Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What would John Adams do?

Tonight I turned off the Yankees/Red Sox game to watch a few episodes of "John Adams," HBO's epic, excellent 2008 miniseries.

I needed to believe again, methinks. After watching the CBS Evening News, I was reminded of just how much of a joke our current government has become.

It seems President Obama and the Republicans in Congress are arguing over when, or whether, to hold a joint session of Congress the president has requested to talk about his jobs plan. The president wants to hold it next Wednesday night. Republicans don't like that because that's the night of the NBC GOP presidential candidates' debate. Speaker of the House John Boehner suggested the president wait until the following night. Some don't like that because it will conflict with -- I'm not making this up -- an NFL football game.

I first gained a greater appreciation for Adams after reading David McCullough's biography 10 years ago. His intelligence, his sacrifice, his steadfast morality -- if Jefferson was the river of independence, Adams was its rock.

If you haven't yet seen the HBO miniseries, get it on DVD and savor it. This is television at its finest -- smart, grand, beautifully shot and wonderfully acted.

It gives you such an appreciation for the sacrifices the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) underwent to make the American experiment a reality. It highlights the stirring love and abiding bond between John and Abigail Adams.

And, in its way, it's a reminder of just how petty -- and pathetic -- American politics has become.

(Oh, by the way, I peeked -- the Red Sox are winning 9-5.)

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fighting insomnia with Randolph Scott

Made the mistake of falling asleep earlier on the couch.

It's just after midnight as I type this. I can't sleep.

So, I'm doing the next best thing, which is watching Randolph Scott and Lee Marvin in my all-time favorite B western, "Seven Men From Now."

They really don't make 'em like this anymore. Everything has to be politically correct.

But, beyond that, this is just a darn good movie. Taut, fine storytelling. Solid performances from Scott (in a role that was intended for John Wayne), Marvin and Gail Russell.

There's a scene between Scott and Russell, in which he's lying underneath a covered wagon in the rain talking to Russell through the floor board, that gives me chills every time I see it. Scott's final showdown with Marvin is another classic, unexpected in its shocking brevity.

As usual, Scott rides away tall in the saddle, and his parting shot with Gail Russell is enough to make the heart ache, although the final scene just before "The End" (spoiler alert) gives us a little hope that the lonesome cowboy might be getting some company sooner than he thinks.

I love this movie. I guess I've seen it 10 or 15 times and never tire of it. Scott made seven fine films with director Budd Boetticher, but none near as good as "Seven Men From Now."

Not a bad way to lose sleep.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

'A Walk in the Spring Rain'

Tonight I am watching a movie that was partially filmed in my hometown.

The picture is "A Walk in the Spring Rain." It was shot in Knoxville, Cades Cove and Gatlinburg, Tenn., in 1969 and stars Fritz Weaver, Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn. Aside from getting to see a beautiful Bergman in the twilight of her career, and glimpses of what several familiar locations looked like 40 years ago, there's not much to say.

This movie could have been something of a classic. According to the Turner Classic Movies website, Bergman was intrigued by the film because she liked the story, wanted to work with Quinn again (they'd starred together in "The Visit" five years earlier) and had complained that few film roles were then being written for women of her age (she was 54 at the time).

The film focuses on a professor (Weaver) and his wife (Bergman) who travel to the Great Smoky Mountains so the professor can write a book during a year-long sabbatical. Quinn plays the man who rents the couple a home. He also falls in love with Bergman.

"A Walk in the Spring Rain" is an old-fashioned film even for 1970. In an era of raging sexual revolution ("The Graduate," for example, looks like soft porn compared to this), the film treats the extra-marital affair rather conservatively. Bergman was radiant even in middle age and Weaver and Quinn do the best they can. But the movie suffers from a weak script and careless direction by Guy Green, best known as being the cameraman for David Lean on "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist." One neat cultural note is that actor and martial arts legend Bruce Lee choreographed the fight scene between Quinn and his "son" (Tom Fielding, aka Tom Holland).

Gatlinburg was already beginning to become cluttered with the touristy clap-trap for which it's famous (yes, the Old Smoky Candy Kitchen is still there) and Ayres Hall on the UT campus looks exactly the same! (I wonder if the heat and air actually worked back then.) The Smokies are beautiful in any decade.

"A Walk in the Spring Rain" premiered in Knoxville at the Tennessee Theatre on April 9, 1970. Bergman sat next to Rachel Maddux, the author of the novel on which the film is based. Bergman later remembered that Maddux kept saying things like "What is this?" during the screening and at one point went to the restroom and cried.

Bergman wrote in her memoirs: "I went after her and tried to comfort her...The film had been a good try. We'd started off with such high hopes. I thought maybe we could do a film with that elusive feeling which 'Brief Encounter' [1945] had. We'd worked hard. We'd done our best and at the end of it we'd made Rachel Maddux cry."

I have had a crush on Ingrid Bergman since I first saw "Casablanca" as a kid. This film could have been so much more, a touching tale of broken dreams and middle-age regret. But as it is, it's a wasted opportunity, a classic example of a director biting off less than he could chew.

With this cast, he should have had a goldmine. Instead, he fell down the shaft.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

No place like home

Pulled out of the driveway in a bad mood.

It was 9,000 degrees outside, my stomach hurt, and if I had my way I'd probably have curled up on the couch with the mystery I'd checked out of the Halls Branch Library earlier today.

But, I had work to do. National Night Out at Stewart Ridge subdivision. It's a livin'.

I was still grumbling, mostly wishing I was sitting in the sand somewhere on Maui, when I got out of the car and broke out into a big grin. There sat Faye Heydasch, one of my second grade teachers.

Here came Maggie Meyers, who went to school with me, her young son in tow. I smiled and marveled for the millionth time that my contemporaries are old enough to have kids.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Jim McManus sitting in the shade, making a Popsicle disappear.

"You're getting married?" he exclaimed. "Congratulations! It will make a better man out of ya."

Jim said he really appreciated the fact that the Shopper came out to Stewart Ridge to cover the event.

"This is what I like reading about," he said. "My friends and neighbors and what's going on in the community."

We talked awhile, about the lack of mass transit in the county, about the fact that his grandfather worked on the so-called Dummy Line, the electric trolley that used to ferry folks from Fountain City to downtown. We talked about the weather and the World's Fair and the way the stores have left the 'burbs.

"But regardless of everything, this is still the best place in the county to live and raise a family," Jim said.

I blabbed for a few more minutes and finally made my way to dinner. Coming back up Cunningham Road, seeing the sun slip toward its slumber, I realized Jim was right. I guess the famous line from that corny film is true after all.

Wherever ye may roam, there's no place like home.

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