STREET OF CHANCE. Paramount Pictures, 1942. Burgess Mededith, Claire Trevor, Sheldon Leonard, Jerome Cowan, Frieda Inescort, Adeline de Walt Reynolds, Louise Platt. Screenplay by Garrett Fort based on The Black Curtain by Cornell Woolrich writing as William Irish. Score: David Buttolph. Directed by Jack Hively.
Street of Chance is film noir before anyone knew they were making film noir and while there are noir touches in the black and white cinematography and low lighting, it is primarily the script based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel Black Curtain that makes this noir and the presence of actors such as Burgess Meredith, Claire Trevor, and Jerome Cowan.
When ordinary joe Fred Thompson, Burgess Meredith, is almost killed by a beam falling from a construction site (shades of the Flitcraft story in The Maltese Falcon) he wakes up, stunned. He tells a policeman his name, but when he reaches in his pocket he finds a cigarette case with the initials DN and his hat has those same initials sewn in it. Shaken up and confused he goes home only to find his wife moved out — a year earlier.
He finds his wife Virginia, Louise Platt, and she is delighted to have him back but has no more explanation than he does as to what happened. He obviously has amnesia, and recovering those memories of that missing time becomes vital when he discovers DN, Danny Neary, is wanted for murder.
Danny Neary’s trail leads him to the Diedrichs (Frieda Inescort and Jerome Cowan), their bed ridden grandmother (Adeline de Walt Reynolds), and nurse Ruth Dillon (Claire Trevor). Did Danny Neary really murder someone or is he the fall guy for the hothouse drama and conspiracy in the Diedrich household? This part of the film is as much a gothic as noir drama with Meredith our Jane Eyre.
Street of Chance is an entertaining enough film, and the actors are fine, but it sounds better than the film really is as far as noir goes. It drags a bit once the main story line kicks in, and there are no surprises, not even the big shocker at the end.
Leave it to say Meredith is cleared by a dying statement overheard by the cop, Sheldon Leonard, who has been after him and by Grandma Diedrich even though she can’t speak. It’s Woolrich’s story that marks it as noir more than any other factor. Unlike The Maltese Falcon, I Wake Up Screaming, or Laura, the noir elements here are mostly accidental or budget matters, not attempts at style or German Expressionism. Even the low lighting is mostly budget and not art, though there are attempts at visual distinction by director Hively and cinematographer Theodor Spakuhl.
Without a visual equivalent of Woolrich’s overheated, sometimes purple prose, there is none of the feverish near hallucinatory quality that marks the best noir films. Despite these caveats its not a bad film or a bad adaptation of Woolrich’s novel from the fabled black series.
It’s only that it’s more noir in retrospect based on our familiarity with noir than it was all that obvious at the time. Films such as those I mentioned earlier or Alan Ladd’s This Gun For Hire and The Glass Key were much more obviously noir. Some of William Castle’s B “Whistler” films are as much noir as this.
A more faithful and more noirish version of this appeared as the 9th episode of the first season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour twenty years later under its original title, directed by Sydney Pollack, with Richard Basehart in the lead and with Lola Albright as Ruth. Any noir aspects there were deliberate.
Berkley Publishing Group
Laura Miller gives a warm #BKBF welcome to “@laurenbeukes-rhymes-with-mucus” (at Brooklyn Borough Hall)
In the 1980s, a man named Stephen Blumberg stole thousands of books and manuscripts from American libraries, amassing a collection worth millions of dollars. (For the full story, see his Wikipedia entry or the "Bibliokleptomania" chapter of Nicholas Basbanes’s A Gentle Madness.)
Colorado College was one of the many stops on Blumberg's cross-country book-stealing tour. He stole at least two books from us. One of these was no big deal, a 1930s pamphlet on Bent’s Fort, easily replaceable. The other, however, was quite rare: Henry Villard’s The Past and Present of the Pikes Peak Gold Region, published in 1860. Currently, it's held in only a handful of U.S. libraries and isn't available from any dealer. The FBI valued the CC copy, in its crummy modern binding, at $10,000.
Blumberg may have stolen as many as a dozen books from our library, but only these two were recovered. Library staff worked with the FBI to get the books back. It was particularly complicated because Blumberg not only removed or covered over library ownership marks from books, he also added false library marks. So, for example, a book stolen from Harvard might get a University of Michigan bookplate slapped onto it, and then a “withdrawn” stamp on top of that.
As was his wont, Blumberg used his own saliva to remove the CC bookplate from our copy of this book. Nevertheless, the FBI tracked it down, and it was returned to CC after Blumberg's 1991 trial. He spent almost five years in jail. Since 1996, he has been convicted twice more for similar thefts.
Because researchers often want to see the book that Blumberg stole, but can't always remember the name of it, we now state in our catalog record that our copy of the Villard book was "temporarily part of the Blumberg Collection." It's a good book to bring out with classes when we want to talk about the ethics of book collecting, and always sparks an interesting discussion.
TEENAGE CAVEMAN. American International Pictures, 1957. Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall, Leslie Bradley, Frank De Kova, Charles Thompson, June Jocelyn, Ed Nelson, Robert Shayne. Screenplay: R. Wright Campbell. Director: Roger Corman.
Teenage Caveman, a low-budget project ($70,000) with a title that conveys adolescent culture, is a far more interesting film than you might expect it to be. Directed and produced by Roger Corman, the movie’s original title was “Prehistoric World.” Which makes sense given that there are dinosaurs and strange lizard creatures lurking about in the background.
Whatever it rightfully called, the occasionally stylish movie stars Robert Vaughn as – you guessed it – a teenage cave man. Known as “Boy,” Vaughn’s character is plagued by curiosity. Why does his society’s law forbid people to travel beyond the river? What’s there that’s so forbidden or so dangerous? Right from the get go, one is plunged into a society seemingly ossified by religious dogma and intolerance.
By the time it’s all over, one feels as if the rug has been ripped out from under one’s feet. Perhaps there was a reason – a very good one, at that – why the Boy’s elders warned him against traveling far beyond his immediate surroundings. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that fans of Planet of the Apes will find Corman’s worldview, as conveyed in this particular film, to be not all that different from Rod Serling’s.
So, is Teenage Caveman a good movie or is it just a silly exercise in filmmaking? The best way to answer that question is as an attorney would: “It depends.” It depends what you’re looking for or how much stock you put in Corman’s abilities to convey serious ideas with a meager budget.
In terms of realism special effects, it’s basically a notch below a B-film. The lizards and dinosaurs, for instance, look more silly than scary. And Vaughn has to have the best coiffed haircut of any caveman since time began. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a very good actor or that he doesn’t take his role in this movie seriously. He does. And that’s what makes what could have otherwise been a total dud something worth watching, even if you have an inkling what the surprise ending is going to be.
MILTON LOTT – The Last Hunt. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1954. Cardinal paperback C-203, 1955. Gregg Press, hardvover reprint, 1979.
THE LAST HUNT. MGM, 1956. Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Lloyd Nolan, Debra Paget, Russ Tamblyn, Constance Ford, Joe De Santis. Based on the novel by Milton Lott. Director: Richard Brooks.
Fans of Western fiction need to run out and get a copy of this book, which ranks right up there with The Big Sky, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones and a very few others as one of the great novels of the American West.
Lott takes a simple tale of buffalo hunters in the 1880s, charges it with vivid description of an unforgettable countryside, adds some thoughtful and very surprising plot twists, and lights it up with scenes and characters you won’t forget.
Lott has a way of telling a story that seems to build up to a dramatic life-or-death confrontation every so often, then suddenly develops it with a maturity and naturalness that seems to grow directly from the characters and their setting.
Even the bit players come alive here, and Lott’s descriptive powers are such that — well let me just say that when the freighter trekked through a Dakota blizzard, I forgot the warm Ohio Sun on my back and felt myself shiver!
MGM filmed this in 1956, and they did a pretty fine job of it, too. Writer/director Richard Brooks always loved filming Literature, but he sometimes stumbled rather badly. Here though, he takes the best bits form Lott’s novel, simplifies when he has to, plays up the drama nicely, and doesn’t flinch from the grimmest parts. Along the way, he loses a bit of what makes the book so unique, but he turns out a damfine movie, so what’s to complain?
I should also mention the acting: where Lott evoked character, Brooks provokes performance. Robert Taylor makes a chilling kill-crazy hunter (his second portrait of a psycho, after Undercurrent) Stewart Granger — who lost his wife to Brooks in real life — seems at home on the range in his first and best real Western; Russ Tamblyn looks a bit unlikely as a red-haired Indian, but that’s how Lott wrote it; Debra Paget, typecast again as a dusky Indian maiden walks through the part with assurance, and best of all—best of all is Lloyd Nolan as a one-legged mule-skinner whose commentary on the proceedings puts things into context.
He sometimes seems to be carrying Brooks’ Important Message for him a little too obviously, but he does it with such robust good humor I didn’t mind a bit.
We’re all becoming familiar with the latest trend in the airline industry: those little “perks” (food, checked baggage, leg room) that used to be a means of attracting customers are now available only for a fee. Hotels are charging “guests” for clean linens, exercise rooms, and many other items that used to be free. Recently I heard of someone’s being charged $25 to print a boarding pass. The concept of beating the competition on service and amenities has given way to the bottom line. If you have to compete on price alone, then the costs of the business must be cut to the bone, and every “extra” has a cost and thus a price.
Sad to say, some recent reports from authors lead me to believe that this mindset has invaded the bookselling world. The image of the gracious small bookshop, careful to maintain the image of being a bit above any show of “filthy commerce,” has already been diminished by the large chain stores. Now it seems that in order to survive, some shops are following the lead of other industries in charging for what used to be a normal expense of the business. My information is anecdotal, and I would be interested in any comments indicating how widespread some of these practices have become.
First I heard that a local author had been asked to pay a fee to have a book signing at another shop. I know that authors of a certain stature are paid for appearances, but this is the first I have heard of the reverse. These events consume some time and money of the bookseller, who often does publicity, serves refreshments, and, of course, stocks the books. It also takes up the author’s time and resources in travel, preparation, and answering the audience question “How do I get published?” The financial compensation to bookseller and author is in book sales. The additional benefit, we hope, is in drawing attention to both the author and the shop. There is always the risk for both that no one will come, and much time is spent by both parties looking for a “hook” that will increase attendance.
Independent booksellers are approached almost weekly by self-published, small-press-published, or mainstream-but-first-book-published authors requesting signing events. I have hosted events for all three categories, but it never occurred to me to charge for them. If I think what is being offered is cr--, I politely decline. It would be hard to promote something I don’t think has potential, and I haven’t figured out the price at which I would sacrifice the trust I have built with my customers.
Next, I learned that another bookshop was selling advertising for books in its customer newsletter. Wow! I would get my intermittent newsletter out a lot more often if it was a paying proposition. I have not seen this newsletter, so I can only hope that the ads are clearly marked as such. I’m a bookseller, not a reviewer, but I think the same ethic applies: it should be clear if there is compensation for recommending a particular work.
“Ticketing” book-signing events is becoming more common. There is an admission charge, and it is the price of the book. You must buy the book to attend. This practice began to prevent attendees from purchasing the book on A#*$@% and bringing it for signing at the local bookshop. There is nothing wrong with requiring any books presented for signing to be purchased at the shop, and unless the event is huge, is not hard to monitor. Most attendees come with the intention of making a purchase, but I think it is justifiable to decide after hearing an author that the book is not the customer’s cup of tea. There are, of course, a few “regulars” who come for the entertainment and never purchase, but that is just part of the business.
Times are tough for both authors and booksellers. Marketing budgets at publishing houses have been slashed. It seems that the cost of the two-page spread in the New York Times Book Review for an author whose book will be No. 1 on “The List” no matter what could be better spent on the many fine works sitting unread because only small shops are promoting them, but that is a topic for another time. Most authors find that after the book is published, the work is not complete but just beginning; now they have to sell it. The independent bookseller has to deal with giant retailers who are selling books at or below the price the bookseller without market power pays for the same item. Is it wrong for the author who has poured years of blood, sweat, and lost family time into his effort to pay a bookseller who is struggling daily to keep the doors open to recommend his work? If it comes to that, something valuable will be lost in the bookselling world.
In a post earlier this year, Jessy Randall suggested that bookstores might need to begin charging an admission fee for browsers. I responded by pointing out that those who appreciated the physical display of books, the bookseller’s expertise, and the general ambiance, could support that effort by buying books. An idea that seemed preposterous to me at the time (we aren’t museums yet!) now has some appeal. Perhaps a $5 entrance fee, to be credited toward a purchase if one is made? It seems that bookselling may be going the way of airlines and hotels: if you want what used to be included in the package, you must pay an additional charge for it. Maybe I’m getting too old for modern commerce – retirement may be closer than I thought.