabooley has closed. That didn’t surprise me — that’s the way it is in the restaurant trade — but what did surprise me was that it closed in 2016.

As I enjoyed my homemade pbh&b creation, it occurred to me that Elvis was fond of them, too. Or at least I thought I’d read that some years ago in Amazing But True Elvis Facts by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (1995), which I picked up on a remainder table sometime in the late ’90s. I know that because the price tag on the back of the book says, “Originally $6.95 SALE PRICE $.97,” a bargain for sure.

So I checked. I wasn’t quite right. Memory is an unreliable narrator. P. 59: “At home, [Elvis] loved to munch a sandwich of peanut butter, sliced bananas, and crisp bacon.”

In the same book, p. 143, you can also discover that, “Elvis’s favorite film was Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It featured one of the King’s favorite actors, Peter Sellers, in three different roles. Elvis watched the 1964 British-made film at least fifty times in his life.”

Remarkable, considering he only lived to be 42. Apocryphal or not, that “amazing true Elvis fact” makes me smile.

Thursday Flotsam

I think I was in the 8th grade when I learned the difference between flotsam and jetsam. Mr. Allen’s English class. He was firm in his belief that you should learn things in school. I suppose most teachers feel that way, but he was particularly adamant. Once a wiseacre named Tim asked Mr. Allen why anyone had to learn what he was teaching. “Because if you don’t know it, you’ll be ignorant,” was his answer.

Saw La La Land recently. It was everything it needed to be. Namely, skillfully made and visually appealing light entertainment, with an especial fine use of the Griffith Observatory as a setting, and an ending a bit above the usual formula. A lot else has been written about it, of course. Endless commentary. As far as I’m concerned, that’s overthinking the matter.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generations weren’t right about everything, but I think they had a healthy take on song-and-dance movies. Mostly light entertainment, though there was the song that was just as powerful a weapon as any cannon or battleship in the First World War.

Speaking of war, after posting about the evacuation of Fort Moultrie on December 26, 1860, I found the digital version of The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies to see if Maj. Anderson’s telegram was indeed the first item in that sprawling compendium. It is.

I was amused by the second item, also a telegram, dated December 27.

Major Anderson, Fort Moultrie:
Intelligence has reached here this morning that you have abandoned Fort Moultrie, spiked your guns, burned the carriages, and gone to Fort Sumter. It is not believed, because there is no order for any such movement. Explain the meaning of this report.
— J.B. Floyd, Secretary of War

Or as Sec. Floyd might have said privately, “The deuced you say! He did what?” Three days later, Floyd resigned as Secretary of War, and is remembered — when he’s remembered at all — for suspicious behavior in that office, at least as far as the Union was concerned, and as an incompetent Confederate general.

General Floyd, the commanding officer, who was a man of talent enough for any civil position was no soldier, and possibly, did not possess the elements of one. He was further unfitted for command for the reason that his conscience must have troubled him and made him afraid. As Secretary of War, he had taken a solemn oath to maintain the Constitution of the United States and uphold the same against all enemies. He had betrayed that trust.
— Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Recommended eatery in Charleston: Bluerose Cafe.

Bluerose Cafe

I started looking for dinner a bit late on a Friday night, and went to one place I’d found on Google maps. It was jammed, and more importantly, so was its parking lot. I went to my second choice. It too was full. Facing the possibility of fast food, which I didn’t really want, I headed back toward to hotel, when I noticed the Bluerose. Plenty of parking there.

The restaurant wasn’t packed either. In fact, at about a half hour before closing, only one table was occupied, with a fellow eating at a counter, and a hostess/waitress behind the counter. The place was simply decorated, but not drab, and the longer I looked around, the more I started noticing Irish touches, such as the sign that said, Céad Míle Fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes).

I sat at the counter as well, and the man eating there said, “I’ll get you something as soon as I’m finished. I haven’t had a chance to eat all day.”

He had a distinct Irish brogue. Turned out he was Denis O’Doherty, the proprietor. I told him not to hurry. We talked a bit, and he told me that he’d come to the United States a good many years ago, living in Boston quite a while, but in Charleston for the last 13 years or so, running the Bluerose. People get around.

I ordered the pan fried flounder before too long, and Mr. O’Doherty went back to the kitchen, which is visible from the counter, to prepare it. While he was at work on that, a woman came in and ordered some food to go, and talked a while with Denis as she sat at the counter. A regular customer. I got the feeling that the place had a lot of regular customers.

He didn’t let the talk distract him too much, because when I got my fish, it was superb. Which was the exact word I used when he asked how the fish was. Sometimes, when it comes to finding good food on the road — even in the age of Yelp and Tripadvisor and all that ya-ya — you just have to get lucky.

Now I Know Who Verne Troyer Is

Ah, Wikipedia. Your charms are endless. I really should give you that $3. Today I was looking at the entry on Seaport Boston Hotel & World Trade Center, a property in the Seaport District of Boston. Among other things, it lists “notable stays,” which looked like a list on a standardized test question — which of these is not like the others?

President Barack Obama
President Bill Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
President George H. W. Bush
President George W. Bush
Vern Troyer

I didn’t know “Vern Troyer,” so naturally I looked him up. Must be this fellow, Verne Troyer. An actor of diminutive stature, he’s best known for playing Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies, which I’ve managed to avoid since the very first one nearly 20 years ago. And yet I’ve heard of Mini-Me. Some things just burrow their way into the wider culture.

The Full Griswold

Someone’s already thought of the Full Griswold. Maybe I’d heard of it before, but I don’t know where. I thought of it this evening driving along, noting the proliferation of Christmas lights in this part of the suburbs. Some displays, of course, are more elaborate than others, but I haven’t seen any Full Griswolds just yet.

Once the concept of the Full Griswold comes to mind, one’s mind naturally turns to gradations of it. That’s what I think about, anyway. The Half Griswold, the Quarter Griswold, that sort of thing. I believe fractional Griswolds would have more charms than decimal Griswolds, such as 0.5 Griswolds or 0.1 Griswolds or the like. Too metric for such a nebulous concept.

Then again, the millihelen’s a metric sort of nebulous measurement, so what do I know?

I’d say that I’ve seen a fair number of Eighth Griswolds and a few Quarters and maybe something approaching a Half this year. But the season’s early. My own house decoration would be somewhere in the hundredths of Griswolds.

The odd thing is, I’ve never actually seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation all the way through, not when it was new (1989) and not since then. I’ve seen bits and pieces over the years. Probably because Chevy Chase is best taken in small doses (which can be quite funny).