Archive for the ‘Favorite movies’ Category

Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave as Lillian Hellman and Julia

The following excerpts are from the story Julia by Lillian Hellman (1905-1984), which became a movie in 1977 with Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda:

She held my hand for several minutes, and said, “Fine. Everything has gone fine. Nothing will happen now. Let’s eat and drink and see each other. So many years.”

I said, “How long have we got? How far is the other station, the one where I get the train to Moscow?”

“You have two hours, but we haven’t that long together because you have to be followed to the station and the ones who follow you must have time to find the man who will be with you on the train until Warsaw in the morning.”

I said, “You look like nobody else. You are more beautiful now.”

She said, “Stop crying about my leg. It was amputated and the false leg is clumsily made so I am coming to New York in the next few months, as soon as I can, and get a good one. Lilly, don’t cry for me. Stop the tears. We must finish the work now. Take off the hat the way you would if it was too hot for this place. Comb your hair, and put the hat on the seat between us.”

Her coat was open, and the minute I put the hat on the bench she pinned it deep inside her coat with a safety pin that was ready for it.

“I think I have always known about my memory:
I knew when it is to be trusted and when some
dream or fantasy entered on the life, and the dream,
the need of dream, led to distortion of what happened.
 And so I knew early that the rampage angers
of an early child were distorted nightmares of reality.
But I trust absolutely what I remember about Julia.”

She said, “Now I am going to the toilet. If the waiter tries to help me up, wave him aside and come with me. The toilet locks. If anybody should try to open, knock on the door and call to me, but I don’t think that will happen.”

She got up, picked up one of the crutches, and waved me to the other arm. She spoke in German to a man I guess was Albert as we moved down the long room. She pulled the crutch too quickly into the toilet door, it caught at a wrong angle, and she made a gesture with the crutch, tearing at it in irritation.

When she came out of the toilet, she smiled at me. As we walked back to the table, she spoke in a loud voice, saying something in German about the toilet and then, in English, “I forget you don’t know German. I was saying that German public toilets are always clean, much cleaner than ours, particularly under the new regime. The bastards, the murderers.”

Caviar and wine were on the table where we sat down again and she was cheerful with the waiter. When he had gone away she said, “Ah, Lilly. Fine, fine. Nothing will happen now. But it’s your right to know that it is my money you brought in and we can save five hundred, and maybe, if we bargain right, a thousand people with it. So believe that you have been better than a good friend to me, you have done something important.”

The 1934 play The Children’s Hour by Hellman
became a movie in 1961, starring 
Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.


“About half. And political people. Socialists, Communists, plain old Catholic dissenters. Jews aren’t the only people who have suffered here.” She sighed. “That’s enough of that. We can only do today what we can do today and today you did it for us. Do you need something stronger than wine?”

I said I didn’t and she said to talk fast now, there wasn’t much time, to tell her as much as possible. I told her about my divorce, about the years with Hammett. She said she had read The Children’s Hour, she was pleased with me, and what was I going to do next? . . .

“I have only so much more time in Europe,” Julia said. “The crutches make me too noticeable. The man who will take care of you has just come into the street. Do you see him outside the window? Get up and go now. Walk across the street, get a taxi, take it to Banhof 200. Another man will be waiting there. He will make sure you get safely on the train and will stay with you until Warsaw tomorrow morning. He is in car A, compartment 13. Let me see your ticket.”

I gave it to her. “I think that will be in the car to your left.” She laughed. “Left, Lilly, left. Have you ever learned to tell left from right, south from north?”

“No, I don’t want to leave you. The train doesn’t go for over an hour. I want to stay with you a few more minutes.”

“No,” she said. “Something could still go wrong and we must have time to get help if that should happen. I’ll be coming to New York in a few months. Write from Moscow to American Express in Paris. I have stuff picked up every few weeks.” She took my hand and raised it to her lips. “My beloved friend. . . .”

But March and April came and went and there was no word from Julia. . . . On May 23, 1938, I had a cable, dated London two days before and sent to the wrong address. It said, “Julia has been killed stop please advise Moore’s funeral home Whitechapel Road London what disposition stop my sorrow for you for all of us.”

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The Natural

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Inn of the Sixth Happiness is a 1958 film starring Ingrid Bergman about the life of Gladys Aylward (1902-1970). The movie is based on the book The Small Woman, published in 1957 and written by Alan Burgess. Aylward was living in China in 1938 when the country was invaded by Japan. She transported 94 orphans by foot over the mountains out of the town of Yungcheng to safety.

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One of my favorite versions of A Christmas Carol is the 1951 film with Alastair Sim, but this year I watched the new Disney 3D digital animation with Jim Carrey. It’s worth watching to hear the commentary at the end and see the characters acting out their parts with dots on their faces and motion-capture outfits.

The novel was published by Charles Dickens in 1843 as A Christmas Carol, a Ghost Story of Christmas. Each year I hear the story, I think Scrooge gets a bad rap. His character undergoes major transformation, but a person is considered a Scrooge if they hate Christmas and regard the holiday as a humbug or fraud. We would never say, “Look at John, he’s such a Scrooge. His life has gone through such transformation, and he’s so much happier now.”

Scrooge’s profession isn’t stated in the story, but it’s believed he’s a banker or money lender. He becomes the tight-fisted character we know because his father abandons him at boarding school, his sister Fran dies, his fiancée leaves him and his employer goes bankrupt. Money becomes the single focus of his life, and he never wants to depend on anyone again. The sequence of events that leads up to his survival-of-the-fittest attitude seems an about-face move because it happens in a matter of scenes, but years of sitting at boarding school while classmates go home for Christmas lead Scrooge to hate the season.

As a teenager, I played Scrooge’s fiancée Belle in a high school production. Today, I looked at the script to see how much it follows Dickens’ novel. It matches the story exactly. As I look at the script again, I see how inflexible and proud both characters are in their attitudes toward each other:

Narrator Again Scrooge saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. His face had not the harsh and rigid lines of later years; but it had begun to wear the signs of care and avarice. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which showed the passion that had taken root, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall.
He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl in a mourning-dress: in whose eyes there were tears, which sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Belle It matters little, to you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.
Scrooge What Idol has displaced you?
Belle A golden one.
Scrooge This is the even-handed dealing of the world. There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth.
Belle You fear the world too much. All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, gain, engrosses you. Have I not?
Scrooge What then? Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you.
(She shook her head.)
Scrooge Am I?
Belle Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.
Scrooge I was a boy.
Belle Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are. I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you.
Scrooge Have I ever sought release?
Belle In words. No. Never.
Scrooge In what, then?
Belle (looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him) In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us, tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no.
Scrooge (Scrooge seems to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he says with a struggle…) You think not?
Belle I would gladly think otherwise if I could. Heaven knows. When I have learned a truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free today, tomorrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl — you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow. I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were. You may — the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will — have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.
(She leaves him, and they parted.)

Here’s a clip from the 1951 film with Alastair Sim, which incidentally has the finest version of the Ballad of Barbara Allen I’ve ever heard:

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Objects found in oak tree

Below is an excerpt from Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960.

Two live oaks stood at the edge of the Radley lot; their roots reached out into the side-road and made it bumpy. Something about one of the trees attracted my attention.

Some tinfoil was sticking in a knot-hole just above my eye level, winking at me in the afternoon sun. I stood on tiptoe, hastily looked around once more, reached into the hole, and withdrew two pieces of chewing gum minus their outer wrappers.

My first impulse was to get it into my mouth as quickly as possible, but I remembered where I was. I ran home and on our front porch I examined my loot. The gum looked fresh. I sniffed it and it smelled all right. I licked it and waited for a while. When I did not die I crammed it into my mouth: Wrigley’s Double-Mint.

When Jem came home he asked me where I got such a wad. I told him I found it.

“Don’t eat things you find, Scout.”

“This wasn’t on the ground, it was in the tree.”

Jem growled.

“Well it was,” I said. “It was sticking in that tree yonder, the one comin’ from school . . . . ”

Jem and Scout look over objects kept in the box.

Summer was on the way; Jem and I awaited it with impatience. Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.

The authorities released us early the last day of school, and Jem and I walked home together. “Reckon old Dill’ll be coming home tomorrow,” I said.

“Probably day after,” said Jem. “Mis’sippi turns ‘em loose a day later.”

As we came to the live oaks at the Radley Place I raised my finger to point for the hundredth time to the knot-hole where I had found the chewing gum, trying to make Jem believe I had found it there, and found myself pointing at another piece of tinfoil.

“I see it, Scout! I see it —“

Jem looked around, reached up, and gingerly pocketed a tiny, shiny package. We ran home, and on the front porch we looked at a small box patchworked with bits of tinfoil collected from chewing-gum wrappers. It was the kind of box wedding rings come in, purple velvet with a minute catch. Jem flicked open the tiny catch. Inside were two scrubbed and polished pennies, one on top of the other. Jem examined them.

“Indian heads,” he said. “Nineteen-six and Scout, one of ‘em’s nineteen-hundred. These are real old.”

“Nineteen hundred,’ I echoed. “Say —“

“Hush a minute, I’m thinkin’.”

“Jem, you reckon that’s somebody’s hidin’ place?”

“Naw, don’t anybody much but us pass by there, unless it’s some grown person’s —”

“Grown folks don’t have hidin’ places. You reckon we ought to keep ‘em, Jem?”

“I don’t know what we could do, Scout. Who’d we give ‘em back to?”

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I read a definition of hospitality today I like, Making room inside ourselves for another person. Hospitality is often referred to in Benedictine monasticism. It’s the main objective for monks and nuns but has nothing to do with crystal wineglasses and lace napkins. It means a deep openness and graciousness toward others.

Yesterday at work, I was anything but open and gracious. This is the busiest time of year for me at the newspaper. We have two special pubs to finish before the end of the year, and I’ve been working nights and weekends trying to keep up with that and the seventy 3,000-word essays I must grade before the end of November. When I was asked at work to do one more thing, I kept my temper but left work early, too angry to accomplish anything else.

On my way home, I ran errands. The first stop was Macy’s to pick up pants being hemmed, then the grocery then Target. In each parking lot, I sat venting my anger and frustration at God. It was a cold, November day, and we’d just had our first snow in Colorado. Target was my last stop. I went inside and found myself wandering through aisles looking at things I normally don’t look at. I shop at Target only to buy bulk items.

I read books and listened to cds, tried on pajama bottoms and looked at kitchen appliances. At one point, I came across these Nick and Nora slipper socks. They remind me of sock monkeys my grandmother used to make. She was a seamstress and sold sock monkeys and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls at department stores in Memphis.

My mother was also a seamstress, and I’m sure they both turned over in their graves when I had my pants hemmed at Macy’s. This must have been on my mind when I looked up and saw the slipper socks.

Nick and Nora Charles are characters in the Dashiell Hammett novel, The Thin Man. The novel was turned into a series of five movies with Myrna Loy and Dick Powell between 1936 and 1947. I love the movies and own the collection.

When I turned the slippers over and saw Nick and Nora, I placed them into my basket — which now included a red blender, two sets of pajama bottoms, some cds, a new book by Fannie Flagg, a Justin Bieber calendar for my nephew and a few other assorted odds and ends.

William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles,
with dog Asta.

I went to the cashier, added the items up in my mind and thought, What am I doing. There must be $100 worth of stuff in this basket. I turned the cart around and weeded my way back through the store aisles to replace everything. The first thing that had to go were the Nick & Nora slipper socks. I could justify everything in the basket except those.

When I arrived at the sock section, I couldn’t hang them up and stood wondering what to do. By this time, it was 8:30. I’d been in the store for more than an hour and a half. I wheeled my cart back around and went to the cashier again.

Someone ahead of me was having trouble with a gift card, and this gave me another chance to decide whether I was going to buy the items in the basket. As I put them on the conveyor belt, I realized for the first time they were all things my mother would have bought me for Christmas (including the hemmed pants hanging in my car). I looked up and saw the words Merry Christmas.

The cashier rang up the items, and I looked back and saw an older, Asian woman standing in the back of the line. She startled for a moment when I noticed her then smiled. A look came into her eyes I can only describe as soft and understanding and accepting. She looked at me as if she knew me and had a presence full of light and of pain — as if she had come from a place of light but found it painful to be standing there looking at me.

I paid the cashier and as she bagged the items, I turned back to look at the Asian woman and saw she was gone. The line was still there, but the Asian woman had disappeared. Perhaps it was only a trick of my mind caused by the strong emotions of the day mixed with the realization about the items in my basket, but I believe my mother was standing in the back of the line in disguise.

Parking lots are strange places. We sit in between two lines outside buildings in transit between the other places in our lives. As I sat in the Target parking lot afterward, all the anger and frustration came flooding out of me. I realized I wasn’t alone and that something out there watched over and cared for me. I felt more gracious and open to my own life again.

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The Egg and I

Clark Gable’s performance in It Happened One Night
was the inspiration for the cartoon character Bugs Bunny.

Since I was a child, I’ve loved old movies. Claudette Colbert is one of my favorite big screen movie actresses. Her comedic performances are still studied by actresses today. She is best known for the 1934 comedy It Happened One Night and the 1944 drama Since You Went Away. The Egg and I is based on a book by the same name, published in 1945 by Betty MacDonald. The movie was the precursor to the 1960s T.V. series Green Acres.

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