News of the World

 

 

 

Saw this yesterday with my Bride.  A grand evocation of post Civil War Texas, Kansas and Missouri.  A deep exploration of the meaning of home and family.  Tom Hanks gives a superb performance as Jefferson Kyle Kidd, late Captain in the 3rd Texas Infantry, CSA, who earns a precarious living as a traveling news reader, regaling crowds who pay a dime a head to hear him read the news from newspapers he carries, with entertaining commentary.  In his travels he encounters a little German girl, whose immigrant parents were slaughtered by a Kiowa warband, and now considers herself Kiowa, speaking only that language with bits and pieces of half-remembered German.  Child actress Helena Zengel is stunningly good in the role.  A German native, she apparently knew little English when the film was being made.  This is a throwback to a time when films were meant to be entertaining with characters we grow to care about during the course of the tale.  Highly recommended.

Published in: on November 28, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Juxtaposition

 

In the last century before the birth of the new faith called Christianity, which was destined to overthrow the pagan tyranny of Rome and bring about a new society,

the Roman republic stood at the very centre of the civilized world.  “Of all things fairest “sang the poet “first among cities and home of the gods is golden Rome. “

Yet even at the zenith of her pride and power the Republic lay fatally stricken with a disease called human slavery.  The age of the dictator was at hand, waiting in the shadows

for the event to bring it forth.

Spartacus, Screenplay (1960)

(I posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

A great example of juxtaposition from the film Spartacus (1960).

Great art, bad history.  No, Crassus was not a proto-Fascist;  no, Spartacus was not a proto-Communist.  The idea of a world without slaves would have struck both men as bizarre as a suggestion today of a world without farms.  Slavery, and slavery equivalents, were well nigh universal institutions, with the influence of Christianity making Europe an exception during the Middle Ages until colonization, with Christianity and mechanization largely eliminating it in the West in the Nineteenth Century.  It endures today in parts of the globe under other names.  In the last century it had a huge revival under the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, Red China, etc.  With the waning influence of Christianity in the West, unless that is altered, I have no doubt it will recur here.

The film gets the late Republic atmosphere correct:  old Roman morality being forgotten, a growth of decadence fueled by ever more wealth from foreign conquests, endless amounts of slaves flooding into Italy from the same foreign conquests, factions in the Senate engaging in what amounted to a cold civil war between bouts of hot civil war, the Roman Republican government teetering on the brink of military dictatorship, the movie presents all of these elements more clearly than any  classroom lecture could.  It is too familiar to our own day to make completely comfortable viewing.

Our sources on the Third Servile War, the first two were slave revolts in Sicily in the Second Century BC, are not very good and tend to be written centuries after the events.  My favorite of a poor lot is this excerpt from Plutarch’s life of Crassus:

8 1 The insurrection of the gladiators and their devastation of Italy, which is generally called the war of Spartacus,​11 had its origin as follows. A certain Lentulus Batiatus had a school of gladiators at Capua, most of whom were Gauls and Thracians.  Through no misconduct of theirs, but owing to the injustice of their owner, they were kept in close confinement and reserved for gladiatorial combats.

 

2 Two hundred of these planned to make their escape, and when information was laid against them, those who got wind of it and succeeded in getting away, seventy-eight in number, seized cleavers and spits from some kitchen and sallied out. On the road they fell in with wagons conveying gladiators’ weapons to another city; these they plundered and armed themselves. Then they took up a strong position and elected three leaders. The first of these was Spartacus, a Thracian of Nomadic stock,​a possessed not only of great courage and strength, but also in sagacity and culture superior to his fortune, and more Hellenic than Thracian. 3 It is said that when he was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue. This woman shared in his escape and was then living with him.

9 1 To begin with, the gladiators repulsed the soldiers who came against them from Capua, and getting hold of many arms of real warfare, they gladly took these in exchange for their own, casting away their gladiatorial weapons as dishonourable and barbarous. Then Clodius the praetor was sent out from Rome against them with three thousand soldiers, and laid siege to them on a hill which had but one ascent, and that a narrow and difficult one,  which Clodius closely watched; 2 everywhere else there were smooth and precipitous cliffs. But the top of the hill was covered with a wild vine of abundant growth, from which the besieged cut off the serviceable branches, and wove these into strong ladders of such strength and length that when they were fastened at the top they reached along the face of the cliff to the plain below. On these they descended safely, all but one man, who remained above to attend to the arms. When the rest had got down, he began to drop the arms, and after he had thrown them all down, got away himself also last of all in safety. 3 Of all this the Romans were ignorant, and therefore their enemy surrounded them, threw them into consternation by the suddenness of the attack, put them to flight, and took their camp. They were also joined by many of the herdsmen and shepherds of the region, sturdy men and swift of foot, some of whom they armed fully, and employed others as scouts and light infantry.

4 In the second place, Publius Varinus, the praetor, was sent out against them, whose lieutenant, a certain Furius, with two thousand soldiers, they first engaged and routed; then Spartacus narrowly watched the movements of Cossinius, who had been sent out with a large force to advise and assist Varinus in the command, and came near seizing him as he was bathing near Salinae. 5 Cossinius barely escaped with much difficulty, and Spartacus at once seized his baggage, pressed hard upon him in pursuit, and took his camp with great slaughter. Cossinius also fell. By defeating the praetor himself in many battles, and finally capturing his lictors and the very horse he rode, Spartacus was soon great and  p341 formidable; but he took a proper view of the situation, and since he could not expect to overcome the Roman power, began to lead his army toward the Alps, thinking it necessary for them to cross the mountains and go to their respective homes, some to Thrace, and some to Gaul. 6 But his men were now strong in numbers and full of confidence, and would not listen to him, but went ravaging over Italy.

It was now no longer the indignity and disgrace of the revolt that harassed the senate, but they were constrained by their fear and peril to send both consuls into the field, as they would to a war of the utmost difficulty and magnitude. 7 Gellius, one of the consuls, fell suddenly upon the Germans, who were so insolent and bold as to separate themselves from the main body of Spartacus, and cut them all to pieces; but when Lentulus, the other consul, had surrounded the enemy with large forces, Spartacus rushed upon them, joined battle, defeated the legates of Lentulus, and seized all their baggage. Then, as he was forcing his way towards the Alps, he was met by Cassius, the governor of Cisalpine Gaul, with an army of ten thousand men, and in the battle that ensued, Cassius was defeated, lost many men, and escaped himself with difficulty.

10 1 On learning of this, the Senate angrily ordered the consuls to keep quiet, and chose Crassus to conduct the war, and many of the nobles were induced by his reputation and their friendship for him to serve under him. Crassus himself, accordingly, took position on the borders of Picenum, expecting to receive the attack of Spartacus, who was hastening thither; and he sent Mummius, his legate, with two legions, by a circuitous route, with orders to follow the enemy, but not to join battle nor even to skirmish with them. 2 Mummius, however, at the first promising opportunity, gave battle and was defeated; many of his men were slain, and many of them threw away their arms and fled for their lives. Crassus gave Mummius himself a rough reception, and when he armed his soldiers anew, made them give pledges that they would keep their arms. Five hundred of them, moreover, who had shown the greatest cowardice and been first to fly, he divided into fifty decades, and put to death one from each decade, on whom the lot fell, thus reviving, after the lapse of many years, an ancient mode of punishing the soldiers. 3 For disgrace also attaches to this manner of death, and many horrible and repulsive features attend the punishment, which the whole army witnesses.

When he had thus disciplined his men, he led them against the enemy. But Spartacus avoided him, and retired through Lucania to the sea. At the Straits, he chanced upon some Cilician pirate craft, and determined to seize Sicily. By throwing two thousand men into the island, he thought to kindle anew the servile war there,​12 which had not long been extinguished, and needed only a little additional fuel. 4 But the Cilicians, after coming to terms with him and receiving his gifts, deceived him and sailed away. So Spartacus marched back again from the sea and established his army in the peninsula of Rhegium. Crassus now came up, and observing that the nature of the place suggested what must be done, he determined to build a wall  p345 across the isthmus, thereby at once keeping his soldiers from idleness, and his enemies from provisions. 5 Now the task was a huge one and difficult, but he accomplished and finished it, contrary to all expectation, in a short, running a ditch from sea to sea through the neck of land three hundred furlongs in length and fifteen feet in width and depth alike. Above the ditch he also built a wall of astonishing height and strength. 6 All this work Spartacus neglected and despised at first; but soon his provisions began to fail, and when he wanted to sally forth from the peninsula, he saw that he was walled in, and that there was nothing more to be had there. He therefore waited for a snowy night and a wintry storm, when he filled up a small portion of the ditch with earth and timber and the boughs of trees, and so threw a third part of his force across.

11 1 Crassus was now in fear lest some impulse to march upon Rome should seize Spartacus, but took heart when he saw that many of the gladiator’s men had seceded after a quarrel with him, and were encamped by themselves on a Lucanian lake. This lake, they say, changes from time to time in the character of its water, becoming sweet, and then again bitter and undrinkable. Upon this detachment Crassus fell, and drove them away from the lake, but he was robbed of the slaughter and pursuit of the fugitives by the sudden appearance of Spartacus, who checked their flight.

2 Before this Crassus had written to the senate that they must summon Lucullus​13 from Thrace and Pompey from Spain, but he was sorry now that he had done so, and was eager to bring the war to an end before those generals came. He knew that the success would be ascribed to the one who came up with assistance, and not to himself.

Accordingly, in the first place, he determined to attack those of the enemy who had seceded from the rest and were campaigning on their own account (they were commanded by Caius Canicius and Castus), and with this in view, sent out six thousand men to preoccupy a certain eminence, bidding them keep their attempt a secret. 3 And they did try to elude observation by covering up their helmets, but they were seen by two women who were sacrificing for the enemy, and would have been in peril of their lives had not Crassus quickly made his appearance and given battle, the most stubbornly contested of all; for although he slew twelve thousand three hundred men in it, he found only two who were wounded in the back. The rest all died standing in the ranks and fighting the Romans.

4 After the defeat of this detachment, Spartacus retired to the mountains of Petelia, followed closely by Quintus, one of the officers of Crassus, and by Scrophas, the quaestor, who hung upon the enemy’s rear. But when Spartacus faced about, there was a great rout of the Romans, and they barely managed to drag the quaestor, who had been wounded, away into safety. This success was the ruin of Spartacus, for it filled his slaves with over-confidence. 5 They would no longer consent to avoid battle, and would not even obey their leaders, but surrounded them as soon as they began to march, with arms in their hands, and forced them to lead back through Lucania against the Romans, the very thing which Crassus  also most desired. For Pompey’s approach was already announced, and there were not a few who publicly proclaimed that the victory in this war belonged to him; he had only to come and fight and put an end to the war. Crassus, therefore, pressed on to finish the struggle himself, and having encamped near the enemy, began to dig a trench. Into this the slaves leaped and began to fight with those who were working there, 6 and since fresh men from both sides kept coming to help their comrades, Spartacus saw the necessity that was upon him, and drew up his whole army in order of battle.

In the first place, when his horse was brought to him, he drew his sword, and saying that if he won the day he would have many fine horses of the enemy’s, but if he lost it he did not want any, he slew his horse. Then pushing his way towards Crassus himself through many flying weapons and wounded men, he did not indeed reach him, but slew two centurions who fell upon him together. 7 Finally, after his companions had taken to flight, he stood alone, surrounded by a multitude of foes, and was still defending himself when he was cut down.

But although Crassus had been fortunate, had shown most excellent generalship, and had exposed his person to danger, nevertheless, his success did not fail to enhance the reputation of Pompey. For the fugitives from the battle​14 encountered that general and were cut to pieces, so he could write to the senate that in open battle, indeed, Crassus had conquered the slaves, but that he himself had extirpated the war. 8 Pompey, accordingly, for his victories over Sertorius and in Spain, celebrated a splendid triumph; but Crassus, for all his self-approval, did not venture to ask for the major triumph, and it was thought ignoble and mean in him to celebrate even the minor triumph on foot, called the ovation, for a servile war. How the minor triumph differs from the major, and why it is named as it is, has been told in my life of Marcellus.

The differences between our time and the time of the fall of the Roman Republic far outnumber their similarities, but in both periods we see institutions which have endured for centuries working poorly due to the fact that no institutions can make up for a lack of character in those at the helm of the institutions.

 

Published in: on September 28, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Juxtaposition  
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A Great Film for a Labor Day Weekend

 

Probably the most powerful sermon ever placed on film, Father Barry speaks of Christ and his crucifixion on the docks.  The best performance Karl Malden ever gave.  Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, On the Waterfront  (1954) was also his response to the criticism he received for naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952.

The character of Father Barry was based on the actual work on the docks of a hardbitten Irish-Catholic Jesuit Priest, Father John Corridan.  From 1946-1957 he waged a one man crusade in New York against the gangsters who controlled the International Longshoreman’s Association.  One of the bosses who controlled the union was “Tough” Tony Anastasia,  a brother of Albert “The Madhatter” Anastasia, one of the former bosses of Murder, Inc.

In the face of these murderers, Father Corridan, son of a New York cop who had died when Corridan was nine, was completely fearless.  Teaching longshoremen Christian principles in labor\management relations at the Saint Francis Xavier Labor School, Father Corridan faced down a union thug sent to disrupt his class:  “If anything happens to the men I’m trying to help here, I’ll know who’s responsible, and I’ll personally see to it that they are broken throughout this port. They’ll pay and I’ll see that they pay.”

Father Corridan compiled information which eventually filled sixteen filing cabinets on the mobsters who controlled the ports and who made life miserable for honest longshoremen.  He shared this information freely with reporters, including Malcolm Johnson of the New York Sun who won a Pulitzer for his series in 1948 on “Crime on the Waterfront”.  Father Corridan realized the pressure that could be exerted on the mob and the crooked politicians who protected the mob by such stories, and he used every opportunity to expose them in the press.  He wrote scorching articles himself for America and other publications.  Gradually the public began to become aware of the problem of mob domination of the docks.

A turning point came in 1951 when a faction of the longshoremen rejected a union negotiated contract and went on a wildcat strike.  Father Corridan supported them to the hilt.  The strike shut down ports in New York and New Jersey for twenty-five days.  To refute a claim by the mob dominated union that the strikers were communists, Father Corridan held a public prayer service with the strikers.  He also successfully pressured Governor Dewey of New York to address the issue of mob control of the docks.

Father Barry in the movie had his sermon on the docks.  Father Corridan preached many of them and one of them had this memorable statement:  “I suppose some people would smirk at the thought of Christ in the shape-up. It is about as absurd as the fact that He carried carpenter’s tools in His hands and earned His bread by the sweat of His brow. As absurd as the fact that Christ redeemed all men irrespective of their race, color, or station in life. It can be absurd only to those of whom Christ has said, ‘Having eyes, they see not; and having ears, they hear not.’ Because they don’t want to see or hear. Christ also said, ‘If you do it to the least of mine, you do it to me.’ So Christ is in the shape-up.”

The shape up was the system by which the mob completely controlled which longshoremen would work and which would not.  Father Corridan succeeded in having the shape up banned by the time that he left the docks in 1957, and a New York\New Jersey commission was in place to regulate the harbors.

Father Corridan went on to teach economics at LeMoyne College in Syracuse , theology at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City and was a hospital chaplain in Brooklyn until his death at 73 in 1984.  It is said of Father Corridan that he could swear like a longshoreman himself at the sight of injustice.  If true, then I imagine his language is pure in his final abode.

Published in: on September 6, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on A Great Film for a Labor Day Weekend  
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Eliot Ness and The Untouchables

I have forsworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!

Eliot Ness, The Untouchables (1987)

Something for the weekend.  The soundtrack suite from The Untouchables (1987).  Hard to believe it is 34 years since The Untouchables (1987) movie was released.  My bride and I saw it in Joliet that year and we both loved it.  A year or two later and I was sitting next to one of the last of the surviving members of Al Capone’s gang.  A truck driver for Capone, he had invested in Central Illinois farmland and by the time I knew him he was a grey headed and kindly great grandfather.  I never worked up the courage to ask him if Capone had asked him to bury some gangland slaying victims in the ground he purchased, as local rumor indicated.

The film was magnificent with the screenplay by David Mamet and the haunting, and period appropriate, musical score by Henry Mancini.  De Niro gave the performance of his career as Capone and Sean Connery, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance, was completely believable as honest cop Jimmy Malone, joining Ness in his crusade against the corruption that sickened Malone.  Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness was superb as an innocent who learns the terrible cost that is sometimes demanded when evil is confronted. (more…)

Published in: on July 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Eliot Ness and The Untouchables  
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Patton Musical Score

You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON’T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, “Well, your Granddaddy shoveled sh– in Louisiana.” No, Sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, “Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-G——ed-B—-h named Georgie Patton!”

General Patton, Speech to troops of the Third Army (1944)

Something for the weekend.  The musical score from Patton (1970).  My Bride and I watched the film  on Thursday evening of this week.  I long ago lost track of how many times I have viewed this masterpiece, the first time being with my brother in its theatrical release in 1970.  The film is as close to a perfect film as I think it is possible to get.  A warts and all portrayal of Patton, it captures the essence of the man.  In the title role the late George C. Scott gives the performance of his career, never making a false step.  The supporting cast is brilliant, especially Karl Malden as Omar Bradley.  The musical score is unforgettable and greatly aids the telling of the story of Patton in World War II.

Patton tends to be remembered for his flamboyant stunts, like the ivory handled six shooters he wore, but Patton was a solid, professional officer with a large streak of military genius running through him.  His command of an army was like watching a Stradivarius being played by a maestro.

Patton was an interesting mixture of contradictions in his spiritual life.  Foul mouthed even by the standards of an army known for profanity, and much too fond of war for a Christian, he also read the Bible and prayed each day.  A firm Episcopalian, yet he also firmly believed in reincarnation.    While in command in Sicily he began attending mass, initially largely for political reasons to build a bridge to the Catholic population, but then found that he enjoyed worshiping at Mass.

In the film a German officer, Captain Oskar Steiger is depicted as being the expert on Patton.  His closing observation on Patton is prophetic:

The pure warrior… a magnificent anachronism. The absence of war will destroy him.

Published in: on July 10, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Patton Musical Score  
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D-Day on Film

There have been surprisingly few movies on D-Day, as indicated by the fact that three out of the five videos looked at below are from television miniseries.  Here are the five best from  a scarce lot:

5. Ike: The War Years (1978)

Robert Duvall as Eisenhower gives his usual riveting performance.  The late Lee Remick  gives a good performance as Captain Kay Summersby, the British driver/secretary assigned to Eisenhower.  Unfortunately the miniseries centers around the relationship of Eisenhower and Summersby, a relationship which is subject to historical dispute.

4.  Ike: Countdown to D-Day (1995)

Tom Selleck gives a very good portrayal of Eisenhower in the days leading up to D-Day.  The video does a first rate job of portraying the problems that Eisenhower confronted:  getting prima donnas like Montgomery and Patton to work as a part of a team, concerns about the weather, the deception campaign to convince the Nazis that Calais would be the invasion site, etc.  The video also shines a light on the weight of responsibility which Eisenhower bore, especially when we see him write out a note just before the invasion taking full responsibility on his shoulders if it failed.

3.  Band of Brothers (2001)

The epic miniseries covering the exploits of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, captures well the chaos of the parachute and glider operations behind German lines that were so critical a part of the Allied victory on D-Day. (more…)

Published in: on June 6, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on D-Day on Film  
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On the Sidewalks of New York

The past is a wonderful place to visit, even if we wouldn’t want to live there.

Published in: on March 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on On the Sidewalks of New York  
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Original Lawrence of Arabia Trailer

A companion piece to the fan made trailer yesterday.  It isn’t bad, but like most trailers of the time it spends quite a bit of time introducing the cast.  No doubt the supporting cast was quite important in the film marketing campaign as Peter O’Toole was relatively unknown in films, although already a celebrated stage actor in England, Lawrence of Arabia making him,deservedly, an instant film star at age 30.

Published in: on March 22, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Original Lawrence of Arabia Trailer  
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Now This is How a Trailer Should Be Done

So many trailers have all the imagination possessed by a sedated Swedish bureaucrat who ate too much meatballs in cream gravy.  If you have a story to tell, do it with gusto and panache!

Published in: on March 21, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Worst Movie on the American Revolution

 

I have long been a fan of the late British actor Jack Hawkins.  Above however is perhaps his worst performance as General Cornwallis in a dreadful Italian-French film Lafayette (1961).  The  wardrobe budget did not extend far enough for makeup to make Hawkins look anything like Cornwallis.  The film has him surrendering his sword to an actor who does not look anything like George Washington, and making a fictitious brief speech.  Historically of course Cornwallis did not appear at the surrender ceremony at Yorktown, sending instead his subordinate General O’Hara.  Washington had him surrender his sword to General Benjamin Lincoln who had surrendered Charleston to Cornwallis in 1780, Washington no doubt appreciating the irony.  Most historical films mangle the history, but in this production history was first tortured and then murdered.

Last night my wife and I watch QBVII (1973), a fictional account by Leon Uris of a defamation suit against him in 1964 in which the Plaintiff received a half penny as damages.  Hawkins was portraying the magistrate in the trial, his throat cancer reducing his voice to a quiet croak but giving his last performance before his untimely death a dignity and gravity befitting his career.

 

His two finest performances were in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) where he was a doppelganger for Field Marshal Edmund Allenby and as Consul Quintus Arrius in Ben-Hur (1959):

 

Published in: on March 16, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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