Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

He Only Cheated on Indian Treaties, Not With Argentine Hussies

Posted in On This Day on June 25th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

On this day in 1876, George Armstrong Custer thought he had a brilliant idea to propel his Presidential campaign. He would wipe out an Indian encampment on the Little Big Horn River. Such a glorious victory would overshadow the other contenders for the Democratic nomination. Unfortunately, Col. Custer seemed to have underestimated the number of Indian braves or Tilden supporters at the Little Big Horn. 

He didn’t live to regret it. Neither did half of the Seventh Cavalry.

If ever a blundering buffoon deserved to be portrayed by Adam Sandler, it was Custer. Hollywood, however, has usually depicted him in heroic glory. Perhaps the most entertaining and definitely the least accurate depiction was in “They Died With Their Boots On,” a 1941 deification starring Errol Flynn.

In that saga, Flynn deliberately sacrificed himself against at least 5000 Sioux who, if unimpeded by Custer, would have rampaged through the nation, ruined the Philadelphia Exposition and scalped Alexander Graham Bell.

Now if I correctly recall…the Sioux were made all the more dangerous and sinister by having Eric von Stroiheim and Peter van Eyck play the Indian leaders Sitting von Bulow and Crazy Horst.

D-Day Musings

Posted in On This Day on June 6th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 8 Comments

June 6, 1944 should be remembered as Germany’s lucky day. With the Americans and British landing on Normandy, the Germans now had an enemy willing to take prisoners. The Russians were not so amenable; for some reason, they took their attempted annihilation rather badly and were quite vindictive. So, imagine the choice confronting Lieutenant Helmut Schmidt, Private Helmut Kohl and Private Josef Ratzinger. Should they surrender to 20 million Russians enraged with vengeance or 10 million GIs offering Hershey bars?

In films with a German perspective on World War II, I have observed a mathematical impossibility. In “Cross of Iron” there is only one Nazi in the squad. In “The Enemy Beneath” and “Das Boot” there is only one Nazi on each U-Boat. Just how many times did that one Nazi vote in order to elect Hitler.

Hollywood Hystery

Posted in General on April 15th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 7 Comments

Hollywood’s version of history is usually a juvenile simplification.  As long as the battle scenes are exciting, the facts can have a higher mortality rate than the featured infantry.  For instance, an attempted epic called “The Last Legion” found it convenient to depict the Byzantine Empire as being Indian.  Well, Byzantium was the eastern half of the Roman Empire but it wasn’t quite that East.  At least, “The Last Legion” was obviously silly and so no one would mistake it for real history.  While watching it, my blood pressure was never at risk.

However, “Elizabeth”–the 1998 Cate Blanchett travesty–could have killed me.   This film infuriated me.  It was more than the usual simplifications and inaccuracies; “Elizabeth” was fabricating most of the story.  The script got her name and hair color right–and that was about it.  You saw battles and executions that never happened.  Some historical figures were mutated beyond  recognition.  The real Francis Walsingham was a grim puritanical bureaucrat who headed the Elizabethan intelligence service; but for his competence, he could have been the 16th century Dick Cheney.  In “Elizabeth”, however, Walsingham has become an omnisexual James Bond; among his feats, he seduces and assassinates the Queen of Scotland.   I wonder how many film viewers believe that actually happened.

You can imagine my dread of the sequel.  Would Jennifer Lopez play Philip II?  I tried to avoid “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” but in my remote control meanderings I kept colliding with it.  The pageantry lured me, and I decided to risk my health and self-respect by watching the film.  I stopped counting the historical errors and fabrications after the first seven minutes.  (There already were five.)  I just sat watching in resignation and confusion.  Somehow Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake became the same person.  And the director and the scriptwriter eventually abandoned all pretense at coherence.  They could not quite explain how Raleigh/Drake managed with a single ship to sink the Spanish Armada.  In fact, the inanity became contagious.  I considered what absurdities they somehow had omitted from the film. 

Here are a few of my fabrications–which are available for the next sequel: 

Elizabeth visits Stratford-on-Avon Junior High and encourages one of the students to improve his penmanship.

Leonardo da Vinci offers to build Elizabeth an air force, allowing Britain to colonize America.

To confuse the Spanish Armada, Francis Bacon (painter or writer, what’s the difference) camouflages the White Cliffs of Dover to look like Sicilian olive groves.  Ferdinand Magellan, thinking he made the wrong turn at Cadiz, sails the Armada west to the Philippines where the fleet  is devoured by giant termites.  (Only Miguel Cervantes survives to tell the tale.)

I only hope that I am kidding…but I am willing to take the check.

And Today’s Special Guest Victim Is….

Posted in On This Day on March 23rd, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

If embezzlers and MBAs had a Hall of Fame, Nicolas Fouquet would be shamelessly prominent. As the Minister of Finance during the early reign of Louis XIV, Fouquet maintained a bookkeeping system modeled after the Gordian Knot. It could be said that he would collect all the revenues but was willing to share some with the government, or at least the officials he liked.

Fouquet had the finest home in France. It seems unlikely that he afforded it just by brownbagging his lunches. The thought certainly occurred to Louis XIV, who evidently resented being the social inferior of his minister. The King ordered Fouquet arrested for embezzlement. There was a public trial, and the verdict could hardly be in doubt, but the judges proved unusually sympathetic to the accused. (Had they been past recipients of Fouquet’s generosity?) They sentenced him to banishment; you might well suspect that Fouquet planned a comfortable exile. The King, however, overruled that lenient sentence and condemned Fouquet to life imprisonment. The disgraced minister spent the last fifteen years of his life in a less than luxurious cell. He died there in 1680.

His second career began in the 1930s. Someone in Hollywood had been reading Alexandre Dumas. The 19th century French novelist apparently had screenplays in mind. “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo” had been box office hits, and the studios wanted more. While Dumas himself was no longer available, he had been prolific and his works included a sequel to The Three Musketeers. Based on a legend about a prisoner in the Bastille, the story was known as “The Man in the Iron Mask.”

Dumas had imagined that the title character was Philippe the twin brother of Louis XIV, hidden from birth but now the center of a plot to substitute him on the throne. In the novel, the younger brother was the unknowing pawn of ambitious men. Their attempted coup fails, however, due to the heroism of D’Artagnan and the shrewdness of a government minister named Fouquet. The real king is saved (even if France isn’t) and Philippe is condemned to the Bastille where his royal features are covered by an iron mask.

It seemed like another swashbuckler perfect for Hollywood…except for one problem: the villains. In Dumas’ novel the conspirators were the Jesuits, led by the renegade musketeer Aramis. Hollywood was not prepared to vilify the Catholic Church (although the Church never has been shy about vilifying Hollywood). So, a new villain had to be created.

Poor Fouquet already had a criminal record. Since he was an embezzler, why not make him a traitor, too? So, from helping to foil the plot, Fouquet became the mastermind of it.

But then Hollywood came up with yet another improvement on the plot. Instead of making poor Philippe a malleable cipher, portray him as a noble alternative to his wicked older brother Louis–and have the plot succeed. Good Philippe would secretly replaced Louis, who then would become The Man in the Iron Mask. Of course, Fouquet would still have to be a villain, but he would prove his intrinsic evil by being loyal to the legitimate King.

The logic of the plot was very similar to Fouquet’s Gordian bookkeeping. Dumas would have been dismayed; he actually seemed to like the wily minister. In fact, Dumas even gives Fouquet one of the novel’s few jokes.

Fouquet has heard rumors of the twin prince. He asks a trusted henchman, “Do you recall some mystery surrounding the birth of Louis XIV?”

The aide replies, “Do you mean that Louis XIII was not the father?”

Fouquet corrects him, “I said a mystery.”

Veterans’ Day at the Movies

Posted in General, On This Day on November 11th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 10 Comments

November 11, 1918:  Western Civilization gave itself a slight respite from self-destruction.

The Armistice lasted 20 years, allowing sufficient time for the toddlers of 1918 to grow into their boots and helmets. (And during that respite, corporals and sergeants promoted themselves to Fuhrers and Duces.)

We Americans did actually win the First World War simply because we still had a breathing generation of draft age men and we showed up in France at the right moment. Had the Chinese sent one million men to France in 1918, they could have won the war, too. Timing is everything.

America was barely involved in World War I. We entered the War in 1917, missing all the excitement of Gallipoli, the Somme and Verdun. More doughboys died from influenza than Krupp munitions. Our chief casualties may have been Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, who were constantly escaping “a fate worse than death” from the Hunnish clutches (or whatever the pertinent organ) of Erich von Stroiheim in Hollywood’s depictions of the War. (It should be noted that in her long film career Miss Gish was also nearly raped during the French Revolution and the American Civil War.) Given our limited participation in the Great War, we commemorate November 11 as a catch-all day for all of our Veterans.

However if you really want to honor the veterans of the most futile war in history, you can do so any day on Turner Classic Movies. Just turn on a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood and look at the British actors. To a man, they served in a far more harrowing theater than all the terrors of working with Bette Davis. Many of them were left scarred. Herbert Marshall had the unique distinction of being a leading man with a wooden leg. Claude Raines was blind in one eye. When you see Ronald Colman’s fencing in “The Prisoner of Zenda” you wouldn’t know that he had a kneecap shot off. Lieutenant Nigel Bruce was machine-gunned in the buttocks; that is not the kind of wound that gets the Victoria Cross. If Leslie Howard seemed introspective and other-worldly, shellshock can do that. In fact, to save time, let me recite the British actors who somehow avoided being maimed in France. Well, Leo G. Carroll was wounded in the Middle East; at least, he had that originality. And Captain Basil Rathbone, decorated for courage, really should have been awarded for remarkable luck: not a scratch!

The most veteran of the British veterans was Donald Crisp, the kindly father figure in so many films of the Thirties and Forties. (He did have an incestuous interest in Lillian Gish in “Broken Blossoms”; but you know, I am starting to have my suspicions about Miss Gish. Did the woman gargle pheromones?) Crisp fought in the Boer War and then served again in the Great War.

If you want to see a microcosm of British history, watch the 1940 production of “Pride and Prejudice.” The middle-aged actors–Edmund Gwenn and Melville Cooper– had served in the Great War. The younger members of the cast–Laurence Olivier and Bruce Lester–were to have their turn. The Armistice was about to end.

And Erich von Stroiheim would threaten a new generation of actresses.

The Moribund the Merrier

Posted in General on September 20th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

In case you are interested and have the money, Meryl Streep and Al Pacino are available for the remake of “Ma and Pa Kettle Go To Town.” You can’t quite envision any demand for that? Apparently, you were not at the studio meeting that made the brilliant decision to remake “The Women.”

You have seen the original–or at least 15 minutes of it. Made in 1939, it is one of those cute if quaint movies you stumble upon at Turner Classic Movies. You enjoy the arch but clever dialogue from the all-female cast–Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine–although you can’t quite recognize the star. (Her name was Norma Shearer.) You might wonder if any one of them is still alive: Joan Fontaine thanks you for your concern. And someday you intend to see the entire film…if only you can remember to tape it.

But this was the movie that Hollywood just had to remake. Updated to reflect our less constrained and more cosmopolitan society–venereal but with ethnic diversity–the film stars Meg Ryan (and her collagen), Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith and Eva Mendes. As for the results–both critical and box office–you can sense the disaster from the desperate tone of the advertising “blurbs” for the film.

Punctual“–The New York Times

Mommy Looks Pretty“–Eva Beatty

If Eva Mendes Doesn’t Have a Green Card, She Certainly Deserves One“–The National Review

Norma Shearer is Great“–Larry King