Monday, October 15, 2007

Yin and Yang

Presented for your inspection, two aspects of the modern persona.

Part the first. My older sister Pauline had an unexpected visitor. A tradesman doing some work on the hotel she had owned years ago turned up on her doorstep. He had found some old photographs of her husband that had slipped down behind a wall and recognized him. So he brought them round to her.

Part the second. Driving home from Pauline's the night she told me about this, I saw a car coming towards me on the main road. He started to turn to the left and I assumed he was turning into a side road. Then he turned right. Then left again. Faster than it takes to describe, he shot past me zig-zagging along the white line in the middle of the street. He was either an expert driver or stoned out of his brain.

Part the third. What do those two people mentioned above have in common. One did something good for no reason except that he thought he should. Another did something reckless with no regard for anybody else. It would be easy to say that one was "good" and the other was not.

But maybe it would be more accurate to say that both were human. We have in us the capacity to help or to hurt others. All of us, like a Yin/Yang symbol, contain elements of both dark and light.

The difference between us, perhaps, is that some of us are trying to move from the dark towards the light.

And some of us aren't.

Thoughts from a late-night laptop.


If you like Red Skelton and/or black-and-white comedy thrillers this will suit you down to the ground. I first saw Whistling in the Dark 40 years ago and have finally located it on DVD. It was just as much fun this time. Directed by S. Sylvan Simon in 1941 with a screenplay written in part by Albert Mannheimer (producer Simon and screenwriter Mannheimer would later receive Oscar nominations for Born Yesterday in 1950).

The play it was based on opened on Broadway starring Edward Arnold and Claire Trevor on 19 January 1932 and had 265 performances.

Skelton plays Wally Benton, a radio broadcaster whose program 'The Fox' features himself in the title role as a crime solver. Conrad Veidt and some nefarious characters decide that ‘The Fox’ is just who they need to invent a perfect crime: a murder which will assist them in obtaining a one million dollar legacy. Ann Rutherford, Virginia Grey, and Rags Ragland play significant roles; Henry O'Neill and Eve Arden also appear.

To ensure The Fox's co-operation they also abduct his girlfriend Carol (Ann Rutherford) and his sponsor's daughter Fran (Virginia Grey).

One of the gang is sent to poison their target on an airliner while the dim-witted ex-boxer (Rags Ragland)is left to guard the trio. Wally, who actually is quite intelligent, works out that a severed phone line can be used in conjunction with a radio set to call for help.

With the help of his two lady friends, he calls in to his radio station and begins broadcasting the details of the crime in progress, including their kidnapping.
Rags is curious as to what they're doing but they convince him they're just pretending to broadcast as they do at that time every week and he good-naturedly goes along with it.

But, having been fooled by Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" broadcast three years earlier, the local police chief thinks Wally's rantings are just another hoax!
Some of the early scenes also show how radio programmes were made in the early days: actors had to go on air live - twice, once for the East coast, and three hours later for the West coast. They performed, standing up, in front of a live audience. Sound effects men behind them watched for their cues, while the actors read from scripts.

This is all vastly entertaining -- the only way it could be improved is for Eve Arden to be given more screen time as Wally's agent instead of only appearing in the first reel.

Film expert William K. Everson commented "So many comedies of the '40s tend to date today, being so locked in to their period, but 'Whistling in the Dark' escapes that fate and remains an excellent comedy." From his notes for a 1989 Halloween double-feature for film fans

1 comment:

ninglun said...

Like those thoughts from a late night laptop. Very down-to-earth but thought-provoking.