sarcasm under pressure

Hastur’s head snapped around. He seized the flickering lamp, made two strides, hurled it into the hall, leaned after it, jerked back.

“Are you still teleport-blocking me?” Eva inquired.

He kicked the door shut, slammed the bolt home, one-handed. “No.”

“If you’re trying to gain my trust—”

“Not your trust, woman. Just your life.”

Eva said: “Thanks.”

Hastur turned, made eye contact, and, slowly, wrenched a red-fletched dart from his impaled palm. “You know the weight of my word. It is I who knows nothing of you—Lady.”

“One of us,” Eva agreed, “Has a right to be nervous.”

(Originally posted in 2017)

Overheard or Spoken

“X has a doctor’s appointment at two but she’s available now. She’s gonna come out. She’s also gonna put some pants on.”

“That’s the husband. We had our 47 year anniversary a couple weeks ago.”
“Well that’s something, congratulations.”
“Yeah…he’s been hell for 46 of them.”

“Kitteh! Littul kitteh meow-meow!”

“It is, how you say, the mud. It is too much mud.”

Escape Me Never (1947) – Movie Review

Errol Flynn is staring to your left. Don’t look now…

There are usually two reasons that old movies by great stars are forgotten: one, that they were good but simply overshone by the famous ones that made said stars, stars; or two, that they weren’t all that good to begin with. (Or, three, copyright miscellany screws up the distribution and they get overlooked or forgotten.)

In any case, this is an example of the second kind: while it features powerhouse stars (Ida Lupino, Errol Flynn, and Eleanor Parker), has a sweeping Korngold score (his last), exhibits a fine stable of characters with a more than adequate melodramatic concept…it isn’t all that good.

Plot: Gig Young is Caryl Dubrok, a penniless young musician/composer who is courting the wealthy and well-off Fenella–Eleanor Parker. Although she insists on getting married ASAP and he agrees to make a stab at holding down a steady job, this plan is promptly derailed by the appearance of Gemma (Ida Lupino), who claims to be a) a single mother, b) living with a man c) named Dubrok. Fenella promptly breaks the engagement and storms off.

Turns out, however, that while Gemma is rooming with a Dubrok, it’s the older and even more penniless and feckless brother Sebastian, not Caryl. The three (and baby Piccolo…what a ridiculous name for a baby. I mean, it’s fine as a nickname but they only ever refer to him by it and it only gets more grating with repetition) set out to find Fenella and explain.

Unfortunately, Sebastian bumps into Fenella without knowing who she is and promptly makes the moves. And while between Gemma strong-arming Sebastian into backing off (and marrying her) and Caryl grovelling with great success, he and Fenella finally get back together, feelings and tensions remain…intense…and unsatisfied.

And, y’know, the plot-slash-everybody’s-feelings only get more involved and intense from there on, but you’ve probably been adequately warned by now.

It has a happy ending, though.

The good part is that Lupino and Flynn were powerhouse stars for a reason, and even without A+ material to work on, make you believe that you’re watching deathless drama and hearing passionate, poetic, deathless prose. The fact that you aren’t tends to creep back in whenever anyone else is on screen, although Gig Young and Eleanor Parker also do their best and aren’t anywhere near bad. However, (here’s the bad part): a large chunk of the problem is that at least 50% of the characters aren’t that intrisically likeable, either. So…whichever way you turn, this movie has got problems.

Overall: it’s one of those that got gently shoved down the memory-hole not so much because it was abjectly terrible but just because it wasn’t very good.

Rated: Escape or not, it won’t hurt.

Marnie – Winston Graham – Book Review (repost)

Marnie is a 1961 novel by Winston Graham (no, I’ve never heard of him, either) which was adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock (who does sound familiar) in 1964. The movie met mixed success, despite starring Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren. The book apparently has been mostly forgotten.

The book is way better than the movie. I know, shocking.

Plot: Margaret “Marnie” Elmer, an attractive, intelligent, perceptive young woman, steals money from the companies she has worked for to support her crippled, widowed mother. She’s done three so far and is confident in her abilities to lie as readily to her employers as to her mother, but taking a job as cashier to [COMPANY] turns out to be the step too far.

Marnie is twisted–although not lacking in empathy, she is remote and distant enough that it might as well be the case. On this job, however, she starts to connect with people, interacts with people (especially: male people), and this starts to change: she has conversations, makes friends, and the firm’s part-owners, Mark Rutland and Terry Holbrook, take an interest in her. Terry is an affable slimeball, but Mark is a gentleman–and also sincerely in love with Marnie. Enough to cover for her when she makes her move, search when she disappears, haul her back by the ear, and….

….blackmail her into marrying him.

Mark’s also an idiot, because he thinks that this will all work out fine, somehow.

Marnie, however, has what TVTROPES helpfully categorizes as Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality. She goes absolutely berserk at the thought of consummating the marriage, a state of affairs which continues through the honeymoon until Mark gets fed up and–Trigger Warning–rapes her. (He apologizes after.)

He also insists that she see a psychiatrist.

Marnie’s sparring with the psychiatrist, with Mark, with Terry (who is smart enough to suspect something is up with his partner’s new wife when it’s that bloody obvious), her alternating escape plans and tentative efforts to acclimatize herself to her situation–and efforts to find a new source of cash to bring home to Mother–take most of the novel’s second half.  Despite heroic efforts of resistance on Marnie’s part, the good doctor makes some progress at helping her realize that she really is missing something: there are in her past events that don’t add up, memories that can’t be real, wrong dates, unlikely coincidences. It takes genuine tragedy to make the breakthrough, but, finally, at the extreme end, Marnie finds the key to it all….

The end reveal is different in the novel than the film (again, the film was dumbed down a lot), enough so that I didn’t expect and won’t spoil it here. In the movie, the issues are resolved by a chat with Mother and a good cry, and Marnie is now at peace with Mark and mankind. (Or, er, humankind.) Here…the reveal doesn’t so much show all to the audience as it does give Marnie the tools she needs to understand what others have told her about herself: that she isn’t evil or crazy–just, in a highly specific and also harmful way, sick.

Marnie finds this knowledge, Mark’s support, and her own newfound awareness, empowering enough to walk through a door and face down her enemies at the cliffhanger climax of the novel. We don’t know if Marnie will go to jail after all, but now she has the stability to handle a trial, and is able to accept Mark’s love (no, his feelings) at last.

The book, which is first person, is primarily a character study of Marnie…and she’s a fascinating character. She lies easily and smoothly. She can remember the day and hour she decided to steal for the first time. She loves her mother, but also somewhat despises her. She loves her horse. She’s extremely intelligent, good with numbers, a quick learner at whatever she turns her hand to. She was raised in poverty by a poorly educated and unintelligent woman with a twisted view of the world.  And Marnie was twisted by that worldview, shaped by it, and yet grew up all right mostly, except for the few little parts in her that bent a little too far out of shape and broke.

Mark is an interesting character well, although as the novel wears on, Marnie’s loathing for him does not diminish, and his patience never fails, he does strain credulity. The version of him played by Sean Connery is actually quite good, either because Connery’s charisma pulls it off, or because he does lose his temper occasionally.

Terry Holbrook, a book-only character, is someone who might have been excellent when  played by George Saunders. My exact notes on Terry state: “affably despicable when he’s bad, affably smug when he’s being nice.” Marnie headbutting him in the nose was a definite high point for the book and his character. Focusing the book more on corporate intrigue, backstabbing, and blackmail, would have been interesting. A different book entirely, but interesting. In the movie, Terry’s character is converted into Mark’s jealous step-sister, Lil Mainwaring, either because Diane Baker was more photogenic or Saunders was too expensive.

What else do I have to say about this….Oh yes. So I’m working on a thesis that the difference between an OK work and a great one is: horses. Fort Dobbs? Last Train from Gun Hill? No focus on horses, and they’re…OK at best. Quantez? With a comparable cast, budget, and script, + horses? It’s much better than OK. Maybe not “great”, but very good. The Subtle Knife books? OK but then sharply declining in quality: no horses. Narnia? Not only horses, but Talking Horses; a classic. The Dragaera novels? No horses. The hero even has to do his wandering the earth on foot. They absolutely don’t hold up to re-reads. Lord of the Rings? You have Bill the Pony, the entire country of Rohan, and Shadowfax. LOTR is a seminal work on which the entire modern fantasy genre is based. The Blue Sword? It’s literally swords-and-horses fantasy and it won the Newberry. (…a blue ribbon…?) So. Yeah, um, back to the topic.

Marnie’s love for her horse, Forio, is one of the most human things about her, and the thing that motivates her the most. A reviewer elsewhere derided Marnie’s going to an injured Forio first, instead of her husband, as evidence of a terrible person, and as  unrealistic. That reviewer has obviously never owned a horse before, or heard one screaming.

Anything else…Well, Marnie is an excellent narrator. Objectively, she’s a terrible person–a liar, impersonal, resentful, a thief–but from the inside she’s understandable and even sympathetic. Her steps toward finding her own identity, settling into the role and community of “Mrs. Rutland” are actually rather heartwarming to read.

And I’m out of things to say about this book, except that I was up until about 1:53 a.m. reading it.

Rated: Five stolen payrolls out of five.

incompleat interrogation

Torric hunkered down to the prisoner’s level, stared earnestly into his face. He waited a bit, eyes probing, and then he asked gently: “Do you fear me?”

Cassidy couldn’t see the prisoner’s face, and even now—here, at this point—he made no sound but for the rasp of hard-won breaths. Perhaps he couldn’t. Either way, it wasn’t hard to guess.

Torric, however, nodded politely as though he had. “It does not signify. I am only a man. But Alberich—”

The prisoner started.

Torric nodded, very slightly, and smiled, very slightly. “—Alberich is the wild fire, and he is coming here.”

Poetry Corner – Macavity: the Mystery Cat

   Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw -
  For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
  He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
  For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!
 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
  He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
  His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
  And when you reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!
  You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air -
  But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!

  Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
  You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
  His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
  His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
  He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
 And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

  Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
  For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
  You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square -
  But when a crime's discovered, then Macavity's not there!
  He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
  And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
  And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
  Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled,
  Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair -
  Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

  And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty's gone astray,
  Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
  There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair -
  But it's useless to investigate - Macavity's not there!
  And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
  `It must have been Macavity!' - but he's a mile away.
  You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
  Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.
Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
  There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
  He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
  At whatever time the deed took place - MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
 And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
  (I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
  Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
  Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime! 

- T. S. Eliot