Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lost Memories And The Grifter

“You be careful, madam, or you’ll turn my pretty head with your flattery.” ~ George Carey 
“I often wished I could turn your head- on a spit, over a slow fire.” ~ Kay Wilson

“You know, a thing like a divorce can break up a marriage!” ~ George Carey

“Ever since you got off that boat, you’ve been chasing me like an amorous goat.” ~ Kay Wilson

In 1940, director W.S. Van Dyke brought together his leading actors for The Thin Man series in a screwball comedy called I Love You Again. William Powell and Myrna Loy, who worked together through the six films of that comedic husband and wife detective series as Nick and Nora Charles, did work together on other films, and this delightful romp is one of them.

We meet Larry Wilson (Powell) on a cruise. He’s a stodgy, frugal businessman on his way home, not much fun at all. While saving a drunk, “Doc” Ryan (Frank McHugh), who’s fallen into the water, Larry gets hit in the head by an oar. When he wakes up in the morning in the company of Doc, he’s talking in a way completely different to when we first met him, saying his name is George Carey. He remembers he’s a con man who was on his way to place a bet in 1931- and that was it. Everything that came after that, including his second identity, is a blank.

Doc is something of a grifter himself, and accompanies George when he disembarks in New York. They’re met by Larry’s wife Kay (Loy), who’s trying to get out of the marriage entirely so that she can marry her new beau Herbert (Donald Douglas). George, looking at the wife he can’t remember with fresh eyes, is a bit thunderstruck. He also sees some possible opportunities for a con, what with a sizeable checking account in his name in their hometown in Pennslyvania. Things get complicated, and hilarious from there, while George tries to keep the whole amnesia thing from his wife and figure out how to pull off a score by making use of his second identity’s highly respected reputation.

The story is based on a 1937 novel of the same name by Octavius Roy Cohen; several writers got involved at one point or another in adapting the story into a screenplay. Van Dyke, who had a gift for comedy through his career, was a wise choice as a director. He keeps the story moving along briskly, with sight gags, snappy dialogue and banter, and a tone throughout that’s smart. Most of the film was obviously done on sets, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The subject matter doesn’t require anything but that, after all. The story uses some of the nuances of the era- the hardened con without any ethics (Edmund Lowe) could have fit quite nicely into any of the Thin Man films. Herbert, the apparent replacement fiancĂ© who’s really something of a sad sack, reminds me of a similar character in The Philadelphia Story.

It’s the cast that really makes the film shine throughout. Edmund Lowe plays Duke Sheldon, the film’s general heavy. He’s a con artist George knew back in the day, and unlike George or Doc, he seems to have no scruples at all, no sense of basic ethics. He talks like you’d expect a crook of the era (at least a movie crook) to talk. Donald Douglas gets the thankless role of Herbert (imagine going through life as a Herbert). He presents himself as an upstanding man, but is automatically hampered by the fact that the audience comes into this already liking George more, and so nobody really roots for him to end the movie a happily married man. Frank McHugh is fun as Doc Ryan- and a reminder of the old quote about never playing cards with a guy named Doc. The character is a grifter and scoundrel, and yet has some ethics. He spends the better part of the movie passing himself off as a physician, proving to be a loyal buddy to George, and he’s a funny character to watch.

It’s the sparks and banter between the leading actors that really makes the film though. At this point, the two had made three Thin Man films together, and had appeared opposite each other in other projects. Loy’s Kay starts out acerbic and hostile towards the man she’s known as Larry. She’s had enough of the stuffed shirt boring but respectable fellow and wants out of the marriage. Loy handles the sparks and acidic wit particularly well as her character spars with George. Her confusion over how he’s behaving since his return comes across well, as George is busy hiding the whole amnesia thing and his true nature (one wonders why “Larry” never mentioned not having any memories of his own life before 1931). She has great comic timing and plays the character smart- even with the confusion her husband is putting her through, Kay’s got a good sense that things are not quite as they seem.

Powell also brings wonderful comedic timing to his performance. He starts out playing the sort of respectable and affable but dreadfully boring guy we’d go out of our way to avoid, an overly frugal man who deems his reputation above reproach. When he wakes up as the man he once was, his personality’s completely switched, to something of a charming wiseguy laughing at the world and looking for an opportunity. His George does have some scruples, and the actor doesn’t mind making a fool of himself for comic effect as the film goes along. The actor goes through the film as George- while trying to still pose as his alter ego and pretend to most concerned that there’s nothing at all amiss- and this gives him a lot to play with, and amuses the audience to no end.

I Love You Again is a different take on the chemistry between the actors than we’d seen in The Thin Man series. Unlike that series, where we meet their characters as a married couple who genuinely love and like each other (it doesn’t always happen), they start out their interaction this time out as a married couple seemingly at the end of their line- before amnesia throws an amusing monkey into the wrench and takes them in a new direction. The writing and acting are clever and funny, the characters have great sparks, and the film, underappreciated as it might be, rates as a classic.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Requiem For A Despicable Year

I have a very different kind of eulogy today. Two notes: if you're confused by the term Dark Cabal Of The Infernal Gossip, it's from posts I wrote a good long while back (good God, my posts have continuity now). And I've never actually watched The Walking Dead.

“Dear friends, onlookers, and paparazzi. Welcome one and all, greetings and salutations, as we come together to mourn a friend who seemed to have been with us for such a short time. And it was a short time, after all. Even with the extra day, 366 days doesn’t seem long enough to get to know a year properly. Yes, we’ve come to lay to rest our beloved friend, the year 2016.

It wasn’t a surprise when I was asked to come and emcee this whole affair. I mean, after all, everyone wants a piece of Ryan Seacrest these days. I’ve hosted scores of events and series down through the years with my patented vacant grin and deer in the headlights eyes. I’ve been the go to guy for American Idol, which sooner or later is going to make a big comeback... wait, why is my agent shaking her head? It’s not coming back?

Oh, well, I digress.

Everybody in the world loves me. Well, with the exception of cranky Metallica drummers who for whatever reason seem to spend a lot of time in Canada where he’s moonlighting as a cop. I don’t know what that guy’s problem is, maybe he gets up on the wrong side of the bed every single day of the year. All I know is that a lot of my fellow entertainment journalist personalities are locked away behind prison bars for the rest of their lives for a little taking over the world scheme, and he’s responsible for it. Our mighty Dark Cabal Of The Infernal Gossip was shattered by him. And I’m the only one of us who managed to skate on the conspiracy charges, thanks to that lovely law clerk who had a thing for me and got rid of the evidence against me. Wait, did I say that out loud? Forget I said anything!

My point is this: I can promise him this: one day, when you’re least expecting it, Lars... we’re going to get even with you.

Anyway, this is not the time for scheming revenge on cranky heavy metal drummers. I saw 2016 come into the world when 2015 got the boot. December 31st, 2015 became January 1st, 2016, and I was right there hosting things from Times Square with all those crowds of tourists for the big bash, because let’s face it, real New Yorkers never come to Times Square for New Year’s Eve. And I saw 2016 out in its final seconds with Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve, and sure, we had that whole incident with Mariah flubbing her performance. By the way, Mariah? Totally not our fault on our side of things, so, in the spirit of the occasion, nyah nyah nyah nyah!

Where was I? Oh, yes, getting completely off track. You’ll forgive me, I sometimes get completely off track from what I was saying. It seems to be a common thing among us showbiz-journalist types. I mean, we’re talking about one thing and we wander off in another direction, as if we get easily distracted by.... ooo! Bright shiny object!

Sorry, I'm getting off track again. Where was I? Oh, right. Funeral for 2016.

How do we bid goodbye to such a momentous year? Well, by coming together and grieving together and getting together for the red carpet ceremony afterwards. Because when you attend a funeral, it doesn’t matter so much as to who you’re mourning but as to whose design you’re wearing, am I right, ladies?

2016 wasn’t with us that long. When we first met him, he was an adorable little baby in a diaper and top hat and sash. When he left, he was a decrepit old man in a robe leaning on a staff, insisting the nurses were stealing his money, and warning us that 2017 was going to be even worse. Between you and me? I think the old bastard lost his marbles. Just don’t tell him I said that, because you’re not supposed to say bad things about the deceased at their funeral. Oh, wait... did I actually call him an old bastard out loud?

Well, if I did, I did, it’s too late to make amends, so I’ll just shrug and promise not to say it again.

Where was I? Oh, yes, talking about the deceased. We all saw 2016 come in. The year that’s passed us all by started with Zika on everyone’s minds. What’s the Zika virus going to do? Is it going to mutate and become some sort of zombie virus? Is that the way The Walking Dead comes to life and ends up becoming reality? Can we go to Rio for the Olympics and not catch Zika? How do you spell Zika? Is Zika related to Tia Tequila? Is Zika a good name for a baby? Those were the big questions early in the year.

2016 brought us together in lots of ways. Pop culture, which is kind of my speciality. And since I mentioned it anyway in that last aside, I’ll mention it again. And no, I am not being paid extra by the producers to give the show any extra exposure. We all gasped with horror when Negan killed Glenn and what’s his name on The Walking Dead. Now rumour has it that there are some people out there who don’t watch The Walking Dead. Well, they don’t know what they’re missing, and they’re gonna be sorry in Season Eight when Lori comes back from the dead and nobody on the show’s questioning why she’s still alive.

Wait, did I say that out loud? Sorry, producers! I didn’t mean to spill the big reveal!

I’m getting off track again. That happens a lot, doesn’t it? My agent tells me that the guy who wrote this, out there beyond the Fourth Wall, thinks I’m an idiot and that getting off track is a common thing for a moron. Come on, Lucille, we’ve talked about this, and there is no such thing as the Fourth Wall. And I’m a really smart... um, what were we talking about?

Oh, right! 2016! Big year. Lots of things happening. We had that Olympics thing going on in Brazil. We had Americans competing and winning lots of medals. We completely ignored every other country, because that’s what American networks do every single Olympics. I imagine other countries might find that kind of obnoxious, but hey, it’s us.

We had athletes who did us proud in those two weeks of sterling competition with the whole world. And then we had Ryan Lochte, who made up a story about getting robbed and set off an international incident. Ryan’s explanation? He said, and I quote: my bad.

It’s been quite a year on the usual celebrity death watch. Lots of great famous people, some of whom I interviewed myself, and who must have felt humbled to be interviewed by me. Others I hadn’t gotten the chance to interview, or who told me to go **** myself. I mean, I didn’t know Leonard Cohen had that word in his vocabulary.

We lost Cohen, we lost David Bowie, we lost Prince, and we lost George Michael.

We lost Muhummad Ali and Arnold Palmer. Harper Lee. Glenn Frey. Garry Shandling.

We lost Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds pretty much all at once.

We lost Alan Rickman. We lost John Glenn. We lost Nancy Reagan.

Anton Yelchin went before his time. Gene Wilder is dead.

Castro finally went to that great big cigar factory in the sky.

We lost Alan Thicke, Florence Henderson, Zsa Zsa Gabor. Sitcom geniuses, all of them. How could anyone not be broken up by the fact that they’re not with us anymore? What’s that, Lucille? Sorry, folks, my agent’s telling me that the guy out there beyond the Fourth Wall didn’t care less about any of those three. Hey! That’s just mean, man!

We lost Abe Vigoda.

Abe Vigoda? Didn’t he die thirty years ago?

My point is that whole year, it seemed like the celebrity grim reaper was way too busy.

And we had that whole endless election thing going on here during 2016. I know, a lot of people are still upset by all of that, and aren’t optimistic about what happens this year. I know it’s left a lot of open wounds between all sides involved, but think of it this way: someday last year’s election hijinks are going to make great drama of the year material. Maybe an HBO miniseries, or an Oscar winner. Maybe I’ll still be doing the red carpet thing talking to actors about how privileged they were to play Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Ben Carson or Bernie Sanders or Anthony Weiner. Assuming the Tweeter In Chief didn’t manage to set off a nuclear war before that.

Well, 2016 is gone. And for the record, standing here as long as I have? Maybe we need to figure out a way to bury them faster than we do. He’s been gone nearly two weeks now, and even with a closed casket, things are a bit ripe up here.

2016 is survived by his successor, 2017, who is nearly two weeks old, and is already in his Terrible Twos phase a bit early as you can... Hey! 2017! What did we tell you? Ankle biting is a no-no! Bad baby! Bad!

Where was I? Oh yes. Well, 2016, some of us are deeply mourning you. Others are glad you’re gone. You made a big impression on us, either way, and we’ll never forget you. Especially by the end of 2017 when we all find ourselves looking back fondly on 2016 and saying that in comparison, it wasn’t that bad.

So, in conclusion, I can only say... Carl is going to die in episode four, season eight of The Walking Dead, and it’s going to leave a lot of people feeling very upset.

Wait, did I say that out loud?"