Breaking Bad and The Bribe (1949)

RobertTaylor_thebribeA husband with a fatal medical condition, trying to provide for his family by performing illegal services for a conglomerate. A wife doing what she can to get through it and make ends meet with a simple job. A cop who is too close to the situation and questions whose side he is on.

Sound familiar? Nope, I’m not actually describing the plot of Breaking Bad. The above are the main highlights of The Bribe, a lesser-known Noir from 1949 starring Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, John Hodiak, Vincent Price and amazingly enough, Charles Laughton.

[Warning – there will be some frank talking about plot points of Breaking Bad here. If you wish to avoid spoilers and have not seen the final season, avert your eyes now!]

To anyone who has seen the film, it’s not a really solid parallel, no. John Hodiak’s character is pathetic, pitiable and rather annoying, but he is by no means Walter White. He merely develops a medical condition that grounds him as a flier and then uses his knowledge of planes to help a deliciously evil Vincent Price test planes for nefarious ends. Ava Gardner as his wife does not experience the incredible transformation of character Skyler White goes through, but she does show glimmers of the calculating femme fatale Skyler became. Especially when her family (in this case, husband John Hodiak) is on the line. Robert Taylor shines as the special agent sent to ferret out the illegal dealings. He’s straight as a pin when he begins the crusade and by the end of the film, his feelings for Ava have so changed him, he questions everything he ever believed in. It’s somewhat like Walter White’s DEA brother-in-law Hank Schrader, who suffers such a betrayal with Walt’s choice of career, it causes him to become obsessed with taking Walt down.

The movie is an enjoyable Noir with some gorgeous 40s fashions, a fun little song and a host of remarkable stars. But by far, my favorite aspect of all is Charles Laughton’s Pie Shape. The fact that the great Charles Laughton would ever deign to play such a preposterous character is notable in itself. And then to have played him with such sincerity and perfection, it’s just unforgettable. Pie Shape is hard to peg at first. He’s just in the background, being remarked upon with bewilderment by Robert Taylor’s character. In between his whiny complaints about the condition of his feet and his completely serious showcase of the foot x-rays explaining his pain, he somehow becomes endearing. And that is the genius of Laughton: the ability to make even the most unlikable of characters human.

So, perhaps my parallel is a stretch, but it’s similar enough to deserve commentary, even if it’s purely coincidental. And being the rabid classic film fan I am, I would love to believe The Bribe was a source of inspiration to Vince Gilligan. Plus, there is one little line that connected a few dots for me in the similarities. When Ava Gardner is having a particularly hard time of it with her husband, Charles Laughton walks in, sets down his rain soaked poncho and asks “Things breaking bad?”

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Converting the Masses

As a classic film devotee, one feels this pressing desire to share the glory that is the world of classic cinema with the uninitiated in one’s real life. I particularly succumbed to this in my first baby years of classic film appreciation, right before I started this blog. However, months of dropping Bogie references with my Halo-worshipping/Indie band snob acquaintances proved only demoralizing and exhausting to me and made no headway on converting any of them. At last, I vowed to keep my black and white treasures to myself and my online pals and never mention my love of the classics with real life people anymore.

In the years since, my vintage hair and clothes have evoked a host of questions about my reasons for choosing that style. Most stem from genuine interest and some are just plain ludicrous, like the questions I regularly field when I wear my 40s snoods about whether or not I am Amish… But still, aside from dropping references¬†only I understand in daily conversations, I don’t discuss my zealous love for Douglas Fairbanks Jr, low budget Noirs and Shirley Temple’s teen films with the people I talk with everyday.

The funny part of all this is that in my own quiet way, I actually have been slowly converting people. One of my clients asked me what my favorite film was (Fair warning: don’t ask this of a classic film fan and expect to be home for dinner) and when I responded with two*, he actually made an effort to find them and watch them. And then, (thrill of thrills!) one of my favorite real life people asked me to create a list of starter classic films to watch. The challenge of choosing films for a first time viewing so excited me, I set about making my selections the very next day. The 10 I chose are below, if you care to peruse and comment. My ideas behind the films I picked were to create a good mix of genres and eras with some of my true favorites thrown in. I refuse to suppress my bias. ;)

-:-
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Carefree (1938)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Gunga Din (1939)
The Narrow Margin (1952)
The Quiet Man (1952)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Stagecoach (1939)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
-:-

So tell me, do you actively attempt to convert your real life friends? Are you known as the classic film kook in your circles? Please share below!

*The Best Years of Our Lives and The Quiet Man

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Treats for the mystery lover

Netflix just added two shows to streaming that will make for a perfect week-end of whodunit happiness for the British mystery fan.

campion

Campion stars effervescent Peter Davison as the eccentric, unpredictable and brilliant high class detective. Bored with his life of ease as a gentleman (what young man in the 30s wasn’t?) he chooses a colorful alias and embarks a new life of crime solving. His sidekick/man servant Lugg (played by Brian Glover) often gets stuffed into roadster rumple seats with the luggage, but does his best to protect Campion on his crazy adventures. I sought this show out after falling for Peter Davison in All Creatures Great and Small and wasn’t disappointed. Be on the lookout for several alumni from classic British television. Gordon Jackson, Ian Ogilvy (Mr. Hudson and Lawrence Kirbridge of Upstairs, Downstairs) and Iain Cuthbertson (Doctor Gillespie of Danger UXB) all make appearances in some of the episodes.

Campion: 2 seasons, 16 episodes on Netflix

inspector_alleynThe Inspector Alleyn Mysteries are completely new to me. Having them pop up in my Top 10 Recommendations has been the highlight of my week. There are only 6 episodes, but each are about 1 1/2 hours long and worth every moment. Based on the stories by Ngaio Marsh, Inspector Alleyn (Patrick Malahide) is one of the most un-detective like detectives I have ever seen. Soft spoken, calm and unassuming, he glides his way through high society quietly gathering clues from the upper crust. Even his “Ah HA, you are the murderer!” scenes are almost completely devoid of the dramatics we tend to expect. My favorite aspect of the show is Agatha Troy (Belinda Lang), Alleyn’s lady friend. Troy (as she is addressed by one and all…) holds her own with the good detective, feeding him clues about cases she is involved in and often providing vital pieces of information that solve the crime. She is a well respected artist and one of the episodes revolves around a recent string of forgeries of her work. Best of all though, every episode is packed with beautiful, inventive clothes (including that famous Miss Lemon sweater) and impeccable late 40s hairstyles. I wish I could screencap every second! Extra special guest stars include John Gielgud, Geoffrey Palmer, Tom Wilkinson and Elizabeth Spriggs, who fans of Midsomer Murders will recognize as the bizarro Iris Rainbird from the first episode.

Inspector Alleyn: 2 seasons, 6 episodes on Netflix

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A DFJ Bonanza

dfj_4

Well, if you are a DFJ fan like me, rejoice! We have hit quite the little motherlode of films starting tonight on TCM. TCM rarely plays a DFJ film, let alone this many at once. Four of his early 30s films are being shown this month. What a splendid way to begin the new year!

January 3 @ 3.45am – Show of Shows (1929)

January 3 @ 6am – Loose Ankles (1930)

January 3 @ 7.15am – I Like Your Nerve (1931)

January 11 @ 6am – Love is a Racket (1932)

The only one I have not seen is Show of Shows and it looks like DFJ only has a passing acquaintance with that film. It has been some years since I saw the others though, so I am relishing the chance to see them with fresh eyes. Have a watch and come back to let me know which was your favorite!

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New England Travels Bookcover

Happy Black Friday, dear friends! It is with great pride that I trumpet the release of the ebook version of States of Mind: New England, Collected Essays from New England Travels by the lovely Jacqueline T. Lynch with a cover designed by yours truly. Hop over to Amazon and snap up the ebook version for FREE today through Monday, November 26. It already resides on my iPad and I couldn’t be more impressed with the thorough research and abundance of historic photos to accompany the essays. Even better, the photographs of local historic places were all shot by Jacqueline herself!

Jacqueline spills the rest of the details (including the impending publication of a beautiful print version!) over on her blog. Have a look and leave her a comment if you like. Hope all my pals in the US stuffed themselves royally with pie yesterday. Enjoy your leftovers!

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Irony and The Seven Year Itch

**Fair warning: this review/essay contains spoilers and assumes a basic knowledge of the film’s events**

For more years than I care to admit, I deliberately avoided seeing The Seven Year Itch. The overwhelming popular culture perception of the film (this and this) just put me off and I couldn’t stand the thought of watching it. But when I had my Marilyn revelation (explained here) I decided to give the film a chance. After all, I could fast forward the yucky Tom Ewell scenes I just knew had to exist. And that’s when I discovered one of the greatest (yet not discussed) misconceptions of classic film.

You see, on the surface, The Seven Year Itch looks like a film glorifying extra-marital affairs. You think it’s about Tom Ewell blatantly moving Marilyn into his apartment while Evelyn Keyes* is away. Well, at least that’s what I thought.

While it’s true that the majority of the film is seen from the perspective of Tom Ewell’s character (the creepily annoying Richard Sherman**), the film remains a wry, truthful window into the life of a beautiful woman (Marilyn Monroe, simply named The Girl). TE blunders around in this selfish little fantasy world imagining how much better his life would be if Marilyn was his girl. And every so often, the viewer gets these little glimpses into The Girl’s thoughts, usually occurring at the same moment TE is off imagining.

As is so often the case with relationships, Richard Sherman sees his friendship with The Girl as his one chance to be “the big man.” In all their encounters, he spends most of the time plotting how he will maneuver her into a situation of his design. And what is she doing? She’s absorbed by the fear that she’ll be enduring another sleepless night in an air condition-less apartment. Simple as that. She’s not in the fantasy land Richard Sherman created for her. She doesn’t even realize he’s thinking those things. All she wants is a good night’s sleep.

And miraculously, in spite of his overt lecherousness, The Girl actually enjoys his company and ends up making one of the all time best speeches in movie history concerning what women (at least nice women) actually want:

How do you know what a pretty girl wants? You and your imagination! You think every girl’s a dope! A pretty girl goes to a party and there’s some guy – a great big lug in a fancy striped vest, strutting around like a tiger, giving you that “I’m so handsome you can’t resist me” look. And from this, she’s supposed to fall flat on her face. Well she doesn’t fall on her face.

But there’s another guy in the room. Way over in the corner. Maybe he’s kind of nervous and shy – perspiring a little. First you look past him, but then you sort of sense he’s gentle and kind and worried. And he’ll be tender with you. Nice and sweet. That’s what’s really exciting!

After I heard this the first time, I stood up in my living room and clapped. It was singularly refreshing to finally hear a beautiful woman strike a blow for being treated with care: “tender, nice and sweet.” Yes, please.

So, in the end, I discovered that The Seven Year Itch is actually a hilarious look at how men relate to women. Even the all the awkwardness, mistakes, miscommunications and misunderstandings that can arise just from two people meeting make that interaction a worthwhile experience. It’s surprisingly family-oriented and the polar opposite of the unbridled raunch-fest pop-culture would have you believe. Do give it a go, if you’ve yet to see it. It now lives high atop the list of my favorite Marilyn films.

*Evelyn Keyes’ hair in this movie qualifies for most unfair hairdo in a film. It’s a hideous nest of poodle curls that she never did anything to deserve.

**I would also like to address the fact that Richard Sherman is quite the paranoid screwball. He’s a middle-aged, happily married man who incessantly talks to himself and leaps to insane conclusions based on his wild imaginings. Honestly, he’s incredibly lucky his wife hasn’t shipped him off to the looney bin already.

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Speak Out Before You Die Bookcover

Hello, dear ones! Just popping into your world for a moment to announce the second installment in the Double V Mystery series by Jacqueline T. Lynch. Book number 2 is called Speak Out Before You Die, with another cover designed by me!

This book picks up with the same detecting duo we met in the first book: Elmer Vartanian and Juliet Van Allen, the ex-con and the society sophisticate who solve crimes on the sly. Speak Out Before You Die finds the pair sleuthing at a high society New Year’s Eve wedding. They have reason to believe someone will die before the new year rings in and it’s up to them to expose the plot. Head over to Jacqueline’s blog for the full official blurb and her special explanation of the characters.

Ebooks available here: B&N, Smashwords, Amazon

Paperbacks will be available directly via Jacqueline or on Amazon in a few weeks.

Let me know what you think of the cover! As always, creative feedback is most welcome.

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