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Weekly Mishmash: April 27-May 3

Lots of B&W movie watching this week:
The B-52’s – Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation. Spotted this for $7.99 (new) at the local indie record store and had to get it, since an old copy of Cosmic Thing was only other thing I had by them. This is a good, solid — albeit flawed — collection. The only song I felt was slighted is “Legal Tender”, a medium-sized hit that made such an impression that I can even remember my high school’s pom squad doing a routine to it. Luckily I already had that song and easily downloaded the other two songs unjustly missing off the CD (“Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland” and “Housework”, off 1986’s Bouncing Off the Satellites). I wonder if their new project is worth getting?
The Deep Blue Good-by by John D. MacDonald. I took this brisk little 1964 potboiler, the first of MacDonald’s popular Travis McGee series, along with me to Florida. Appropriate, since these detective novels are evocatively set in a Fort Lauderdale that is changing and growing before McGee’s world-weary eyes. Although set in the ’60s with a macho, bed-hopping hero, the book has a surprisingly contemporary feel. MacDonald was such a gifted writer — and McGee is such an indelible character — that they’re great exceptions to my usually non-fiction reading list.
The Devil Is a Woman (1935). An odd entry in Marlene Dietrich’s filmography and the last of her collaborations with Josef von Sternberg. The star herself cited this as her favorite film in the 1984 documentary Marlene — but when Maximillian Schell pressed her to explain why, she snapped something to the effect of “I just like it the best, that’s all!” To its credit, the film is beautifully photographed with tons of stunningly baroque sets and costumes. Miss Dietrich, playing a Spanish seductress who attracts men and perfect key lighting wherever she goes, gamely inhabits her role but she looks a bit overdone and trampy. She also has this weird tic of moving her head constantly, like a demented bobblehead doll. Despite its several flaws, I actually enjoyed this one a lot. A shade less fulfilling than The Scarlet Empress perhaps, but similarly dripping with artistry during every scene.
A Lady Without Passport (1950). An intriguing looking melodrama which got Tivo’d as part of a Hedy Lamarr month double feature on Turner Classic Movies. I never realized it before, but I’ve never seen a truly great Hedy Lamarr movie. My favorite movie of hers would definitely be Ziegfeld Girl — and that’s mostly due to Judy Garland and Lana Turner, not the blank-faced Lamarr. This one, in which she plays a Cuban refugee desperately trying to escape to the U.S., didn’t change my opinion of her much. It was boring. At least Miss Hedy fared better in the other film —
Hedy Lamarr and Bob HopeMy Favorite Spy (1951). A silly diversion with Lamarr and the hammy, overbearing Bob Hope as competing spies in pursuit of — does it really matter? The film benefited from having a good supporting cast, although the abundance of long scenes played on cheap-o sets made it appear like a trumped-up “B” movie. The exciting slapstick chase scene at the end nearly makes up for the poky hour that preceded it.
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Gritty bank heist thriller was one of the last film noirs and probably the only one with a black protagonist (ably played by Harry Belafonte). Robert Ryan and Ed Begley are also really good as the other bank robbers, older men willing to take a chance on one last, great job. This one was pretty good even if individual elements came off better than the film as a whole. Robert Wise’s direction is assured yet heavy-handed, and Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame could’ve been so much better if their roles weren’t so limited. The film takes a long while to get going, but the climactic bank robbery scene is excellent.
Pinky (1949), a.k.a. the one with Jeanne Crain as a light-skinned black woman returning to her Southern home to care for her aunt (Ethel Waters). Starts off too ponderously with the then-controversial racial identity plotline, then gets appreciably better with a secondary plot involving Ethel Barrymore’s rich old lady character and a subsequent courtroom drama. Crain, always a bit of a cream puff of an actress, was a lot better here than I’ve ever seen her. She definitely deserved the Oscar nomination she got, as did Waters and Barrymore.
Zoot Woman — Living in a Magazine. I can’t believe this little gem of an album passed me by when it came out in 2001. This Europop combo rocks an only somewhat ironic retro-’80s groove and proudly cites Hall & Oates as an inspiration. They remind me a lot of Phoenix and Tahiti 80; “Jesse” is the highlight. Strangely enough, I plopped “Two of Hearts” by one hit wonder and Facts of Life guest star Stacey Q right after this album in its playlist, where it fits like a (fingerless lace) glove.

3 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: April 27-May 3

  1. i wish legal tender would have been included on that compilation too. the first single from the new album is really good. everything i’ve read about the album says it is quite good. but i don’t know anyone that actually has it.

  2. John H. on May 10, 2008 at 12:41 am said:

    Bouncing Off the Satellites is so underrated! My bf got me the Nude on the Moon collection this past Christmas and I’ve really enjoyed hearing things by them I hadn’t previously known. (I was obsessed with them when Cosmic Thing was in vogue, but never really explored their back catalogue, aside from the excellent Whammy.) The new album isn’t bad, but it hasn’t exactly wormed its way into my heart yet. Too samey on a lot of the tracks.

    As for La Q, I was the hugest Stacey Q fan in high school… all three of her Atlantic albums were way better than they should have been! Too bad her management advised her to pass on that Facts spin-off, though. :(

  3. One time a friend lent me the first three B-52 albums on cassette, and to my surprise I though Whammy was the best.

    Stacey Q needs a major reevaluation! Maybe American Idol can hire her as a judge – “I-i-i-i-i don’t like, don’t like you.”

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