More Theatre Reviews

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C.A. Lejeune wrote of The Iceman Cometh, “It is longeth and it stinketh.”

The New York Post titled its review of a new Clifford Odets play: ODETS WHERE IS THY STING?

Walter Kerr after the Broadway opening of I Am a Camera: “Me no Leica.”

Of a 1920s play whose author happened to be a vicar of Brockenhurst, the Daily Graphic’s critic wrote that it was “the best play ever written by a vicar of Brockenhurst.”

George Jean Nathan on a 1920s musical: “I’ve knocked everything in this show except the chorus girls’ knees, and there God anticipated me.”

Brooks Atkinson on First Impressions, a 1959 musical version of Pride and Prejudice: “Farley Granger played Mr. Darcy with all the flexibility of a telegraph pole.”

Walter Kerr on Jay Robinson in Buy Me Blue Ribbons: “Mr. Robinson has delusions of adequacy.”

John Mason Brown on a 1937 production of Antony and Cleopatra: “Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile last night as Cleopatra and sank.”

Nathan on Maureen Stapleton’s opening in 1953’s The Emperor’s Clothes: “Miss Stapleton played the part as though she had not yet signed the contract with the producer.”

Dorothy Parker on a 1931 Empire Theatre production: “The only thing I didn’t like about The Barretts of Wimpole Street was the play.”

George S. Kaufman on Gertrude Lawrence in Skylark: “A bad play saved by a bad performance.”

A critic wrote that that Wilfrid Hyde-White had spent one West End performance “prowling round the stage looking for laughs with the single-mindedness of a tortoise on a lettuce-hunt.”

Max Beerbohm once had to greet a great Edwardian actress after watching her give a tedious performance. Thinking quickly, he said, “Darling! Good is not the word!”

Nothing to Say

Early American radio producers discovered that they could create a convincing crowd sound by having a group of actors repeat the word walla over and over. This technique is still sometimes used in film and TV productions — besides walla, actors sometimes mutter “peas and carrots,” “watermelon cantaloupe,” “natter natter,” or “grommish grommish.” In Europe the word rhubarb is often used.

British comedian Eric Sykes’ 1980 television special Rhubarb Rhubarb plays with this idea by removing all other dialogue: Sykes relies almost entirely on sight gags, and the scant spoken dialogue consists of people saying the word rhubarb. The 1980 program was a remake of Sykes’ 1969 film Rhubarb, which presses this conceit even further: Everyone says “rhubarb,” all the characters are named Rhubarb, car license plates read RHU BAR B, and a baby speaks by holding up a sign that says RHUBARB. “A visual gag,” said Sykes, “is worth three pages of dialogue.”

Remodeling

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Hall of Justice, as it appears in DC Comics, was modeled on a train station.

The Super Friends television series, in which the fortress first appeared in 1973, was produced by Cincinnati’s Hanna-Barbera, and background supervisor Al Gmuer based it on Union Terminal, a local landmark.

(Thanks, Steven.)

Law and Order

Perhaps because the director has a law degree from Cambridge, Jonathan Lynn’s 1992 film My Cousin Vinny is widely praised for its realistic depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy.

Joe Pesci plays an inexperienced Brooklyn personal injury lawyer trying to save his cousin from a murder charge. But instead of relying on surprise witnesses and other unlikely dramatic gambits, “[t]he movie is close to reality even in its details,” writes plaintiff’s attorney Max Kennerly. “Part of why the film has such staying power among lawyers is because, unlike, say, A Few Good Men, everything that happens in the movie could happen — and often does happen — at trial.”

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge Richard Posner calls the film “particularly rich in practice tips: how a criminal defense lawyer must stand his ground against a hostile judge, even at the cost of exasperating the judge, because the lawyer’s primary audience is the jury, not the judge; how cross-examination on peripheral matters can sow serious doubts about a witness’s credibility; how props can be used effectively in cross-examination (the tape measure that demolishes one of the prosecution’s eyewitnesses); how to voir dire, examine, and cross-examine expert witnesses; the importance of the Brady doctrine … how to dress for a trial; contrasting methods of conducting a jury trial; and more.”

“You can use the movie to discuss criminal procedure, courtroom decorum, professional responsibility, unethical behavior, the role of the judge in a trial, efficient cross-examination, the role of expert witnesses and effective trial advocacy,” writes John Marshall Law School professor Alberto Bernabe. And “[a]lthough Vinny is certainly no role model when it comes to knowledge of the law, legal analysis and ethical behavior, law students could learn from him as to how to use legal thinking in the complexity of actual law practice.”

Lynn suggested that lawyers like the film because “there aren’t any bad guys”; the judge, prosecutor, and defense are all simply seeking justice.

In 2008 the ABA Journal ranked the film third on its list of the “25 Greatest Legal Movies,” and in 2010 it ranked Vincent Gambini twelfth among “The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch).”

The Chemists’ Drinking Song

In a 1963 essay, Isaac Asimov pointed out that paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde can be sung to the tune of “The Irish Washerwoman.” Inspired, John A. Carroll wrote this jig:

(chorus:) Paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde
Sodium citrate, ammonium cyanide
Phosphates and nitrates and chlorides galore
Just have one o’ these and you’ll never need more.

Got messed up last night on furfuryl alcohol
Followed it down with a gallon of propanol
Drank from mid-morning til late afternoon
Then spat on the floor and blew up the saloon.

(repeat chorus)

Paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde,
Powdered aluminum, nitrogen iodide
Slop it around and add some benzene
Then top off the punch with Fluorescein

(repeat chorus)

Whiskey, tequila and rum are too tame,
The stuff that I drink must explode into flame.
When I break wind it strips all the paint in the room,
And rattles the walls with an earthshaking boom.

(repeat chorus)

Paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde
Go soak your head in a jar of formaldehyde
Scrub very hard, then rinse out your mane
In dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane!

In a Word

allograph
n. something written for another person

facrere
n. the art of “make-believe”

dabster
n. a master of his business

gelastic
n. something capable of exciting smiles or laughter

Leroy Anderson’s 1950 composition “The Typewriter” uses a manual typewriter as an instrument.

To keep the keys from jamming, the machine is modified so that only two keys work. All the same, Anderson found that percussionists perform it more reliably than typists do.

“We have two drummers,” Anderson said in a 1970 interview. “A lot of people think we use stenographers, but they can’t do it because they can’t make their fingers move fast enough. So we have drummers because they can get wrist action.”

Jerry Lewis famously adopted the piece for his 1963 film Who’s Minding the Store?, below.

Stopwatch Cinema

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High Noon unfolds in real time — the running time of the story closely parallels the running time of the film itself. Producer Stanley Kramer said that the filmmakers hoped this would “create a sense of urgency as the noon hour approached.” Director Fred Zinnemann wrote the word CLOCK next to many scenes in his script, and he prepared a list of inserts in which clocks would be prominently visible:

Scene 36 — Marshal’s Office — Clock 10:40 a.m.
Scene 60 — Marshal’s Office — Clock 10:51 a.m.
Scene 76 — Helen’s Room — Clock 10:55 a.m.
Scene 86 — Marshal’s Office — Clock 11:02 a.m.
Scene 96 — Helen’s Room — Clock 11:05 a.m.
Scene 101 — Marshal’s Office — Clock 11:07 a.m.
Scene 130 — Saloon — Clock 11:19 a.m.
Scene 144 — Mart Howe’s House — Clock 11:26 a.m.
Scene 231 — Saloon — Clock 11:44 a.m.
Scene 256 — Hotel Lobby — Clock 11:50 a.m.
Scene 303 — Saloon — Clock 11:59 a.m.
Scene 312 — Saloon — Clock 12:00 p.m.

An insert for Scene 294 was never shot — it would have started on a pendulum and panned up to show a clock with no hands, superimposed on a closeup of Gary Cooper’s Will Kane. Zinnemann said he’d got the idea from a handless clock he’d seen in front of a funeral home on Sunset Boulevard. He said it “would have intensified the feeling of panic.”

(From Michael Francis Blake, Code of Honor, 2003.)

First Steps

The earliest known film comedy, Louis Lumière’s 1895 L’Arroseur arrosé (“The Waterer Watered”) is also one of the first film narratives of any kind — before this, movies tended simply to demonstrate the medium, depicting a sneeze, for example, or the arrival of a train.

This was also the first film with a dedicated poster (below) — making this simple 45-second story the forerunner of all modern film comedies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cin%C3%A9matographe_Lumi%C3%A8re.jpg

Open for Business

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

When Elijah Bond, patentee of the Ouija board, died in 1921, he was buried in an unmarked grave, and as time passed its location was forgotten. In 1992, Robert Murch, chairman of the Talking Board Historical Society, set out to find it, and after a 15-year search he did — Bond had been buried with his wife’s family in Baltimore rather than with his own in Dorsey, Md.

Murch got permission to install a new headstone and raised the necessary funds through donations, and today Bond has the headstone above, with a simple inscription on the front and a Ouija board on the back — in case anyone wants to talk.

Long Haul

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Recognize this locomotive? You’ve almost certainly seen it before: Built in 1891, “Sierra No. 3” was adopted by Hollywood in 1948 and became “the most photographed locomotive in the world,” appearing in The Red Glove, The Terror, The Virginian, The Texan, Young Tom Edison, Sierra Passage, Wyoming Mail, High Noon, The Cimarron Kid, Kansas Pacific, The Moonlighter, Apache, Rage at Dawn, The Return of Jack Slade, Texas Lady, The Big Land, Terror in a Texas Town, Man of the West, Face of a Fugitive, The Outrage, The Rare Breed, The Great Race, The Perils of Pauline, Finian’s Rainbow, A Man Called Gannon, The Great Bank Robbery, Joe Hill, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, Oklahoma Crude, Nickleodeon, Bound for Glory, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The Long Riders, Pale Rider, Blood Red, Back to the Future Part III, Unforgiven, and Bad Girls.

Gary Cooper alone starred in four movies with it, including High Noon; Clint Eastwood, who appeared with it in Rawhide, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven, said it was “like a treasured old friend.” TV shows:

The Lone Ranger, Tales of Wells Fargo, Casey Jones, Rawhide, Overland Trail, Lassie, Death Valley Days, The Raiders, Petticoat Junction, The Wild Wild West, The Big Valley, The Legend of Jesse James, Scalplock, Iron Horse, Cimarron Strip, Dundee and the Culhane, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Ballad of the Iron Horse, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Great Man’s Whiskers, Inventing of America, Little House on the Prairie, Law of the Land, A Woman Called Moses, Lacy and the Mississippi Queen, Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid, The Night Rider, The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang, Belle Starr, East of Eden, Father Murphy, The A-Team, Bonanza: The Next Generation, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman.

William L. Withhuhn, former transportation history curator at the Smithsonian Institution, wrote, “Sierra Railway No. 3 has appeared in more motion pictures, documentaries, and television productions than any other locomotive. It is undisputedly the image of the archetypal steam locomotive that propelled the USA from the 19th century into the 20th.”