Volume XVI, No. 24

Frank Fax Facts

And Reviews

Volume XVI, No. 24

Sunday, September 5

Today is the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, which each good Catholic knows, means it has been that many Sundays since Easter. This translates to 23 trips Father Gorman has driven me to Dauphin Island, where I have provided what I hope was appropriately religiously inspiring music for our little “Flock:” which usually contains more visitors than regular members (thank God for those tourists!) The two occasions that are not ”Ordinary”, are, of course Christmas and Easter. We enter the pre-Christmas period called Advent on November 27 this year. Until then, things are just “Ordinary” And, of course, even atheists know that Easter is preceded by Lent (which is observed after that heathen holiday that we all love, down here where it all started (Mobile) known as Mardi Gras.

This morning when I went outside (around 6:45) there was a definite chill in the air! I cannot express how elated that made me feel! Now, at 6 PM, it is a bearable 81 degrees. I am more than ready to welcome autumn and winter!

I was stricken with a particularly nasty virus Sunday, and had to put up with it through Wednesday! In the process, I lost eleven pounds, but I know me well enough to know they will come galloping back now that I am better/

Yesterday, I had Gloria McDonald for my partner at Bridge, and she managed to raise me to a higher level: we were second overall. (Of course there were only five other pairs, due to college football’s season starting. But it certainly made my week of bridge!

Cat Wisdom

I simply cannot resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course"

---Mark Twain

DVD Reviews

Tokyo Sonata” (Japanese, with s/t)

At last I agree with a film festival’s Best Film award! Kioshi Kurosawa’s complex modern day drama is a masterpiece if I ever saw one. And its story is told against the gorgeous background of Tokyo. Basically, it is the story of one man’s family. He has worked as an administrator of a large corporation for years. Now, in his mid 40’s, he is laid off. He is too ashamed to tell his wife and two sons, and begins spending his days job hunting (at first) but has no skills other than as an executive. So he stands in free food lines to get his lunch away from home. Here he meets an old school chum, who is in the exact same situation. The two begin spending their days together, but then one day, Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa) learns that his friend and his wife were found dead; victims of a murder-suicide pact,

Meanwhile, Ryuhei is having troubles at home with his two sons: one (19) wants to enlist in the US Army, and of course his father forbids it; the younger son has been using his lunch allowance to pay for forbidden piano lessons (his parents, of course, know nothing of this until late in the film). I found it particularly interesting that the son who wishes to join the US Army, expressed concern that since America has to protect Japan from enemy attacks, the least he can do is join to protect his own country. This is the first time I have heard anything of this nature since the end of WWII. Since then Japan’s and Germany’s economies dominated the world, while ours took a back seat.

The surprising and beautiful ending more or less justifies the film’s title.

For what I assume is a revealing picture of present day Japan, I heartily recommend this wonderful film. (****)

More about Sequels and Their Appeal

Often, an author will see fit to write a continuation of a successful book; if that sequel meets with approval and success, he or she may go n writing sequel after sequel, ad nauseum (as is the case of that woman who has long ago surpassed the Queen of England as the Richest Woman in the World. Of course, with millions of young people all over the globe demanding more-and ever more of Harry Potter, what’s a gal to do but give them what they want? Lord knows, at the price of just one of those books, I could have purchased several hard backed copies of the Triangle Book Classics I used to read as young student. For half a dollar, I began my collection of these great books, and Daddy built me a bookcase to house them. That was soon outgrown, as were most of my clothes at the time. But that was a gentler and far less expensive time.

One of my favorite books, by a usually under-rated author, was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I had seen the first* filmed version of this classic the same week Josephine showed Gone with the Wind the first time. Because everybody and his brother was eager to see Scarett O'Hara, Josephine asked for the earliest possible date she could book this ”Movie to end all movies”. The film distributor, in New Orleans (all the area’s films came through that city) offered a Tuesday-Wednesday early date (my sister’s policy was to change programs three times a week: Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday, a double feature Friday-Saturday, and of course, with the Baptist churches’ dominance in this small hamlet, there were no Sunday shows allowed. That left Josephine with a single day slot to fill. I had been intrigued with a picture in the brand new encyclopedias Daddy had bought for us, of Katherine Hepburn, Frances Dee, Joan Bennet and Jean Parker as Alcott’s four Little Women. The scene has a man, seated in a sled, as the sisters stand chatting with him.

The background is solid white with snow. I was always fascinated with snow. The girls are all in winter coats, with muffs to keep their hands warm scarves and bonnets. They looked so happy, young and beautiful that once I saw that picture, I was hooked. I had to see Little Women! And even though she knew she would not get her money back from the film’s rental (probably only $10 since it was already five years old, in 1939) she was her usual benevolent self and granted my wish. I can still watch and enjoy every single frame of it!

It was the longest book I had ever read, but I stoically plowed forward (I was ten years old). The opening line of the book captivated me: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!” This certainly was very true, in my greedy little opinion!

There is a line (from that 1933 version) that can still tug at my heart strings, even now: Beth (Jean Parker) lying on her death bed, quietly looks adoringly at Jo (Katherine Hepburn) and says, “Dear Jo, I think I shall be lonesome for you, even in heaven.” The poignancy of this line, so simply and sweetly delivered can make me weep. And, of course, the musical score, by Max Steiner, of whom none of us seemed aware before Gone with the Wind is so right. His Oscar winning score for that later film, still stands as one of the great musical scores of all time.

Alcott undoubtedly “hit a nerve” with the American readers, because this was her most popular novel, She did add a sequel, called “Little Men” (what else?) which was made into a film by RKO back in 1940. I never saw the film and keep hoping that a copy of it will show up on TCM or AMC. It was not a financial success, sadly. The movie starred Kay Francs (a very successful actress, though I could never see why) Jack Oakie (a popular comedian of that era) Jimmy Lydon (a child actor who had quite a career at RKO and MGM) Ann Gillis and William Demarest best remembered as the grandfather on TV’s “My Three Sons”).

The second and third screen versions were made after RKO’s sad demise MGM made a lavish Technicolor version, in 1949, with June Allyson as “Jo”, Janet Leigh as “Meg”; Elizabeth Taylor as “Amy”, Margaret O’Brien as “Beth”, Peter Lawford as “Laurie “ and Mary Astor as “Marmie”. This was the version most of my friends remember, but RKO’s was far superior in every way, to this one, in my opinion.

A 1970 TV serial version that totally escaped my notice (and I can hardly believe this statement) apparently had Meredith Baxter Berney; Susan Dey; Ann Dusenberry; Eve Plunth; Dorothy McGuire (“Marmie”); Robert Young; William (“Star Trek”) Shatner; Greer Garson (in her TV debut as “Aunt March”); According to Maltin, McGuire and Garson stole the show in this short-lived series. I can just imagine what fun this group must have had: on that set! It seems such a bizarre mixture of 1940’s MGM, minus Walter Pidgeon,-who seemed Garson’s eternal co-star (or, in the case of McGuire and Young, RKO’s “The Enchanted Cottage” without Herbert Marshal!)

The most recent version of the book appeared in 1994, and had Wynona Ryder as “Jo”; Susan Sarandon; getting second billing as “Marmie”, as well as delivering some rather ninteen nineteen ninety-ish’ feminists remark; Samantha Mathes, Trini Alvarado, Clare Danes and Kirsten Dunst as Meg, Amy and Beth (I forget which played which because I frankly hated the film!) I was irate to see that Leonard Maltin (whose criticism is usually right on target) not only gave it a **** rating, but actually raved about the “perfect cast: and everything’s being “ exactly right”!

Well, to each his own.

At the time that RKO made that first (and I still say “best) version of this enduring as well as endearing classic, it was a leading studio still, and took great pride in presenting such classical literature as “The Devil and Daniel Webster”; both Alcott novels; Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (one of the best films of 1939, which produced a bumper crop of all-time Hollywood masterpieces); A. J. Cronin’s “Vigil in the Night”; Montgomery’s “Anne of Windy Poplars”; Robert Sherwood’s “Abe Lincoln in Illinois”:; “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”: “The Swiss Family Robinson”; “The Deerslayer”; “Ivanhoe”; Booth Tarkington’s “Little Orvie”

These were all among the projected films to be made in the 39-40 schedule from RKO.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010