WEIRDLAND: December 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

Merry Christmas in Weirdland

19. Remember the Night (1940)
Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck famously co-starred in Billy Wilder’s 1944 noir Double Indemnity. They first teamed up for this 1940 Christmas romance in which Fred MacMurray plays John Sargent, a hard-charging DA who, through a misunderstanding, comes to spend the days before Christmas with Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck), a small-time jewel thief he’s prosecuting. They start to fall in love during a road trip to Indiana, a sojourn that almost allows them to forget that John still has to try to send Lee to jail when they get back. Directed by Mitchell Leisen from a Preston Sturges script, Remember the Night begins as a broad, brisk comedy but shifts moods as John learns about Lee’s difficult past. In a classic holiday-spirit turn, he comes to realize the advantages his loving family have bestowed upon him once he sees how appreciative Lee is after sharing the first warm Christmas morning of her life with his family.

13. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)
A great Christmas movie that not enough people talk about, It Happened on Fifth Avenue opens with the homeless sage Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore) moving, as he does every Christmas season, into the luxurious Manhattan home of vacationing tycoon Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles). From there the film keeps piling on the complications as it breaks down the divide between the haves and the have-nots. McKeever is soon joined by a displaced World War II vet (Don DeFore) and O’Connor’s daughter Mary (Gale Storm), who knows the house even better than those squatting there. The house grows more crowded, new loves get kindled, old loves get renewed, and O’Connor is forced to do a Scrooge-like about-face when he gets reacquainted with those less fortunate than him. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, who took on the project after Frank Capra decided to make It’s a Wonderful Life instead, It Happened on Fifth Avenue earns its warmth honestly, tethering a tale of fresh starts and changed hearts to the real difficulties faced by those reaching for the American dream in a postwar era that was supposed to bring prosperity for all.

12. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
In a film as sexy as it is funny, Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a magazine columnist who risks being exposed as a phony if she can’t create the perfect Christmas at the Connecticut home she’s writing about as part of a PR stunt to reward recuperating GI Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), who’s been dreaming of tasting her recipes while serving in World War II. The only problem: There is no Connecticut home, and she can’t cook. The farcical complications pile up from there, and Stanwyck deftly balances Elizabeth’s mounting sense of panic with wry humor as she reckons with her unexpected desire for Jones — a desire that has popped up just after she’s decided to give up on love in return for a marriage of convenience. Director Peter Godfrey keeps the action fast and light while trusting Stanwyck to excellently bring her character’s dilemma to life, even if it involves changing a diaper as if she’s never seen a baby before in her life.

5. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
There are many great romantic movies set at Christmas, but somehow The Shop Around the Corner still stands above them all. Maybe it’s the irresistible premise: A pair of feuding co-workers don’t realize they’re falling in love with one another via anonymous letters. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because Nora Ephron drew on the same source material — the Miklós László play Parfumerie — for You’ve Got Mail.) Maybe it’s a cast headed by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and filled out with colorful character actors. Maybe it’s because few directors have balanced lightness and romance like Ernst Lubitsch. Whatever the case, it’s both a peerless romantic comedy and one of the great Christmas movies, weaving themes of forgiveness and second chances into a love story that reflects the season in which it takes place.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
What was going on that led to so many great Christmas movies being released in 1947? That year saw the release of The Bishop’s Wife, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (see above), and offered most viewers their first chance to see the greatest Christmas movie of all time (see below). It also produced this lovely story of a girl (Natalie Wood) whose mother (Maureen O’Hara) unwittingly hires someone who may be the actual Kris Kringle as a department-store Santa at Macy’s. What follows is part fantasy, part romance (as O’Hara’s character starts to fall for a charming neighbor), part indictment of commercialism, part defense of letting children be children as long as they can, and part legal thriller (well, sort of). Mostly, the film, written and directed by George Seaton, is an irresistible bit of Christmas whimsy made unforgettable by Edmund Gwenn’s turn as the man who might be Santa.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Really, what other film could top a list of the greatest Christmas movies of all time? Frank Capra’s enduring classic stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the unwitting savior of Bedford Falls, a man whose goodness and generosity has touched more people than he realizes. In fact, as one bleak Christmas looms, he doesn’t realize it at all and is ready to commit suicide — until an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) arrives to show him the error of his ways.

Though it’s become synonymous with holiday cheer, Capra’s film works because of its willingness to go to some dark places, and because of Stewart’s ability to play a gregarious goof one moment and a man whose world comes crashing down the next. Curiously, the film didn’t go into wide release until after Christmas in January of 1947, which might have contributed to its underwhelming box-office performance. But it received a second life thanks to relentless airings on local television in the ’70s and ’80s, where its depiction of one man’s dark night of the soul (and a nightmarish vision of what unrestrained greed looks like without those interested in fairness and justice to stand in the way of the Mr. Potters of the world) connected with a new generation. It’s not hard to see why. It’s grounded in details of the times that inspired it — the Depression, World War II — but its vision of holiday kindness, and of the sort of country most of us would want to live in and the values of kindness and generosity most of us share, remains timeless. Source: www.vulture.com

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Marilyn, Dorothy Kilgallen, JFK, Destiny Betrayed

Prior to the 1960 election, Marilyn – although politically astute – had apparently shown little interest in John F. Kennedy, dismissing him as too inexperienced. But like many Americans, she soon warmed to his youth and charisma. It is generally thought that they first met in late 1961. Marilyn met his brother Bobby, now Attorney General, over dinner at the Lawford home. She was accompanied that evening by Pat Newcomb. Pat was known for her extreme loyalty and protectiveness towards Marilyn, and some likened their relationship to that of sisters. In a letter to a colleague, Greenson wrote that Marilyn had been angered when Pat dyed her hair the same shade as hers. Dr. Ralph Greenson construed it as a fear of lesbian advances – which Pat denied. At lunchtime, Pat joined Marilyn by the pool, and Mrs Murray heard them bickering. It seems unlikely that Marilyn was angry merely because Pat had slept well, so it may have been about something more personal. “She was furious, it’s true,” Pat told Anthony Summers, author of Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. “But I think that she was also furious about something else, I think there was a lot more, not related to me, that I don’t know about.” Although she didn’t mention it in early interviews, Mrs Murray would later claim that Bobby Kennedy and Peter Lawford arrived, apparently unannounced, at the house early that afternoon. Many critics dispute this, because Bobby was supposedly with his family at a ranch outside San Francisco. Pat has denied outright that Bobby visited Marilyn. “Marilyn paid me my salary during her lifetime,” Pat told columnist Mike Connolly in 1962, “and I’m not going to write any post-mortems about my best friend.” True to her word, she declined all offers to publish a memoir of her time with Marilyn. “Evidence of Marilyn’s relationships with the Kennedys is mostly anecdotal – but substantial,” Charles Casillo asserts. However, he does not give credit to the many conspiracy theories implicating the Kennedys. The whole subject has become something of an urban myth that it has distorted Marilyn’s legacy.“Marilyn could not resolve her feelings of being unloved because she felt she was unlovable,” he writes, adding that “the depression that enveloped her in 1962 was like nothing she had experienced before.”  Source: tarahanks.com

The Reporter who knew too much was born of eight words: “They’ve killed Dorothy; now they’ll go after Ruby.” They were uttered by Jack Ruby’s attorney Melvin Belli. He said them to friend Dr. Martin Schorr shortly after Dorothy Kilgallen’s death. On April 14, 1965, Kilgallen was headlining her Journal-American column with the daunting words, “Why Did Oswald Risk All By Shooting Cop?” Her column proves she was continuing to question the “Oswald Alone” theory even after the Ruby trial had ended. Kilgallen wrote: "A mysterious and significant aspect of the events following the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas has never been explored publically, although it must have occurred to crack reporters covering the case as well as authorities investigating the tragedies. The important question—why did Lee Harvey Oswald, presumably fleeing from the police after the assassination, approach Patrolman J. D. Tippit’s car—in broad daylight with witnesses standing by—and shoot the policeman three times, although he had not said a word to Oswald. Oswald had managed to slip away from the scene and was—up to that point—not a reckless one. A man who knows he is wanted by the authorities after a spectacular crime does not seek out a policeman usually, unless he has decided to give himself up, and certainly Oswald was not doing that. By shooting Tippit instead of trying to make himself inconspicuous, Oswald put himself in double jeopardy. His act almost guaranteed his arrest. Why? A whodunit fan would infer that the policeman knew something about Oswald that was so dangerous [the policeman] had to be silenced at any cost, even Oswald’s chance at escape and freedom." 

Commenting on Ruby’s state of mind, she added, “He opened the floodgates of his mind and unloosed a stream of consciousness that would have dazzled a James Joyce buff and enraptured a psychiatrist. There was a great deal of fear inside Jack Ruby that Sunday in June [when he testified]. He feared for his own life.” In her “Voice of Broadway” column, and to anyone who would listen, Kilgallen called the Warren Commission report “laughable” and continued her assassination probe with Jack Ruby as the focal point. She learned of his three prison attempts at suicide in late 1964. First, Ruby stood 20 feet from a concrete wall. His face soaked with perspiration, he ran as fast as possible head first into the wall. He hoped to crack open his skull. He did not. Ruby’s second attempt involved use of an electric light socket. His third try involved using his pants legs to hang himself. A guard, always on watch, squelched Ruby’s intended plan. Hearing of Ruby’s suicide attempt anguished Kilgallen. She continued to ponder the shocking statement Ruby made after appearing before the Warren Commission: “The world will never know the true facts of what occurred. My motives. The people who had, that had so much to gain and had such an ulteior motive to put me in this position I’m in would never let the true facts come above board to the world.” Ruby’s admission only reinforced Kilgallen’s belief that Oswald’s killer was part of a conspiracy and cover-up. More certain every day of her suspicions, Kilgallen was not shy about sharing them. She told friend Marlin Swing several times, “This had to be a conspiracy.” The savvy Kilgallen realized what other competent researchers who fit facts to conclusions instead of the other way around, have during the years: Oswald was a puzzling/confusing character and attempts to decipher his role in the killing of JFK an absolute quagmire with few answers available. The famous reporter, like John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby, was doomed. She just did not know it yet. —"The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of Dorothy Kilgallen" (2016) by Mark Shaw

While sequestered at the Inn of the Six Flags in Arlington, Marina Oswald was asked about her husband’s activities after she left New Orleans. She first replied that she thought he stayed in New Orleans and looked for work. She then said she had no knowledge of any trip to Mexico by Lee in September, and she added that, to her knowledge, Oswald had never been to Mexico. Marina was repeatedly asked about this topic on six more occasions. But she continued to deny that Oswald had ever said anything about being in Mexico City. In February she signed a deal with an entity called Tex-Italia films for the rights to her story. She would go on to make 132,500 dollars from this mysterious company, which never produced a film. In February, before the Warren Commission, she now reversed her story: Oswald had told her he was going to Mexico. And she now backed up what the CIA was saying: Oswald went to Mexico City to get a visa to Cuba. Again, the Commission now had some corroboration for a trip to Mexico that no one recalled Oswald mentioning. And it began with Ruth Paine. The Commission was enthralled by Ruth Paine now producing questionable evidence to implicate Oswald in the shooting. Why would a communist be shooting at both a rightwing ideologue like General Edwin Walker and the most liberal president since Franklin D. Roosevelt? Further, it was Kennedy who pushed Walker out of his command after a thirty year career in the service. This was for distributing rightwing, John Birch Society literature to his troops. No one from the Commission posed these obvious questions. To my knowledge, no critic before Jim Garrison ever seriously questioned the Warren Commission’s version of Oswald’s alleged journey to Mexico City.

Today, with the declassified documents secured by the ARRB, it appears that Garrison was correct about both the importance of and deliberate mystery surrounding Mexico City. The declassified record suggests that, seven weeks before the assassination, certain individuals in the CIA were manipulating either Oswald or an imposter in Mexico City. Almost all the information the Commission received came from the CIA and the FBI. And it arrived in heavily censored form. It was not until August of 1996, thirty-four years later, that the ARRB declassified the Slawson-Coleman Report. This was the report written by Warren Commission lawyers David Slawson and William Coleman describing their journey to Mexico City to investigate what Oswald did there. The excursion was actually suggested to them by Deputy Director Richard Helms. One reason for the Commission’s ignorance about the Oswald file is that Helms actually appointed James Angleton to be the main liaison to the Commission. Unlike his predecessor in that spot, John Whitten, Angleton tried to accent Oswald’s Russian period for the Commission. Since Angleton and Dulles were close colleagues from the 1940s, Allen Dulles tipped off his friend as to what queries they would get about Oswald from the Commission. Since there had been a rumor that Oswald was an FBI agent, Dulles informed Angleton in advance as to what the Commission queries would likely be about Oswald’s possible intelligence ties. Then Angleton and William Sullivan of the FBI rehearsed and unified their responses to deny any intelligence connection to Oswald. This is the reason that the HSCA report on Mexico City was not part of the published volumes in 1979. The report is over 300 pages long. It was therefore classified until the ARRB was created. And then it had to go through several reviews. But even today, an annex to the report, “Was Oswald an Agent of the CIA” has not been released.—"Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case" (2012) by James DiEugenio