Frank Fax Facts
Volume XVI, No. 30
Sunday, October 3, 2010
I am now in the third week of my “Bland Food Diet”, and have grown quite accustomed to grits for breakfast, lots of canned soups and Jello, plus peanut butter (what would we do without this typically American food?) My weight stays about the same, because I eat plenty of bread.
“Cats are a mysterious kind of folk. There is more passing in their minds than we are aware of.”
Sir Walter Scott
“The Bounty Hunter” and “An Ordinary Citizen” (Sony Pictures Classics)
If my sight were better, I would not rent most of the DVDs I watch. And last Tuesday, I would have seen that a new (to me, anyway) actor named Gerard Taylor (I believe) was the star of both movies I had chosen. In all honesty, I would probably not have noticed the sameness, because in each film he looked as different as the roles themselves were. “The Bounty Hunter” seemed to me, to be a feeble attempt on the part of Sony Pictures to recreate that most elusive of genres, the ‘Screwball Comedy of the 1930’s’. The film falls completely on its derrier- and why anyone would deliberately try to duplicate this tiresome (to me) waste of such geniuses as Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant (their “Bringing Up Baby” is usually cited as the quintessential “Screwball Comedy”), is beyond my comprehension! I loathed the so-called comedy, and still wince every time I see it playing on television! But this movie is far worse, and managed to squander another of my favorite current actresses, Jennifer Anniston. She plays the ex-wife of (the obnoxious actor, who is apparently ’Hot|”: in today’s Hollywood) and their sparring is about as much fun to watch as an execution by lethal injection (not that I have ever been witness to one).
“A Law Abiding Citizen” held me spellbound until the last few minutes, at which time, it became so ludicrously ridiculous that I cannot see how any film studio would expect even teen-agers to believe it possible!
Ghost Writer (Summit)
Easily one of the best ten films of 2010, Ewan McGregor proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can hold his own with the best actors in the world. He is picture-perfect of the ghostwriter who replaces the first ghostwriter of a former British Prime Minister’s memoirs, after that ghostwriter is mysteriously murdered. Pierce Brosnin is equally convincing in the “Tony Blair-like” role as the ex-prime minister who has been accused of committing all manner of war crimes. There is enough suspense to satisfy even the most rabid. It reminded me once more, just how talented the director (Roman Polanski) is, and how thoroughly he plans every detail of his films, no matter how small it may be. (****)
Frank’s History of the Movies
Universal Studios began remaking successful cinema soap operas from the 1930’s and earlier. I never saw a single one of these “weepers”. I could never bear to listen to them on the radio, when Mama would sit by the fire, dozing as “Lorenzo Jones and his Devoted Wife, Belle”; or “Scattergood Baines” just to mention two that she especially liked were on. I will admit that they did further my musical education with their theme songs. These were usually played on what had to. have been a Hammond Organ, with lots of vibrato: the lone example of a piano playing an original piano solo on the proper instrument was “Au Matin”, by French composer, Benjamin Goddard. I liked this so much that I persuaded my high school piano teacher, Miss Bernice Gay to let me learn it. She probably was so glad to get me working on anything other than ”Boogie Woogie”, which George taught me on the side, that she seemed delighted with my choice. That was very a long time ago, but it seems that this might have been the theme song of “Pepper Young’s Family”. If not “Henry Aldrich” (whose reply of “Coming, Mother!” became legendary.) Henry Aldrich, as movies, had quite a successful run between the years 1939’s ”What a Life!” and 1944’s “Henry Aldrich’s Little Secret”. “What a Life!” had been based on Clifford Goldsmith’s play of the same name, which opened on Broadway in 1938, and spawned the radio series about a teen-aged boy (Ezra Stone recreating his Broadway role for radio) and his “plain-Jane girlfriend” (Betty Field, also on the stage as well as the first film*)
Paramount Pictures saw in “Henry Aldrich”, the possibility of sharing some of MGM’s “Andy Hardy” series’ success. This studio assigned two of their greatest comedic writers (Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder) to provide the script Jackie Cooper was cast as “Henry” in the first and second films in the series (“Life with Henry”- was the second film- a silly, but likeable effort) Then they cast newcomer Jimmy Lydon in the key role in “Henry Aldrich for President” (’41)’ “Henry and Dizzy” and “Henry Aldrich, Editor” (‘42); “Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour”, ”Henry Aldrich Swings It”, and “Henry Aldrich Haunts a House” (’43); “Henry Aldrich, Boy Scout”, ‘Henry Aldrich Plays Cupid”, and “Henry Aldrich’s Little Secret” concluded the series in 1944. All of the films ran about 70 minutes. The series made a small profit for Paramount, but were much less prestigious than the Andy Hardy series.
There was another serial with a truly great theme song. We all agreed it was the best of all of them, but it wasn’t until George graduated from high school and got his first grand piano, that we found out the melody’s name and composer. Up to this time, there had been only two “baby grands” in the entire town: the Bowens (the new banker’s family, and Vivan Hartley. I knew this because each year when George and my piano teacher in Richton (Miss Alline Hill) had us play in piano contests each spring, she always tried to get us at least one rehearsal on a grand of some sort, since all we had at school or at home were well used Uprights. So, the three of us would trudge (none of us had cars) to one or the other “decent” pianos and play through out “contest pieces” a few times. I never knew if it helped or not, but, it certainly could have done no harm. When George became the proud owner of a gorgeous new black Lester grand, all the neighbors came and begged him to play something for them. And then a couple of people I had no idea were pianists came by and asked if George would let them “try out” his new acquisition. He graciously allowed them, and we were both so happy that he had. Dorothy Spikes, who was about Josephine’s age, sat down and played the first three chords of the theme song from one of the more adult romantic soap operas, and we gave a collective gasp! It was that favorite of all the theme songs of the daily serials. We had never heard anything but the first page or less, but by the time Dorothy finished the entire piece, we were all convinced that it was indeed gorgeous.
She thanked George for letting her play his wonderful piano and commented on the beautiful tone quality as well as the action. George was almost in a trance as he asked her what the name of the work was.
“Clair de Lune,” she answered, “by Debussy.” She did not tell us that the title is French for “Moonlight”, but we soon found that out from Josephine (whose “minor” had been French)
The second “Pianist” who came by to hear George play was our next-door neighbor’s son, Karl Oliver. The Olivers had as large a family as ours, but had moved next door less than six months earlier. None of us had met Karl (nor most of the siblings; but we all loved the parents and mine and George’s favorite librarian, Lona Belle”. We were all mighty impressed when Karl (who lisped slightly, so that his name came out sounding more like “Kawa Owiwa” than it should) told us he was a piano major at Mississippi Southern College, and studied with Frank Earl Marsh.
I was unimpressed, but I could tell that the others were not!
(To be Continued)