Archive for JB Steane

Page Seventeen II: The Search for Curly’s Gold

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2021 by dcairns

‘Now,’ said my uncle, addressing himself to me directly, ‘in order to read the sentence you have just written, ‘I have only to take the first letter of each word, then the second, then the third, and so on.’

Underworld, a silent picture, opened on Broadway in the same month as The Jazz Singer. Dialogue would turn out to be as important to the crime film as it was to another genre which developed in the ‘thirties, the screwball comedy. The dialogue gave crime movies much of their flavour, starting with the steely terseness of the opening speeches by Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar: ‘Diamond Pete Montana – he doesn’t have to waste his time on cheap gas stations. He’s somebody. He’s in the big time, doing things in a big way. And look at us – just a couple of nobodies. Nothing . . . . Say, I could do all the things that fellow does, and more, only I never got my chance . . . . What is there to be afraid of? And when I get in a tight corner, I’ll shoot my way out of it. Why, sure. Sure. Shoot first and argue afterwards . . .’

The Antrobuses have survived fire, flood, pestilence, the seven-year locusts, the ice age, the black pox, the double feature, a dozen wars, and as many depressions. They have run many a gamut, are as durable as radiators, and look upon the future with a disarming optimism, Ultimately, bewitched, befuddled, and becalmed, they are the stuff of which heroes are made–heroes and buffoons. They are true offspring of Adam and Eve, victims of all the ills that flesh is heir to. They have survived a thousand calamities by the skin of their teeth, and Mr. Wilder’s play is a tribute to their indestructibility.

Osman kept pressing. At over six foot, he had the bearing of an old-fashioned military officer and the manner to go with it – abrupt in a way that could easily be interpreted as rude. He did not suffer fools gladly. The next year he attended a meeting of the Committee on Imperial Defence, explaining that it was a blunder not to have maintained a compulsory register of pigeon owners. His profound knowledge of pigeons was clear but there was also an element of self-interest – he proposed that an appeal for volunteers could be made through the Racing Pigeon, the newspaper he edited. It was agreed that a committee of four — including Osman – should start a National Pigeon Service, the NPS. It was to be riven by bitter infighting.

We’ll have cots out in the middle of the track, the promoter said, ‘and have the doctor and nurses on hand during the derby. When a contestant falls and has to go to the pit, the partner will have to make two laps to make up for it. You kids will get more kick out of it because the crowds will be bigger. Say, when that Hollywood bunch starts coming here, we’ll be standing ’em up . . . . Now, how’s the food? Anybody got any kicks about anything? All right, kids, that’s fine. You play ball with us and we’ll play ball with you.’

Perhaps in response to Alvarez’s questioning, the screen began to show old newsreels of Adolf Hitler at Nuremberg, Hitler relaxing at home near the Austrian border, Hitler fondling little children. These were swiftly replaced with images of Kemal Ataturk smiling sternly at his modernized countrymen. Mussolini, Stalin, Trotsky, Lenin, Franco were played in a sequence culminating with a trembling still of Birmingham a few seconds before she was taken out.

‘Your intellectual, social, political status could be pegged by knowing which coffee house you called home away from home,’ observed the Hollywood director André De Toth who had grown up in Hungary and worked for Alex Korda in the 1930s. Korda’s home from home was the Café New York. A favourite haunt of writers and artists, it was, in Paul Tabori’s description, run by ‘a most understanding head-waiter who acted as pawnbroker, money-lender, father confessor and agent to his large, varied clientéle.’ It was a place both to meet people and also to work. You could spend hours at a time here nursing just a cup of coffee. The most indigent person could swell with confidence in its palatial surroundings. ‘They sent you off to face the day not thinking, but knowing you are the king,’ recalled De Toth. But there were niceties to observe. ‘It all depended, of course, on how well you tipped.’

View but his picture in this tragic glass, says the Prologue, And then applaud his fortunes as you please.

Seven extracts from seven page seventeens from seven books bought from Edinburgh’s charity shops.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne; A Pictorial History of Crime Movies by Ian Cameron; From the program notes of The Skin of Their Teeth by Thornton Wilder, quoted in Kazan on Directing by Elia Kazan; Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon Corera; Black Box Thrillers: 4 Novels by Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy (natch); The Alchemist’s Question, from The Opium General and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock; Korda, Britain’s Only Movie Mogul by Charles Drazin; Tamburlaine the Great, quoted in J.B. Stean’s introduction to Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays.