The Infinite Jukebox: The Beatles’ ‘The Long Medley’


Fifty years after The Beatles broke up, you’d expect that I would have heard everything they recorded. On the other hand, my CD collection only goes up to Magical Mystery Tour and even though I once had Let it Be on vinyl, the fact I let it go speaks volumes about my attitude to the music of the end of their career.
A couple of weeks ago, as I write, I heard the Long Medley from Abbey Road in full for the first time. I’ve heard parts of it before, and I used to have the last three tracks on tape, but this was the first time I had heard the Medley from start to finish. I’m not impressed.
John Lennon once described it as “junk … just bits of songs thrown together”, and it is. It’s the throwing together of fragments, half-ideas half-baked, not one of which could constitute a song if taken to an extended conclusion. None of the first five songs are anything worthwhile, they are leaden, not even jokes.
But what I didn’t understand until hearing the Medley in full, is how they establish the context for the immense change that occurs when Paul McCartney launches into ‘Golden Slumbers’. The last three songs have depth, tell a story that anatomises in the simplest of words, where the Beatles were at and where they very shortly would never be again. The last three songs are serious, in intent and in impact. The weary, stupid, barren quintet that precedes them serves to emphasise the instant increase in intensity, a Phoenix from the ashes instant.
Abbey Road was the last Beatles album: Let it Be was released later but recorded earlier. It was a deliberate attempt to record as they had once recorded, as a working band, but against the crumbling relationships between the Fab Four it failed in that task. And McCartney acknowledges that fact openly at the very beginning of ‘Golden Slumbers’.
There’s a change in sound, the looseness, the amateurishness of what has come before vanishes in an instant as McCartney’s gravitas underpins the piano introduction. And what he sings is sad but brave: once there was a way.
Once there was a way to get back homewards. The words are both wistful and resigned. Where is home? What is home? We each of us define this according to our own emotions, but the ambition of the Abbey Road recordings, to make the Beatles a band again and not four talented individuals reaching the point where they cannot work together any more, has failed. Because the other side of Once is that there isn’t a Now. There is no way to get back homewards, to when the Beatles were friends, comrades, allies, a band.
McCartney pairs this line to an old and sentimental lullaby, a song from the Twenties. It’s perfect for his sentimental streak, but it fits the overall theme, for it is a putting to bed, to peaceful sleep, just as the band will do once this final sequence is done. McCartney sings powerfully, sleep pretty darling, do not cry, for I will sing a lullaby. And those words come back: once there was a way.
As if to answer him, the music changes. The band masses its voices, McCartney inside as much as he is outside. Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight they tell him and us, carry that weight a long time. The weight they carry is of being who they’ve become. Whether as Beatles or former-Beatles, they are none of them who they were and they can never recover any of what they were, not after their experiences. McCartney responds by re-writing the words of ‘You never give me your money’ to talk of intangible things, a pillow, an invitation. But in the middle of negotiations, I break down, and the band emphasise it for him again, you’re going to carry that weight. There is no going back.
And from there we pass into the final part, the aptly titled ‘The End’. The band is back, the rock band, the band of Hamburg and the Cavern Club, playing simple, joyous rock. Oh yeah, McCartney roars in delight, all right! Are you gonna be in my dreams… tonight? There’s that little pause before the word tonight that turns the song into a question, and an expectation that no, not tonight, like many nights, this can be as plain and happy rock as it wants to be, this explosion of energy and raucousness.
And of all things we cut to a Ringo solo! His only drum solo in the history of the Beatles, one urgent drum beat in solid rhythm as he builds fills and runs around it, and then the band, playing together for the last time ever in the same studio, make the most of these final moments before the guitars fade and McCartney bangs the piano and sums up the Sixties in a short, sweet but very powerful couplet.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
If one line could sum up the Sixties, that would deserve to be it. Yes, it’s trite, yes, it’s sentimental, it’s even hippy-dippy, but it’s what it was all about. Being together, being one, being for each other as much as for ourselves. Being allies, not adversaries. It’s a reminder of what the Beatles were and where they came from, lost in the poignancy of where they no longer were.
I’ve been conscious of the weight, if you’ll excuse the pun, of those last three songs for a very long time. The rest of the Medley is crap, but by being crap it points up by just how much the end of it is genius, is serious, is the Beatles’ final message.
The rest is history.

Sunday Watch: Country Matters – The Watercress Girl


watercress

It’s so long since I last watched an episode of Country Matters that I’d almost forgotten just how stunningly good they are. More than ever I am frustrated that the one and only DVD set of the series, released in Canada, contains only eight of the thirteen made. It is cruel to omit over a third of the episodes.

For ‘The Watercress Girl’, the series went for an A. E. Coppard story to adapt. Set in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, and filmed entirely on location in and around a narrow valley whose floor was almost wholly occupied by a surprisingly wide river, this was again a cool, superficially simple yet beneath it all both tragic and yet banal tale that, in keeping with other stories, dealt with the quiet undercurrents of the lives of men and women away from the urban areas, where life is a matter of hard work to scratch along on not much, financially and otherwise.

The first half of the episode arranges itself around a trial. Mary MacDowell, the Watercress Girl (Susan Fleetwood), is accused of throwing vitriol – i.e., acid – into the face of Elizabeth Plantney (Susan Tebbs), to which she pleads guilty in an almost inaudible voice. The facts of the case are established by a pompous barrister, Mr Archibold (Peter Cellier), who’s obviously looking down his nose sat these common and unwashed folk all the time, via examination of Frank Oppidan (Gareth Thomas) who was formerly walking out with Mary but at the time of the attack was engaged to Elizabeth. These facts take place as flashbacks.

It’s plain and simple. Frank comes to the lonely cottage where Mary and her father live, to but watercress. He finds her cutting it, moving around the pond with her skirt hitched up to her thighs. They start walking out together. He falls in love and wants her to marry him, but though she agrees she loves him – and she’s proved it by what they’ve done – she first withholds her answer until she’s sure he means it, and then tells him no.

Frank won’t accept it. Frank’s typical of the times: he means to have his way. He’s a wood-turner and ambitious to have his own shop, his own apprentices, call no man master, and his anger at the course of events is all about the effect it has on him with little or no heed for others’ wants and feelings, and it’s a testament to Gareth Thomas that he still comes out as reasonably sympathetic for all that. He keeps asking Mary to marry him, she keeps saying she won’t and refusing to say why, he keeps walking out on her, he keeps coming back.

Until they separate permanently. Doing so woodwork for the recently orphaned Miss Elizabeth Plunkney, a town girl, with the kind of money a man could use to set up a business, a bit more accomplihed, a bit more sophisticated, playing heavily on the silly-little-woman pedal, Frank is drawn into first walking out with her – no slap’n’tickle there, oh no, not until the wedding night – and then into an engagement.

Meanwhile, he’s pestered by letters from Mary until he writes back to announce said engagement. And one night, in the dark, walking through the woods, he and Elizabeth are confronted by Mary, who unstoppers a small bottle of vitriol and throws its in Miss Plunkney’s face, burning and scarring her for life.

The trial over, Mary sentenced to eighteen months, no explanation given for any of this though t seems plain and obvious: jealousy, the scarred Elizabeth releases Frank from his promise. Angered by what has been done to him, and by the too-lenient sentence, Frank vows his own punishment on Mary, when she gets out.

The beauty of the episode is that we know there is more beneath it. Why has Mary been so adamant that she won’t marry Frank, and that she won’t marry anyone, ever? She’ll go with him, gladly, she won’t ndever turn him away. But what is the secret? The second half of the episode gradually leads us through that, by flashback once more, but this time in Mary’s mind, as she waits to be released from gaol, a good and submissive prisoner who has earned six months remission.

And though the secret itself is perhaps as trite and banal as the rest of the incidents, if you do not have the least sympathy for people whose lives this shows, then and still now, it falls into place with an inevitability. Mary was pregnant. She refused to let her father go find Frank. Her letters refused to speak of it. She did not want to be shamed, and Frank has no high opinion of women who let themselves get taken with child but without a man and a ring. So the baby is born, prematurely, and stillborn, buried in secret at night. And Mary goes out with a bottle of vitriol, meant for Frank.

But that’s not the only secret. The other is guessable, being much more of a literary design. When Frank discovers Mary is back, after only a year, he swears revenge, in high dudgeon and in high drink. When he arrives at her home, late at night, carrying his own bottle of vitriol, either the night or seeing her again has sobered him. He cannot harm her. He just wants to know why.

She tells him of the baby. It is the first he has known of it and again his concern is not her experience, or the death of a child, but what’s been done to him. Yet he will make all right. He will still marry Mary. They are still young enough for a future. It’s her rescue, from the shame, the disgrace, the scandal. But she will not marry him. Not to shame him, but even more so not to shame her father. Who was not wedded to her mother but whose pride is such that he cannot tell his daughter the truth, no matter that she has known it since she was small. She will not marry Frank, and he must go and never come back.

Frank, being Frank, goes, but says he will come again tomorrow. The camera freezes on Mary.

Really, the story hasn’t ended. Stories are like lives: they go on after we stop watching and it’s for us to imagine what happened later. Country Matters, made in 1972 and 1973, delves into the underside of stories of the rural poor and reminds us that living in the country, among the peasant stock of England, is nothing like so simple as our own, modern lives.

Infantino’s Experiments 2: Two Series


The five series I looked over in the first part of this mini-series were not the only short-lived series initiated in the wake of Carmine Infantino’s promotion to Editorial Director. This time I’m looking at just two series, which like their contemporaries failed to last more than seven issues.

Secret_Six_covers

The Secret Six

Like Beware the Creeper I’ve long since known and enjoyed the first issue of this series, but it’s only relatively recently I’ve finally made the time to read the series in full. Unlike The Creeper, The Secret Six debuted not in Showcase but their own title – on the cover of it to be exact – and went on to a very strong initial story that made me want to read the rest of it. And I was not disappointed.
The point of The Secret Six, which was what made it the success it was creatively if not commercially, was that it was not a superhero series, not in any way. It’s closest cultural parallel, to which it was continually compared, was TV’s Mission Impossible, in that it was a thriller series, at times criminal, at others espionage, employing a team of specialists, whose abilities were fully human, and far less exaggeratedly so than Batman.
The gimmick was that the Six were gathered together by blackmail by an unknown person going under the name of Mockingbird, who set missions in which the sextet combined their skills either by bringing down organised crime or by striking back at communist plots (this was a very Cold War series with a visceral aggression against Commies). Each member was under Mockingbird’s thumb for one reason or another. The twist was that Mockingbird was one of the Six himself. Or herself. Or so we were led to believe.
The series was written by the combination of Nelson Bridwell, who plotted the episodes and ex-Charlton writer Joe Gill, who dialogued them, with art by Frank Sparling, employing a scruffier, looser, quasi-cartoonist line that was both very effective for a series grounded in gritty reality and far more appealing than any of his superhero work.
The first issue was all about introductions. Six individuals with nothing in common with each other abruptly abandon the jobs they are undertaking and set off to a meeting, where they are taken about a VTOL jet and instructed to wear identical white uniforms – long-sleeved t-shirts and trousers – each decorated by a Roman Numeral, from I to VI. They are, in order, King Savage, stuntman, Dr August Durant, scientist, Carlo di Rienzi, magician and escapologist, Lili De Neuve, former actress and make-up artist, Mike Tempest, ex-boxer and bum and Crimson Dawn, model. All owe Mockingbird a debt. All can be exposed or abandoned for defiance.
Savage was a Korean War pilot who cracked under interrogation: Mockingbird sprang him in time for Savage to save his side but could expose his treachery. Durant has been poisoned: Mockingbird supplies him with daily pills that hold off his fatal disease. Di Rienzi’s wife is dead and his son crippled: Mockingbird pays for treatment that will enable him to walk again. De Neuve was falsely accused of murder: Mockingbird supplied a false alibi that could be withdrawn. Tempest was Tiger Force, boxer, who ratted out the mob: Mockingbird conceals him from their revenge. And Crimson Dawn was a foolish heiress, seduced, her money spent, her family ridiculing her: Mockingbird can reveal her connection to fat, foolish Kit Dawn to that family.
Bridwell provided a taut, convincing plot, putting the Six through their paces for their first assignment, whilst Gill skillfully contributed snappy patter that betrayed bitter humour and cautious misgivings between these strangers without ever descending to anything remotely campy or even flippant. You could believe in these people: they were solid.

secret six

The six succeeding issues followed a template. The Six, either by direct assignment from Mockingbird or else by appeal from one of their members who needs assistance, conduct further missions. Each issues centres specifically upon one of the Six, explaining their situation, and the circumstances in which Mockingbird gained his/her influence over them in greater depth, and allowing each member of the team, as well as the reader, to see how plausible it might be to accept each one as Mockingbird, and not merely the seemingly obvious figure of Dr August Durant.
That’s always to assume Mockingbird was one of the Six and not an external figure. That must have been the case as Bridwell, in one of the later lettercols, admits that they have been dropping subtle clues as to the true identity of Mockingbird through the whole series, but that no-one has yet picked up on any of them. I certainly hadn’t. If that was true. And assuming that, the Six were the only characters to appear in each issue.
Like I said, the obvious assumption was Durant, and I favour him personally. It’s he who, in issue 1, advances the theory that Mockingbird is one of them. And in the two cases where the team acts to protect one of their own, it is Durant on both occasions who makes the point that, although their actions are unsanctioned, their mysterious leader would quickly pull them off it if he/she disapproved.
But seven issues was all The Secret Six got, seven issues and oblivion for nearly two decades. It’s a damned shame because it was a gripping series, but it wasn’t superheroes and even as early as 1968/69 the readers couldn’t accept adventure in any other form. We’re paying for that narrow-mindedness in spades by now.
On the other hand, it would have made a bloody good TV thriller series…
According to Wikipedia, The Secret Six were finally resurrected in 1988 in Action Comics Weekly. By then, Bridwell had passed on, so it was Martin Pasko who reintroduced the team, with art from Dan Spiegle, who put the new Secret Six into spandex uniforms. Durant was specified as Mockingbird, putting together a wholly-new team in the first episode then being killed off, with all the originals, in the second. Despite that flat statement Di Rienzi apparently becomes Mockingbird until he’s killed off in the last episode. Sounds like complete nonsense to me: I shall treat that as never happening.

Bat Lash

bat lash 1

One thing in common with this flush of unsuccessful series is that Carmine Infantino claims to have come up with the concept and assigned others to develop it. If it’s true then it’s an admirable thing, this willingness to go against a grain that many had clung to in the face of Marvel’s first dominance, sticking to the ‘classic’, the comfortable, the familiar approaches, rather than plunge into something new where they feared being out of their depths.
On the other hand, the lack of success for any of these series suggests Infantino was not another Kirby, though any such conclusion must be tempered by factoring in that a large proportion of DC’s audience were just as conservative as the management.
Bat Lash had already had the in-house build-up for his debut in Showcase : I remember seeing the advert for this shambling silhouette and the tag-line ‘Will he save the West – or Ruin it?’ over and over. The raggedy figure must have represented an early iteration of the character because, as soon as Mr Lash appeared, he was anything but ragged. He was a smiling, elegant dandy, a courteous man, a con man and a ladies man, who tried to avoid violence but who, when it was pressed upon him, was pretty darned good at it. You just had to watch out when he carefully removed the flower from his hat and put it to one side for safety.
He may have been a Wild West character, but Lash was also a very contemporary one, a child of 1968, of a growing counter-culture, of the hippy dream of peace and love and the growing opposition to the Vietnam War. No doubt this ‘peacenik’ stance, even in a moderated state, contributed to the series’ commercial failure.
That and the fact that the Western was practically dead by then.
For the Showcase try-out, Infantino commissioned Sergio Aragones – yes, he of MAD magazine and Groo the Wanderer – to plot the story for Nick Cardy to draw, pencils and inks, with veteran Sheldon Mayer brought in to dialogue the issue. For the series, Denny O’Neill came in to dialogue (and Cardy was credited with the plot for issue 2) but otherwise it was the same team.
Cardy’s art is lovely, loose and flexible, and with that cartoonish element that ideally suits the tenor of the stories, though when the letters page suggests he has equalled his former boss, Will Eisner, I have to dissent, no disrespect.
As for the stories, they’re generally good fun. Bat Lash is played as a charming rogue, a drifter coming and going through the usual cliches of western towns. He’s constantly professing his hatred of violence, and his love of peace and flowers, even as he’s lying and cheating his way wherever he goes.

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The fact is, Bat Lash is an unprincipled chancer, and completely selfish with it, willing to con anyone over anything and with only a very few, and very occasional flashes of human remorse. In short, the man’s a stinker, and don’t you forget it. O’Neill and Aragones are never shy of showing this, only they wrap it up in clever moves, demonstrating Lash’s superior intelligence, and his ability to improvise (and plan ahead when the situation requires) with a high degree of intelligence. And it’s all about charm. Lash gets his way, especially with the ladies, who he invariably kisses and runs, by surfing on his easy-going, romantic and charming manner.
There’s a personal touch in issue 4 when the pair introduce a villain by the name of Sergio Aragones, and Cardy draws him like the senor too (it is to be presumed that this bandido has no connection with the former Governor Sergio Aragones, mentioned in passing in issue 1). The fictional Aragones is every bit the twister that Bat Lash is and the issue long challenge between them is full of betrayals and promises.
It’s tremendous fun, but it’s also full of Mexican accents and cliches. Now I’ve never heard Aragones speak, but even now I’m led to believe his spoken English is, shall we say, imperfect, so this may well have been phonetically accurate at the time, and there’s nothing in the collaboration that suggests O’Neill had anything less than full enjoyment with his partner, but a half-century on, it automatically looks a bit cheap.
Plot-wise, if I wanted to be critical, I would point out that the stories tend to be a bit episodic, short vignettes leading up to regular bouts of gunplay and the like as Bat Lash ducks and dives.
And then it all crashes, abruptly, in issue 6. Denny O’Neill summarised things neatly on Wikipedia, explaining that he and Aragones had set out to depict a charming rogue, and suddenly DC re-wrote him as a churlish rogue. Issue 6 presents the origin of Bat Lash, farmer’s son who became a killer after his parents were killed by crooks stealing their land. It was deadly serious, cheap and nasty from beginning to end, and it shovelled a shitload of shit over the character, removing his ability to be regarded as a charming conman.
Instead, Bat Lash’s charm was merely superficial, but he was brutal and greedy underneath. His sister disowned him, preferring to become a nun in support of her best friend, the girl Bat was going to marry, who had found her true vocation, and he was sent away, an empty vessel. In its way, it was a story that would fit perfectly into the modern-day preference for presenting innocent characters as broken and corrupt, but this was done over fifty years ago.
Issue 7 was the last issue. It continued the onslaught on Bat Lash by introducing the kid brother he feared had been killed, grown up as a heartless bounty hunter on the trail of Bat Lash. The two confront each other and the only person who knows the truth is killed by them when he jumps in the way to stop them shooting each other down. It’s another piece of nastiness, and good riddance to the title if this was what now passed for a Western.
Officially, Bat Lash was cancelled for low sales. Comics were never cancelled for any other reason. It’s been stated that sales were good in Europe, but low at home, and O’Neill, in Wikipedia has cast doubt on the official reason, stating mysteriously that he had reason to believe there were other factors, but not detailing what they were.
I don’t care. Bat Lash 1-5 were fun and entertaining, issues 6-7 were unmitigated crap, and I wouldn’t have wanted any more of them to escape.

Zodiac: e03 – The Strength of a Gemini


Zodiac

In case you doubt my motives for the above picture, it does come from this week’s episode, which ladles on the glam with guest appearances by Jenny Hanley and Deborah Norton, in only her second TV credit. That’s about all the episode has going for it as the story was both weak and artificial, not to mention being cretinous in its central conceit.

Guest star Norman Eshley plays Philip Deening, a con man. Deening seduces attractive young Honourables, ladies whose fathers are aristocrats and who consequently, when appealed to to put money up for the betting coup of a lifetime, can’t fail, then let’s nip off to an island somewhere, just you and I, put up the money. The horse then fails to win, which is fine on one level because Deening hasn’t put a penny on, just pocketed it to continue to fuel the lifestyle he cannot otherwise enjoy, and disappears.

But Deening has made two fatal mistakes. The one is that he impresses, and seduces, all his pretty victims by knowing them intimately, due to his ‘deep empathy’ with them, an empathy gained by obtaining their birth dates and having star charts drawn up for them by a prominent astrologer: three guesses, and the second two don’t count. The other is that he’s about as obvious a con artist as there is, and whilst I have no high regard for the average intelligence of the aristocracy, I find it unbelievable to think of even the dumbest Honourable bimbo falling for such complete and utter tosh.

Though Jenny Hanley does, I’m afraid, make that plausible. She’s only in for the first act, during which she wears puzzled eyebrows and keeps her mouth open all the time to indicate that it is posible to make a pretty face look unpretty, and signal that the wind is blowing unobstructed from ear to ear within.

By some mystical means – so much handier than actual explanations – Esther realises that practically all the letters she’s rever received have come from the same person under multiple names, both male and female, in disguised handwriting. By the same mystical means, she works out the kind of con Deening is pulling, identifying him because one of the letters is from him in his real name, you know, like con men always do, so she sweet talks Grad into investigating via an apparently delicious shrimp paste (the long black dress with the low cleavage can’t have had anything to do with it).

Deening, an inveterate roulette player, plots his victims with the aid of his long-term girlfriend Penny (Ms Norton, who’s clearly not getting enough of it from Philip whilst he’s out shafting these aristocratic birds). Penny works in a fashionable flower shop where customers are always ordering flowers for the birthday of sisters and the like, birthdays that always coincide with Penny’s, thus providing dates and times of births.

So Grad goes in, doing the complete Hooray Henry look and manner with spectacular effectiveness (this time I’m not being ironic), Esther gets a request for the star chart of the Honourable ‘Anthea Gradley’, gets picked up by Deening, teases theaudience with the suggestion that she might be seriously considering two falls and a submission and then Grad arrests him.

There are some more details than that, though nothing of consequence, but it really isquite plain why, with only half the Zodiac used up, Zodiac did not get a second series to clean up the rest. Despite Anouska Hempel in a bikini. Or a bath towel. Or that low cut dress.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge: My 40 Favourite Movies – 9: The Third Man


Third

9: THE THIRD MAN : 1949. Director: Carol Reed. UK.
Crime thriller. Orson Welles. Trevor Howard. Joseph Cotten.
Alida Valli. Wilfred Hyde-White.
Adapted from an original Graham Greene idea with extensive contributions by Carol Reed, this has to be the best example of British film noir ever – ironically not set in Britain, but in late-1940s, post-war Vienna, still divided and under Allied and Russian occupation. Once again we have the happy harmony of director, script, camerawork, musical score, and the perfect cast, together with the added authenticity of much of it actually being filmed on location, making it a perfect time-capsule of what was a bleak and rather terrible time and place. It belongs to those movies that should forever exist in black and white – like The Maltese Falcon, or Kiss Me Deadly, or Psycho. Even better, this is a movie set in post-war Europe where the Austrians speak German and the Russians speak Russian, giving it that extra grain of truth. Reputedly, when Carol Reed and Graham Greene were asked by producer Alexander Korda to come up with a story, Greene remembered a single introductory sentence he had written years before of a man named as ‘Harry’, seeming come back from the dead. It was to be the basis of the story of Harry Lime, in the movie, the mysterious ‘third man’ after a supposed fatal traffic accident in Vienna. The rest is history. Greene wrote the draft, although Carol Reed (supported by studio boss David O. Selznick) insisted on the more downbeat ending, rather than a happy ‘Anna and Holly’ one. There were other changes along the way – all for the betterment of the final movie – the original narrator was to be Major Calloway; Harry Lime was to be English; Martins first name was Rollo rather than Holly. Movie legend attributed more influence to Orson Welles, who was initially rather reluctant at the comparative small physical presence he had, but while he apparently did add the famous speech comparing Borgia Italy with Switzerland, many years later, when asked by Peter Bogdanovich, he conceded his input was “minimal”, and “it was Carol’s picture.” Probably the best movies – like the best books or stories in general – are big on small things. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca operate as a snapshot of ordinary, otherwise quite insignificant, people whose personal stories we view briefly within a greater setting or events. They have no influence or control over this bigger world, whether it be 1940s San Francisco, a Vichy enclave in World War II North Africa, or the ruined, military zones of 1949 Vienna. At the end of the story this greater world is the same as it was at the beginning. No wrongs have been righted, no tyrants toppled, no earth-shattering events written into the history books. They, like us, are the little people. This is their story.
All of the key dramatis personae were played by actors at the top of their game. Joseph Cotten (1905-1994) played Holly Martins, the somewhat naïve American “writer of hack westerns”, and Harry Lime’s friend. In real life he had been Orson Welles’ friend since 1934, and appeared in several of Welles’ classics, Citizen Kane (1941); The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); Journey into Fear (1943). He was another Hollywood star who had cut his acting teeth on Broadway, moving from theatre to modelling (when work dried up), to radio work, to a movie career from 1930 to 1981. Welles apparently rated him as a great comic actor. Here he plays a simple, decent man increasingly out of his safety zone. English actor Trevor Howard (1913-1988, born Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith), was best known for his leading role in another British classic, the 1945 David Lean movie Brief Encounter, but he is perfect in the role of British Army military policeman Major Calloway. Another actor originally from a theatrical background, his overall film list is impressive, many of which are in military roles. Howard’s own military service, with the Royal Corps of Signals during the Second World War, was less outstanding, however. Contrary to his, and the studio PR accounts, he was discharged in 1943 for “mental instability” and having a “psychopathic personality”. Never mind, his Major Calloway is intelligent, shrewd, determined and professional.
Refugee Anna Schmidt, with her forged passport, hopelessly in love with Harry Lime, was played by Italian actress and singer Alida Valli, aka the Baroness Alida Maria Altenburger von Marchenstein-Frauenberg (1921-2006), a quiet, but dignified role. At least one critic, reviewing her overall career from 1936 to 2002, said she was the only actress to equal Dietrich or Garbo. Quite an accolade. Finally we have Orson Welles himself (1915-1985), actor, director, screenwriter, producer, equally brilliant in radio, theatre or film, something of a multi-talented genius, larger than life, a true 20th century ‘Renaissance man’, but with a fascination for the darker side of humanity also. This proved ideal for him to play the outwardly charming, but utterly immoral, Harry Lime character. Later the Swiss got upset about his ‘cuckoo-clock’ story, pointing out cuckoo-clocks were made in Bavaria, not Switzerland. Whether it was ab-lib or scripted, Welles’ speech of Harry Lime justifying his indifference to suffering and contempt of the little people, inevitably became the memorable pivotal piece of the story’s character.
British character actor, Wilfred Hyde-White (1903-1991) had the small bit part of Crabbin, who seemingly ‘kidnaps’ Holly to give a speech at their book club. His filmography from 1934 to 1983 is impressive, but he perhaps best known for his role in My Fair Lady (1964).
Again the story is that Carol Reed heard Anton Karas playing the zither in a Viennese wine-garden and was immediately taken by the “jangling melancholy”, which eventually became the memorable sound-track. The zither, from the Greek cithara, is played by plucking or strumming the strings, and is a popular musical instrument found throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia. In consequence of the movie, Karas (1906-1985) found global fame, playing before European royalty, touring North America in 1951, and Japan in 1962, 1969 and 1972, although he had supposedly retired in 1966. He was an unassuming man, who disliked touring and preferred to be home in his native Vienna. Despite his apparent fame, The Third Man theme was a one-hit wonder. Additional music for the movie was by Australian-born composer Hubert Clifford (1904-1959), under the pseudonym Michael Sarsfield. The movie was 108 minutes long, and (according to the-numbers.com) worldwide box office takings was $1,485,311.
There were several adaptions or pre-sequels, Lux Radio Theatre in 1951 (featuring Joseph Cotten) and 1954 (with Ray Milland in the Holly Martins role), and a British radio serial in 1951-52, The Adventures of Harry Lime, by Harry Alan Towers, apparently in collaboration with Graham Greene. Is the USA it was retitled The Lives of Harry Lime. They were a pre-sequel, in a lighter tone than the movie version of Lime, and there would appear to have been 52 episodes, featuring Orson Welles, who claimed (perhaps falsely) to have written at least six episodes – or was it really scripted by a ghost-writer? There was also a television spin-off, 77 episodes from 1959 to 1965, starring Michael Rennie, which may account for my vague childhood memory of the zither theme tune.
The English writer and journalist Graham Greene (1904-1991, born Henry Graham Greene) had already had his novel The Power and the Glory filmed as The Fugitive in 1947, and would go on to see many of his novels adapted into movies, some more than once – Brighton Rock (1947 and 2011); The End of the Affair (1955 and 1999); The Quiet American (1958 and 2002); The Comedians (1967); The Honorary Consul (1983). Having converted from atheism to Catholicism in 1926, the motif running through many of his novels were ambivalent moral and political issues. In his later life he called himself a Catholic agnostic. His writing revolved around travel, thrillers and espionage. He was recruited into MI6 in 1941, and actually personally knew Kim Philby, the Soviet ‘mole’. He resigned in 1944, but travelled extensively, using his experiences as background to his fiction – Serra Leona, Liberia, Mexico, Haiti, the Congo Basin of Africa, Cuba (where he became a friend of Fidel Castro), before moving to the South of France, and finally Switzerland, where he was friends with Charlie Chaplin. Perhaps crucial to his involvement with The Third Man, he was a friend of Michael Korda, brother of Alexander Korda. In 1948 Elizabeth Montague had given him a tour of Vienna, and he had met, and shared stories with, The Times correspondent there, Peter Smolke.
Several years earlier, in August and September 1945, the American-born photographer Lee Miller (1907-1977), in her role as US designated war correspondent for British Vogue magazine, had visited Vienna. Already mentally scarred by her experiences on the frontline, and having witnessed first-hand the liberation of the Buchenwald and Dachau death-camps, she found Vienna “a city suffering the psychic depression of the conquered and starving…[but still as] Gemütlich as ever [the Viennese] are drunk on music, light frothy music for empty stomachs.” Several of her photographs from this time show rubble-filled streets, and a huge Lenin poster in the Soviet zone, in the Kärntner Strasse. But, on another occasion, she visited a hospital, staffed by nuns, where children were dying for lack of drugs. She wrote: “For an hour I watched a baby die. He was a skinny gladiator. He gasped and fought and struggled for life, and a doctor and a nun and I just stood there and watched…This tiny baby fought for his only possession, life, as if it might be worth anything.” One has to wonder if Graham Greene had read Miller’s article when it was published in Vogue, and if that influence the hospital scene between Calloway and Holly.
My 1988 critical comments were less than favourable, but with subsequent viewings, I’ve come to appreciate the brilliant combination of acting, story-line (especially Carol Reed’s more downbeat ending, which even Graham Greene agreed was superior), and the authenticity and originality of this little classic. Below, then, are my earlier comments as written 24/02/1988:
I cannot remembering seeing The Third Man (director Carol Reed, 1949) before, but I vaguely recollect a television series and the distinctive theme music. That said, I did not know the story, or that Orson Welles played Harry Lime, or Graham Greene wrote the story. So I watched what is regarded as a classic. Disappointed? Just a little. The setting, the photography, is good, being immediately post-war Vienna. Germans speak German, which adds realism (how I hate it when they all speak perfect ‘Oxford’ English), showing it to be a British film – Hollywood would never have done that, or very few directors. A Graham Greene story should have warned me. I expected the twist; things not to be what they seem. Instead, apart from Lime’s faked death (how come the police never looked at the corpse?) everything is what it seemed. The American ‘Western writer who drinks too much’ is just that. The Czech-German Anna is a Czech-German girl in love with Lime, the crooks are crooks and Lime is the biggest crook of them all, ignoble, callous, ruthless and unlovable, despite the fact we have two people apparently infatuated with him.
Bred on a diet of Len Deighton, I really expected Lime to emerge as a goodie, perhaps masquerading as a crook to flush out the real villains; instead a series of shady, shifty, unlovable characters: the hack writer, the British military policeman, the smooth-talking Russian NKVD colonel, Lime himself. Perhaps the girl Anna was a sad case, forced to see the man she thought she loved die twice. Rates two stars, but predictable and the plot flawed. A good period piece though, but Len Deighton would have made it sing. Thought: did the Greene story influence Deighton’s work? The cast of characters reappear in several of his books, notably in Funeral in Berlin, Game, Set and Match, and even An Expensive Place to Die.

Danger Man: s03 e21 – The Man with the Foot


danger

For most of this episode I was hoping that it would all turn out to be a dream, or a hallucination, or even some equivalent of Number 6 reading ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ to the Village kids but my hopes were dashed. ‘The Man with the Foot’ was real, alright, and meant to be taken as an actual story. If that were so, then there was no explanation for why the whole thing made no sense whatsoever.

‘No explanation’ was the common characteristic of the whole episode. Things happened. They’re supposed to lead us into the expectation of introgue, espionage, danger, with the intention of leading us up the garden path, but the looseness of everything, especially the writing, betrayed an underlying laziness. It was supposed to be a puzzle, an enigma, so why botheer to make it at all plausible.

The facts are simple. In the open, Drake arrives at a lonely barn to rescue his superior, Derringham (Bernard Lee), who’s been kidnapped by Solby (Hugh McDermott). Who Selby is, why he’s taken Derringham and how he knows Drake is Drake and the recognition codes is never explained. But Drake is blown, and can’t operate whilst Solby is around. He is sent on holiday. He decides to take that holiday in sunny Spain, at a hotel in the south, near Gerona on the road to Barcelona. It rains incessantly. One consolation, for the viewer at least, is that the hotel is run by Maruja, and she is played by the gorgeous Isobel Black.

Drake’s hardly arrived when Monkton arrives at the Hotel. Monkton is being plated by Robert Urquhart, and this time it’s a comedy role, and not a funny one either. Monkton is also a spy, freelance, selling to the highest bidder, though how on earth such a bumbling cluck evrer learns anything successfully is beyond the scriptwriter’s imagination. Monkton is the man with the foot, so-called because of his habit of parking in wet places and stepping ankle deep into dark puddles.

This wet foot, for some reason that I think has nothing to do with Spanish hotel customs, gets him into Drake’s room to dry his shoe and sock at Drake’s fire. Seeing Drake, Monkton decides to stay. Drake leaving him alone in his room, as you do, leads Monkton to exaggeratedly pick the lock on his case. He decides to watch Drake, because something is obviously up. There is talk of lairs, Drake’s friend Gomez will have to shoot him if he succeeds. Patheticly obvious stuff.

Monkton takes his suspicions to Solby, who’s deliberately losing tons of money at the casino in Bierritz. Why? What was Monkton doing there, why does he contact Solby, is he working for him, does he know Drake to be Drake? Who knows? Drake’s supposed to be on holiday until Solby is taken, whereupon he’s unblown, but it doesn’t take a minute’s thinking to realise that that’s nonsense, and it’s doubly nonsense if Monkton also knows. If he knows. We don’t know, we’re only watching this.

Anyway, what Drake and Gomez are doing is tagging wolf cubs so their movements can be monitored. This draws Solby out into the open so he hadd Drake can have a chase scene, on foot and by car that goes on that it becomes obvious that it’s just there to fill airtime cheaply. Solby’s captured, Drake can go back to work, the episode is over, Patrick McGoohan is no doubt wondering why he has to put up with stiff like this after so many good episodes, and I’m going to to have to call this episode a complete clunker from top to bottom. Except for Miss Black, of course.

The Infinite Jukebox: Van McCoy and The Soul City Slicker’s ‘The Hustle’


Sometimes we have the radio on at work, broadcast over the TV screens. When we do, it’s usually crap being played, contemporary stuff, Heart Radio mostly. There was a spell, recently, where somebody had got the radio tuned to Heart Dance, day in, day out. I gritted my teeth for long periods but eventually started pleading for the channel to be changed to something bearable.
In doing this, I was very aware that I was being my parents.
But enough is enough and after five hours non-stop of this, I didn’t think I was being unfair in asking for a couple of hours of music I might like, or at least be able to tolerate. One time, they tuned in to Gold Radio, partway through the Small Faces’ ‘Lazy Sunday’. That, I thought, will do for me.
However, that’s not why I’m writing today. One of the managers has brought a radio in and is playing it from his desk. The first song I heard got me out of my seat and walking across to complain: he wasn’t playing it loudly enough, I was straining to hear it, and that’s not what you want to be doing if ‘My Girl’ by the Temptations is in the air.
There’s been nothing as good as that since but a few moments ago, as I write, something was playing that I couldn’t recognise. But although it wasn’t that specific track, there were ooh-oohs and swoops that triggered old and warm memories, because it made me think of ‘The Hustle’, of Van McCoy and the Soul City Slickers, and the summer of 1975, the one that was hot and dry but not as consistently so as the Drought Summer of the following year that overwhelmed 1975 in our memories.
And the summer of 1975 and Van McCoy – ‘Do the Hustle!’ – led inevitably to Friday nights and Saturdays nights, every weekend throughout the summer and the next year too, me and Alan, and Glyn and, more often than not his girlfriend Ruth, queuing down the steps into Placemate Disco at 10.00pm, because it was dead before then and at 10.30pm the entrance fee doubled.
And into Placemate 1, the main floor, the mainstream room, where the records were the straightforward disco stuff of that era, and all the classics would be played and the floor would get fuller and fuller until it was heaving. Van McCoy – ‘Do the Hustle!’ – Hamilton Bohannon’s ‘Disco Stomp’, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, The Trammps’ ‘Disco Inferno’.
We didn’t dance, well, Glyn and Ruth might occasionally but not Alan and I. There was a mini-balcony around the floor, little stairs, three steps down, and we would position ourselves by the top of the same stairs every time, where the girls heading to dance would have to squeeze past us, sometimes, many times, literally. It wasn’t that we were crowding them, but that Placemate was so popular at weekend nights, space was limited and we couldn’t have moved back if we wanted to, not by more than an inch, maybe two, but we didn’t want to move. This was the point. We weren’t going to ask any girls to dance, we would just stand there and look at them and drink until 2.00am when Placemate closed, after the slow romantic stuff, and then we’d go home.
I did ask a girl to dance once, when I was on my own at a place far from Placemate but that lasted the length of one record (‘Ms Grace’ by The Tymes, I remember these details) and our last disco night was a Monday in Altrincham, when we signed in as members at the same time as two girls, who then did their best to attract our attention. It worked on me, but not on my companion, who was staring at a tall, long-haired blonde wearing a rugby shirt that obviously belonged to the six foot plus bloke with her. He was driving so I couldn’t act independently, the evening was blown on the spot as far as I was concerned, the girls gave up on us and found two other blokes to dance with and I have never been to a disco since.
Friday night and Saturday night at Placemate. There’s an odd coda to all this. About a decade ago, writing a time travel novel, I planned to have my pair take a trip back in time to the legendary Manchester dance club, the Twisted Wheel. How many times had I heard about that place? And where the hell had it been? I never knew. But when I investigated, gore blimey, it was Placemate! Placemate had taken the club over! And I’d been there so often and never for one moment realised.
To look at me now, and also then, you’d never have figured me for a disco kid of any kind. And it’s true, I never really liked the music unless I was hearing it with a bass thump in Placemate, though ‘The Hustle’ was always a glorious exception to that, a bright, jaunty melody and all those ooh-oohs were just a pleasure to listen to, into and out of an underground club in the centre of Manchester all those many years ago.
I should remember those nights more often.

One of the Greats: Jimmy Greaves R.I.P.


When two of the lights in life pass away in the same day, I automatically shudder, remember 2016, and wait in trepidation for the third.

Jimmy Greaves, Tottenham Hotspur star, England’s fourth highest scorer, TV pundit and star, has passed away aged 81, after being confined to a wheelchair since a stroke in 2015. I am just too young to have seen and understood his heyday. His greatest and most devastating blow was that World Cup of 1966, when an injury in the final group game kept him out of the quater-final and allowed Geoff Hurst the opportunity that he seized with his head and both feet.

I admit his performances on Saint and Greavsie were not for me but they were for millions. My late Uncle Jack loved him. So now he joins the ever-increasing ranks of those who have left us behind. He and the recently-deceased Gerd Muller can talk goalpoaching tactics until they’re blue in the face. But don’t worry, we still have Alan Shearer to ‘enlighten’ us.

Sunday Watch – I Dream of Jeannie: e01-03 – The Lady in the Bottle/My Hero?/Guess What Happened on the way to the Moon


Jeannie

Probably the most famous instance of American sitcoms ‘pairing’ in the Sixties is The Addams Family and The Munsters. By all accounts, these two arrived sufficiently close together that it was highly improbable that either was attempting to copy the other. Sometimes, ideas are like that: there is a zeitgeist waiting and more than one person gets tuned into it, much as was the case between DC Comics’ Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Man-Thing. That’s not what we have here. I Dream of Jeannie didn’t appear until a year after Bewitched and everyone agress that, whilst it wasn’t a direct rip-off of Elizabeth Montgomery’s successful sitcom, it was aiming for the same effect.

Having watched the first three episodes, it’s clear to me that, whilst Bewitched hit its stride immediately, I Dream of Jeannie would need a little time to settle into its best manner. indeed, there’s a tremendous stylistic difference between the pilot episode and the series proper.

‘The Lady in a Bottle’ starts with unusual seriousness for a sitcom. Captain Anthony Nelson of the U.S. Air Force, on detachment to NASA, is preparing for a flight into space. It’s all done in the best dramatic fashion, including stock footage of genuine rocket launches, that blends in superbly with the film quality of the era. Something goes wrong, the mission has to be aborted, Tony Nelson ends up on a small, deserted, South Pacific island. He’s using wood and other found things to create a large S.O.S. sign on the beach for rescue. One of those items is a purple bottle of Arabian design that insists on roling out of line. Nelson unstoppers it, rubs it automatically – and a column of purplish smoke emerges and resolves into a genie. A girl genie. A beautiful, blonde doll of a Jeannie. Who kneels in sumission to her new master. And looks up. And her eyes light up. And the first thing she dores for her new master is to kiss him.

Now, bearing in mind that this gorgous honeypot of a genie is played by Barbara Eden, you and I and the gatepost would have identical thoughts on what was the second thing this Arabic speaking genie could do for us as her master (incidentally, what Jeannie speaks is actually Persian, not Arabic, because the Producer couldn’t find an Arabic tutor to teach Eden to say her lines phonetically, but he could find a Persian-speaker) but this is a 1964 American sitcom pilot, and besides, Tony is engaged to be married, to the lovely Melissa (Karen Sharpe), the daughter of his Commanding Officer, General Stone.

No, all Tony wants to do is get home. Which, after he’s christened his genie Jeannie, by accident, and wished her to speak English, also by accident, she magics up a rescue helicopter. She, having fallen in love with him, the first face she’s seen after 2,000 years in the bottle, wants to go with him. However, she being inexplicable on any rational level, has to stay behind, but Tony, considerately frees her. Which frees her to stow her bottle away with his things…

The rest of the episode plays, entertainingly, upon the gulf of understanding between Nelson’s perceptions as an Air Force Colonel, a rationalist in a technologically advanced role that requires intense security and the need to appear same and rational, and Jeannie’s ignorance of the mmodern world and her devotion as her master’s slave to fulfil his every need and wish and desire (except that one, though she would at the drop of a veil) by magic, instantly.

There’s the instant, and vital difference between the series in a nutshell. Samantha was not merely an equal, she was the star, the one who held the balance of power and weilded it brilliantly, Jeannie’s a dumb blonde in a fish-out-of-water fashion, a male wish-fulfillment figure.

The pilot featured General Stone and Melissa, who did not take kindly to arriving at her finace’s home to find a gorgeous blonde wearing only Tony’s shirt and showing far more leg than most American TV shows were prepared to admit women had, but come the series, neither were in evidence. They will make only one further appearance. Apart from Tony and Jeannie, there were only two holdovers from the pilot, these being Bill Dailey as Tony’s buddy, Roger Healey, who’d only had a tiny cameo in the pilot, and Hayden Rourke as Dr. Bellows, the base psychistrist, who’s worried about Tony.

It was immediately noticeable when the series was commissioned that the sexual element was drastically turned down. There was none of this kissing going around and Eden showed nothing like the amount of skin she had in the pilot. Yes, it’s a legend that not until the Eighties’ movies was Barbara Eden allowed to wear harem pants low enough to expose her belly-button (these Americans are crazy!) but in these two episodes she’s swaddled in lilac veils on non-traditional untransparency, so you can barely even see that bosom-flattening crop top that’s her genie costume. Indeed, they’re so swaddling that at one point I was convinced she was several months pregnant when she was filming episode 2.

That episode is very much Tony Nelson’s. Jeannie transports them back to the marketplace in Baghdad of 2,000 years ago for much hi-jinks as Tony is made slave to Princess Fatima and threatened with torture by the gigantic Ali, but, in a display of extreme stupidity, would rather be tortured with red hot pokers than marry Jeannie. Yes, I know. Jeannie, on the other hand, gets more play in the third episode, in which she intervenes to give her master a far too easy time of it on a survival course.

So, early days, and not quite focussed yet, but I know better things will come. Like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie was stripped five days a week by C4 in the Nineties and I look forward to getting further along, and getting the classic theme music as well.

Oh yes, and one more thing. The actor who played Tony Nelson, the hapless and confused victom of Jeannie’s magic? One Larry Hagman. Yes, that one, J.R. of Dallas. He was much better this way.

An End to Things: Greta Tomlinson R.I.P.


It’s a terrible thing to wake and the first thing you learn is of the passing of someone whose work enthralled you. Today, I’m barely awake and I’m having to commemorate the life of Greta Tomlinson, Greta Edwards in married life, who has died at the afe of 94. With her has gone, to the best of my knowledge, the last link to those madcap days when Frank Hampson and a team of perspiring assistants, produced Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future in a more than overcrowded lean-to in alongside a Southport house.

Greta Tomlinson was one of the original team of assistants that joined Hampson in the Bakehouse, a few weeks into the life of Dan Dare. She was the youngest of his assistants, fresh from Art College, who responded to an ad that led her to Southport. There, she looked at Frank Hampson’s work and thought it fantastic, and that when Hampson she had to get involved in this.

Like all the rest of Hampson’s assistants she was overworked mercilessly, to the point where her exhaustion led her to hallucinate, but like the rest she bore up under the strain, because of her belief in Hampson’s genius, and becase he never asked her, or any of them, to do anything that he would not do, and indeed did even harder than them.

Greta formed a close bond with Hampson’s former College friend and senior assistant, Harold Johns. Together, they worked on several short stories for Eagle Annuals but, most notably, it was this pair who took over the third Dan Dare story, ‘Marooned on Mercury’ when Hampson worked himself to illness and was prescribed bed rest for months.

Sadly, that artistc relationship resulted in their unjust dismissal from Hampson’s studio. Johns and Tomlinson could not be accomodated at Bayford Lodge in Epsom, the studio’s new and permanent location, and were based in town. Finding themselves under-used, the pair sought permission to take on outside work, permission reluctantly granted on the accepted condition that Hampson’s work came first, and then they were both sacked abruptly, for the crime of doing what they had permission for. It was a disgraceful and wholly undeserved ending, yet Tomlinson bore Hampson no malice.

I never met her, indeed I never met any of the Dan Dare team, though I would have loved to thank each and every one of them personally for what they did. My most vivid memory of Greta Tomlinson was in the lovely documentary, Future Perfect, that took her back to the Bakehouse and filmed her as she looked around, descrivbing cheerfully how it had been laid out as a studio, and who sat where, plainlyt seeing everyone around her, and suddenbly asking the Director to cut as those memories plainly overwhelmed her.

But Greta Tomlinson was more that just an artist, and more than just, I believe, the last one left of those men and women. As any Dan Dare fan knows, part of the strip’s success lay in Hampson’s use of his assistants to model panels in order to get exactly every nuance of expression, every shadow and every wrinkle of clothing. Some of his assistants and models were the exact model for characters in the series. Geta Tomlinson was Professor Peabody, the botanist, the scientist, the forthright, independent and highly intelligent feminist long before there were feminists. Greta Tomlinson’s passing takes Peabody with her: I mourn them both.