Friday, 17 April 2015

Scenes From The Movies

Today we are having a bit of fun for all movie lovers: a quiz with a difference!  



Some actors need a lot of coaxing, others need a firm hand. A good director knows just how to handle his stars.   

See if you can identify the films from the director's coaching of his star. (Answers at the end)

1.  Mr Wilder: No, Marilyn, I'm not angry. But it's been a long day and we're all tired. Now let's try once more. Take fifty-four:  Grab Tony's hand, open your eyes wide and say: "Oh Josephine! The most wonderful thing happened!" Try and get the words in the correct order, Dear, as near as you can manage.

 2.  Mr Scorsese: Look straight into the mirror, Bob … more arrogance, please: "You talkin' to ME?" Look behind you as if you can't believe this jerk has the nerve to talk to YOU. Look belligerent! You don't want to chat with him, you want to kill him!

3. Mr Fleming: No, Clark, I'm sorry about your bad back, but Vivien's not walking up that staircase. No, not even with your arm around her waist. You are carrying her! No, the stunt man is NOT doing it. 

4. Mr Fleming: I don't care if your feet are killing you, Judy, you're not taking those red shoes off until I say CUT! Now click your heels together again. Three times!

5. Mr Hitchcock: Yes, you have to go in the fruit cellar, Tony. It's not scary! How can it be scary? Of course you won't be alone in there with your mouldering mother! The cameraman's here, the sound man's here, the key grip's here … for goodness sake, I’m here! Now stop snivelling and get down those stairs!

6.  Mr Capra: Here comes the car. You keep well back, Clark. Claudette, lift your skirt. Not so high! You're a hitch hiker, not a hooker! Silence on the set! The next one who whistles, is fired. Send the car again! Go on, Claudette, just above the knee!

7.  Mr Jackson: No, Naomi, not yet. Wait until I wave my hankie, then you scream. Yes, dear, you're a better screamer than Fay. You're better than Jamie Lee, too. Yes, I'll talk to the Academy about a special Scream Oscar. But for now, will you just please shut up and wait for your cue?

8.  Mr Coppola: No Marlon, you're not in the scene. He just finds the horse's head in the bed. No, you can’t march in and chuck it on his pillow. You can't cut it off, either. Where did you get that chainsaw? We're not using a real horse's head! Props! Where’s the props man? Show Mr Brando the fake horse's head and take that chainsaw back to the "Slash and Splash" set.

9.  Mr Zinneman: I'm sorry if you've got sand in your bathing suit, Deborah. Yes, I know it chafes, but you can't go and shower now. Burt is uncomfortable too. Yes, I know it is not very romantic. No, that is not a stinging jellyfish, it's just some of the sound man's equipment. Here comes the next wave. No, your mascara isn't running. Never mind if your hair gets wet, just KISS him!

10.  Mr Young: Right, Ursula, start towards the beach. No, no! Not the blue bikini, I want you in the WHITE one! Go and change, and remember to strap the divers' knife on. And hurry up, poor Sean has been lying under that tree for a long time and the ants are eating him alive.

11. Mr Reiner: Cut! No, thanks, Meg, we won't need another take. That one is enough. We now already have far too much information about your private life. Let's call it a day and go home before any more of the extras demand to have what you're having.

12.  Mr Verhoeven: No, Sharon, just sit up straight and keep your knees together. Don't sprawl like that! And don't cross your legs! I said don't …. oh, my goodness.

13. Mr Hill: What do you mean you can't ride a bike, Paul? Everybody can ride a bike! Well, Robert can teach you in the lunch break. At two o'clock sharp I want to see you riding that bike. No wobbling! And Katharine will be on the handlebars. No, the stunt man is NOT doing it!

14. Mr Mankiewicz: Elizabeth, when I say CUT, you have to let go of Richard. No, that wig does not block your ears. I know you heard me. No, we don't need another take. That will do. You can go to your dressing room now. Your own dressing room! Elizabeth!

15.  Mr Curtiz: Now, Errol, when I say "Action!", I want to you grab than vine, swing down from the tree and land right in front of Olivia. No, I've had a word with her and she's not going to laugh at your tights again. Or at the little hat. You don't look like a pixie, whatever she said. Or a fairy either. You look very manly.

16.  Mr Wyler: Don't worry, Audrey, it's not hard. If you can ride a bike, you can ride a Vespa. Greg will put his hands on the handlebars and help you steer. No, he is not putting his arms round your waist. You don't need help sitting, you need help steering. Don't go too fast. Slow down! Oops…

17.  Ms Ephron: I don't care if you don't know how to whisk eggs, Meryl, you're the greatest actress of your generation, last I heard. Act like you can whisk eggs. Stand back, Stanley, you can't be her cooking double. No, not even in the close-ups. No, not even if you paint your nails. You have knobbly knuckles, nobody will think it's Meryl.

18.  Mr Lee: Excellent, Heath, that yearning expression is perfect. Now if you will please just look at Jake instead of at Michelle …

19.  Mr Hitchcock: Right, Cary, just stand there looking bored, until the plane gets closer. Then you look puzzled, and then you hit the deck. No, there will be no time for any more facial expressions. Yes, we all know and admire your wide repertoire, but in this case you'll deploy just the two. Boredom, then puzzlement. Then flat on your face in the dust.  No, you're not changing into dungarees for this scene. Well, you should have thought of that before you put your best Saville Row suit on this morning. You've seen the script.

20.  Mr Donen: Now, Gene, you kiss Debbie at the door, wave the cab on and start walking down the street. Take about ten paces and then close your umbrella. Yes, you heard. Close it! I know it's raining. Yes, you will get wet. That's the whole idea. The longer you argue, the longer you'll stand there getting wet. No, you're not likely to get pneumonia. Have a whiskey and lemon when you get home. No, you can't have one now.

21. Mr de Mille: Don't be such a sissie, Victor, that lion is so old it's toothless. They feed it hamburger. Look, Hedy's patting it. Oh, all right, then, the stunt man will wrestle the lion and we'll borrow the stuffed one from the Tarzan set for you to wrestle in the close-ups. But for goodness' sake be careful with it: Weismuller has already pulled half its mane out and they can't find its one eye since they let little Mickey Rooney play with it.

22. Mr Butler: Shirley, Mr Bojangles has tapdanced up and down those stairs five times. I know you enjoy watching him, but he is getting tired. We have to shoot the scene now. Take his hand and dance up the steps with him. No, you can't finish your lollipop first. I'll hold it for you. No, I won't lick it, I promise.

23. Mr Brooks: Yes, Elizabeth, I know you had sixty-four costume changes in Cleopatra, but in this movie you'll just be in the slip most of the time. The white one. Yes, the black one and the pink one are lovely … yes, and the aqua one too, but you can't change in and out of them while you argue with Paul. You stay in the white one. Because that's how Mr Williams wrote the scene. No, it has to be a slip. If Mr Williams had thought a push-up bra and suspender belt would be better, he would have said so.
24. Mr Columbus: No, Daniel, "Hollywood magic" is just an expression. We can't really make your broomstick fly. It's all done by the special effects guys. Emma will explain it to you. Now stop crying and go put your robe on, we're shooting the first scene in ten minutes.

25.  Mr Hooper: You don't get to wear the crown, Colin. The King only wore it on Coronation Day and we're not showing that. No, I am certainly not going to ask Her Majesty if you can borrow it to try on. Just wear your nice Homburg. It's a lovely hat. Very regal. Geoffrey wishes he had one like it, don't you, Geoffrey?

26.  Mr Daldry: Make-up! Where's that dratted make-up man? No, wait, call the props guy. That nose is more a prop than a miracle of make-up. Oh, here you are. Nicole's nose has come adrift again. I'm sorry, Nicole, I know you've spent a lot of time learning to write left-handed, but if your nose falls off once more, I'm giving the part to Anjelica Houston. She won't need a prop. Pity … I'm sure there's an Oscar in it.

27.  Mr Beresford: Now, Morgan, when I say "Action!", I want you to drive off slowly. Jessica will sit quietly in the back seat. No, Jessica, we're not writing in a scene where Morgan has a panic attack and you have to take over the driving.

28.  Mr Wise: Yes, Julie, I know they're revolting little monsters, but you are not to smack any of them while the cameras are rolling. No, not even the one who put the glue on your bicycle saddle. When I say: "Action!" I want you to smile lovingly at all of them and take it from the top with "Doh, a deer, a female deer … "

29.  Mr Tarantino: Black suit, John. What do you mean your dancing signature is a white suit. There's no such thing as a dancing signature. We've come a long way since Saturday Night Fever. This is Jack Rabbit Slim's and you will follow Uma up on that stage in your black suit, and you will take your shoes off … yes, your shoes! Off! And when Chuck Berry lets fly with You Never Can Tell, then you twist. Put a lot of hip and elbow action into it, no slacking!

30.  Mr Lumet: Sorry, Michael, we can't leave this scene out. It's pivotal to the story. I've had a word with Christopher, and he has promised not to open his mouth. Yes, I've made it clear to the crew that anyone who whistles will be fired. No, the stuntman is not going to it, you have to kiss Christopher yourself. You're an actor! Close your eyes and pretend you're Lois Lane. Or pretend he's Raquel Welch. Or think of England. Whatever works for you.

 ANSWERS
1. Some Like It Hot
2. Taxi Driver
3. Gone With the Wind
4. The Wizard of Oz
5. Psycho
6. It Happened One Night
7. King Kong
8. The Godfather
9. From Here to Eternity
10. Dr No
11. When Harry Met Sally
12. Basic Instinct
13. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
14. Cleopatra
15. Robin Hood
16. Roman Holiday
17. Julie and Julia
18. Brokeback Mountain
19.  North by Northwest
20. Singin' in the Rain
21. Samson and Delilah
22. The Little Colonel
23. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
24. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
25. The King's Speech
26. The Hours
27. Driving Miss Daisy
28. The Sound of Music
29. Pulp Fiction
30. Deathtrap
 
 
 
 

 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Burn Them, Ban Them, Bowdlerise Them!



Warning: the books mentioned in this article are dangerous and offensive. This blog takes no responsibility for the corruption of your mind or the damnation of your soul should you recklessly choose to read any of them.

Children's books have had the axe taken to them, bigtime, especially in America. Various states in The Land of the Free have banned Winnie-the Pooh and Charlotte's Web because talking animals are considered an “insult to god.” Alice in Wonderland promotes drug use (must be the caterpillar's hookah … or maybe the "Drink Me" bottle that made her shrink?) Where the Wild Things Are promotes witchcraft.  The Wizard of Oz is chockful of sexual fantasies (which says more to me about the banner than about the book) … and so it goes.

Enid Blyton is the worst offender. Noddy lives with Big-ears! There are Golliwogs in the toybox! The Faraway Tree series is all right, as long as we remove the witches and change the children's names: Jo is no name for a boy, we'll make that Joe. Don't want any whiff of gender confusion, the Big-ears/Noddy menage is already enough like Brokeback Mountain, thank you very much.  Fanny and Dick had better become Frannie and Rick, don't want any nudge-nudge giggling in the ranks. And Fatty will be Freddie from now on, no bullying!

Little Black Sambo? I'm not even going there.

Now that we have rescued the kiddies from having their minds corrupted, let's turn our attention to some offensive books for grown-ups:     

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is an American classic and an acknowledged masterpiece. It is also one of the most controversial American novels and has been banned on and off in various states. What is the main objection to it? Is it the evils of slavery they object to?  No, it's the racial slurs. The S-word is fine, but we can't have the N-word!

Anyone who has actually read the book, will know that it is a scathing satire on entrenched 19th century attitudes, particularly racism. Sadly, the most vociferous book-banners have seldom read the material that so profoundly offends them.  

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century; it has been translated into practically every language spoken on the planet and sixty years later it still sells about half a million copies a year. It has always been controversial: full of swearing, smoking, drinking, sex, atheism and subversive elements of teenage angst and rebellion.  No wonder it sells so well!

The scenes of brutality and sadism in American Psycho gave rise to wholesale banning of the book, and its author, Bret Easton Ellis, received a plethora of death threats. What offends me most about it, is the unabashed product placement and the poor writing.

Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club is an immensely popular bestseller that has been turned into a very successful film starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt. It has given rise to demands for banning due to its "glorification" of violence, and its casual acceptance of controversial matters like abortion and drug use.

The publication of Fight Club had considerable cultural impact: a rash of "fight clubs" were started by young men with more testosterone than common sense, and "the first rule of Fight Club" entered the lexicon of popular culture: You Don't Talk About Fight Club. (It is a frequent question at Trivia Nights!)  
Today Lady Chatterley's Lover seems pretty tame: a few four-letter words, a bit of adulterous sex in the potting shed, a few coy references to "John Thomas" and "Lady Fanny". But at the time it was incendiary stuff and gave rise to all manner of lawsuits and questions in Parliament. All in all it's quite a boring book – as we passed an ill-gotten copy round at my boarding school, it always fell open at the bit in the potting shed (page 94) because that was all we ever bothered to read. 

Thanks to Vladimir Nabokov's much-reviled and banned novel, "Lolita" has entered the language as shorthand for a sexually precocious pre-teen. The paedophile Humbert Humbert marries Charlotte Haze purely to be near her 12-year-old daughter Lolita, with whom he is infatuated. When Charlotte dies, he takes Lolita on a road trip, so he can be alone with her in motel rooms to indulge his fantasies – no questions asked. Just to make this article more interesting, here's the trivia question: How did Lolita's mother die?

  • Run over by a car.
  • Apparent suicide by overdose.
  • Went on the lake in a rowboat with Humbert, never came back.

No, not telling. You'll have to risk your immortal soul and read the book.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert is another novel which seems pretty tame now, for all the fuss it caused in 1856. Emma Bovary, married to a crashing bore, spiced up her life a bit by having couple of adulterous affairs, running up a lot of debts and finally committed a rather painful suicide by arsenic. Despite this severe punishment for her sins, Madame Bovary was still considered a dangerous book: might give other boring men's wives ideas above their station!

Not only was there tremendous outrage and calls for banning when it was first published, but poor old Flaubert was chucked in the slammer overnight and prosecuted. Luckily he was acquitted a year later, and with all the publicity, the book was a runaway best seller.

Portnoy's Complaint, a humourous satirical novel, was not only censured for its explicit portrayals of teenage Alex Portnoy's frequent masturbation (using all manner of inventive props, including a catcher's mitt, a milk bottle and the famous piece of raw liver from the fridge), but it also offended the Jewish community for its negative depiction of Jewish characters.  Alex's mother, Mrs Sophie Portnoy, in a particulary acerbic portrait of the stereotypical Jewish mother, insisted on inspecting his bowel movements. She'd stand outside the bathroom yelling:"Don't flush!"  Portnoy made us cringe, but laugh at the same time … did he really deserve to be banned?

Portnoy having offended the Jewish community, let us now in the interest of Equal Opportunity, see how Salman Rushdie offended the Muslim community.
His perceived blasphemy in The  Satanic Verses affronted them to such an extent that he had to go into hiding. The Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989, declaring him under sentence of death. The fatwa has never actually been withdrawn, but these days, Rushdie says, its existence is more a formality than a threat.

Lord Of The Flies, the classic story by William Golding of schoolboys stranded on an island without adults, is one of the 20th century's most frequently challenged and banned books. It paints a disturbing picture of the innate savagery of human nature. There are no noble impulses: in a short time, the children revert to selfish and brutish behaviour – survival of the fittest is the name of the game.

"No, you can't have any vegetables. They are only for grown-ups", is a sure way of getting the four-year-old to scoff the greens. That's why banned books are guaranteed good sales and a wide readership!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Classic Crime Novels

Summer holiday reading … I am digging out some favourite Golden Oldies. How many do you remember? If you are too young to have read them in their heyday, see if you can scare up a few at your local library – they are well worth a look!

Josephine Tey's "The Daughter of Time" (1951) has her series detective, Alan Grant, laid up with a broken leg. To keep his mind occupied, he investigates the murders of the little Princes in the Tower, with the help of a friend who brings him historical reference books and documents. As the plot thickens, it becomes clear to Alan that Shakespeare picked the wrong perpetrator in Richard III …

But then Shakespeare wasn't going to offend Queen Elizabeth by exposing her granddad's dastardly scheme, was he? Getting rid of the York heirs and marrying a York princess put old Henry VII firmly on the throne, and from then on it was Tudors all the way for the next 118 years.  

Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) has an ingenious plot that thickens almost to the point of curdling! It keeps the reader guessing right up to the Big Surprise at the end.  Even after 75 years, I am not going to insert any spoilers here … there may be someone who still hasn't read it! Or who hasn't seen Hitchcock's brilliant, Oscar-winning movie, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, with Judith Anderson turning in  a brilliant performance as the sinister Mrs Danvers. 

The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins is the oldest book on my list. The plot seems a little naïve to us today and those long Victorian sentences make it a bit of a slow read, but I include it here because it is considered to be the first mystery/detective story. It has all the hallmarks of the classic Golden Age whodunnit: An "inside job" in a country house, lots of suspects and red herrings, and a brilliant investigator who shows up the bumbling constabulary. 

The Moonstone of the title is a diamond, and not a moonstone, an opal or a piece of meteorite as you may have thought. Not just any old diamond, no, this one comes with a curse! Stir in a corrupt Army officer, some Indian jugglers and a murder, and the plot thickens till it curdles.

Have to include Dashiell Hammett, one of the pioneers of the hard-boiled private eye school.  The Maltese Falcon (1930) is the flagship of this genre. The film of the same name (1941) launched the "film noir" genre that dominated American crime fims in the 1940s. It also launched the career of Sidney Greenstreet, casting him as the deliciously decadent and sinister Kaspar Gutman, the perfect counterpoint to the weaselly con man Joel Cairo, played by the ineffable Peter Lorre. 
Sidney Greenstreet
and Peter Lorre
The Greenstreet/Lorre duo went on to delight their fans in nine more films. Quite serendipitously, I caught Three Strangers on late-night TV recently, and I was sucked in … sat there till it ended at 3am, and I was very sorry the next day!

The Day of the Jackal (1971) by Frederick Forsyth is another landmark crime novel, introducing as it did the professional assassin as hero, and going into fascinatingly minute detail of the meticulous planning and preparation that goes into his mission. His impersonal professionalism includes the emotionless killing of anyone who impedes his progress towards his goal, which is the assassination of Charles De Gaulle.
Edward Fox in
The Day of the Jackal
Edward Fox was perfectly cast as the eponymous assassin in the 1973 film – it is a mystery to me why he didn't score an Oscar for it.

The 1930s was the Golden Era of the classic detective story, and Dorothy Sayers was one of the three reigning Queens of Crime. Her book The Nine Tailors (1934) is one of my favourites: the flooded fens, the villagers camping out in the great church on the hill, and the mysterious death in the bell tower … what more could a whodunnit aficionado want? Dorothy Sayers' hero and "detective" is Lord Peter Wimsey.

Lord Peter is the perfect example of the rather upper-crust amateur detective of the era: Margery Allingham's Mr Campion, with his Royal connections (albeit on the wrong side of the blanket) was another such. Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn was the official deal from the Yard, but he too, had an impeccable aristo background.

John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) is another golden oldie and the first mystery/adventure novel to postulate the dilemma of the man unjustly accused. Assisted by the beautiful heroine, he has to experience dangerous adventures to prove his innocence. This formula became very popular, and Alfred Hitchcock used it in many of his films, notably in his 1935  The Thirty-Nine Steps, which is still the definitive movie of the book, despite three subsequent remakes and two TV series. Hitchcock cast Madeleine Carroll as the Beautiful Damsel and Robert Donat as Richard Hannay,the Intrepid Hero.

Of the dozen or so Hitchcock films with the "wrong man" plot, my favourite is North by North-West, in which Cary Grant is the hapless guy on the run from he-knows-not-whom for he-knows-not-what. Who can forget the crop-spraying plane buzzing poor Cary in the cornfield?

Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) is one of the most chilling portrayals in literature of a charming, plausible psychopath. In a story arc that spans five novels, Tom Ripley gets away with calculatedly killing a dozen people, while enjoying a luxurious lifestyle in the South of France with his lovely wife.  The Ripley novels have been filmed several times, starring amongst others Matt Damon, John Malkovich and Alain Delon as the talented Mr Ripley. 

Over two dozen of Highsmith's psychological thrillers have been filmed, the latest one being The Two Faces of January, starring Viggo Mortensen as a con man and Kirsten Dunst as his wife. Not a bad movie, but my favourite has to be Purple Noon, in which Alain Delon plays Tom Ripley.

Delon was very young then, but showed every sign of the great actor he was to become. Too often very good-looking actors of both genders, are trapped by their beauty into being type-cast in shallow, romantic comedy roles – Delon escaped that and over the years we saw him in some excellent dramas that showcased his talent.
Lana Turner in
The Postman Always Rings Twice

James M. Cain's noir crime fiction often revolves round a passionate but injudicious love affair, which ends in tears.  The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) is my favourite among his novels, and has been filmed seven times. The first version (1946) has never been bettered as a classic film noir. Who can forget Lana Turner in white shorts and peep-toe sandals, dropping her lipstick which rolls to the feet of John Garfield? When he picks that lipstick up and gets his first look at Lana, you just know her rich old husband's days are numbered.

John le Carré pioneered the spy novel that goes into fascinatingly minute detail of the "tradecraft" (a word he coined) used in the clandestine world. His successful "Karla" trilogy spawned a host of imitators, but none managed to capture the atmosphere of the secret life of spies as well as Le Carre, perhaps because he wrote from personal experience.   Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) with its intricate plotting and array of plausible suspects is at once a spy novel, a whodunnit and a fascinating psychological thriller.  The unassuming but indomitable George Smiley is an unlikely hero, but that just adds to the fascination of this trilogy.

With Casino Royale (1953), Ian Fleming introduced the suave James Bond: icon of the spy novel. We were fascinated by the ingenious gadgets, the glamorous girls, the witty repartee, the wicked villains. Sixty years on, James Bond is still saving the world for democracy with as much panache as ever. Bonds may come and Bonds may go, but to me Sean Connery is preserved in amber as the quintessential Bond, James Bond.

A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977) is the first novel in Ellis Peters' Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. Cadfael is a veteran of the Crusades who has had enough of war and has settled into the monastery where he tends the gardens, brews herbal remedies and solves any crimes that come his way. This well-researched and elegantly written series is addictive and has been turned into a successful TV series starring Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael.  I don't like the series much, I prefer to read the books. You know how you watch the movie in your head while reading a book? Well, in my head I have cast Brendan Gleeson as Brother Cadfael and that's all there is to it.  No offense, Sir Derek.

Rosemary's Baby is Ira Levin's best-known novel, but to my mind his first murder/thriller, A Kiss Before Dying (1953), is far and away his best work. Bud Corliss is a young man with a humble background, but a burning ambition. He seduces and tries to marry (for the money, of course) Dorothy, daughter of a very rich man, but the plot thickens and he has to murder her. He then moves on to her sister Ellen, with the same result. It is only when he becomes engaged to the third sister that suspicions are aroused, and he gets a very satisfactory come-uppance in the end.

Hillary Waugh's mystery novels are not as freely available as they were in the Fifties and Sixties – I have to trawl the used-book shops for them.  Last Seen Wearing (1952) is my favourite and a pioneer of the "police procedural" genre. My copy is yellow and brittle, but I still take it out for a spin about once a year. College girl who diasappeared turns up dead and pregnant – astute detective interprets cryptic clues from her diary to pinpoint who the boyfriend/murderer was. Cleverly plotted page-turner, hunting down the dastardly cad who thought he would get away with it.

The Mystery Writers of America gave several of Hillary Waugh's books its highest accolade, the Edgar Award. Here is a trivia question just to make this article more interesting:

Why is the Edgar Award so called?

After Edgar Allen Poe.
After J Edgar Hoover.
The name Edgar comes from old English and means Searcher After Truth.
After Edgar Rice Burroughs
After Edgar Wallace

(No, I'm not telling – look it up!)

Michael Gilbert is another highly acclaimed novelist in the spy and mystery genres, whose work is now mostly out of print. I particularly like his stories about Mr Calder and Mr Behrens, two cynical, middle-aged spies/hit men. A lawyer himself, many of his books had a legal setting. One such is Smallbone Deceased (1950), a wryly humorous novel that consistently makes the Top Ten lists of all-time best crime fiction.

While he practised as a lawyer in London, one of Michael Gilbert's clients was Raymond Chandler, the creator of private eye Philip Marlowe and writer of The Big Sleep. Chandler's "hardboiled" crime fiction couldn't be further from Gilbert's subtle style, but I like to think that they had some interesting chats about their work. The fly on the wall would have been fascinated!

Baroness James of Holland Park, known to us as P.D. James the acclaimed mystery novelist, died in November 2014 and her Adam Dalgleish series will be sadly missed. Poet-cum-detective Dalgleish is a complex character, almost as interesting in himself as the plots that he unravels.

Her psychological thriller, Innocent Blood (1980), is a stand-alone novel and to my mind her best. Its rather disturbing plot is a memorable one and this book is rightly a regular on the Top Ten lists.

Tony Hillerman is known for his mystery thrillers that are based in a Navajo setting. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are his series detectives and the books are very informative and interesting about tribal customs and rituals.  A Thief of Time (1989) is one of the best in the series, and the one that I am re-reading this summer.

Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate (1959) was a runaway bestseller, and the 1962 movie gained two Academy Award nominations. (The 2004 remake was a very indifferent film: one wonders why they bothered.)  The original starred Lawrence Harvey as the young army officer brainwashed into becoming an assassin, and Angela Lansbury as his mother, although she was in fact only three years older than Harvey when she played the part.

Frank Sinatra turned in a tour de force performance as Major Bennett Marco, the officer who smells a rat, tracks down the baddies and foils the dastardly plot. Sinatra was really a very good actor and thoroughly deserved the Oscar he got for his part in From Here to Eternity. Who knows what heights he may have reached in the acting profession were he not handicapped by The Voice?

Ed McBain's "87th Precinct" series were among the early police procedurals, wth an ensemble cast of characters that developed as the series went on. Sadie When She Died (1972) is one of my favourites: the title doesn't seem to make sense, but at the startling denouement of the story, everything fits together and we see exactly what it means.

Ed McBain was a pseudonym: under his legal name of Evan Hunter he wrote several highly acclaimed stand-alone novels, the best-known of which are The Blackboard Jungle and Strangers When We Meet.

Edgar Wallace: there is a real blast from the past!  I still like to dip into his books, old as they are.  In his heyday (which was roughly the first 30 years of the 20th century), he was a prolific writer of crime and adventure stories. His work was vastly popular: he churned out screenplays, stage plays, nearly a thousand short stories and 184 novels. If there had been bestseller lists then, he would have topped them. Modern readers will know him best for having written King Kong, the short story and the screenplay. And they may have heard of, if not actually read, some of his best-loved series: "The Four Just Men", "Sanders of the River" and "Mr. J. G. Reeder".

Patricia Highsmith is best known for her Ripley series, but Strangers on a Train (1950) was also a landmark thriller that inspired many stories along a similar plotline: that of two people who each commit a murder on behalf of the other. Alfred Hitchcock filmed the book in 1951 and cast his daughter Patricia in the role of the first murder victim.

Both Highsmith's novel and Hitchcock's film have been imitated in books and films ad nauseam. Think of the movies Throw Momma from the Train, Once You Kiss a Stranger, Dead End, and episodes from TV series like CSI, Law & Order, and even The Simpsons. Bollywood has also churned out a couple of films with that plotline … two that I know of, and who knows how many that I don't!

So … if you are bored this summer, there are plenty of classic Golden Oldie books and films out there … go find 'em! You may get hooked …

 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Rubies Are A Girl's Best Friend

 People seemed to enjoy last year's story about Princess Margaret's tiara, (see http://artothings.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/a-tiara-for-princess.html ), so I'll tell you the fairytale of how the magnificent ruby-and-diamond parure of Napoleon's girlfriend fetched up in the trinket box of our own Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.  (It is a legal requirement in Australia that whenever Princess Mary is mentioned, her name has to be prefixed by "our own".)

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin:

When I was a teenager, my friends and I loved the best-selling, romantic novel "Désirée" by Annemarie Selinko.  Désirée was the beautiful daughter of a silk merchant. Her sister Julie was married to the handsome Joseph Bonaparte, and when Désirée met his brother Napoleon, it was love at first sight. The romance flourished, Napoleon popped the question and in no time Désirée was flashing a diamond ring and subscribing to bridal magazines.
Jean Simmons as Désirée
Enter Josephine de Beauharnais. Napoleon was smitten, Désirée was jilted and Josephine got to be Mrs Bonaparte. On the rebound, Désirée married Jean Bernadotte, an upwardly mobile soldier and diplomat. Within five years, Napoleon became emperor and appointed Bernadotte a Marshall of France.

The Imperial Coronation was going to be a glittering occasion, and Bernadotte wanted to be noticed. He commissioned a Parisian jeweller to create a new parure (or suite of jewels) of diamonds and rubies, for his wife to wear to the Imperial shindig. Those chandelier earrings alone would have made a bit of a statement!
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark
Bernadotte's fortunes continued to rise until (long story short) the old and childless King Carl XIII of Sweden adopted him formally as his son and successor. Désirée found herself Sweden's crown princess. I told you this is a fairytale!

In due course, Jean Bernadotte and Désirée became King Carl XIV and Queen Desideria of Sweden. In a twist of fate, their son, Crown Prince Oscar, married Josephine's granddaughter, also named Joséphine de Beauharnais. When Désirée died in 1860, she left the ruby parure to her daughter-in-law, now Queen Josefina.

In due course, Josefina's granddaughter Princess Louisa married Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. As a wedding present, Queen Josefina gave Désirée's ruby parure to Louisa, because the jewels are red and white - the colors of the Danish flag. The rubies made their way to Copenhagen in Louisa's trousseau.
Princess Louisa Bernadotte of Sweden,
Queen of Denmark
After Queen Louisa, they were worn by successive Danish Queen Consorts Alexandrine and Ingrid. Queen Ingrid, grandmother of Our Mary's husband Fred, gave the tiara a major makeover.  Using the stones from two brooches, she had the tiara transformed from a small bandeau into a large wreath tiara, the diamonds forming glittering white "leaves" among which are scattered the ruby "berries".  The set became her signature jewels, and is often referred to as "Queen Ingrid's Rubies."
Queen Ingrid of Denmark
Queen Ingrid died in 2000 and left her rubies to her grandson Crown Prince Frederik, with the intention that they should be worn by his future Queen. And indeed, (fairytale alert!) Fred had already met Mary, his future Queen, just two months before his Nanna checked out. 
And that is how Désirée's rubies fetched up in Our Mary's trinket box.
Crown Princess Mary
of Denmark
Meanwhile, let us not forget that while Mary of Denmark may be Our Mary, Elizabeth of England is Our Queen. She will see Denmark's puny rubies and raise them the Tudor Rose Tiara. 

 

 

 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Nero: Artist, Poet and Olympian



The Romans regarded Greek culture as being rather effete and preferred their own more robust version of games and spectacles; copious amounts of blood on the sand ensured the success of any sporting event. Gladiators and half-starved wild animals were much in demand and a popular feature was the public execution of criminals by being chased around the arena and finally eaten by a hungry lion.



The Emperor Nero fancied himself as too cultured and artistic to enjoy such barbaric spectacles. He replaced the blood sports with foot races, singing and poetry contests, winning all the events for which he entered. The lack of gore did not go down well with the paying customers in Rome, so Nero decided to go on a tour of Greece where the finer things were appreciated.

Delaying only long enough to take care of a few loose ends such as murdering his mother, castrating his former favourite slave boy and crucifying a few fans who didn't applaud loudly enough at his last poetry recital, he packed his lyre and all his cosmetics and set out for Greece to attend and compete in the 67 AD Olympic Games. Here he not only won the chariot race despite falling out of his chariot, but he introduced several new events of a musical nature. The judges prudently declared him the winner of them all.

Flushed with success, he made the rounds of the Isthmian, Nemean, Pythian and Panathean Games and handsomely won numerous events at every one. During his performances nobody was allowed to leave, although a few people got round that by feigning death and being carried out. These games were not usually all held in the same year, but in 67 AD they made an exception for Nero because his offer was just too good to refuse.
He returned to Rome, a tired but happy Emperor, with 1800 prizes. Normally these would have been wreaths of laurel or bay that an athlete could take home to his wife for the stock pot, but so overwhelmed were his loyal subjects by Nero's talent that they made another exception and presented him with jewels and precious objects. Medals were not introduced till 1904 or Nero would have made Mark Spitz look pretty silly with his meagre seven. Amazingly, the Ancient Games survived the Nero episode and went on for another 326 years before being banned on religious grounds by the Emperor Theodosius in 393 AD.