As a lover of old movies, some of my favorites came from Carl Laemmle’s Universal Studios in the Twenties and Thirties. One of these came about after the great success of Frankenstein which starred English actor Boris Karloff, and was yet another role to give him even more legendary fame: the 1932 The Mummy. Karloff is credited at the beginning, not as Boris Karloff but as Karloff the Uncanny because by this time, audiences would have known him from his appearance as Frankenstein’s Unnamed Monster. Karloff is definitely the star here as the high priest Im-Ho-Tep, who returns to life in the Twentieth Century after a British archaeological team unearths his mummified remains. What follows is a story of reincarnation, romance and death.
The movie was directed by Karl Freund, a German best known for not only being a cinematographer on Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis, but would later go onto fame as a director on I Love Lucy (Metropolis to The Mummy to Lucy and Ricky – that’s quite a career).
I’m hoping to do a bit more about the history of the movie itself at a later time, but here’s the original trailer!
William Henry Pratt – the Uncanny
Of all the Universal stars of the Golden Age of Horror in the 1920’s, 1930’s and early 1940’s, for me, the greatest was christened William Henry Pratt, the baby in a family of nine children born to Edward and Eliza Sarah Pratt in Camberwell, London, England on November 23rd, 1887. A bit of trivia about little William’s family: his maternal great-aunt was Anna Leonowens, better known as THAT ‘Anna’ of Anna and the King of Siam or The King and I. But I digress…
Now I know what you’re thinking – who the hell is William Henry Pratt? You know Bela Lugosi of ‘Dracula‘ fame; you remember Claude Rains as the ‘Invisible Man‘; you know Lon Chaney, Jr. of ‘The Wolfman‘ and to a lesser extent possibly ‘Frankenstein‘ as well; you might possibly recall Vincent Price playing yet another ‘Invisible Man‘. If you’re a movie buff, you may have seen the work of the great Lon Chaney – the Man of a Thousand Faces – who thrilled audiences as ‘The Phantom of the Opera‘ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘.
But William Henry Pratt? You don’t see his name in the Universal ‘Monster’ cavalcade.
Read more details at William Henry Pratt – the Uncanny where I continue this amazing story…
In commemoration of the Battle of the Nile (August 1st, 1798)
One of my favorite moments in my favorite movie of all time, Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World is when Jack Aubrey is having dinner with his officers – a scene which begins with the memorable line ‘To wives and to sweethearts – may they never meet.’
Due to drink, pretty much everyone is feeling warm and fuzzy, and a conversation starts in which Jack recalls his service at the Battle of the Nile, as well as his two meetings with one of the greatest British heroes. The man is Jack’s hero as well, someone he admires and tries to emulate on occasion, and what is at first lighthearted ends with words that never fail to make me tear up. It’s not a lengthy scene; it is not filled with sea battles or action sequences. This is a quiet moment full of reflection and pride, and like Jack, I feel enormous admiration for his imperfect hero, who was nevertheless a great man and there when his nation needed him.
I’ve tried and tried – so far with no success – to find the actual scene from the movie, so failing that (at the moment) I’m posting portions of the screenplay here, courtesy of IMDB for Master and Commander. For me, it might be one of the finest scenes Russell Crowe has ever committed to the screen:
Calamy, Midshipman: Sir?
[everyone looks to Calamy as he addresses Aubrey]
Calamy, Midshipman: Excuse me, sir, but Mr. Blakeney said that you served under Lord Nelson at the Nile.
Capt. Jack Aubrey: Indeed. I was a young lieutenant, not much older than you are now. And Mr. Pullings…Mr.Pullings was a snivelling midshipman…
[Pullings laughs and smiles]
Capt. Jack Aubrey: …still yearning for hearth and home.
Calamy, Midshipman: Did you meet him, sir? Can you tell me what he was like?
Capt. Jack Aubrey: I have had the honour of dining with him twice. He spoke to me on both occasions. A master tactician and a man of singular vision.
1st Lt. Tom Pullings: Right. He always said in battle… “Never mind the manoeuvres, just go straight at ’em.”
Mr. Allen, Master: Some would say not a great seamen, but a great leader.
Capt. Howard, Royal Marines: He’s England’s only hope if old Boney intends to invade.
Mr. Allen, Master: Sir, might we press you for an anecdote?
Capt. Jack Aubrey: The first time he spoke to me… I shall never forget his words. I remember it like it was yesterday. He leaned across the table, he looked me straight in the eye, and he said “Aubrey… may I trouble you for the salt?”
[the other men roar in laughter, Aubrey tries to contain himself]
Capt. Jack Aubrey: I’ve always tried to say it exactly as he did ever since.
[his mood changes]
Capt. Jack Aubrey: The second time… The second time he told me a story… about how someone offered him a boat cloak on a cold night. And he said no, he didn’t need it. That he was quite warm. His zeal for his king and country kept him warm.
Capt. Jack Aubrey: I know it sounds absurd, and were it from another man, you’d cry out “Oh, what pitiful stuff” and dismiss it as mere enthusiasm. But with Nelson… you felt your heart glow.
[Aubrey and Calamy share a smile]
Capt. Jack Aubrey: Wouldn’t you say, Mr.Pullings?
1st Lt. Tom Pullings: [sincerely] You did indeed, sir.
Jack Aubrey’s pride and joy may be the HMS Surprise (of which he once said, per the motion picture Master and Commander: ‘Would you call me an aged man-o-war, doctor? The Surprise is not old; no one would call her old. She has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She’s a fine seabird: weatherly, stiff and fast… very fast, if she’s well handled. No, she’s not old; she’s in her prime.’).
But there is also something else he cherishes among other things. When Jack was a young Lieutenant, he was present aboard the HMS Leander during the pivotal Battle of the Nile, which happened today, August 1st in 1798. That would be his Nile Medal. According to what is called the Aubreyad, or the canon involving Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, Jack proudly wears it in a buttonhole of his dress uniform coat – and who can blame him!
Here’s an example:
I’ve mentioned how the canon says Jack wears it, but in this screenshot from the first dining scene, I’m thinking – with him being in full dress uniform – that he’s wearing it on that ribbon you see around his neck, and in this shot, it’s not visible.
And I was told ages ago that this is the Nile Medal on the ribbon, and in this image, it is a tad clearer:
Knowing Crowe and his attention to character detail, this is it! Especially when you see an actual Nile Medal and how it might have been worn.
Read more about the Nile Medal on The HMS Surprise Wiki page.
The Nile Medal was a privately-issued commemoration of the British victory at the Battle of the Nile, 1798. The medal was commissioned by Alexander Davison, whom Admiral Nelson had appointed the sole prize agent for the ships captured at the Battle of the Nile. He paid for the medal from his profits; the total cost was £2000.
Obverse: On a rock near the sea, Peace is standing holding in her right hand an olive branch and supporting with her left hand a medallion of Nelson, an anchor behind her. Legend: ‘REAR-ADMIRAL LORD NELSON OF THE NILE’. Inscription around the portrait: ‘EUROPE’S HOPE AND BRITAIN’S GLORY’. Below: ‘C.H.K’. (C.H. Kuchler).
Reverse: View of Aboukir Bay at sunset, the British Fleet going into action, the French at anchor. Incuse: ‘John Lewes H.M.S. DEFENCE’. Legend: ‘ALMIGHTY GOD HAS BLESSED HIS MAJESTY’S ARMS’. Exergue: ‘VICTORY OF THE NILE AUGUST 1. 1798’. Above (left) ‘M.B. SOHO’ (right) ‘C.H. KUCHLER. FEC.’ Both sides of the medal are glazed, with a suspension loop and white ribbon with blue edges attached.
All Caught Up – So Let’s Get A Jump on Things…A Bit of Reminiscing…
This moderator saw this movie for the first time in January of 1998. I had heard so much about it, I was curious as to whether it was everything the critics claimed. But most of all, I wanted to see what would likely be the main competition for the movie which went on – at the time – to become the the biggest hit (worldwide) of all time: James Cameron’s Titanic.
It did indeed become Titanic‘s competition.
Even Oscar host Billy Crystal joked during the ceremony that it was probably the only movie of those nominated which would come close to knocking off Titanic for Best Picture.
While Titanic lost its’ spot as the #1 box office champion of all time, and it remains one of my favorite movies, its’ competition has gone on to become a true and near perfect classic. While it won only two of the nine Oscars for which it was nominated (yep, too bad it came out in the same year in the box office tsunami that was Titanic), 2015 saw it garner one of the finest recognitions any movie could receive. “…the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Other movies in that select number include Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Ghostbusters (the original), Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Goodfellas and The Zapruder Film with the assassination of President Kennedy.
Not a bad group to be in!
Based on the third novel in the LA Series by James Ellroy, it is a story of passion, corruption, immorality, human frailty, vice, murder. and is considered not only a fine piece of modern film noir, but one of the finest films about Los Angeles corruption since Chinatown.
And in this movie – which won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay – across the board, we see some of the best performances ever. But not a single male in the group was nominated for best supporting or best actor: not Oscar winner (for another movie) Kevin Spacey, not the little known Aussies Russell Crowe or Guy Pearce, nor Americans James Cromwell and Danny DeVito. Only former model Kim Basinger was nominated and won (for best supporting actress, beating out Gloria Stuart as Old Rose in Titanic).
It’s hard for me to be mean to Titanic. Lord knows I love it to this day, especially since I’ve been a Titanic buff since I was a little girl.
But as the years go by – and in 2017 it will be an unbelievable twenty years since it was released – the movie grows more amazing with each passing year.
And to think that some morons wanted to do a TV adaptation once upon a time, but that project never saw the light of day, thank the Lord!
So in honor of its’ nineteenth birthday…Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential.
This trailer doesn’t even do justice to what an outstanding movie it is!
Continuing Admiration For the Greatness Which Is LA Confidential
Ramblings About James Ellroy, LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia, and Geneva Ellroy
Before I saw LA Confidential in January of 1998, before the movie’s release in September of 1997, and before the novel’s publication in 1990, I ran across James Ellroy for the first time. I borrowed – from my local library – a copy of his book, The Black Dahlia…because I liked the cover! What a reason. Well, the title also fascinated me, because the name was familiar. At the time I had no idea that it was the first of Ellroy’s LA Quartet, of which LA Confidential was the third in the series. However, what was my interest in reading something by an author I knew nothing of other than admiring the cover and being fascinated by the book’s title?
Because Mr. Ellroy’s inspiration for his novel – which fell along the lines of the type of noir written by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler – was the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, one of the most heinous cases not only in Los Angeles Police history, but in the history of American crime. And this was a tragedy which had fascinated me from the time I first heard about it. Rank it right up there with the Manson Family murders and the Hillside Strangler; with Richard Speck, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and all those real-life monsters out of our nightmares, brought to reality in vivid, sickening color.
With regret, we recall the names of the killers more than we do their victims, and since we still have no idea who took this young life, I’ll write a bit into who she was and what happened to her Hollywood dream. In a nutshell:
Elizabeth Ann Short was born July 29th, 1924 in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. She came to Hollywood in 1943 during World War II, and was arrested for underage drinking a few months later. On January 15, 1947, in a vacant lot in Los Angeles, her tortured body was discovered, mutilated and sliced in half. The media – similar to our own media today, showing that little changes – gave her the nickname ‘The Black Dahlia,’ a play on a film murder mystery called ‘The Blue Dahlia.’ I imagine more people know her by her ‘media’ name than they do her real one. It is one of the oldest unsolved homicides in Los Angeles history.
James Ellroy had not been born.
Short’s murder inspired Ellroy to write the first of his LA novels. When I read it, I devoured it – and didn’t sleep for nights afterwards because it gave me nightmares. This coming from someone who read Helter Skelter about the Manson murders. Not only did Ellroy use the Dahlia murder for a plot point in his story, but he also mixed in Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs, the story of a man whose face is mutilated when he is a child, therefore giving him a permanent, garish smile. It was this smile that supposedly inspired the creation of Batman’s greatest foe, The Joker!
I’ll let you digest that for a minute or two before I continue.
Ellroy may also have been working out some of his own demons when he wrote The Black Dahlia.
In 1998, CBS did a documentary with Ellroy, in which he discussed the effects one traumatic event had in his life. Says James Ellroy, “The radio call went out 10:10 a.m. Sunday, 6/22/58. Dead body at King’s Row and Tyler Avenue, El Monte.”
The ‘dead body at King’s Row and Tyler Avenue’ was the mother of the future author.
The redhead had been dumped by the roadside. Some Little Leaguers discovered the body. As Ellroy describes it: “A nylon stocking and a cotton cord were lashed around her neck. Both ligatures were tightly knotted.”
The victim was a 43-year-old divorced nurse. A mother. Her son: 10-year-old James Ellroy, the day the policeman bent down to tell him, “Son, your mother’s been killed.”
“I had touched an unknowable horror that remained a literal mystery,” he recalls. “We didn’t find the man that killed my mother. The cops didn’t get the guy. Well, all literature of the time told you that the cops got the guy. The cops didn’t get the guy that killed my mother. I knew things that other 10-year-old boys didn’t.”
Jean Ellroy’s boy saw crime in his daydreams and nightmares. Murdered women obsessed him. They haunt his crime novels: “The Black Dahlia,” “The Big Nowhere,” “L.A. Confidential,” “White Jazz”. They all betray a secret underside of L.A. But for many years, Ellroy left one dark place unexplored: His own mother’s murder.
In his book “My Dark Places,” Ellroy finally confronted the truth that fires his fiction. In the book’s prologue, he writes: “Your death defines my life. I want to take your secrets public. I want to burn down the distance between us. I want to give you breath.”
The murder of Geneva Odelia Hilliker Ellroy – as mentioned in the documentary – remains unsolved.
A few years ago, I believe on 60 Minutes or one of those documentary shows, there was an interview with a woman whose father was one of those physician to the stars – or something to that effect. She claimed she was sexually abused by her father’s friends, some of whom have well-known names in the Hollywood of the time, and in the end she ran away from home. There was talk of hidden chambers and orgies; that her father knew people on the LAPD. The woman says she is certain that one of the young women who came to a party one night at their home was Elizabeth Short.
This is the world where we find the likes of Ed Exley, Jack Vincennes and Bud White, our three protagonists in LA Confidential. They would know of The Black Dahlia case. Depending on the time frame of the movie (the novel takes place from approximately 1950 to 1958), they may have heard of the murder of Geneva Ellroy. The head spins as the thought of reality clashing with such fiction.
Somewhere in all those real stored boxes of files kept in the archives of the Los Angeles Police Department, are pages upon pages of transcripts of interviews; detective’s notebooks; memos on witnesses and the psychos that came forward to confess to a crime they didn’t commit. Somewhere is perhaps an answer that was missed. But because other murders happen – both the high-profile and the not so famous – Elizabeth Short and Geneva Ellroy became statistics; their cases still open. Even today, alleged experts write essays, news articles and books claiming they know who killed Short.
One retired LAPD detective has gathered evidence which he believes proves that his father, a physician, murdered Elizabeth Short. He stands by everything he has discovered.
I love the satisfaction of seeing justice served, and murderers caught and punished. In the back of my mind, it would be wonderful to stamp CLOSED on these case files. Realistically, I don’t think it will happen. We have people arguing over the identity of Jack the Ripper, and that was over one hundred years ago. There is still controversy over the assassination of John Kennedy, and that was almost fifty-three years ago.
I hate using the trope “too much time has passed” when it comes to Ellroy or Short’s deaths, but it likely has. I can only conclude with this: that my little rambling gave you some background into the Los Angeles of the 1940’s and 1950’s. While I’ve never read the novel version of the modern noir movie classic, and can only say that I would never reread The Black Dahlia (personal preference – it horrified me too much), perhaps this will give you interest in these two cases. Of how the murder of a future writer’s mother and the murder of a young woman pursuing her Hollywood dreams became the inspirations for one of America’s finest modern authors.