Friday, August 26, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins Reviewed

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 26, 2016

 (from the archives)

(Review by Deb)

This is one of Daphne du Maurier’s lesser-known works and, I would venture, one of her hardest to classify.  The novel’s Italian setting and the gothic, somewhat supernatural air might remind readers of her famous short story, “Don’t Look Now,” but the plot and characters couldn’t be more different.  There are extended flashbacks throughout the book and a very strong parallel between a city’s Renaissance past and its mid-1960s present.  I’ve read most of du Maurier’s work and I really can’t find an appropriate comparison between FALCON (published in 1965) and anything else she wrote.

The story concerns two brothers, Fabbio, the narrator, and his older brother, Aldo.  (There is a mild twist involving Aldo fairly early in the book, which I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t read it. However, it is telegraphed rather clumsily, so few will be surprised when it occurs.)  Fabbio is employed as a guide for a company that provides package tours (which were just becoming popular at the time the book was written).  Although he performs his job with professional competence, Fabbio is a rather muted young man, lacking the passion and gusto for living often associated with the cliché of Italian manhood. When he is not working, Fabbio spends much of his time remembering his childhood during World War II in the town of Ruffano where his beautiful mother safeguarded her family by having affairs with first a German and later an American officer.  For many years, Fabbio has stayed away from Ruffano and its memories, but the murder of a former family servant in Rome leads him reluctantly back to his birthplace.

The town of Ruffano (which is entirely the product of du Maurier’s imagination, although it could be based on a number of cities in the alpine areas of Italy) possesses a mountainous geography and Renaissance architecture that make it both hauntingly beautiful and darkly ominous.  Some of the books best passages are du Maurier’s descriptions of the area’s buildings and terrain.  A palace built high in the mountains dominates the town; its highest point is a small balconied room (perhaps at one time a private chapel) which contains a 15th century painting of Christ being tempted by Satan to leap from the balcony and fly over the city.  At one point in Ruffano’s history, a mad Duke, known as the “Falcon,” actually jumped from the tower in an attempt to prove his divine nature. This rather heavy foreshadowing, coupled with the title of the book, will leave few readers guessing what the climax of the story will involve!

Fabbio’s brother, Aldo, a pilot during the war and a much more powerful and vibrant presence than his younger sibling, has established himself as a leader of the university students in Ruffano, gathering around him young people who he leads in a sort of cult of personality.  Aldo’s brand of leadership is looked upon with concern by the town’s authorities who have sharp memories of what happened to Italy during the war under the leadership of another charismatic personality. With the passion (and, some would say, the heedless self-righteousness) of the young, those under Aldo’s direction have formed a secret society that has been known to attack town leaders and people who have opposed their way of seeing things, although nothing can be tied directly back to Aldo. There is concern about an upcoming city-wide celebration and what the secret group might be planning to disrupt the proceedings.  This forthcoming event looms large over the rest of the story.

Once back in Ruffano, Fabbio (or “Beo”—“blessed”—as his childhood nickname would have it) is reunited with his brother.  Although he is supposed to be investigating the murder of the family servant, Fabbio is persuaded to quit his job as a tour guide and work in the university’s library helping to catalogue some very old books.  (For long stretches of the book, the murder that brought Fabbio back to Ruffano seems utterly forgotten.)  The library books, and the centuries-old documents found hidden within their pages, will play a role in the story as the past of the mad “Falcon” and the future of Ruffano (with Aldo as leader?) intertwine.  Aldo’s ease in manipulating his younger brother and Fabbio’s apparent passivity in the face of that manipulation will play out over the course of the novel especially in regards to two female characters:  Signora Butali, a married woman who Fabbio reverently regards as being Madonna-like, but who the reader infers is having an affair with Aldo, and Carla Raspa, a university teacher who is interested in Fabbio, who, in turn, is repulsed by Carla’s more aggressive personality and sexual experience.

The book has an odd subtext: Both homoerotic and homophobic at the same time.  There’s an obvious dominance-submission dynamic between Aldo and Fabbio, starting in their youth; several flashback passages describe the rather strange games the brothers played together—nothing of an actual sexual nature, but with a distinct erotic element.  Fabbio’s excessively uncritical admiration for and obsession with his older brother make it impossible for him to develop a mature relationship with a woman.  And yet, a minor gay character receives short shrift from Fabbio, who expresses disgust at the man’s orientation and lifestyle.  A most peculiar dichotomy—and perhaps indicative of du Maurier’s (and the era’s) own ambivalence toward the subject. It does, however, date the book badly and make it much more of a “time capsule” than many of her other books.

Eventually, the day of the celebration arrives. Various strands of the plot come together and the climax, hinted at throughout the book, takes place.  In some respects, the forces of order and civility triumph, but we’re not sure how Fabbio will eventually come to terms with what has happened.  THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON is not one of du Maurier’s more successful novels:  The foreshadowing is heavy-handed and, despite some beautifully-descriptive passages of the Italian landscape and architecture, I would certainly not recommend it to someone unfamiliar with her work.  However, for someone who has read a number of her better-known works (such as REBECCA, MY COUSIN RACHEL, and THE BIRDS) and wants to read something completely different from the same author, THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON would not be a bad choice, if only to show that even the most talented writer won’t hit one out of the park every time they’re up to bat.

Sergio Angelini, HOUSE OF EVIL, Clayre and Michael Lipman
Yvette Banek, THE EYE OF THE ABYSS, THE IRON HEART, Marshall Browne
Joe Barone, STEWBALL, Peter Bowen. JESUS, INTERRUPTED, Bart D. Ehrman
Les Blatt, MR. CAMPION'S FAULT, Margery Allingham
Michael Carlson, HANDS OF A STRANGER, Robert Daley
Bill Crider, CROSS THE RED CREEK, Harry Whittington 
Martin Edwards, INSOLUBLE, Francis Everton
Richard Horton, STAMBOUL NIGHTS, H.G. Dwight
Jerry House, THE DAY HE DIED, Henry Kuttner and C.I. Moore
George Kelley, DETECTIVES A to Z ed, by McSherry, Greenberg, and Waugh
Margot Kinberg, BIG LITTLE LIES, Liane Moriarity
Rob Kitchin, THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH, Richard Flanagan
B.V. Lawson, TROUBLEMAKER, Joseph Hansen
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, ANGELS IN HEAVEN, David M. Pearce
Robert Arthur, editor
J.F. Norris, AS OLD AS CAIN,  M.E. Chaber 
Matt Paust, SOMETHING HAPPENED, Joseph Heller
James Reasoner, MIAMI PURITY, Vicki Hendricks
Richard Robinson, SAMSARA, by John Hamilton Lewis
Kerrie Smith, PLAY DEAD, Angela Marsons
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, HAIL, HAIL, EUPHORIA, Ray Blount, Jr.
TomCat, A CHILD'S GARDEN OF DEATH, Richard Forrest

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Music from THE A WORD (Sundance)

Best Biopics

Frances Foster Jenkins was a pretty terrific biopic. By the end of the film, you understood each character's motivations and you had respect for a woman who could not sing, but did. You knew enough about her life to fill in any gaps.

What are your favorite biopics? What movie got it right?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Forgotten Films: SABRINA

Hepburn and Holden
I guess my forgotten films are never truly forgotten. That would mean digging up some film I probably had little interest in then and now. But SABRINA (directed by Billy Wilder), in a sense, was a revelation, because I had forgotten how witty, weird and wonderful it was. Of course Bogart looks like Hepburn's grandfather, but she was often cast with men much older. And he's not a convincing romantic lead in this. But the film looks so good and there are so many small bits that work. It has a sense of humor-witness the scenes in culinary school in France, and the ones of Bogart's father trying to get the olive out of the jar. And the music is transcendent. As are Heburn's clothes.
You know the plot so I won't go over it. I enjoyed this film immensely and even Phil had to admit it had "something." Certainly vastly superior to the remake with Harrison Ford.

Footnote: During production of the film, Hepburn and Holden (who plays Bogart's playboy brother) entered into a brief, but passionate and much-publicized love affair.Also Bogart wanted Bacall to do the part and was angry during the entire shoot. Thirdly, Wilder wanted Cary Grant for the role, who turned it down. So lots of behind the scenes angst.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Night Music: From the music THE A WORD (Sundance)

Waitresses on Film and TV

As you might expect, there are a ton of waitresses in film and on TV. Always memorable was the one in FIVE EASY PIECES.In HELL AND HIGH WATER, there are two great ones. On Broadway right now, there is a musical based on the Keri Russell film WAITRESS. MILDRED PIERCE, of course, started as a waitress. I remember male waiters on FRIENDS and FRASIER. But the women seem more memorable.

Who is your favorite waitress? On the screen that is.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Forgotten Books, August 19, 2016

Fool's Gold, Dolores Hitchens

This was one of the books I read in anticipation of a panel in New Orleans. I think it is probably fairly indicative of the type of book found on spinner racks in the forties and fifties. The three main characters are all in school learning a trade. The girl (Karen), leaks the fact, that a man who rents a room in the house where she lives has a big stash of money in his room. One of her friends (Skip) immediately begins planning a theft and his friend, under his influence, agrees to help him. The girl is too gob-smacked over the boy to not go along with this.
Skip is too dumb not to tip his hand to bigger players and loses control of the job. The writing was good enough but I didn't quite believe that any of these kids, that sat behind desks at school in the daytime, and who largely came from decent families, would fall into this so easily. I am thinking this is just not my type of story. But it may be yours. Hitchens wrote many novels and the second I read I liked a lot more.

Sergio Angelini, THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, John LeCarre
Les Blatt, MALICE IN WONDERLAND, Nicholas Blake
Brian Busby, GAMBLING WITH FIRE, David Montrose
Bill Crider, THE GOBLIN RESERVATION, Clifford Simak
Martin Edwards, THE SEAT OF THE SCORNFUL, John Dickson Carr
Curt Evans, ACEDIA, THE NOONDAY DEVIL Ursula Curtiss
Richard Horton, THE REBELLIOUS STARS, Isaac Asimov, AN EARTH GONE MAD, Roger Dee
Jerry House, THE BRASS RING, Lewis Padgett
Margot Kinberg, THE DINNER, Herman Koch
Kate Laity, THE DAIN CURSE, Dashiell Hammett
B.V. Lawson, SHE SHALL HAVE MURDER, Delano Ames
Steve Lewis, THE JEWELS THAT GOT AWAY, Gary Matterom
Todd Mason, FANTASTIC STORIES, 1971; Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1971
J.F. Norris, THE WOMAN ON THE ROOF, Helen Nielsen 
Mathew Paust, THE DISCOMFORT ZONE, Jonathan Frantzen
James Reasoner, THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS, Erle Stanley Gardner
Richard Robinson, THE VIRGIN IN THE ICE, Ellis Peters
Gerard Saylor, U.S. WORLD WAR II AMPHIBIOUS TACTICS, Gordon Rottman
Kevin TIpple, THE END OF EVERYTHING, Megan Abbott
TomCat, THE JUDAS CAT, Dorothy Salisbury Davis; WINDS OF EVIL, Arthur Upfield
TracyK, Forgotten Books Not Yet Read

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

(Not) A Funny Movie

We saw a movie on Monday, one we hoped would make us laugh. Sadly it did not. SAUSAGE PARTY was jut too vulgar and repetitive to make us even smile much. Plus it's half-baked try at adding some philosophical meaning rang trite and hollow. Maybe we are just too old to find constant profanity and talk of sex amongst food items humorous. Certainly the rest of the 20-something audience found more to love.

What is the last movie that really made you laugh?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Forgotten Movies: LAURA

Well, certainly not forgotten. But I hadn't seen it in 30 years and I was again swept away what must surely be one of the greatest films of the genre. Beautifully cast with Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, and Judith Anderson, Preminger brought a magic touch to it. Such good dialogue and so little fat in it. Great theme song by Raksin with help from Ravel. It couldn't be better.

A little info about the painting here.  

This portrait is truly stunning. But there's more to the story of it. The movie is based on the book by Vera Caspary, published in 1942. The description of the portrait in the book is significantly different than this portrait. Notably, the description reads, in part, "Jacoby had caught the fluid sense of restlessness in her body, perched on the arm of a chair, a pair of yellow gloves in one hand, a green hunter's hat in the other." The difference is significant because the book version of the story paints (if you'll pardon the pun) quite a different picture of the three main characters: Lydecker, McPherson and Laura. In the film, Laura is all feminine elegance (as she is portrayed in the portrait) and McPherson is all masculine bravado. But the book (written by a woman, mind you) emphasized that Laura was a "modern woman" which was code at that time for a woman who lived with the freedoms of a man. And while the movie alludes to McPherson's leg injury, the book tells us that he spent a year in the hospital recuperating and that during that time, he read many books and became more cultured and sensitive, as a result. This book is about two people stepping out of their assigned gender roles and being intrigued by each other as a like-minded, fully evolved human. Part of McPherson's fascination with the portrait (one might assume from context) is that it was NOT traditionally feminine or elegant. Laura has gloves and a hunter's hat, meaning she is ready for sport, not an evening on the town. She is active, athletic. And it is significant that she (and the artist) chose to portray her in this way and NOT in elegant evening wear. So, beautiful as this portrait may be, it is an example of Hollywood watering down an interesting, complex and progressive story into tired old gender cliches. Read the book. It's way more inter

Monday, August 15, 2016


(Worried about Deb. Hope she checks in)

Did something I almost never do, went out and bought three new books. Paperbacks but still new.
All recommended by people I trust. I am still reading the Hawley book.And Megan sent me a heavily autographed copy of Mississippi Noir, where she has a story called Oxford Girl. Haven't read it  yet.

Medical update: Our surgeon, who called us at nine o'clock last night (giving us hives) says the cancer seems localized and small but he wants Phil to see an urologist before he operates since it is near the bladder. So good news bad news because this will delay the surgery by weeks most probably. We are nervous types anyway. To top it off, someone sideswiped our car and that will  have to go into the shop for five days. Knocked off the mirror too.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, August 12, 2016

A bit of an emergency here. Hope Todd is able to post. Not sure when I will be back.Wish us luck or prayers.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Forgotten TV: ROC

Roc is an American  television series which originally ran onFox network from August 25, 1991 to May 10, 1994. The series stars Charles S. Dutton as Baltimore garbage collector  Roc Emerson and his nurse wife, Eleanor played by Ella Joyce. 

ROC was a much more realistic look at a black family than we had on COSBY. Roc was a garbage collector and had a brother with drug issues. There was an interesting piece in the NYT on Sunday about ROC. Not many shows about lower middle class people from any race/ethnicity anymore.

I can only think of THE MIDDLE.What else?

Monday, August 08, 2016

Megan reviewed on NPR by Maureen Corrigan.


The movie DON'T THINK TWICE is about an improv troupe. I have never seen much charm in improv, (give me a script) but I am sure it's a way for up and coming comedians to hone their skills. However, because they used the same prompt every night to get going ("anyone out there have a bad day?") I could see they were fooling themselves to some extent to think their material would be original each night. I mean the types of answers they'd get would probably be fairly similar. (Lost my job, lost my girlfriend, car broke down).

I have never been to an improv club though so maybe I am wrong. Anyone know much about improv? Anyone enjoy it more than standup comedy. Or scripted skits like on SNL.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, August 5, 2016

  ALONG THE RIVER TRAIL by Hugh Pendexter (1920) 

                                     (from the archives - Evan Lewis) 

I've long had an itch to re-read The Long Rifle by Stewart Edward White and report on it here in Forgotten Books. The Long Rifle was the book that introduced mountain man and trapper Andy Burnett, and was the basis for the Disney series The Saga of Andy Burnett
Well, I still haven't returned to The Long Rifle, but Along the River Trail by Hugh Pendexter scratched that Andy Burnett itch in a big way. This one, too, is about a young man who heads west in the company of older, wiser hands, and learns the ins and outs of the trade. The difference here is that one of those wiser hands is also quite young, and such a prominent character that he's almost a co-protagonist. And that's a good thing, because he's Jim Bridger, and Bridger makes a fascinating hero. 
This book, one of five volumes (so far) in Black Dog Books' Hugh Pendexter Library, was serialized in Adventure in 1920, and is collected here for the first time. Our official POV character is Ralph Lander, a St. Louis store employee of the American Fur Company who gets sacked for falling in love with (and capturing the love of) the boss's daughter. After winning a duel with a rival, he finds it wise to get out of town, and heads for the mountains with Bridger, one of the leading lights of the AFC's chief rival, The Rocky Mountain Fur Company. All sorts of wilderness adventures follow, including (but not limited to) encounters with friendly Indians (the Crow), hostile Indians (the Blackfeet), friendly mountain men and hostile mountain men, all set against the background of a battle for supremacy between the American Fur and Rocky Mountain Fur outfits. 
While Ralph Lander stumbles around, making mistakes and sometimes learning from them (and giving the reader someone to identify with), Jim Bridger does the thinking and provides the heroics. They make a great pair.

Hugh Pendexter loved history and was a meticulous researcher, so I'm guessing the picture painted here is about as close to history as fiction can get. But this is fiction, and mighty entertaining reading, because Pendexter was also a master storyteller. As a bonus, the book has a fine introduction by Mr. Robert Randisi. You know you want it, and the best way to get it is direct from Black Dog Books. 

Sergio Angelini, RUNNING DOG, Don Delillo
Yvette Banek, THE LAST POLICEMAN, Ben Winters
Les Blatt, THE DANCING DRUIDS, Gladys Mitchell
Bill Crider, NAKED FURY, Day Keene
Martin Edwards, FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED, John Beynon
Curt Evans, STRANGLE HOLD, Mary McMullen
Rick Horton, THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY Jack Williamson
Jerry House, I COULD GO ON SINGING, John D. MacDonald
George Kelley, SPEAKING OF HORROR, Vol 1&2, conducted by Darrell Schweitzer
Margot Kinberg, SHIELD OF STRAW ,Kazuhiro Kiuchi
B.V. Lawson, FOOL'S GOLD, Ted Wood
Steve Lewis, THE POLFERRY RIDDLE, Philip Macdonald
Todd Mason, COLLECTED FANTASIES, Avram Davidson
J.F. Norris, THE LAUGHING FOX, Frank Gruber
Matt Paust, SUPER, SAD, TRUE LOVE STORY, Gary Shteyngart
James Reasoner, IT'S LIKE THIS CAT, Emily Neville
Gerard Saylor, 361, Donald Westlake 
Kevin Tipple, EVERY LAST SECRET, Linda Rodriquez
TomCat, "Lost Room" stories
TracyK, THE BIG CLOCK, Kenneth Fearing
Greg Tulonen FALL OF THE CITY, Donald Westlake
Westlake Review, FALL OF THE CITY

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Worst Movie I Saw at Traverse City Film Festival (or maybe ever).

The Kings of Kallstadt

This is a movie about the town Donald Trump's family came from in Germany. It was without a single interesting scene. Truly. It reminded me of the sort of documentaries they used to make us watch in assemblies in middle school. The people were dull: they made wine, they butchered hogs, they practiced for a play. Not one interesting comment was elicited by the film maker.
There was so little going on in this town, in fract, that they took some of them to Pittsburgh (Kallstadt is also the ancestral home of Heinz (ketchup) where we watch them go through the Heinz factory and then sit at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Then on to New York where they march in a German-American parade and admire Trump skyscrapers.
You would think this might have been quaint or quirky or clever. It was not.
Trump is in a few scenes where he says his dad was great, his grandmother was great, the town was great. He's great.  Horrible waste of two hours.
However, not everyone agreed with me. This film won an award for best first documentary by a woman. 

What was the worst movie you ever sat through?

Monday, August 01, 2016

My Panel at Bouchercon: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp Era

 Pete Rozovsky asked us each to choose one writer to concentrate on and I chose Dolores Hitchens. I am midway through my second novel by her. I would really appreciate any insight into Hitchens or other female writers of the era. I was going to chose Helen Nielsen but couldn't depend on getting her books in time. Whereas Hitchens has some ebooks.
Poor Pete is going to read along with all of us (Martin Edwards, Gary Phillips, Rick Ollerman, Eric Beetner).

So if anyone has anything to say about female pulp writers or Dolores Hitchens in particular I would be glad to hear it. I did find a few reviews of her work on one or two of your blogs.

I think this is like the first panel on Thursday morning so we may just be going out for coffee.