Thursday, 2 May 2019

How the CIA used the 1939 comedy film "Ninotchka" to stop Italy turning communist

I'm currently reading The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton by Jefferson Morley. As I wrote here, I've long believed that Ninotchka is the best anti-communist film ever made, so I was delighted to find the following in Morley's book (the background to the story is that there was a genuine danger of the Communist Party winning the 1948 Italian elections):
'Angleton... interrupted one embassy meeting in Rome in early 1948 to ask Ambassador James Dunn if he might offer an idea...

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Sleazy, sweaty, brassy... the music behind noir movies

I'll start with Henry Mancini's "Main Title" from Orson Welles's Touch of Evil  (1958):
Here's Duke Ellington's wonderfully swaggering"Upper and Outest" from Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959):

Titania McGrath's "Woke: A Guide to Social Justice" made me weep with laughter

Why should you read it? Titania McGrath explains early on in the book:
"Activists such as myself are spearheading a new culture war, sniffing out prejudice like valiant bloodhounds of righteousness, courageously snapping at the heels of injustice. To give a tangible example of our achievements, consider how the definition of the word 'Nazi' has been successfully broadened to include anyone who voted for Brexit, has ever considered supporting the Conservative Party or who refuses to take the Guardian seriously. Although this is a great victory for the progressive cause, it does mean that there are now more Nazis living in modern Britain than even existed in 1930s Germany. This makes Woke: A Guide to Social Justice not only timely but essential."
She goes on to confront her horrific upbringing...

I recently saw the 1949 British film "The Queen of Spades" for the first time: what a masterpiece!

I ordered the DVD for Christmas, and was waiting for a rainy Sunday afternoon to watch it with my wife, who remembered seeing part of it in on television a few years ago. I'd read the short story, but had never heard of the film, until coming across it in a handful of "Must Watch" movie lists...

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Hollywood classics: The Story of G.I. Joe, Dodsworth, Ceiling Zero, You Only Live Once and Little Women

I'd imagined The Story of GI Joe (1945) to be a morale-raising, rip-roaring, hairy-chested, WW2 shoot-'em-up: it was, after all, directed by William "Wild Bill" Wellman, and starred Robert Mitchum. it turned out to be a sensitive, almost wistful salute to the ordinary American infantryman. The film's actual title was Ernie Pyle's Story of GI Joe. Ernie Pyle was a war correspondent who accompanied American troops as they slogged through Tunisia and Italy. The film is based on stories and dialogue from his war-time reports, which were printed in 400 daily and 300 weekly newspapers...

Monday, 1 April 2019

Brexit - "Are we there yet?" No, of course we aren't!

My main aim this year was to still be here for Brexit Day - i.e. 29th March. Last Thursday. Well, I made it, but - as you may have noticed - no Brexit. Thank you, Theresa May. I don't have the strength - or, to be honest, the inclination - to follow the current comic...

President Trump responds to the Mueller Inquiry non-findings, Michael Avenatti's arrest - and Joe Biden's hint that he might run against him in 2020


One of the highlights of my year so far was undoubtedly BBC North America Editor Jon Sopel's demeanour as he...

The extraordinary life of Doc Pomus - polio victim, white blues singer, and a truly great songwriter

Between the end of the first wave of genuine, raucous, gutbucket, rootsy Rock and Roll (1959) and the British Invasion (1963), most decent pop songs were written by fourteen Jews (eleven men, three women) working out of two office blocks on New York's Broadway - the Brill Building at 1619, and one that didn't have a name at 1650. At the time, the only one of these writers known to the public was Neil Sedaka, who recorded his own songs and who - despite being a pudgy little dweeb with a somewhat mincing manner - scored a large number of hits with expertly-crafted musical lollipops such as "Oh! Carol", "Calendar Girl" and "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen". Another - Carole King - would go on to record Tapestry, of the biggest-selling albums of the '70s. But the four greatest songwriters working out of these two buildings were undoubtedly Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman...