The doctor is in.

Upon completing the fourth season of Big Love, I provided husbands with some advice about plural marriage. Now, watching In Treatment, I feel moved to do the same thing for therapists with plural patients.

Why would you, a therapist, want to father children by your own patients? Because God put you on this Earth to father children and you have a barn full of fillies (to borrow from Secretariat) ready at hand. Or should I say, a barn full of brood mares? You stallion, you.

My advice:

– Refuse all patients with fertility problems. You’re a shrink, not a gynecologist.

– Refuse all male patients. You won’t be bringing down souls from heaven by spending time with dudes. Exception: accept a couple of those guys who want to be cured of their homosexuality. They’ll do all the talking and you won’t have to listen to a word of it; this will relieve the bad optics of an all-female practice, and provide a little walking-around money for you.

– Situate your office next to a motel run by a known polygamist.

– Drug the Evian.

– If a tall, good-looking client walks in, don’t say “Wow, do those legs go all the way up?”

Getting started:

– Ask her about her dad. What does he look like? Try to have her show you his picture. Does he have facial hair? Go to the costume shop and get some like it. Cold-call him to hear his voice, and then mimic it during your sessions with her. Read the Electra Cliff Notes.

– Ask her about her husband, but only the bad parts. He doesn’t understand her.

– Tell her that she’s beautiful.

– Hire a model to walk in every time she’s leaving. Have the model move past her and into the room, to her recently-vacated chair, in a way that would make Freud forget that a cigar is sometimes only a cigar.


– If she’s a Mormon, ask her how many children she has had. No matter how many, look disappointed and disapproving.

– If she’s a Catholic, ask her how many children she has had. No matter how many, ask her in an accusatory way if she’s been using contraceptive methods. Try to sound like a German, Polish, or Irish priest.

– If she’s a Buddist, sit in silence for the full 50 minutes with an erection.

Some dialog hints:

Patient: Doctor, I… I love you.
You: Myrtle, where do you feel this love?
Patient: In my heart.
You: Where else?
Patient: …In my head?
You: Where else?

Patient: Doctor, I can’t stop thinking about you!
You: Edna, I’m going to show you something that will distract you.

Patient: Oh, Doctor, stop! I can’t have another child!
You: You can’t?… Or you won’t?

Androcles and the Lion (1952)

Having watched Pygmalion (1938) and Major Barbara (1941), I continue my G. B. Shaw refresher with Androcles and the Lion (1952).

As I mentioned when reviewing the earlier films, Shaw takes pains to get his point across, one way or another. His preface to Androcles runs longer than the play itself. Bottom line: Jesus had some good ideas but they mostly died with him. Let’s not worry about it (says I, not Shaw). Aesop, who wrote the original, would be scratching his head, I presume.

This is only about half Shaw, anyway, the other half being Hollywood, or Gabriel Pascal’s notion of it. After Pascal’s successes with Pygmalion and Major Barabara, he went all in with Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), filming in Technicolor with Vivien Leigh and Claude Rains, in Egypt (or not. Conflicting info on this), before the war ended. When that flopped, he backed off on Androceles and left most of Shaw’s thoughts on Chrisianity out of the movie, substituting fun with the lion and gladiators. Being dead, Shaw probably didn’t care. [Or maybe there is another whole history here that I’m missing. Androcles came seven years later and was released into a different England that CAC. If I ever do the research, I’ll come back and edit this. Or get it right in my CAC review.]

When I saw Victor Mature gazing down from a balcony upon Jean Simmons in this one, I immediately asked myself, what chemistry is this? Victor, dressed in his Roman legionaire togs, looked tired, world weary, aging. Just his role, or too many late Hollywood nights? I remember when I first noticed Pacino looking old. He never tried to hide it and I respected him for that. It turns out, I like haggard. Some, age hardly touches. Paul Newman. Some age early. Tommy Lee Jones got the gig in Space Cowboys (2000), side by side with Garner, Eastwood, and Donald Sutherland, and didn’t look out of place with those three geezers at all. Supposedly, he was their contemporary. Either way with Victor, the true ravages of age or a role calling for a worn-out legionaire, I took his interest in Simmons, who was dressed, or wrapped, in a simple white fabric and was in her early twenties at the time, radiating a mixture of Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor with plenty of black-and-white closeups, and at least one moment in that white shift when we can tell she’s excited to be hanging with Victor, I took Victor’s interest, I say, to be that of an older man called upon to reflect on life’s beauty and missed opportunities. Then I discovered that he was only 38 when he made the movie and that whole train of thought went out the window. Just as well, cause later when he and Jean start to breathe heavy whilst discussing religion, he looks younger, though still with that mug of his.

The two of them, Mature and Simmons, went on the next year to make The Robe (1953), wherein Burton takes pride of place and wherein Simmons wears the same white clingy thing that she’s flaunting in Androcles (well, she’s flaunting what’s in the clingy thing, I guess), and then The Egyptian (1954), again with the white clinger. The Egyptian is the effort that occasioned that famous quote about the male star’s bosom being larger than the female’s. More tanned, too.

Jean Simmons, like Wendy Hiller as Eliza Dolittle and Barbara Undershaft, gets more than 50% of the spunk and argument in the movie. Here, though, rather than facing a Professor Higgins or Barbars’s  magnate father, Simmons deals with a diffuse collection of hypocrites, plus the hunky lunk.

Shaw taken up by Rex Harrison, Leslie Howard, and Wendy Hiller is one thing; Shaw taken up by Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, and Jim Backus, well, that’s something else. It’s not exactly that this is Shaw 4 in the franchise, but Gabriel Pascal picked the best for 1938, then the next best for 1941. Shaw worked with him on those; but by the time Androcles  rolled around, Shaw had left the building. Not to worry. Innumerable Shaw plays have been filmed, and filmed again, since then. I have seven more on reserve, just in case I haven’t had my fill yet.

[Taking a break to remind myself what a catbird seat is. Ah, that’s better. But still not where it came from in the 1800s.]

What else? Androcles later played the owner of Mr. Ed. Alan Young. 91 and still working. Has been associated with a cultural treasure trove of properties, from The Hulk to ER to Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to Doogie Howser to Batman to the Chipmunks. My God, the man is a legend.

Movie notes:

Robert Newton, who owns the most amusing moments in Major Barbara (1941) as Bill Walker, is back here ten years later, to again provide LOL moments in the movie, as Ferrovius.

Jim Backus , with Mr. Magoo straining to get out, puts me in mind, for some reason, of The Phil Silvers Show (1955). Similar vibe.

As they march along, back in A.D. 161 (or whatever year it is supposed to be), the Christians sing a lusty version of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Never mind the anachronism. Between verses, the members of the group remind each other that every man jack of them is about to become lion chow. Some soldiers.

“man jack” comes from cricket, where the worst batsman is listed at number 11 (i.e., 8, 9, 10, jack).

Collected Dailies 9

Email from my niece:  Danny DeVito is coming to SF Sketchfest next Tuesday night at the Castro, to have a conversation with James L. Brooks after a screening of Broadcast News (1987). Janet being the co-founder/co-director, our tickets await at the door, if only we can bestir ourselves and drive up to the city. 99 acts in its 10th year; the thing is getting huge.


Friday Night Lights and Undeclared, from Netflix. The Undeclared cast, after their 17 episodes and cancellation, go on to fame in various flavors. Who from Friday Night Lights has gone on to stardom?


Androcles and the Lion (1952) – When I saw Victor Mature looking down from a balcony on Jean Simmons in this one, I immediately asked myself, what chemistry is this? Victor, dressed in his Roman general’s togs, looks tired, world weary, aging. Just his role, or too many Hollywood nights? I remember when I first noticed Pacino looking old. He never tried to hide it and I respected that. Some, age hardly touched. Paul Newman. Some aged early. Tommy Lee Jones got the gig in Space Cowboys (2000), side by side with Garner, Eastwood, and Donald Sutherland, and didn’t look out of place with the three geezers at all. Supposedly, he was their contemporary. Either way with Victor, the true ravages of age or a role calling for a worn-out legionaire, I took his interest in Simmons, who was dressed, or wrapped, in a simple white fabric and was in her early twenties at the time, with a mixture of Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor vibes and plenty of closeups, to be that of an older man called upon to reflect on life’s beauty and missed opportunities. Then I discovered that he was only 38 when he made the movie and that whole train of thought went out the window.


Mother and Child (2009) – A lot to like. Be fun to write about, some rainy day.


Arn: The Knight Templar (2007) – In Sweden, it’s all in Swedish; in the Holy Land, English. Then Arn lays out a little Arabic and Saladin says, “You speak our language.” and I thought, Dude, you’re a Kurd; it’s not your language either. But Saladin probably never made a big deal about the Kurd thing whilst uniting the Arabs.


The Social Network (2010) – Sorkin can write, no doubt about that. I was taken out of the movie somewhat by Eisenberg channeling Danny Pudi all the way through… My college had four fraternities, one each for the BMOC, jocks, rich party animals, and nerds (before the taxonomy of nerds had been clearly established). As a freshman, I attended all the rush parties. Uncomfortable! Except for that of the nerd group. On the day that invitations to join appeared in our student-union mailboxes, I found one, from the nerds. This being the early 60s,  it turned out that the nerds, to the surprise of everyone, harvested all the most sought-after frosh. This being the early 60s, although I attended the introductory parties, I never considered actually joining a fraternity. I was gratified by the invite, though. And I did have a girlfriend for a year who was in a sorority, so I did get to go to a couple of parties and a couple of dances, getting drunk at all of them, and experiencing the  sorority-house cat and gossip.


Buried (2010) – Ryan Reynolds clearly didn’t see Kill Bill (2004), in which The Bride faces the same situation. I felt a lot more uncomfortable with Uma in the box that I did with Reynolds, but then she was only required to zen punch her way out, not emote for ninety minutes in a Stephen King-type situation… Funny to hear Stephen Tobolowsky’s dulcet tones over the line three-quarters of the way through, as he be’s mean. If you’ve never listened to The Tobolowsky Files podcast, I recommend it… Having watched North Face (2008), Frozen (2010), and this one, I am not taking endings for granted anymore.


Big Love, season 4 – I’m sort of amazed at how dialed-up this season is – intense every moment. There have been crises that in previous seasons would have taken weeks to resolve. Here,they crop up and then get shouldered aside because so much else is going on. Makes me wonder what the final season, number 5, just beginning, can do to maintain parity, or more… I haven’t checked any reviews or discussions or whatever, but of the multitude of soaps I’ve watched, I can’t remember seeing anything like this. It’s great…And it goes out with a perfect bang. Soap at its best… Meanwhile, the next-t0-last episode of Caprica 1.5 introduces a plot twist that I so never saw coming. That’s what I always liked about BSG and Lost: the surprises.


Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) – How I knew this was a class film: Milla Jovovich goes to the showers, gets the water running, takes off her guns and knives, but before she can remove a single piece of leather, gets interrupted and has to go fight zombies… I have absolutely no memory of the first three entries in this franchise, all of which I’ve seen. This one is all about the visuals. Ali Larter adopts a babe look that doesn’t work for me as well as her Heroes persona… Some rainy day, I’d like to look into this more closely – Wes Anderson and Jovovich, now 35 and a mom but still kicking zombie ass. Instead of using the quick cuts that make it impossible for the viewer to follow a fight, Anderson goes the other way, using slo mo to linger over the action. Video game on screen.


One little thing about Big Love: seems to me that often as not, they don’t get the hymns right. Seems like a strange thing to get wrong, but every few episodes I find myself thinking, where did that music come from?


Listening to a Robert Parker 2010 novel. He left a few behind when he died, which is good. Takes a little of the fun out of it, though, knowing that he’s gone.


Went to see Amaracord (1973) one night in San Diego, back in ’73, and then The Godfather (1972) the following night. My impression at the time: Coppola was no Fellini, in spite of The Godfather’s subsequent glory. I mention this because I watched the first hour of Piranha (2010) last night, after watching Machete the night before, and Aja is no Rodriquez. I can enjoy a ride at the county fair, but for a classic ride, you’ve got to go find a Disneyland… First sign of trouble in Piranha: old guy gets eaten but later his bloody corpse washes up. Corpse?!? These are Jurassic super piranhas? There shouldn’t be anything left of the geezer but a couple of clean white bones, a wedding ring, and a grinning skull; Aja just wanted that corpse to rear up in th water; weak! Second sign of trouble: the CGI blood is laughably bad – there is no excuse for bad CGI blood in this, our high-tech age – bad CGI in 2011 is sort of like Rush Limbaugh still big and bold eleven years into the new millenium. Makes you realize that (1) Kubrick was off by a thousand years and (2) it takes less than 50% of the population to screw everybody, including the planet itself… Anyway. T&A-wise, Aja is a wannabe Rob Zombie here, and I’m thinking of unrated, director’ cut of The Devil’s Rejects. Inadvertantly or vertantly, Aja has put himself in his own movie via Jerry O’Connell. My best financial advice to you the reader: invest in gun companies. They do well no matter what, and especially well in times of trauma, like, for example, when a mentally ill person goes on a shooting spree at a public gathering. If the individual uses a Glock, say, and manufactures casualties in the double digits, Glock sales dependably shoot up. You could look it up… Anyway. Too many underwater piranha POV shots after which, cutting back above water, the piranhas don’t show. Weak! Rule of thumb: the more artificial boobs, the worse the movie. So far in Piranaha, they’re all artificial. In Crank: High Voltage (2009), the Neveldine/Taylor flick, the artificial boob takes a round and springs a leak. Now that’s quality moviemaking! Let’ go see what Aja can do in the final 28 minutes to win me over… I hiked in to Havasu Canyon back in ’58, before the lake was created. Canyons, waterfalls, reservation. When the lake came on the scene, my parents bought a lot. Nothing ever came of it, even after the developers moved London Bridge to the lake, piece by piece. I wonder if it’s still there.


Machete (2010) – Doctor tells nurse that human intestine is 60 feet long. Shortly thereafter, Danny Trejo, holding a scalpel and faced with a bad guy, needs to dive out a window with a 60-foot drop to survive… Babe agent sits in her car in front of a house. House blows up. Barbecued corpse bad guy lands on her hood with meat thermometer sticking out of his neck. Red mercury goes up and pops out top of thermometer with little squeekey sound… At some point in this thing, I realized that I might be watching a classic, according to my personal definition of the term. Trejo, the aging incredible ultimate chick magnet. Steven Seagal, wearing a truly strange rug, his fat draped, playing the mom- and daughter-decapitating chief bad guy. De Niro, capping his career with an accent of unknown provenance. Jeff Fahey, no longer Lost: “Where are my wife and daughter?” “In hell.” “Then give them my best regards…” and “Where are my wife and daughter?” “In heaven.” “Guess I won’t be seeing them, then.” Cheech in a dog collar, with a box of Cubans and a box of Mexican blunts. Don Johnson, gunning down innocents… Is there a baby-boomer vibe with this venerable cast? Many a moment when Tarantino would have stuck in a homage, but Rodriquez is his own homage… Attack of the undocumented: lots of pimped out low riders, one of which rears way up and squashes a bad guy, and, at the back of the pack, an ice-cream cart… It’s a classic if I want to rewatch it later, and then again later; so the jury is out. It’s got a chance, though.


Big Love, season 4, and Caprica 1.5 – Both still getting it done for me. Medicine for Melancoly (2010) – Good start; looking forward to watching this one. Lots of San Francisco in a genuine indie with a cool color scheme: black and white with shades of color.

Major Barbara (1941) – I sat down to watch this mainly to see Wendy Hiller again. Plus Rex Harrison and an all-star cast… After being away from Shaw for a long time, I was looking for something to read on vacation a while back and took along Man and Superman. I had forgotten what an interesting blend of romantic comedy, conversation, politics, and religion some of his plays present. He wrote Major Barbara in 1905. Young penniless academic fellow (Harrison) falls hard for young Major in the Salvation Army (Hiller), who turns out to be the daughter of the world’s most successful (richest), eccentric maker of weapons  – as opposed to, in Pygmalion (1938), not-so-young well-off academic felow (Leslie Howard, and then Harrison in My Fair Lady (1964)) falls hard for poor young flower-seller (Hiller)… Here, our very first glimpse of Deborah Kerr in the movies… Major Barbara has a great deal of dialog that, it seems to me, would be of great interest to Kurosawa (who I’ve been studying). I’ve got to Google Shaw and Kurosawa and see if there is any connection between them… Well, there is someone named Shaw Kurosawa… Major Barbara was shot with German bombs falling on London. Cast and crew would run to the bomb shelters and then return when the all-clear sounded… The Salvation Army was formed in 1865; it was forty years old when Shaw wrote his play… I read a review in which the critic opined that there was much to relish in the movie but that just sort of sat there. Hmm. If you watch a Shaw play, you will be lectured; perhaps it was the critic who just sort of sat there while he took his medicine.


Devil (2010) – Shyamalan finally got his name on something decent.


One way to measure how good a romantic comedy is, is to see how quickly and how much you want the two protagonists to fall in love. In the case of ‘I Know Where I’m Going’ (1945), the Powell/Pressburger film, with Roger Livesey and Wendy Hiller as the lovebirds, for me, the answers are: quickly and a lot.


The Other Guys (2010) – Enough smiles and chuckles to satisfy me. 44 Inch Chest (2009) – It screens like a play and I like plays. Just sat and enjoyed listening to a movie’s worth of dialog. Ian McShane plays the urbane, less-foul-mouthed member of the group, which is a change that’s fun.


Why did Fonda make My Name is Nobody (1973)? I could look it up, or try to, and maybe I will…And while I’m at it, why did Leone want that movie  made, either?

But I’m glad they did it.

Fonda was 68, and looked pretty good for that, but his heart had to be bothering him by then, and it was an action film that had him on a horse and flat on the ground more than once. He had nine years left, and was involved in twenty-three more projects. Maybe he wanted to add to Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) or maybe he just wanted to work, because that’s what he did. It’s a same to see a legend showing up in his twilight for something like Tentacles (1977). But then, Shelley Winters, John Huston, and Bo Hopkins were all in that thing as well. “It’s turning the beach… into a buffet.” Must have been some money to spend on salaries…


I was in Safeway yesterday and it seemed like every time I turned down an aisle, Alice Cooper and his mom were there, discussing some purchase. The guy stands out. Very friendly. He posed in the checkout line for a phone pic by my spouse, who told him that she was a fan, though beyond recognizing his name, she doesn’t know much about him. He’s just finished his 2010 Theater of Death world tour and said he was fagged, and looked it… Tonight nine of us were sitting in a pizza joint, eating our pizza, when Owen Wilson came in for the fifth time in two weeks and waited ten or fifteen minutes in front of us for a couple of take-out pizzas. This was a couple of hours after the virial “Owen Wilson was killed snow-boarding” news on the Internet. The usual thoughts-when-face-to-face-with-a-celebrity crossed my mind. Get an autograph. Mention my niece, who had a role in at least one of his movies. Ignore him. Figure out a way to interact with him in a way that would cause a hint, a tiny particle, of his – fame, money, talent, you name it – to rub off on me. Then he left and the normal world reestablished itself in my vicinity. And speaking of my niece: ten years ago she and David Owen and Cole Stratton created SF Sketchfest. A decade later, the three of them continue as the festival’s directors  and the thing is just booming. It runs in SF for  three weeks every January and the list of performers this year blows my mind. Almost 300 entries. Roll call for  improv and standup. It’s Comedy University and all you need for admission to it is money.


Sitting in Maui with a laptop, appropriately, in my lap, watching Futurama, My Name is Nobody (1973), and South Park is something new for me. The Netflix in the lap, not the Maui. Seems sort of decadent.


Kenny (2006) – It made me laugh. The film took a while to get here from Australia, but worth the wait.


Something has to be done  about the wolf pack situation in the eastern U.S. You can’t go skiing or snow boarding without being pulled down and eaten. You can’t go down into the New York subway, or was that a train station (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)), without the  same thing happening. Great time to be a wolf movie star, though, or his or her agent.


One of the guys on /Filmcast absolutely loved Frozen (2010). Somebody else didn’t, I forget who. It’s genre, it’s predictable but unpredictable, it gives some love to New England ski slopes, which counts for something, even if was really filmed in Utah. Despite myself, by the end of it, I had some dampness in the armpits, sorry for that image. It’s a way to pass 93 minutes. If you want quality and a much deeper level of emotional distress, I refer you to North Face (2008).


The Duplass brothers continue to ascend and I still haven’t watched the second half of The Puffy Chair (2005). It’s an outrage… If you know what they were doing with the camera in Cyrus (2010), please write and tell me – that little zoom in/zoom out thing and clunky back-and-forth move during the one-on-one conversations… Working with John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, and Catherine Keener – that’s making a movie… Tomei and Hill did the same zoned-out-zombie thing; were they being mother and son with that? It worked for me.


The A-Team (2010) – Right off the bat, quick cuts in the action scenes. I do not like that. Nothing actually has to happen. The director just needs to capture snippets of action and stitch them together. Boo… But having said that, if you want an expansive (they’re all expensive but not all expansive)  action movie with some ideas and some stars,  you’ve got to put up with cost-cutting somewhere. Good action movies don’t grow on trees. And while I’m think of it, I liked G. I. Joe (2009) just fine; don’t know why so many rag on it… Why the hyphen in “A-Team”?… At the end of the movie, as everything is blowing up, metal hurling, fireballs, gunfire, exploding cars, so forth, I noticed that there was a score, and I had to smile as I imagined Alan Silvestri sitting there watching the silent footage of the mayhem and shouting out to his wife and kids in the kitchen, I’m supposed to write music for that!!?!… But he wrote the score for Volcano (1997), so maybe not.


Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid-August Tea) (2008) – Mid-August in Rome, when the holiday Ferragosto is celebrated. Four women in their 80s and 90s. Two men in their 60s. Nobody gets hurt. Wine is drunk and food is eaten. There are smiles. The Italian for “It’s fine” and “Don’t worry” and “Eat!” and other such simple phrases is repeated often enough for you to learn and remember them.

Major Barbara (1941)

Major Barbara (1941) – I sat down to watch this one mainly to see Wendy Hiller again. Wasn’t disappointed. Looks great in her Major uniform. Looks great in her modest rich-girl’s frock after abjuring the uniform. Shows chemistry with her squeeze here, Rex Harrison, just as with Leslie Howard in Pygmalion (1938) and Roger Livesey in “I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945). In the opening scenes, I mistook the film for a romantic comedy. I forgot for a moment that I was watching a Shaw play, possibly because the opening scenes weren’t in the original play.

After being away from Shaw for a long time, I was looking for something to read on vacation the other day, and took along Man and Superman (which Shaw wrote two years before Major Barbara, in 1903). I had forgotten what an interesting blend of romantic comedy, conversation, politics, and religion some of Shaw’s plays present (he wrote more than sixty). Man and Superman scoots along as a comedy of manners, which we could use more of these days, as a change from rom com. Scoots along,  except for Act 3. This monster is often cut from the play and/or performed by itself and as I read it, I could not believe that any human being without an eidetic memory could regurgitate its dialog without a prompter of one kind or another supplying half the lines. Things to listen to before you die: the ’50s concert version of Act 3 with Charles Boyer as Don Juan, Charles Laughton as the Devil, Cedric Hardwicke as the Commander, and Agnes Moorehead as Doña Ana. The play comes with a 58-page appendix. Shaw’s characters tell you what he thinks, during the play, and in case you weren’t paying attention, Shaw himself tells you what he thinks again, afterward, in print.

Or in the case of Major Barbara, he tells you in advance, in a preface, just so you don’t go into the play with any wrong ideas in your head about the points he’s about to make. Unfortunately, his performance of the preface, in the original movie, is not to be found on the DVD. Bummer.

Major Barbara, the play, was produced in 1905. Young penniless academic fellow (Harrison) falls hard for young Major in the Salvation Army (Hiller), who turns out to be a daughter of the world’s most successful (richest), but eccentric (so you’ll like him) maker of weapons (Robert Morley)  – as opposed to, in Pygmalion, not-so-young well-off academic fellow (Leslie Howard) falls hard for poor young flower-seller (Hiller). Major Barbara is a comedy of ideas, with romance included to provide a little oomph. The words flow and in the original play, which consists of three hours of nonstop talking, the actor playing Barbara’s dad had a lot of trouble remembering the lines in his speeches, to the author’s annoyance. I shouldn’t wonder, at the forgetting or the annoyance. The movie is cut to an hour and a half, with several lively scenes added (with Shaw’s approval) and a lot of speechifying removed. The result moves along nicely.

After the movie introduced me to the Salvation Army Major and her academic woo-er, and her rich siblings and her rich parents, I gradually came to see that the central issue in the movie/play was: How can Barbara best serve society? By helping the poor directly, or by moving among the rich and co-opting her father? While the ins and outs of this question played out, I kept asking myself how I was expected to react to Barbara’s father, and how the London audiences of 1941 reacted to him. He is clearly sympathetic, as he searches in vain for an heir amongst his children, an heir to whom he can leave his mega-company. In due course, his attention falls upon Barbara’s fiancee. This causes her to ask herself whether she is prepared, in essence, to take money from the devil to do good in the world. What interested me, however, was the fact that Shaw takes it as written that the world’s greatest weapons maker was fundamentally in the wrong, whereas the movie was shot during the Battle of Britain and the death and destruction from that period was fresh in the audence’s mind, even as the country braced for invasion by the Germans.  Cast and crew would run to the bomb shelters during filming in London, and then return to the set when the all-clear sounded. (Or the film was shot at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire. Or both.) Did the audience agree with Shaw about weapons barons, with Krupp in mind? Or did their thoughts turn  toward the U.S., which was not yet in the war, as a source for weapons with which to answer the Germans. Note to self: research this question on some rainy day; a twenty-year-old audience member of the time would be ninety now, so begin by calling around to retirement homes in the London area.

As for Shaw’s take on how to deal with the poor, I refer you to the movie. Shaw was a Fabian socialist. He articulates many of his ideas for the improvement of society via the speeches of dad the magnate in the movie’s final act.

I read a review of Major Barbara in which the critic opined that there was much to relish in the movie but that in the end, it just sort of sat there. Hmm. If you watch a Shaw play, you will be lectured; perhaps it was the critic himself who just sort of sat there while he took his medicine.

Movie notes:

– Deborah Kerr’s first movie.

– Major Barbara has a great deal of dialog in it that, it seems to me, would be of great interest to Kurosawa (who, like Shaw, had an abiding interest in the poor and what to do with/about them). Discussions of right behavior. I’ve got to Google Shaw and Kurosawa and see if there is any connection between them… Well, there is someone named Shaw Kurosawa.

– The producer/director, Gabriel Pascal, and Shaw met while swimming nude on the Riviera.

– Shaw especially liked Wendy Hiller, but, alas, there is no indication that he met her while swimming nude.

Wendy Hiller

You know how they say that if a man marries another man or a woman marries another woman, the next thing you know some guy is going to marry his pet goat or his tractor? And even so, men are marrying men and women are marrying women all the time now? So I’m thinking that I’ll marry a DVD. Then it can stay home while I go to work. If I get sick, it can come with me to the hospital. If it gets broke, I can have coverage through my job to get it fixed.

In the case of a divorce, I can just put it into its box and return it to Blockbuster and claim that I finally found it, behind the sofa, and ask for my money back.

Right number of wives?

Now that Big Love has entered its final season, if you’re a guy you’re probably asking yourself how many wives you should accumulate if and when you go polygamous. Inquire around, at work or sitting at the bar, and you’ll get all manner of uninformed opinions. My mom was born in Clearfield, Utah, in 1913, and Lord knows, she had her ideas; whereas my dad was born in the Smokies in 1910 and he cared a lot more about the family tree than he did about the actual number of spousal mates.

My advice to you, which comes straight from the school of hard knocks:

Avoid the single wife. You probably know this already. God did not put you on this Earth to secure a cook, sex partner, and mother of your children, and then to just retire to your den and watch football.

Avoid hooking up with two and only two women. Triangles never work out. The third leg always gets broke and if you’re not careful, that will be you.

Assuming that you’ve collected at least three women and are ready to marry them, first confirm that none of them are lesbians. Sure, it sounds like fun if one or two are daughters of Bilitis. You could take a night off once in a while. The sister wives will love each other even more than before.  Sorry. This love mix is zero-sum.  You do not want to wake up tumescent in the morning when your spouse of the day is only interested in your intellect, but has discovered that you don’t have one.

Do not marry wives of more than two different cultures, unless your primary interest lies in the area of international cookery. Otherwise, it’s this proverb and that proverb, this nostrum and that nostrum, this funny hat and that funny serape, and gloomy, grouchy grandparents from around the globe.

Marry at least four women and your bathroom will always be spotless. Not sure why, but it always works that way.

Have as many children as possible. Sex is always the problem in these marriages, but with enough kids on the scene, the problem goes away. Along with the sex.

Forget about one woman and multiple men. You’re more likely to get woke up at night by a brother husband than by your wife.

Forget about multiple women and multiple men. Remember when you were a kid and you were in a secret club with some other guys in the neighborhood? There’s a reason why there weren’t any girls in there with you.

Piranha 3D (2010)

Full disclosure: I didn’t watch  Piranha (2010) in 3D, so I missed the bouncing boobs in my face, the projectile vomiting, the limb stumps. Will this mitigate my viewing pleasure? I hope not!

First Hour

Went to see Amaracord (1973) one night in San Diego, back in ’73, and then The Godfather (1972) the following night. My impression at the time: Coppola was no Fellini, in spite of The Godfather’s subsequent glory. I mention this because I watched the first hour of Piranha last night, after watching Machete the night before, and Aja is no Rodriquez. I can enjoy a ride at the county fair, but for a classic ride, you’ve got to go find a Disneyland. I didn’t have much use for Aja’s High Tension (2003), didn’t see Mirrors (2008), but I liked The Hills Have Eyes (2006) OK, partly because I thought I was looking at New Mexico, though it seemed strangely strange to me, who had lived there, when in fact the movie was filmed in Morocco.

First sign of trouble in Piranha: old guy gets eaten but later his bloody corpse washes up. Corpse?!? These are Jurassic super piranhas? There shouldn’t be anything left of the geezer but a couple of clean white bones, a wedding ring, and a grinning skull; Aja just wanted that corpse to rear up in the water. Weak! Second sign of trouble: the CGI blood is laughably bad – there is no excuse for bad CGI blood in this, our high-tech age – bad CGI in 2011 is sort of like Rush Limbaugh still being big and bold and fatter and greasier than ever eleven years into the new millenium. Makes you realize that (1) Kubrick was off by a thousand years, (2) it takes less than 50% of the population to screw everybody, including the planet itself, (3) Limbaugh is hardy, like those Jurassic piranhas. The irony, blood-wise, is that the production used 75,000 gallons of fake blood and still couldn’t tat up the CGI blood. Oh, no. “Tat” now is just short for tattoo; the old slang has faded away.

Anyway. T&A-wise, Aja is a wannabe Rob Zombie here, and I’m thinking of unrated, director’s cut The Devil’s Rejects (2008). Inadvertently or vertently, Aja has put himself in his own movie via Jerry O’Connell. (Yeah, O’Connell is supposed to be Joe Francis of “Girls Gone Wild,” but you know what I mean.) My best financial advice to you the reader: invest in gun companies. They do well no matter what, and especially well in times of trauma, like, for example, when a mentally ill person goes on a shooting spree at a public gathering. If the individual uses a Glock, say, and manufactures casualties into the double digits, Glock sales will dependably shoot up the next day. You could look it up. Anyway.  Rule of thumb: the more artificial boobs, the worse the movie. So far in Piranha, they’re all artificial. In Crank: High Voltage (2009), the Neveldine/Taylor flick, a pole dancer’s artificial boob takes a round from a handgun and springs a leak. Now that’s quality movie making!

I hiked in to Havasu Canyon back in ’58, before the lake was created. Canyons, waterfalls, reservation. When the lake came upon the scene, my parents bought a lot. It is to be hoped that the inhabitants of the reservation made some money. Nothing ever came of my parent’s lot, even after the developers moved London Bridge to the lake, piece by piece. I wonder if it’s still there.

Too many underwater piranha POV shots here, following which, Aja cuts back above water, but without the piranhas showing up yet. Weak! Homage to Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009).

Sure, Piranha took a lot of work to make, but they all do. Listen to the commentary, watch the extras, you’d be a churl to rag on the movie. All that effort, all that thought, years in the making. I get it. Aja, going for an ’80s vibe. That is, let’s put the tits back in horror. But what’s that expression? Tits on a pig? Tits on a horse? I googled it and got tits on a boar, a stick, a keyboard, a turtle, a unicorn, a tomcat.

I do like the notion of a primordial lake, far below the regular lake lake, an unter lake where no sun has shone for two million years, but that has plants growing in it. What do all those zillions of piranha down there eat? Each other, we are told! Only the strong survive. And they’re super hungry!

As in all but a couple of the most inventive movies, the vomit is white.

Continuity error: Topless woman is being towed behind speedboat on one of those hang-gliding kite things, that dips her into the water from time to time. Her bottom half gets eaten. No further mention of the incident as Spring Break rolls on.

Note: I left in the drunk parts of this post for sentimental reasons.

Last 28 minutes

Ving Rhames finally gets a minute of screen time, while he’s being eaten. Elisabeth Shue at 47 is a worthy mom/sheriff and makes a couple of points discreetly but clearly, while providing a lot of stunt work for her double.

Using a shotgun on a zillion hungry fish: not effective but fun cinema.

“Be careful getting out of here. The rocks, I suddenly remember at the end of the movie, sometimes strip away the engine.” BANG.

Would it have saved the film if the two kids got ate? Probably not. But at least get rid of Brooklynn Proulx, just because her name annoys me.

I never recognized Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth,  or Richard Dreyfuss. Lloyd and Dreyfuss snuck by me because of their geezerhood.

Aja now empties out the body and body-spare-parts locker, drains the blood tank, decapitates, slices torsos in half, calls in the foley artist with his scream collection, and, best of all, has the woman sitting in an inner tube with her butt hanging down get bit.

The TCM review is not yet posted.

Akahige (Red Beard) (1965)

This post includes descriptions of various plot points, which descriptions could be construed as spoilers.

My piano teacher in high school was also the school’s music-department chairman and conductor of the orchestra and dance band. He later went on chair the BYU music department. His wife had an operatic career of some sort. He had black hair and a permanent five-o’clock shadow but his wife told me one time, apropos I don’t remember what, that his beard came in red when he let it grow out. I never saw that happen.

Barbarossa (Emperor Frederick) drowned on June 10, 1190, in the Saleph River, as his army was approaching Antioch from Armenia during the Third Crusade.

That’s what I know about red beards.

Possible beard marathon: Red Beard, Yellowbeard, Blackbeard, Bluebeard, Silver Beard, and Janice Beard.

Or, for those who like lists: The King’s Beard; Growin’ a Beard; The Lady and the Beard; Spock’s Beard: Don’t Try This at Home; The Man with the White Beard; The Dreaded Beard; Beard Club; Beard & Co; Beard & Moustache Experiments Nos. 1-4; Beard the Lion; Bested by a Beard; Bothered by a Beard; Hello, Fred the Beard; Enter the Beard; Father’s Beard; Isaac Singer’s Nightmare and Mrs. Pupko’s Beard; Sam’s Artistic Beard; Snow Beard; The Beard; The Winter of the Beard; Why Father Grew a Beard; and With Peter Beard in Africa: Last Word from Paradise.

Asking friends who would know about red beards in Japan: there aren’t any natural ones, or any natural red hair, either. The occasional dark brown, but no red. Kurosawa bleached Mifune’s beard, which took Mifune three months to grow, to give the impression of red on black-and-white film stock. It didn’t work for me.

The movie is inspiring me to tug at and rummage around in my own beard like Mifune does in his. On occasion, he acts as if he’s surprised that it’s there.

Executive plot summary: (a) wise old doctor, (b) upper-crust-up-and-coming-young-doctor-to-the-elite-with-modern-ideas-and-no-particular-use-for-the-poor, (c) clinic for the poor. (d) conflict and learning of Life Truths by the young doctor.

Executive summary of director’s message: The poor are human too, and deserve care and respect. (My first take, after watching the movie.) Suffering is necessary for growth and the development of a moral personality. (My second take, after reading a little about Kurosawa and watching the movie again.) There is a lot going on in Kurosawa films, relating to the auteur, the economic state of the industry, the director’s desire to make history with film, an East/West dichotomy running through his films… You could write a book. In fact, several folks have. (My third take, after wishing that I had just watched the damn movie and left it at that.)

The problem is, now that I’ve dipped my toe into the ocean of Kurosawa cinema knowledge, anything that I write in this review will seem, to me at least, too simple and incomplete to be satisfactory, in view of all the complexities of the film and the rest of the director’s oeuvre that I’ve been exposed to. This review isn’t a summary of the salient, it’s the result of one blind guy feeling the elephant. Can’t stop now, though; probably describing the elephant’s knee here, rather than the animal’s total corpus.

The director’s message, the one about the poor, is not a message of any particular interest in the U.S., today or ever. If you’re poor, why aren’t you rich? The U.S. labeled Slumdog Millionaire a feelgood movie – the U.S. of A., where Henry Fonda/Tom Joad, if he were alive today, would still be pissed off.

I remember reading about Japanese attitudes toward the poor and homeless a long time ago, those attitudes chiefly featuring denial of the existence of a problem. From the ’60s boom (“The Economic Miracle”) through to the early ’90s, almost all Japanese were middle class. Poverty, if it happened to crop up here and there, was a sign of mental illness, laziness, terrible luck, or some moral lapse. I called my nephew, back from many years in Japan with his Japanese family, to ask him about the current situation there, at least where he lived, in the vicinity of Kyoto, in re poverty. He said that indeed, since the ’60s, there hasn’t been any poverty. The homeless, what few there are, are mentally ill males. If asked about poverty, he said, the typical Japanese response would be “Poverty? This isn’t the United States. We’re all the same here, not like there. But there is poverty in places like India and Africa. We should donate something to those poor souls.”

So says my nephew, and according to articles like this one, his remains the majority view in Japan, although there is a large and growing poor subclass that has come into being in the last twenty years of economic stagnation in the country. Many college graduates have trouble getting on a career track. Red Beard was made in 1965, at a time when poverty and its relationship to the government was ceasing to be the post-war social issue that it had been when Kurosawa was making movies in the ’40s and ’50s. However, Kurosawa did not trust the materialism and apparent prosperity that were emerging as a result of privileged, opaque government/business relationships, and his movies of the time show it. Red Beard itself is set in the early 1800s, a time when the young protagonist could begin with a disinterest in and scorn for the poor, but then grow to see them through different eyes. However, Kurosawa was commenting on the current situation in Japan. He returns to the subject of the poor, in modern times, in his next film, Dodes’ka-den (1970). The trailer for that film includes the following narration: “This is a story about bizarre people in a bizarre town. But it is a story about people you know. The sorrow, nobility and cruelty of humanity, blended with humor into a beautiful melody.” That is, it’s a movie about folks living in slums, with a trailer framed for those to whom slums are a foreign concept.

However, Kurosawa’s primary focus is not on poverty or governmental inefficiency in this or in his previous films,  I learn, after focusing on the poverty throughout the movie. In the ’40s and ’50s, the Japanese were struggling with the consequences of their defeat in the war. The fire-bombing of Tokyo (50%+ destroyed) and other cities, followed by the twin nukes, were closer to Kurosawa’s audiences for  Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Ikiru, Roshomon, and Seven Samurai, than 9/11 is to us. In Red Beard, at first, I didn’t pick up on Kurosawa’s persisting, basic message to his countrymen, his message following the catastrophe of defeat and the discovery of so many who had placed their faith in their government that their government had been lying to them – that message being summed up in a quote from Drunken Angel (1948): “Willpower can cure all human ailments.” That is, Kurosawa believed that morality is based upon a person’s choices when, for example, that person is faced with poverty or stultifying bureaucracy. As an existentialist, he believed that the individual’s personality determines the individual’s fate. Many of the patients at the clinic in Red Beard are there because of the ill effects of poverty, but as the film makes clear, their illnesses are a sign of pain and damage in the spirit, in the mind, in the soul, not just in the body. The chief protagonists in the movie – the old doctor, the young doctor, and a twelve-year-old prostitute, know or learn that caring for others is the true basis of humanity. Early in life, Kurosawa witnessed human savagery and he never forgot it; his belief system provided a way forward for himself and his country; a system that did not prevent him from becoming increasingly pessimistic with age. (He attempted suicide in 1971; his brother also committed suicide.)

A recent study suggests that after bottoming out in unhappiness in the 40s, most of us become happier as we age into our 50s, 60s, and 70s. Unless your artistic vision changes and you can no longer find funding for your films, as happened with Kurosawa in the years following Red Beard.

The young doctor, who arrives at and gets stuck in Doctor Red Beard’s clinic, has studied at Nagasaki and wants to be physician to the Shogun. (All of Kurosawa’s principal protagonists are men, with the exception of Yukie Yagihara in No Regrets for Our Youth (1946). ) He is not happy at the prospect of ministering to the poor. Japan was long closed to the West, with the exception of the port of Nagasaki, which was opened to the Dutch in the 1600s. Foreigners were called “red-haired persons” and Dutch medicine, as represented by the Dutch doctors in that port, was referred to as “red-haired medicine.” To study in Nagasaki was to learn the medical techniques of the West. For the young man to now be stuck in a rural clinic run by a tyrant named Red Beard was perhaps meant to suggest, in part, that Red Beard was a bridge between old and new, traditional and newly enlightened, and between the medicine of body and mind. Or perhaps the title is ironic.

In my first take, as I mentioned above, I thought that Kurosawa, perhaps mainly, was teaching his ’60s audience about the meaning of poverty, or reminding them of its existence. For example, a seven-year-old boy sneaks into the clinic repeatedly to steal gruel. The dueña of the kitchen hates this, calls the boy a little rat, and chases him relentlessly. Yet when she hears his story (he’s poor and he’s hungry all the time and so are his parents and his brother), she is humbled and weeps. Message to audience: the boy is deserving of your pity and caring; if this hardened, responsible, hard-working woman can be touched to the quick by this boy and his situation, so should you be… However, a moment’s thought suggests that this woman already knows everything there is to know about poverty. She works in a clinic for the poor. She’s older and experienced. Why is the boy stealing gruel? Because he’s hungry. Duh. If the dueña thinks that he’s a rat, it’s because she’s a hard-hearted old gal, and no tale of woe is going to change that – unless she’s ordered to knuckle under by the script. And Kurosawa doesn’t leave it there. He takes the boy and his poverty to the next level and to the level after that. Poverty is bad; get that through your thick skulls. Take a goddamn stand… But no. For Kurosawa, pain and suffering are necessary, essential, for spiritual growth. As with the operation scene in the movie, when Red Beard must get into a young woman’s abdoment, you must not look away; you must absorb the trauma; this is how you grow; Kurosawa himself witnessed death and destruction in his youth and did not forget it. An earthquake scene in Red Beard draws on Kurosawa’s memories of the great Kantō earthquake of 1923, which killed up to 140,000. Kurosawa’s brother took him out to see thousands of corpses and told him not to look away; if he did, he would remain frightened; if he didn’t, he would be enlightened. Up through Red Beard, Kurosawa did the same with his heroes. The highest morality is to help others. Originally, this was Kurosawa’s solution to the problem of post-war recovery and he preached it in his movies. The point is reiterated many times in Red Beard.

Kurosawa’s ideas, that through trauma you can change for the better, are strange in Japan, where social standing is so important. He often uses illness as a metaphor for the problems caused by government in post-war Japan. In Drunken Angel, a doctor treats a gangster who has TB. The gangster is involved in black-market corruption; the government allows mosquitos in puddles. In Ikiru (1952), a government bureaucrat has cancer and, faced with death, discovers how inefficient – useless – the government is. But in Red Beard, even as we are shown the illness, Red Beard is dismissive of the possibility of changing the structural problems that cause it, and tells the young doctor so; hope lies in the response of their patients to the pain and injury visited upon them in their lives. The film begins to expand Kurosawa’s canvas to the many and varied problems of Life. It ends optimistically, but there is gloomy pessimism ahead in, for example, Dersu Uzala (1975), Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985), with Kurosawa becoming increasingly detached, as did Hitchcock in his later career. The narrative in Red Beard weakens in the movie’s final act, in the sense that Red Beard and the young doctor recede, the focus turns to a young girl, a young boy, and specific small acts of kindness – an unexpected turn in the third hour of a major movie, with Kurosawa’s dramatic organization not so clear on a first viewing. This is a harbinger of Kurosawa’s growing lack of interest in the strong narrative drive of his earlier movies. His next production contains virtually no narrative at all and although he includes it again in Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha, and Ran, he drops it for good in his final four films.

The movie shoot took two years to get in the can, rather than the scheduled fifty days that Kurosawa originally planned. This means that everything, and I mean everything, that you see on the screen and hear in the movie, is there on purpose and for a purpose. Red Beard was Kurosawa’s last movie with Mifune after they made sixteen together. Why? Mifune couldn’t do anything else for two years. I wonder if that had anything to do with it. There was some sort of struggle or conflict between Mifune and Kurosawa during those two years, but I don’t know the details. The movie was one of the most expensive made in Japan to that date and created concern in the industry before its release. Meanwhile, Kurosawa was hospitalized at least once with exhaustion.

Red Beard represents a dividing line between Kurosawa’s twenty-four films of the previous twenty years and his seven of the next thirty. It marks the beginning of his struggle for funding, which persisted for the rest of his career. The movie was hailed as a masterpiece in Japan and it was the biggest film of the year, winning Kinema Jumpo‘s Best Film and Best Director awards, but it flopped elsewhere. There were a lot more – a very lot more – art houses in the U.S. in the ’60s than there are now, and I suppose that Red Beard appeared in some of them, but I don’t remember it.

Remember it? Who am I kidding? The only Japanese movie that I clearly remember seeing in the ’60s was Woman in the Dunes (1964), and that one probably encouraged me not to go to any others. I also remember watching Mothra (1961) on TV. That was the one about the giant moth that left a contrail when flying around way up there. I guess big moths don’t flit as much as little ones, because the contrail was always a straight line.

Red Beard was also the last movie Kurosawa made in which a man learns and grows and experiences some sort of enlightenment. It was his last movie with a charismatic, heroic figure in it, which may be one reason why he never used Mifune again. Mifune, what a presence! He electrified his audience’s right from the start in Drunken Angel and he’s no different in Red Beard. (Speaking of heroes, although Kurosawa joined the Proletarian Artist League at the age of 19, and was jailed for it, he never participated in a political movement again. His heroes are always solo, not part of a group.)

Before I forget: I notice that Kurosawa was born in the same year as my dad, 1910.

Red Beard was also Kurosawa’s last black and white movie, and his last wide-screen movie (except for Dersu Uzala (1975), which he made working with the Russian film industry). He switched from 2.35:1 to 1.85:1 with the growth of TV. I remember Ran (1985) as a widescreen extravaganza, but Kurosawa shot it 1.85:1.

Japanese cinema made and released more movies in the ’60s than in any other decade; the Japanese New Wave was at its height; but TV and Hollywood were taking their toll. Kurosawa’s artistic epiphany, leading to a drastic change in the content of his movies, came at the worst moment for him, $$-wise. Commercially, after Red Beard it was all down hill or downhill for Kurosawa wrt funding. He acquired a reputation with some in the industry of being almost insane in his emphasis on detail. In Red Beard, for example, he shoots a scene in the town with a shop fully stocked, fishermen in the river with their nets, a bridge, etc., etc., for a brief (but highly effective) scene. His budgets became insupportable in the new economy of cinema. Historical films (jedai-geki) were adopted by TV and Japanese cinema went low-budget/soft porn. To make a point, Kurosawa made his next movie for less than a million, with a 28-day shoot; unfortunately, it flopped at the box office.

Further cause for Kurosawa post-Red Beard angst:  a tendency arose to displace him in critical studies with the “modernists” Ozu, Mizoguichi, and Oshima.

Nevertheless, Kurosawa told Gabriel Marquez that every movie he made was different from the one before, and Red Beard marked a significant point in his evolution. Speaking of which, Kurosawa’s career can be divided into four parts: early films; post-war reconstruction, with the hero as protagonist (culminating in Red Beard); the four pessimistic films with a wider world view (culminating in Ran); and the psychological, biographic final works.

Back to the movie: The young doctor arrives at the clinic for a visit and discovers that he’s been shanghaied, if that term is appropriate in this context. He is rebellious but it doesn’t take long – two patient deaths, an operation, and nearly getting his throat slit – for him to begin getting with the program. This is a case where the emotional impact of melodrama hits you or doesn’t, but even if it doesn’t, two and a half hours of movie remain, during which Kurosawa will have several more goes at you… By the halfway mark, he has presented us, and the young doctor, with four distinctly melodramatic stories. In fact, he lays it on with a trowel. Such is the quality of the cinematography and acting, however, that I was engaged. Maybe about to raise my eyebrows, but, in the event, they stayed down.

The young doctor is enlightened by intermission. Three stories are behind us with a fourth begun, and Kurosawa rolls out the piece de resistance, to mix metaphors. He begins with Red Beard confronting thirteen (I counted) brothel enforcers. He breaks one bone in each. Dude. Kurosawa’s last high-spirited fight scene. Did I mention that I’m going to learn Japanese just so that I can growl and shout in that low guttural voice? I went to a Japanese wedding and we took turns at the microphone and I was soooo tempted to go gutteral in English, but I didn’t… I could also use a little Japanese vocab because my daughter and her boyfriend are leaving to work in Osaka in a couple of months.

Now the young doctor is assigned his first patient. We’ve already watched what seems like a whole movie at this point, and so… Intermission. Intermissions were big, back in the day. Every blockbuster had an intermission. What happened to intermissions? Got to get audiences in and then out again?

The young doctor’s first patient after the break is a twelve-year-old refugee from a brothel, a twelve-year-old (the actress was fourteen when shooting started, sixteen at the end). Her story draws from Dostoyevsky’s The Insulted and the Injured. The initial scenes between doctor and patient  jerked a few tears from me.

Being intrigued with actors I didn’t recognize helped. Mifune stays back behind his beard. The young doctor on the road to enlightenment is played by Yûzô Kayama, who wasn’t especially familiar to an Asian-movie beginner like me. (He was Toho’s hottest young star at the time, Mifune’s co-star in Sanjuro (1962).

I read somewhere that Red Beard contained a number of under-dramatized scenes. At first I thought, oh yeah, slow scenes. But slow scenes can be present for a variety of reasons, not necessarily dramatic ones; in fact, most often, not dramatic ones, in the Asian context. Kurosawa wasn’t big on slow scenes in his films up to and mostly including Red Beard (as opposed to long scenes and long takes). He does introduce  a number of slow scenes in Red Beard as one more step in his directorial transmogrification. But if anything, his dramatic scenes are over-, not under-, dramatized. Set me straight here if you know better; Kurosawa can’t; he’s dead. The melodrama in Red Beard, which begins at an emotional  pitch well above the level at which many movies leave off, continues to build until I sat thinking, this is the guy who made Seven Samurai (1954), Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961)? He’s not wearing his heart on his sleeve here, he’s holding it under our noses taped to the end of a long pole. But I was moved and I guess that’s what counts.

With respect to long takes and other photographic and editorial techniques in the movie that I noticed or that were pointed out to me (the movie provides a class on zoom photography and long takes):

– Kurosawa had a formal system all his own for shooting his films. He didn’t follow Hollywood conventions, which is a big deal, because we get used to seeing the same type of shots and some of Kurosawa’s camera work can present initially as, for example, using poor jump cuts or continuity errors. He doesn’t care (I mean, he’s in heaven so who knows, but he didn’t care at the time that he made his movies).

– When the young doctor is visited by a deranged patient in the first act of the movie, his interaction with her includes a single take of five and a half minutes. There are plenty of other long takes in the movie, too.

– When the patient enters the doctor’s room, because Kurosawa is using a zoom (telephoto or long) lens, the doctor and patient appear to be face to face; but then Kurosawa cuts to a perpendicular shot and we see that the two are at opposite ends of a long room. The cut plays like one of those continuity errors mentioned above. This happens multiple times in the movie. Before Red Beard, Kurosawa set up cameras at right angles like this from time to time; after Red Beard, it became his configuration of choice. Flat from one angle, separated from the other. A metaphor? A move toward metaphoristical cinematography? It can be a striking affect. In a scene in the garden between doctor and nurse, the two are  together, cut and they’re apart with a tree between them, cut and they’re together, cut, they’re apart. Multiple cameras shooting at the same time, together with zoom lenses and long takes, are good for the actors; the cameras stay out of their way and they can play their parts in real time. Kurosawa never used the wide-angle lens favored by, for example, Welles and Scorsese. There are many shots in Red Beard in which the characters in a scene appeared crowded together, stacked up, because they are being photographed from a distance. This can lend a strange intimacy to some scenes – crowd scenes in a closet.

– In the 5.5-minute take, the camera doesn’t move, but as the doctor slowly comes closer to the patient, it zooms in a bit four times, keeping the two at either edge of the frame. The action and score distract us from the zooms. Pans and zooms can be tough to do with a telephoto lens because any twitch in the axis is magnified.

– Kurosawa favors the wipe (a line moving across the screen to erase one scene and replace it with another).

– I found out what a “key light” is. Unsurprisingly, it’s the principal light used in a scene, to highlight and impart dimensionality. In Red Beard, there are several scenes in which a face is lit and the rest of the frame is left in gloom.

– Kurosawa uses reverse-field cutting throughout his films… Let me back up. Kurosawa places cameras where and how he wants, according to his own rules, as I mentioned. He does not follow the rules of Hollywood. His flouting of continuity by using zoom photography and right-angle camera placement is one example of this. Another example is that, whereas Hollywood places several cameras and leaves them there for a scene, Kurosawa might move the cameras such that some shots in a scene are taken from unique positions. As for those  reverse-field cuts: this is not the same thing as reverse-view cuts, where, for example, two characters are facing each other and we switch back and forth between their faces. Kurosawa will cut to a 180-degree shot in general without observing Hollywood’s 180-degree rule, which is that you always keep two characters’ right-to-left perspective the same. If you cross the 180-degree line when you move, their right-to-left shifts to left-to-right.  (In Hollywood, reverse field shots are used to denote subjectivity: what the character is seeing or thinks that he sees.) Also, Kurosawa will shoot with two cameras pointing in the same direction, with one farther back. Cutting between the two displays the same scene with different width of field and different flattening. I’ve been dipping into The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa, by Stephen Prince. Interesting stuff! Unless you have to take a test on it.

Other movie notes:

– Who does steady, heavy, very heavy rain better than Kurosawa? And wind? And wind with dust in it? After a long, still take (not under-dramatized, mind you), a dusty wind montage, spelling danger, fills the screen with motion and energy. Red Beard also contains some nifty falling snow and the earthquake mentioned above.

– Who does sitting on tatami better than the Japanese in their historical dramas? After a couple of hours watching Red Beard, the sight of a Western man sitting in a chair with his legs crossed seems positively strange. I used to sit on my knees (seza) for an hour or two in group therapy but that was years ago and now when I try it with my grandchildren, the backs of my knees hurt and my feet cramp in the arches. Bummer. But at least I’ve still got arches, and my nephew tells me that seza will eventually pull off your kneecaps. Hopefully, now that he’s an Oakland A, Hideki Matsui will stick to chairs, and to the bench in the dugout.

– Kurosawa was one of the masters of sound. In Red Beard, he finally had four tracks to work with and throughout the movie, the musical score pauses to allow him to show it off. Homework: difference between diagetic and ambient?

Red Beard ends on an upbeat note. The three major protagonists each aid healing, in part through Western medicine, in part through Eastern mysticism, including calling down a well to bring back a soul on the verge of departing. This, Kurosawa still belived at the time, these small acts of good, were the best way to deal with the ills of life and the world. I felt some regret during the closing scenes, because  Kurosawa’s career as a highly productive, popular filmmaker was drawing to a close with them. He was about to begin a 28-year struggle to fund his mature aesthetic and moral vision, making only two movies in the ’70s and two in the ’80s. Of course, he was making masterpieces, so that counts for something.

“I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945)

Why are there kilts? They’re basically miniskirts to be worn in a country of raw weather. And that includes what they always say about kilts. Roger Livesey is called upon to don his on a day of fog and blustery winds. I didn’t notice whether he changed kilts from day to day. One presumes that even if he did, they’d all be made using the same clan plaid, so I wouldn’t be able to tell one from another.

Never mind. Although the movie is set on an island in the Hebrides, Livesey never left London, where he was also starring in a stage play during the shoot. A double did his exterior shots. You coulda fooled me.

It’s ironic that Livesey was never on the island set. The movie is a romantic comedy and a young James Mason was asked to be the male lead. When he heard about the island work and the cold and, one presumes, the kilts, he demanded a guarantee of first-class hotel accommodations, and Powell and Pressburger told him to forget it. Livesey wanted the part, but it was written for a dashing young twenty-something officer, and Livsey was 40 and in Colonel-Blimp shape. However, he lost weight and got the part and then, in the event, did all of his work indoors. So there, Mason.

Wendy Hiller reminds me of Glenda Jackson, both Wendy and Glenda worthy of a major crush. Although Dame Hiller was born one year before my mother, starred in this movie when I was still in diapers, and passed away several years ago, through the magic of cinema she lives on, just as accessible to the likes of me now as she probably would have been if she lived down the block right now. I last watched her in Pygmalion (1938) and notice that I have her Major Barbara (1941) sitting on my TV too. Bernard Shaw liked her.

This movie is beloved, in spite of having quotes and an exclamation point in its title. I was thinking about making a list of the ten most beloved films, but I realized that I’d put myself in the position of explaining why films eleven through fifteen were beloved but not beloved enough to make the cut.

Can a movie be beloved if most of those who loved it are deceased?

As they say in the movie, “Rùn do chridhe air do chuisle” (“May your pulse beat as your heart would wish.”)

One way to measure how good a romantic comedy is, is to see how quickly and how much you want the two protagonists to fall in love. In the case of ‘I Know Where I’m Going’, with Roger Livesey and Wendy Hiller as the lovebirds, for me, the answers are: quickly and a lot.

It’s not a long movie, so the two can meet and some things can happen, and since he’s got to return to the war in eight days, there can be a whiff of suspense a la Brief Encounter (1945), and then, that’s it. Powell and Pressburger tossed it off while waiting for the Technicolor cameras being used by the Army, so that they could get A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) (1946) under way. Well, maybe they didn’t toss it off; it’s full of effects and the crew did have to go out and rough it, with Powell lashed to the mast at one point, filming rough waters.

In addition to love, the movie’s got Gaelic, a wedding dress lost at sea, real Irish mist and fog, Maureen O’Hara’s sister, wolfhounds, scenery (the Isle of Mull), a laird, a trained eagle, and a great big whirlpool. Petula Clark is in the movie as a young girl, but I didn’t notice her, and anyway, I’m guessing that “Petula Clark” is no longer the household name that it was in the ’60s.

And lastly, can you name the following movie, which I remember watching when I was in high school? It came on TV late at night and seemed unlike anything that I’d seen before. It hinted to me that there was a lot more to movies than I yet knew. It was about a young fellow who sets out in Scotland to do something or other and must avoid the Cambells at all costs, and then ends up falling for a young female Cambell. Or something like that. A movie I loved but have forgotten lo these many years.

James Bond and You Only Live Twice (1967)

You Only Live Twice (1967) – First, the bad news. The movie, early on, includes a scene in which Bond sits watching a Sumo wrestling match. This is the first scene, for me, during this viewing, in which Connery’s wig fails him.

Backing up a bit, the first Connery balding shock for me, ever, as opposed to just the Sumo bad rug in YOLT, came when he was swimming underwater in Thunderball (1965). The strands of his untoupeed hair wafted up in the water, too thin by far, for the hirsute superspy. But wait. Could that have been his double? Wow. Both Bond and his stunt guy (Bob Simmons, who also came up with the fight gags. Bob was one of the first to break down fights into cuts, which has led to the absurd extremes of today, wherewhen some fights are 100% quick cuts and totally fabricated and incomprehensible. It’s an outrage.) going bald at once? But wait again. There is an underwater scene like that in YOLT. That’s probably what I’m thinking of. The memory is 43 years old,  after all.

It meant that he had to go, that thin hair, and now, four decades later, Bond’s hairpieces in YOLT haven’t held up stylistically for this viewer. His rugs are dated in the way that a spiked toupee today would be dated in 2050. Connery went the hairless route gracefully in his career, like Bruce Willis and Billy Zane and unlike Burt Reynolds and Travolta. If Burt has ever appeared au natural in a movie, please let me know. I’ve seen him in more wigs than those ladies down at the nursing home.

Connery announced that YOLT was his last Bond flick before shooting even started. He was sick of the whole thing. His hair and his age had nothing to do with it. In fact, as he aged, Connery lost that goofy pouty look about the mouth. He looks great in YOLT, the perfect Bond. Except for those scenes with the rug.  He and Broccoli were on the outs over $$ issues, and Connery begrudged the time the movies took to make and promote. The Japanese fans on location drove him nuts. The Bond films did make the heretofore penurious Connery a rich man, though, and he was able to move his parents out of their tenement in Edinburgh.  As an actor, however, he didn’t miss the fact that the franchise was moving toward gimmicks and formula and away from character and any sort of dramatic class.

But enough about the man’s hair and dudgeon. On to the movie. It’s rated PG. PG, and it starts out with Bond in bed with a young Chinese woman, he commenting that Chinese women taste different than Russian women do. One chicken, the other fish, I presume. And then the bed gets flipped up, Bond is machine-gunned, and the bed is flipped back down to reveal him dead, “in the line of duty,” with a little discrete blood soaking into the sheets. PG. But wait. I forgot that there was no PG-13 until after a heart got ripped out of a living guy’s chest (at least it was a guy) in the PG Temple of Doom, and that was 16 years after YOLT. Explains why I got so many glimpses of nude women in the 70s.

The YOLT intro music is one of my favorite Bond theme songs. John Barry did good on that one. Possibly the only Nancy Sinatra recording I ever liked. 28 takes to make it, with her scared the whole time after flying over to London and walking into a room that contained, in addition to Barry and Broccoli, an orchestra that seemed, to her, to number in the hundreds.

Wrt the movie: nice shot of a ’59 Chevy Bel Air as it pulls into traffic in Tokyo.

When YOLT the novel was published in 1964, I eagerly snapped it up. I waited for each new Bond book to come out and… and what? Checked it out of the library? Or did the Signet paperback come out at the same time as the hardcover book did? Can’t remember… But anyway, I got my hands on the book and enjoyed it, though it didn’t strike me as one of the best of the ouvre. In it, Bond goes to Japan to deal with a crazy doctor, Shatterhand, who has set up a suicide garden behind high walls, for suicidal citizens to sneak into and die. Turns out that the doctor is Blofeld, who killed Bond’s bride in The Spy Who Loved Me, which was written before YOLT. YOLT was filmed out of sequence because TSWLM needed winter and it wasn’t, at the time. Can’t remember more than that about the book, except that Bond’s Japanese opposite number was a tough dude named Tiger Tanaka, and the two of them drank a lot of saki and played paper/stone/scissors while drunk. Guess who won? Also, I remember that Bond, who goes to live in a fishing village where the young women dove down for pearls or fish, if it’s a fishing village, bare-breasted, opines that the women were beautiful but that their nipples were coarse. The rotter. Plotwise, perhaps Fleming was stretching a little by the time he wrote YOLT. He died the year that it was published (The Man with the Golden Gun, Octopussy, and The Living Daylights were published posthumously).  But any Bond was better than no Bond. At least he died several decades before The Wall fell. He didn’t have to figure out what to do with Bond then, unlike an author like John Le Carre, who was stuck with a writing career full of spies who were suddenly in from the cold.

Three years after the book, the movie arrived. Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay, borrowing some plotting from Harold Jack Bloom and others and claiming it as his own. Dahl  and Fleming were buddies and as far as I know, Dahl didn’t think much of the movies made from Fleming’s books; but he took the money. The movie begins with a giant alligator satellite eating a U.S. satellite with one astronaut in it and another snipped off to spin off into space. (Apollo 13 launched three years later and in spite of a lot of problems, did not have to deal with a spacecraft-eating satellite  chasing it.) This was at the height of the space race, so…  it’s topical. Forget Blofeld in a castle with a suicide garden. Here he’s the prototype Dr. Evil, ensconced in the largest, most expensive movie set ever built, trying to top the spectacles in Thunderball and moving ever farther away from the zeitgeist of the Bond books and the original Bond movies. Although credit where due: the director flew all over Kyushu looking for a castle like the one in the book and couldn’t find one – but spotted the cool volcanoes there and Dahl made the switch. The inside of the volcano is a hellava set. The Bond franchise was so big by then that UA (or Eon. I can’t follow the money between production companies and distributors) couldn’t say no to Broccoli and Salzman if they wanted something, and production designer Ken Adam convinced them that they wanted the set. Motorists could see the building when driving between London and Oxford and local residents demanded a tour of it as recompense for the inconvenience of the traffic and nighttime gunshots that they had to endure because of its presence. Richard Harland Smith in a TCM review suggests that the thing is a reincarnation of the Dahl Willie Wonka chocolate factory.

For the lover of practical (mechanical or physical) effects, a movie like YOLT is swell. No CGI. Things got built to look at. Ben Hur (1959)? Real stadium, real race track, real chariots, real horses. The audience anticipation was terrific. I mentioned somewhere else how Samuel Bronston built huge sets out in the Spanish countryside. Nowadays, a $150 million budget is mostly about salaries and computers. Nothing wrong with CGI, that’s for sure, but the real thing is still the real thing.

Just to put my thoughts about YOLT in context: when JFK included From Russia With Love on a list of favorite books and told a reporter that Ian Fleming was a favorite for bedtime reading, I went out, just like a lot of others, and acquired the first Bond book, Casino Royale. After that, I tracked down the other Bond books that Fleming had written up to then (maybe up to Goldfinger). After that, I waited eagerly for every new Bond. In the ’60s, Playboy began publishing best-selling authors in the magazine. I never liked reading Bond in magazine format, but Fleming wrote some short stories (including Quantum of Solace – so blame Fleming for the title) and that’s where the stories appeared (or not. Can’t remember if Playboy serialized a book or what. But when I told folks that I was just buying the magazine for the stories in it, I wasn’t totally lying).

I tend to forget now that back then, it was the books that I cared about and couldn’t wait for. I was on a road trip in Florida with three young women and on our big night out in Miami, I ended up staying back in our room because I had just got my hands on the latest Bond out – maybe The Spy Who Loved Me. I was still sitting on the couch reading it when the three young women came back. None of them had met a Bond type, obviously.

It was back then that I also discovered Matt Helm (the book, not Dean Martin) and Travis McGee, who first appeared in The Deep Blue Good-Bye (1964). John D. McDonald, R.I.P.

And speaking of R.I.P., Fleming was a heavy smoker and drinker. As the ambulance attendants wheeled him away during his final heart attack at the age of 56, in 1964, he thanked them and told them that it had been a wonderful life and he wouldn’t change anything. Gone. His br0ther Peter, a noted travel writer, survived him. Maybe Ian didn’t regret anything, but we, his loyal readers were pretty bummed. Often imitated, never duplicated (what product was that?).

Dr. No (1962) – Saw it at the drive-in with Charlotte while home from college. My attention was divided but I liked it ok. The climax sagged but Ursula Andress didn’t. Watched a bit of it the other day and was sad to see that some of Connery’s expressions looked goofy.

From Russia With Love (1963) – This one excited me. As a reader of the books, I wanted the same spy-like flavor in the movie. At the time, the fight with Robert Shaw on the train was the most violent I had seen.

Goldfinger (1964) – Went over to Glendale from college with friends to see it. Liked it, except that it ended in Kentucky. Not exotic.

Thunderball (1965) – Harvard Squre Cinema. The movie was a knockout. I had to run out to the bathroom multiple times, and it was down a long flight of marble stairs in the basement. Harry Cohn (or one of those old studio moguls) measured movies by how many times he used the bathroom while watching them, but I’ve never been clear whether more pit stops was good or bad. Fleming was gone, so now it was going to be movies or nothing.

It says something about the impact that these movies made on me that I can remember where and when I saw them.

In 1966, the Bond spoof Casino Royale came out. Peter Sellers, David Niven, and Woody Allen all played Bond. Ursula Andress and Orson Welles were in it. Sellers had made Lolita, Strangelove, two Clouseau movies, What’s New Pussycat, and The Wrong Box, and was a mega star. Woody Allen hadn’t made his first movie yet; he was moving from stand-up to acting and at the time was just a funny guy. I remember the movie as being ok, but for us Bond lovers, especially with Fleming dead, it was a disappointment.

You Only Live Twice (1967) – Biggest commercial hit for a Bond film up to that time. Connery mailed in his license to kill. Or left it on Broccoli’s doorstep in a brown paper bag full of burning dog poop.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – Like all the other Bondophiles, I was on pins and needles waiting for OHMSS. Lazenby? What kind of name was that for the star of a James Bond movie. But he did OK. I was ready to see him in the next one. One little problem with OHMSS was that Diana Rigg was a bigger star than the Bond guy. And after her stint in The Avengers, I think that most of us thought of her as tougher and smarter than him as well. Another problem was Telly Savalas (R.I.P.). Telly as Blofeld? Telly Savalas, Maggott of The Dirty Dozen (1967), and appearances on every popular TV show that ever aired in the 60s? Really?

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – Connery back, but for me the movie jumped the shark with scenes like the driving on two wheels down a narrow alley (not even counting the switch from the two right wheels to the two left wheels on entering and exiting) and Lana Woods getting tossed out of a high hotel window (hotel windows still opened in ’71) into the pool. Woods did a spread after that for Playboy, so that was good. Too bad her sister didn’t join her. How could Bond jump the shark, you ask, but before Roger Moore showed up, the franchise was… well, not realistic, but a little more… something… serious? Freighted with Connery’s natural gravitas? Not in this one, though. Connery donated his salary to his Scottish International Educational Trust. Jill St. John also took me out of the movie. Like Savalas, she was just too Hollywood or something. Just now I was conflating her with Angie Dickenson, but only because Dickenson had that same affect on me in movies like Point Blank and Rio Bravo – just not what I wanted.

Then a dozen years in the wilderness. Seven Bond movies. Forget Telly Salavas and Jill St. John and jumping the shark: I never liked Moore for Bond and I never liked the turn toward humor that the franchise took. I saw all the movies but the only memory that occurs is for Moonraker (1979). We headed down to the New Varsity in Palo Alto for my birthday. We got there late, bought our tickets, and couldn’t find an empty seat inside. I was pissed. When I finally saw the movie, though, I did like Jaws… The whole Roger Moore thing was Cubby Broccoli’s fault. I liked Cubby the Mouseketeer and I like broccoli when it’s cooked right, and for all I know Cubby Broccoli was a wonderful guy, but whether he went to Heaven or Hell when he died, he’s probably still trying to explain to the big guy there why he screwed up the franchise with Moore. For me, the magic was gone forever. Sure, I still watch them and enjoy, but it’s not the same.

When Moore finally had the grace to realize that he was too old to make another Bond movie and the franchise turned to Timothy Dalton, I had moved on psychologically. Henceforth, I liked the movies, watched them multiple times, but Connery was Bond and the rest was feathers. Dalton had the gravitas, though. He had the glower, the weight. I was satisfied. So of course it didn’t last. Pierce Brosnan signed up. I like Brosnan. I liked him in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). I can almost remember him in The Lawnmower Man (1992) and Mars Attacks! (1996). I liked him in The Tailor of Panama (2001) and Evelyn (2002) and The Matador (2005), and I really liked him, and Liam Neesom, in the underappreciated Seraphim Falls (2006). Wonderful career choices. But he never had the weight, the dark side that I want for Bond, and the Moore goofiness clung to the Brosnan movies, recurring from the Moore era. And the shark jumped the shark with the invisible car and ice palace. Q, Desmond Llewelyn, R.I.P.

Daniel Craig, like Dalton, has got the crazy anger working. If you’ve got a license to kill, show me a little psychosis, for Pete’s sake.  Roger Moore, cold-blooded killer?? At this point, though, the franchise is all about figuring out what a British spy should be doing these days. How to stay relevant. In Quantum of Solace (2008), we get some green eco-plotting. At least the writers (and the producers pulled in Paul Haggis to polish the Craig films – the only guy to write two Oscar winners in a row. Purvis and Wade, who wrote two earlier Bond films did the screenplays for Casino and Quantum) are trying.

But back to YOLT. Early in the film, the presumed-dead Bond is given a Naval burial at sea in Hong Kong harbor. You can dump bodies in Hong Kong harbor? Legally, I mean, with a twenty-gun salute? When land-based naval officers pass on, they’re slid into the sea from the nearest destroyer? Does the family get to come? (Bond’s subsequent rescue underwater was filmed in the Caribbean; perhaps the Thunderball unit hadn’t packed up to come home yet.)

Lewis Gilbert got the call to direct; he sent it to voice mail, twice. He’d done action movies like Damn the Defiant (H. M. S. Defiant) (1962), as well as dramas like Educating Rita (1983) and Alfie (1966), and he wasn’t interested in doing a Bond cinqual.  He was eventually persuaded by a crew that included Dahl;  Freddie Young, number-one cameraman working in England at the time (Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962)); Ken Adam; and Gilbert’s editor, Thelma Connell. The film’s megabudget helped. Gilbert finally accepted and in the end  did two more Bonds after YOLT. He found a six-month shoot waiting,  with four or five units in place around the world.

An example of Freddie Young’s work: Bond and Tanaka stand with towels wrapped around their waists. The camera zooms gently in, so that as the towels fall away, the frame only reaches down to their hips.

And I notice a goof in the movie! Maybe the only goof I’ve ever noticed in a movie, so I’ve got to give it some love. Bond is being driven about in a sports car by a young Japanese woman in a white head scarf. Driver on the right. In one quick scene, she’s on the left.

Another goof, which I missed: an English compatriot makes Bond a martini and tells him that he was careful to stir it, not shake it. Bond nods approvingly. I can understand the compatriot (who in a later Bond movie plays the arch-villain) getting mixed up (no pun intended), but what was Connery thinking at that point in the scene? He’d been Bond for five movies.

The movie blurs the line between halters/shorts and bras/panties.

This is the one where Bond is trapped in a small plane as the female villain bails out and he plunges toward the ground. Also the one with the mini gyrocopter, which hasn’t caught on I guess, since I don’t see any flying around 40 years later, but it’s still pretty cool. Neither have jet packs, which Bond also used, in Thunderball, caught on, as Pretty Bird (2008), the Paul Giamatti/Billy Crudup vechicle, will attest. This is also the one with the gigantic in-the-volcano set, as I mentioned above, designed by Ken Adams and built for a million dollars, back when that number meant something more ,than the price of  a modest home in Palo Alto.

Production budget $9.5 million. Gross revenue $43 million (domestic), $111 million (worldwide).

I  was thinking about that female villain (Helga Brandt, played by Karin Dor, who is still out there getting it done, on stage and in TV – one of the few females in the Bond ouevre who was able to resist his chick-magnet appeal). One way to tell that she was cold-blooded: when the piranhas ate her, there was no blood. And apparently they ate her whole outfit, too, as there weren’t any scraps of  fabric floating to the surface either. And cold-blooded?  Bond is in bed with Tanaka’s assistant, post-you-know-what, dozing, when she is cruelly murdered.  “She’s dead,” Bond says, and then the next day is back in training, dah dee dah, and shortly after that, is getting facial surgery by a team of women who are, for no good reason, dressed in white shorts and halters. Wait. It’s the same team that bathed him and whatever earlier in the movie… And then he’s getting married, as part of his cover, to Kissy Suzuki, who in her first shot looks like Julie Andrews. I remember now. In the books he is cold blooded, except when he’s hot blooded.

Question for fans: Is this the only Bond movie where the bad guy shouts, “Kill Bond! Now!”?

That is one patient Persian cat.

Until Blofeld pulls the trigger, that is. You can see the cat on the ground for a couple of frames and then it’s gone. Took the crew two days to find it again on that mega-set and it would never work in films again. The cat wrangler sued.

Best trick in the movie: Bond and Kissy climb out of the water after swimming for their lives, and stand on the shore looking up at a distant volcano. Quick montage of climbing shots and they’re lounging at the top of the mountain. Lounging  and smooching, looking scrubbed and chipper. I didn’t think Kissy looked especially Japanese in this movie, but she is, and was a  star (now an environmentalist). Since I’m watching Red Beard (1965), I’ve tried to picture her in a Kurosawa film of the 60s. I can’t. But she starred in King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) and when she wasn’t learning English fast enough for YOLT, she announced that, if fired,  she’d kill herself because of the dishonor. Old school. Anyway, then Kissy and Bond whip down the inside of the volcano and once they’ve figured out what’s what, Kissy zips back up to the top and down the slope, all in the dark. Now that’s a day’s hike! She’s next seen swimming back to her home island. Includes a stint underwater as a helicopter spots her in the dark and tries to machine-gun her. She’s a veritable Energizer  bunny. And then she’s back at the volcano, still in her immaculate white halter-and-pants set, running back up the slope again,  this time with Tanaka and a small army of ninjas. Get her on a bicycle, for the full triathlon. How did Bond survive their wedding night? Then down into the volcano on a rope, running around, shooting a bad guy and then dropping the gun and doing a lot more running and cowering, then swimming out under the exploding volcano into the open sea, to finally clamber into an inflated raft with Bond for some final canoodling before the credits roll. An Olympic performance. All hail Kissy.