Monday, June 30, 2008

Lena Horne

Happy 91st birthday to the lovely Lena Horne.

Pictured is Lena with Eddie Anderson in Vincente Minnelli's 1943 movie "Cabin in the Sky". Lena is an absolutely delight as Georgia Brown, a girl who likes a good time. It is the movie going public's loss that more major roles didn't fall to that talented lady.
Here is another treat. From 1960 sharing the television screen with that gentleman of song, Perry Como.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Favourite movies: The Devil's Brother (1933)




Do you like operettas? I do. Star-crossed lovers, happy peasants, soldiers in taverns raising tankards and voices, funny schtick and lovely music sung by lovely voices. French composer Daniel Aubert's greatest success and most revived work was his 1830 operetta "Fra Diavolo" (The Devil's Brother). The name, at least, was taken from an actual Italian highwayman. I can't vouch for the exploits.

Producer Hal Roach was a fan of "Fra Diavolo" (by which title his movie is often known) and a fan of the fact that it was in public domain. Jeanie Macpherson adapted the play with ample opportunity for Roach's most popular stars, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy to strut their stuff.

Dennis King (1897 - 1971) portrays the title character, a ruthless bandit who is the scourge of the countryside. As Fra Diavolo he robs wealthy men of their gold, but as the Marquis de San Marco he steals the hearts of lovely ladies. Mr. King's movie career was brief with highlights including The Vagabond King (1930) with Jeanette MacDonald and the shy minister in Between Two Worlds (1944). Broadway was his stomping ground appearing in 39 plays from 1921 to 1969, including Rose Marie, I Married an Angel, Show Boat, A Doll's House, Billy Budd and a Tony Award in 1970 for John Osbourne's A Patriot for Me in 1970.

Lady Pamela Rocburg (Thelma Todd) and the Marquis de San Marco (Dennis King)

Roach players James Finlayson is the rich and suspicious Lord Rocburg and lovely Thelma Todd is Lady Pamela who finds the Marquis so intriguing. Henry Armetta is a bombastic Innkeeper and Lucile Brown is pretty daughter. Her lover, a poor but honest soldier is played by Arthur Pierson and Matt McHugh is her rich fiance, Francesco. True love never runs smooth in an operetta. It's a rule.

Life with a capital "L" has kicked our boys, Stanlio and Ollio, to the gutter. They decide that crime is their only way out. After all, Ollio opines, it doesn't take any brains to be a bandit. Our boys are ill-equipped for the career change. They are immediate failures and run afoul of Fra Diavolo himself! However, in his Marquis disguise the bandit requiers a retinue to follow the wealthy Rocburg's into the Inn to retrieve the 500,000 francs he knows the lord possesses. Stanlio and Ollio are his reluctant servants with two intentions, to please their master and to escape their master. Can you imagine the fun and trouble caused by sedan chairs, simple second story break-ins and mistaken identities? A trip to the wine cellar leads Stan to one of the funniest drunk scenes in all filmdom.

If you use your movies to escape the day-to-day, this very funny and quaint film may make your favourite movie list too.

Note: kneesey-earsey-nosey is not as easy as it looks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Caftan Woman and The Daddy Man

On this date in 1876 General Custer and Sitting Bull met up at the Little Bighorn. On this date in 1988 Paddy Lee and Garry plighted their trough. Coincidence?


Mutual regard, two lovely children and an aversion to lawyers has kept us together all these long, long years. We have weathered the worse-poorer-sickness combo of the traditional wedding vows. Now, if the Fates would be so kind, we'd like to see how we'd hold up under the better-richer-health bit. Here's hoping, and Happy Anniversary to my Sweetie-heart. Here is the lovely song, written by a young man whose heart and talent surpassed his allotted years that was our "first dance". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7Jdrhu-X8k


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lakeshore Collegiate Prom Night

l-r: Our Janet (with a distinct 60s vibe), Liz, Nadia, Carolyn


l-r: Raymond, Kevin, Kenneth, Joe, Ryan

It's all about the dresses! Since kindergarten it's always been all about the dresses. Sure, the fellas looked nice, the limo was exciting and the whole party was lots of fun, but...it's all about the dresses!
Photos courtesy: Maureen Nolan

Friday, June 20, 2008

AFI Top Ten Westerns II

1. The Searchers: deserving of any and all praise lavished upon it.

2. High Noon: well-crafted, well-acted movie. Continually entertaining.

3. Shane: my personal favourite.

4. Unforgiven: perhaps worthy, but I would consider bumping for "My Darling Clementine" or "The Ox Bow Incident".

5. Red River: gets better with age (or is that me?). Good choice.

6. The Wild Bunch: I would bump for the superior Peckinpah, "Ride the High Country".

7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: puhleeze! Even Strother Martin can't make up for "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head". Replace with "Will Penny".

8. McCabe and Mrs. Miller: pales next to William Wyler's "The Big Country".

9. Stagecoach: excellent. Would place higher.

10. Cat Ballou: not even the best comedy-western (which would be "Support Your Local Sheriff", which wasn't on the short list). Begone in favour of Boetticher's "The Tall T".

Lookee here, folks. The opening is better than half the movies up there:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6vREiRNMFc

I know. I know. Let it go, caftanwoman. Let it go.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

AFI Top Ten Westerns

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in Sam Peckinpah's "Ride the High Country" (1962)

Tonight CBS presents another of the AFI "movie list" specials. I adore these programs. The movie buff in me delights in the copious movie clips and in approving and disapproving of the selections on the various lists. I have been known to shout at the television just like my husband shouts at the referees when he watches "Hockey Night in Canada". Well, not just like him - I'm poor on the profanity bit.

Tonight's program is a top 10 list in various genres. I love all kinds of movies, but my heart is with the western and this western fan is uneasy about the countdown. Take a look at the short list of 50 from which the panel chose the top 10 and you will see what I mean: Bend of the River, The Big Country, Blazing Saddles, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cat Ballou, Cheyenne Autumn, Dances With Wolves, Destry Rides Again, Duel in the Sun, Fort Apache, Giant, The Gunfighter, High Noon, High Plains Drifter, How the West Was Won, The Iron Horse, Jeremiah Johnson, Johnny Guitar, The Last Picture Show, Little Big Man, Lonely Are the Brave, Lone Star, The Magnificent Seven, Major Dundee, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, My Darling Clementine, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Ox Bow Incident, Pale Rider, The Plainsman, Red River, Ride the High Country, Rio Bravo, Rio Grande, The Searchers, Shane, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Shootist, Silverado, Stagecoach, The Tall T, True Grit, Tumbleweeds, Unforgiven, Union Pacific, The Westerner, The Wild Bunch, Will Penny.

Choosing from the above titles, the panel can create a solid, decent Top 10 Western list or they can create an abomination. Either way, it can in no way be considered a definitive list of best American westerns because it features only one Anthony Mann film, and although Bend of the River is a personal favourite of mine, I don't believe it will make a cut. Before the evening has even begun the list has a major flaw. No Devil's Doorway, Winchester '73 or The Naked Spur. Shame on them.

While Mann's output is missing, there are some questionable inclusions: The Last Picture Show (does this drama spring to mind when you think "western"?), Duel in the Sun (a picture of dubious quality), Blazing Saddles (a spoof, not even a comedy-western). I'll grant them the modern westerns such as Lone Star. After all, one of the things I love most about the genre is its flexibility and how writers and directors have been able to use the western to reflect different eras and craft wonderful stories. However, consider some of the interesting titles that didn't make the short list: Westward the Women, Hell's Hinges, The Long Riders, Warlock, Last Train from Gun Hill, No Name on the Bullet, Forty Guns, Hangman's Knot, Three Godfathers, Blood on the Moon, Ride Lonesome, Stars in My Crown, The Big Sky, Seven Men From Now. It's enough to make you feel sorry for the panel.

What will make this western movie buff happy and keep her from going soccer hooligan on the Zenith? If the number one spot is occupied by my beloved Shane or any film directed by John Ford. If the top ten list includes: Ride the High Country, The Big Country, The Tall T and/or Will Penny. However, if the top ten list includes Blazing Saddles, the voting panel had best remain cloaked in anonymity as they will have unleashed my inner Tom Dunson.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A lot of weather we've been having lately!

Severe thunderstorms hit Toronto this past weekend. We haven't seen the like in many a year. Lightning shows to rival Canada Day fireworks. Rolling thunder! Genuine rolling thunder, just like in a Louis L'Amour novel! Sudden, unexpected downpours. If we didn't feel Mother Nature's wrath like our benighted neighbours in the American midwest, we certainly felt the persnickity back of her hand. This is cause for great excitement among Toronto conversationalists of which there are three kinds: those who complain about the cold, those who complain about the heat, and those who complain about the heat and cold.

My boy Gavin loves what he refers to as "thunder-rain". Of a summer eve he will stand in the front yard gazing into the sky and request "thunder-rain, please". I oblige by waving my arms about and proclaiming a home-made incantation, "precipitatio", like some Hogwart's reject. Sometimes it works! Last night's downpour was too much for the boy. He couldn't contain himself. It was not enough to stand in the doorway and admire the elements - he must gallop (that's right, gallop) to the front yard and dance. His arms spread out and his face to the sky with an endearing cockeyed smile. I stood on the stoop with a towel and prayed that the lightning was as far out over the lake as it seemed. You may ask why I allowed this terpsichordian display, and as concerned level-headed folk you deserve an answer. There are two reasons. Number one, it is a gift to witness such pure joy. Number two, Gavin is a big kid, a big, single-minded kid, and he'd just knock me out of his way.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hey!


It's Richard M. Sherman's birthday!
That's Richard on the left next to brother Robert B.
Happy 80th to one half of my son Gavin's favourite songwriting brothers.
Here's a treat. A particular favourite of my boy's.
PS: Happy Birthday to Aunt Paula. Another of Gavin's faves.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hey!



Hey! It's Les Paul's birthday today.

Happy 93rd to a Living Legend.

Here's Lester with a pal of his named Chester.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByGsHTlKmWk&feature=related

Bloody Words VIII - Mystery Conference

How to almost get out of doing the dishes for the weekend.

I spent June 6 - 8 at the Bloody Words Mystery Conference, conferring, conversing and otherwise hob-nobbing with my fellow mystery fans/writers. An observation: I don't believe there is another group of people more open to hearty laughter than these lovers of fictional murder and mayhem.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Amazing Janet


The end of the school year brings the last minute rush to finish assignments, summer plans and the Recognition Assembly at Lakeshore Collegiate Institute. It is inspiring and fun to watch the students receive their honours. Some walk across the stage with bravado, others play to their crowd, some are embarrassed. Many are from the same family or are high achievers who seem never to leave the stage.

I wasn't surprised when our Janet brought home the invitation to attend the morning assembly. After all, last year she received a trophy for Senior Band. It's not that we're used to this sort of thing - that was the first recognition of any kind she had received, but she is an excellent flute player so I wasn't surprised that she should be getting another trophy. The surprise was that this year Janet received a trophy for Senior Writer. I knew that my grade 12 slacker turned scholar had thrown herself 110% into The Writer's Craft class and that her teacher, Ms. Siegel, was pleased with her work, but the recognition was unexpected. What an amazing girl is our Janet.

I think Janet is taking after her Aunt Tracey, a jazz phtojournalist published in CODA, Canada's Jazz Magazine. I know the most amazing people.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Modern Times


The hands-free cell phone is not a boon to mankind. It makes it difficult for the big city gal walking down a crowded street to differentiate between a crazy person ranting to the world at large or a crazy person ranting to someone on the phone. The only solution is to ignore everyone, except for the lovely busker playing Tchaikowsky. That was nice.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Gene Puerling

March 31, 1929 - March 25, 2008

One of the great pleasures of life is enjoying work by someone who really knows what they are doing. Wisconsin born Gene Puerling knew what he was doing when it came to music. His family background was filled with musicians and Gene was organzing groups from his teenage years and never stopped. Vocalist, innovative arranger, founder of The Hi-Lo's, The Singers Unlimited and inspiration to generations of singers and listeners.

The Hi-Lo's were formed in 1953 and recorded many albums including: The Hi-Lo's Listen!, This Time It's Love, The Hi Lo's Happen to Bossa Nova, The Hi Lo's Happen to Folk Songs, Broadway Playbill, Ring Around Rosie (with Rosemary Clooney), Suddenly It's the Hi Lo's, Harmony in Jazz. Original personnel included Gene, Clark Burroughs, Bob Morse and Bob Strassen. Strassen later left the group and was replaced by Don Shelton. Shelton joined Gene, Bonnie Herman and Len Dressler in 1967 for The Singers Unlimited, who could turn songs you thought you didn't like into favourites. Originally jingle singers, they recorded what they liked and the fans followed.

Gene Puerling was nominated 14 times for the Grammy Award and won in 1981 for his arrangement of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square" for The Manhatten Transfer album Mecca for Moderns.

The inestimable YouTube contains several clips of both The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited reaching and creating new fans every day. Here is a favourite of mine with an introduction by Nat "King" Cole. Enjoy!

http://www.singers.com/videos/hilossugar.html