Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Harry Potter and the Deadly Huhs?, Part I
By Edward Copeland
When this blog first began (actually before it began, when I would just jot short movie musings on my long defunct political blog the Copeland Institute for Lower Learning), one of the first films I wrote about was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire under the title "Harry Potter and the Defiance of Sequel Expectations." It could hardly be called a review, as short as it was, but one thing I wrote was "How is it that a film series can keep getting better as it goes on instead of worse?" I fear I jinxed it with those words about the fourth in the series, because the fifth slipped just a bit, while the sixth installment flummoxed this viewer who'd never read a word of any of J.K. Rowlings' books. Now, I've caught up with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I and it seemed to me as if I'd walked into a four-hour movie after missing the first two hours. It's a tiring befuddlement missing any sense of fun, suspense of consequence or, most importantly considering its realm, magic.
One thing that's interesting in Deathly Hallows — but just briefly — is seeing Harry, Hermione and Ron (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) running around London for a change instead of their usual Hogwarts haunts. It did again raise the question I've always had throughout the series: If these kids head off to this wizardry school to matriculate their magical skills, but they aren't supposed to practice their powers back among the muggles, what exactly is the point once they graduate? Do they automatically get stuck in careers as teachers of future young wizards? I take it none of them head back to the regular world and embark on normal careers and retire their wands. (As an aside, Hogwarts always has professors for subjects such as Defense Against the Dark Arts, but does anyone there bother to teach the students math, English or science?)
Anyway, Hogwarts isn't part of the equation in Deathly Hallows anyway. It seems to concern "the ministry" which I'm guessing is the Harry Potter equivalent of Buffy Summers' Watchers' Council and that evil Lord Voldemort, the blank-faced bad guy with some sort of shared memories with Harry (who is supposed to be Ralph Fiennes, hidden somewhere beneath that pasty, featureless makeup) has destroyed it much as The Council got itself blown up. At least I think that's what Bill Nighy's character, dressed as if he accidentally got teleported to the set from a production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, tells us.
Most of the adult characters are absent or make just cursory appearances here. There's very little of Alan Rickman's Professor Snape and a nice but all-too-brief appearance by Brendan Gleeson's Mad-Eye Moody. I do admit I did get excited when Imelda Staunton reappeared as Dolores Umbridge, since I believe her performance in Order of the Phoenix remains the best given by any actor in the entire series and an argument could have been seriously made for nominating her for supporting actress. Unfortunately, we get a bit of Dolores' little giggle and then she's gone again.
Of course, the sequence she appears in lacks the coherence that most of this overlong and tedious film does. Near the beginning, the good guys, worried about keeping Harry's location secret from Voldemort, take time out to attend a wedding but for the life of me, I can't tell you who the hell was getting married or why it should have mattered.
I don't know why the producers of the series have remained glued to director David Yates. Once Chris Columbus thankfully exited after the first two bland installments, that's when the series started getting better, first with Alfonso Cuaron and then with Mike Newell. They turned to Yates starting with Order of the Phoenix, which Staunton basically saved, but that film overall and two since have taken the series into a downhill spiral instead of up toward a rousing conclusion.
Many years ago, a bunch of my friends and I went out to see David Lynch's film of Frank Herbert's Dune the weekend it opened. As with the Harry Potter books, I'd never read any of the Dune books either. I knew I was in trouble when at the theater they handed each ticketholder a sheet with a long list of definitions for terms that would be used in the movie. What was I supposed to have done — bring along a flashlight so I could look things up as the movie played in case I got confused or lost?
I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I at home on DVD. I sort of wish it had come with one of those lists to help me understand what the hell was going on. Then again, a good movie doesn't require supplements to explain itself. If it's any good, the film stands on its own and speaks for itself.
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Sunday, May 29, 2011
Treme No. 16: Feels Like Rain
BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along.
By Edward Copeland
Some of the commentary in my Treme recaps this season may make me sound like a broken record, criticizing the same thing: Namely episodes that consist entirely of tiny scenes that appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. I especially beat up on them when they cut away from scenes in particularly odd spots, inserting short scenes in the middle of others only to go back to the first scene or when they truncate musical performances. Of course, that's only been the case in two out of the season's five episodes so far ("On Your Way Down" and "Slip Away"). The other three installments I've liked and — in the cases of "Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky" and "Santa Claus, Do You Ever Get the Blues?" — two of those were among the best episodes the still young series has produced. So in reality, I've been more positive this season than I've been negative. That's why it may come as a shock to faithful readers when I tell them that the second season's sixth episode, "Feels Like Rain," directed by Roxann Dawson from a teleplay by Tom Piazza and a story by Piazza and Eric Overmyer, follows this clip show structure again but, aside from a single instance of a bad cut where a 15 second scene interrupts a musical number for no apparent reason, it actually worked for me this time, finding a more natural flow between the short scenes and a pacing for the episode that worked. Now, this week's scenes aren't all teeny-tiny: they are back in the 40s, scene count-wise, unlike the 90+ count of last week, and they allow some scenes to linger longer than two minutes. I still have a preference for episodes that mix up the lengths of scenes, but "Feels Like Rain" manages to produce a quality episode of Treme within this constricting structure. I don't want the show to be this way every week, even if this episode shows they're capable of doing that type of episode well. What also helps this episode may not be as obvious: It has a subtle underlying theme that runs through almost every scene and storyline. This week, is all about passing on what you know and learning new things. A lot of this relates to culture, particularly music, though not exclusively, but nearly all the characters are either providing or getting an education. Also, a quick note about this week's recap. I didn't get to see "Feels Like Rain" until much later than usual, which gave me less time to work on it than I usually do. As a result, this week is a more no-frills recap than usual.
Since this episode's underlying theme is education, who better for the show to lead off with than everyone's favorite former Tulane professor of literature? Viewers will know it's a dream immediately, but people who have been fans of Treme since season one will welcome the brief visit anyway. As the episode opens, Toni fixes her morning coffee and scrambles about the kitchen when a familiar voice fills the air, sort of humming, sort of singing, just basically making musical sounds with his mouth. Toni starts heading toward the room where the sound's coming from. When she can see into the dining room, there sits Creighton (John Goodman) merrily making those noises, decked out in a Hawaiian shirt with a lei around his neck and a white hat atop his head. "Aloha," he greets his wife while tipping and removing the hat. "Creigh, I didn't know you were here," Toni tells him. "I love the new place," Creighton says. Toni comments that he looks great and asks if he cut his hair, but the former Tulane professor's response is to note that she took down his Les Blank poster. "We've been meaning to come see you, but Sofia has been so busy with the new school," Toni insists. "Believe me, I get it," Creighton says. "You haven't told her about the thingamahoojie." Toni crinkles her nose. "I thought I'd wait for the right moment," she tells him. "Hawaii must be beautiful." Creighton looks at his wife puzzled and tells her he hasn't been in Hawaii and asks if she got his letter. From the hallway Sofia, dressed as a mermaid, shouts, "Daddy!" She shuffles in her fins and hugs her father, telling him how much she missed him. "I miss you too, sweet," he says. If anyone wasn't sure this was a dream yet, they would be now when Sofia rushes over to show her costume to Toni, putting both her hands in hers so her mom can spin her around and look it over. Suddenly, with Creighton standing, he orders, "Hey, let's go!" Toni asks where, but Sofia takes her mom's hand and leads her as Creighton waves them back toward the front door as if he were guiding an airplane into its gate. When the family is at the front door, Toni worries that she doesn't have a costume. Creighton takes a jester's hat from the wall and places it on his wife's head. "Fantastic," he proclaims as music plays. The three place their hands over their hearts as Creighton again says, "Let's go!" Toni opens the door and she and Sofia exit first into a blinding white light followed by Creighton who lets out a cackle and dances a wacky little jig out the door, tipping his hat and doing a kick as he vanishes again. We then see Toni, sound asleep in her bed, a big grin on her face — until the morning sun awakens her and she realizes that Creighton hasn't come back and that smile disappears.
Albert followed through on his plan and his car, U-Haul attached, sits parked in front of daughter Davina's Houston home. Inside, Albert continues to work on his Indian suit, saying, "I'm gonna finish what I started but I'm done with all that. Done and done." Delmond is there, but he's getting ready to return to New York. They both doubt their father's word, with Del noting Albert hasn't missed a Mardi Gras since he learned to walk. Albert reminds him that he missed last year. "Jail don't count," Delmond says. "It's just another Tuesday," Albert declares. "I can live without it." The elder Lambreaux mentions that his children all seem to do fine without it. "We aren't the Big Chief," Davina responds. "Neither am I. Not no more. I'm retired," Albert announces. "As soon as I finish this here." Del asks his dad what happens to the suit then. Albert supposes he'll give it to Memphis Ronnie, but Del asks why, since Ronnie's sewing his own. "I'll give it to you then cause I know you ain't sewin'," Albert tells his son. Delmond informs his father that he has been sewing, but Albert just laughs. Delmond tosses a plane ticket to New York on the table and tells his father he can come up for a short visit and help him finish his suit. Albert stays noncommittal. As Davina and Del head to her car for the trip to the airport, she promises to work on dad about New York.
While a band director tells his sousaphone line that they won't be marching in any Mardi Gras parades if they can't do better than what they are showing him right now, Desiree approaches with a military step of her own, only she's set her sights on a different individual watching the practice — Dr. Jason Frasor (Marcus Lyle Brown). Apparently, he's familiar with Desiree, because he knows her by name and tries to stop her before she speaks, but you don't stop Desiree. It seems her cousin called her upset because her son is a ninth-grader at Mid-City's John McDonogh High School, and the security situation has become so frightening that the student fears going and his mom is afraid to send him to John Mac (the school's nickname) as well. According to IMDb, Brown also played Frasor in the second episode, where they had the parents' night meeting at Desiree's school, Homer A. Plessy Charter School, only at the time his character was identified merely as "principal." So I'm guessing this scene takes place at the school where Desiree works and that this practicing marching band belongs to (though based on the closing credits, I suspect this actually is the O Perry Walker High School Marching Band). Frasor tells Desiree that the school is overcapacity when she says her cousin's kid has to get into a better situation. Frasor tells her that he can't make an exception and Desiree tells him that her cousin may be forced to return to Houston, where I assume they relocated after the storm. Frasor says he hates to admit it, but that may be her best option. Part of the Recovery School District, John McDonogh High School had a bad reputation long before Katrina thanks to the 2003 on-campus murder of a 15-year-old student that led to a string of other murders. It also was part of a very expensive private security contract the district employed, in theory to prevent these problems, but the firm which had secured Olympics couldn't handle storm-shocked, relocated teenagers and later in 2007, part of the multimillion contract was cut. Ironically, the school was named for a controversial shipping magnate of the 17th and 18th century who in his will left his fortune to endow the public education systems of New Orleans and Baltimore. How about that for a double hit of favored cities for David Simon?
One of the things I liked most about this episode is that we get several scenes that almost come across as music appreciation classes camouflaged as drama so no one will notice. As I mentioned in my intro, teaching and learning of all types seem to underscore most of the stories and scenes of "Feels Like Rain." Since I started doing these more involved recaps of Treme, it's certainly been an education for me. I've learned so many culinary terms I didn't know before, not to mention musicians who were new to me and, even though my situation prevents me from ever actually visiting New Orleans, I'm starting to get a sense of its geography — where Mid-City ends and Uptown begins, where the Garden District lies. Then there's the history — lots of history — that I've come to learn, about people, places and things. In a way, each week, these recaps have become somewhat like a puzzle for me, looking at the visual clues on the screens and listening to verbal ones in the dialogue to figure out where a scene takes place or who character might be making a reference to at some point.
As for this particular episode, when I mentioned how much better the flow worked between the miniscenes this time, the segue between Desiree's scene and the one that follows provides an excellent example of the improvement. For all of Desiree's scene, that marching band practices in the background (to the point that some dialogue was difficult to make out) but when she leaves, that scene ends with the band marching to the left and out of the frame. The entire scene ran 54 seconds but that band marches us musically straight into the silence of Antoine and Mr. LeCouer's instrument-deprived band class. That's a good way to move from one scene to the next and keep it flowing when you're dealing with something that short. In the class, the students discuss numbers they could play in a Mardi Gras parade, or at least those who already have instruments could play. LeCouer tells the class that it isn't about the music. Even if they had the instruments and uniforms, they just aren't ready. "Shit. I was born ready," one student, Denard (Terry Johnson Jr.), says. "Hey, watch your language son," Antoine says sternly with his arms crossed. He may be deadly serious, but it's pretty funny to hear a poet of profanity such as Antoine Batiste chastising someone else about foul language. Another student asks what's the point of coming to band class if they can't be a band. LeCouer assures him that they are a band, but they aren't a band that's ready for Mardi Gras this year. "Y'all come to class to learn music, right?" Antoine asks rhetorically. "Well, part of learnin' to play is listenin' to it played." Antoine holds a CD box up before inserting the disc into the boom box. Some good old-fashioned jazz comes blaring out of the speakers. Some of the students seem to listen while others yawn. Antoine lets out a little, "Woo" before going on to say. "See, now that is jazz music being invented right there." The kid Antoine got on for cussing speaks up and says that he could play those notes. "Maybe not like he plays 'em but you write that down on paper, let me take it home, I come back" and have it all down, the student insists. "Oh yeah, but would ya? I mean would you play 'em if they weren't written down in front of you?" Antoine asks as he approaches the kid. "If you couldn't take it home and practice all night long? The man is playing with his heart right here. He's not readin' notes off a piece of paper, he's writin' it — as he plays with a feel. In the moment! Now that's jazz. That's improvisation. That's genius. And we invented that — New Orleans. Right here." Antoine tells the students to close their eyes and listen. There's another reason I like that scene so much. Even though this is mostly an episode of shorties, albeit one I think works for a change, that great scene for Wendell Pierce runs a little more than two minutes.
Outside the gates of Lusher, Sofia talks with her friend Jocelyn (Shelby Farrell) about the fact that her father killed himself. Sofia admits to feeling stupid when Jocelyn tells her that pretty much everyone knew and assumed she did as well, but just chose not to talk about it. If I hadn't been in a time crunch, I would have looked back at the first season's last episode and see how that newspaper headline played Creighton's death, to get a better feel for how his suicide became common knowledge when Colson let Toni remove the note from his truck. Toni honks as she drives up to pick Sofia up after school. "There she is — Mama Liar," Sofia snarls.
Harley and Annie have coffee outside The Sound Cafe as Annie struggles trying to write a new song on a guitar, admitting it would be so much easier if she were doing this on violin. She again laments how good her first effort was. "Yeah, if only little Bobby Z. hadn't gotten there first," Harley says while reading a paper. Annie decides to give up and settle for being a player. "You have to keep at it until you bleed," Harley tells her. Annie insists she is bleeding, but Harley laughs at her, saying she hasn't come close to bleeding yet, then offers her the use of "It's Alright Mama, I'm Hardly Bleeding" as a title for free.
Again, another example of good segues that help the flow with the structure of these truncated scenes. We end with Annie trying out notes on the guitar and it leads directly into a performance of Antoine Batiste & His Soul Apostles playing with special guest Henry Butler at Donna's Bar & Grill in the French Quarter, but we only get 50 seconds of their set before we cut away again. While I think "Feels Like Rain" works overall, this is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy." On a sadder note, Donna's Bar & Grill no longer exists, as a weekly venue anyway. Located across from Armstrong Park, it was the last live music club on N. Rampart Street, but it closed in August 2010. Though it's not open on a regular basis, it did re-open as a site for some events for this year's JazzFest.
What we interrupt the music for is Davis discussing with Lil Calliope, the rapper at Club Paradise he watched last week, about coming up with socially relevant material about the issues and problems facing New Orleans. The young man (who is played by Altonio Jackson as we wrote last week, is listed in the credits as Ace B., his rhyming name) isn't so sure, saying he just writes what he knows, but Davis plays tutor, giving him CDs of Public Enemy, London Calling and Sandanista! by The Clash and "the mother lode," Woody Guthrie. "Don't let the first couple verses of 'This Land Is Your Land' fool ya," Davis tells him. "That is one angry white boy there." After Calliope leaves, Annie comes up and asks Davis if he's serious. "New Orleans has enough dance music. With times being what they are in this sad fractured town, it's the hour to fight the power," Davis says.
We return to Donna's where, unfortunately, the set has finished. It might have been nice to have heard more of it. Antoine passes the pay around to the band members, including George Porter, who was subbing for Cornell. Antoine asks if Porter has heard when Cornell plans his return, but he has no idea. Porter tells Henry Butler it's great to see him and Butler responds, "Alright Porter, see ya on Friday, man." Curious, Antoine asks Butler what's happening Friday. Butler tells Antoine that they have a gig at The Howlin' Wolf. Butler asks if Antoine would be interested in sitting in, but you can see the conflict brewing in Batiste between Antoine, the newly minted bandleader with a Friday gig of his own, and the Antoine of old, who didn't have the headaches of keeping track of members and paying them but who could simply show up and make money for doing what he loves on high-profile stages with the likes of a Henry Butler. "Too bad," Butler responds when Antoine mentions his own gig. "We could really use a bone." While Antoine suggest some names and keeps talking to Henry as if part of him is reconsidering, they are interrupted by Sonny, who tells Butler what an honor it was playing with him. Antoine pays Sonny while he's there, but Sonny's puzzled because it's not his full rate. "I docked you half 'cause you was late," Antoine tells him. Sonny argues that it was only 10 minutes, but Antoine says it was half an hour and next time, "I'll dock the whole thing and you're done." As Sonny slinks off, Butler tosses more lures at Antoine, telling him that he's planning a summer tour with a horn section that will cover the East Coast, Europe and Japan. The sound of Japan excites Antoine, who has never been there. Butler tells him that Friday night's show is sort of a dress rehearsal.
Colson gets out of his squad car and 6th District Capt. John Guidry makes a beeline for him. "John, what did you hear?" Colson asks. "I thought you might like to see my new asshole," Guidry says. "Terry, what the fuck?" Colson reminds Guidry that he tried to talk to him, but Guidry stands by his defense that his men and homicide were working on legit leads in the Helen Hill murder. "Oh, the husband, come on?" Colson says dismissively. Guidry insists they had to clear him first. "Did anyone ever talk to the detective working the attempted push-in down the block?" Terry asks him. Guidry says they sent a team over there, but Colson reminds him they didn't do that until a week and a half after the murder. "You're not 6th District, you're not homicide and you go to a chief," Guidry responds with some hostility. "This is not about turf, John. The city's on its knees. Do your job and I wouldn't have to fuckin' do it for you," Colson tells him.
In Baton Rouge, Mrs. Brooks tells her daughter that she's found an apartment. LaDonna tries to talk her mom out of it, saying that both she and Larry like having her there and the boys adore having their grandmother around. Mrs. Brooks says it's on the bus line and only 20 minutes away and she'll be there whenever anybody wants her. "Puttin' the house up for sale too," she informs her daughter with a smile on her face. "It's time and I need the money." She tells LaDonna she didn't move up there to be a burden on them. From LaDonna's tone, you can see she suspects a coup d’état is in the works and she accuses her mother of agreeing with Larry now about selling GiGi's. "Y'all gonna have to decide sooner or later which it's gonna be," Mrs. Brooks responds, referring to LaDonna's two-city life.
Annie finds herself back in her comfort zone, playing her violin. She's doing it in impressive company as well, alongside pianist Tom McDermott and clarinetist Evan Christopher, who have recorded and performed together frequently in recent years, at Chickie Wah Wah, a Mid-City restaurant and bar that specializes in live Southeast Louisiana roots music. Annie really gets into playing with the pros and when the number finishes, she says, "That's a really cool beat, Tom." McDermott says that he wrote it for Henry Butler. "I heard Henry playing 'Tipitina' on the radio and I took a little fragment of what he was playing, put a little two-three clave underneath it," McDermott explains, adding some clapping and sounds with his mouth to get his point across, "and took that idea and stretched it into a whole tune." Annie shares her experience when she, "kinda did that with a Dylan song, only I didn't mean to." McDermott compliments her for at least being able to sing because he never learned how, but Annie's just as envious of his ability to write. While Tom and Annie continue to go back and forth over who is luckier for having which talent, Evan Christopher finally speaks up and suggests they practice another number.
We see a closeup of Davis lighting some kind of smoke amidst a circle of musician friends who endure his speech as he passes the lit stick around. "And with this sacred stick, we consecrate the bonds of musicianhood. Let he who has partook know that he is on a savage and unyielding quest for the very frontiers of funk and righteousness," Davis piously intones to those gathered. One of the circle asks, "What the fuck we gonna be playin'?" "Bounce funk rap and brass band twist," McAlary replies. "Our message will be angry and political. We will speak of the affront and injustices of our times and we will not be moved." Another guest asks a more pertinent question. "Do we have gigs?" Davis promises that they'll be playing three or four clubs a week once he gets a demo out. Another potential member inquires about the material and Davis claims he's been holed up for months writing. They all groan when the question of a frontman comes up and Davis tells them that he will front some, but Davis says most of the front work will be by Lil Calliope, who is a stranger to most of the others. I'm not in the circle at Davis' apartment, but this sudden idea has me scratching my head with questions as well. This turn in Davis' story confuses me slightly, almost as if we're watching his movie and an inexperienced teen working at the multiplex at the mall was assigned to build the movie when the film cans arrived, but somehow he left out some reels. Last week, Davis' focus remained on the sampler and it looked as if Don B. and Aunt Mimi had saved his ass by securing Mannie Fresh's participation. In this episode, that idea isn't even mentioned and Mimi and Don are M.I.A. while Davis appears to have moved on to something else. It makes me think that my objection to cutting from The Blue Note scenes to the Club Paradise ones were not only right for the reasons I spelled out in my criticisms of "Slip Away," but they also were out of place because they launched this new story thread for Davis without finishing the one he'd been involved in just a few scenes earlier or at least hitting the pause on it. It's not a flaw of this episode, it just seems as if something got started sooner than it was meant to or that the previous storyline didn't have an ending. If Mannie Fresh had said no and Don B. had declared his intention to drop out and they'd inserted a short scene — and Lord knows they love short scenes — where Davis tells Mimi he has a different idea to start the label with or she gets mad over him charging Janette's gift on her card and pulls up stakes, the transition would make more sense.
Nelson meets up with C.J. that night at Chickie Wah Wah where Tom McDermott, Evan Christopher and Annie have already started their set. C.J. asks Hidalgo if he knows much about ragtime music. Nelson admits he does not. C.J. tells him they are playing Scott Joplin, one of ragtime's greatest practitioners, though it's often played too fast. "How are they doing?" Nelson asks, pointing to Tom, Evan and Annie. "A little brisk," Liguori assesses, "but the Latin tinge is a nice touch though. Evan Christopher, the clarinet player — reminds me of Tony Parenti." The music lesson may be fine for me, but Nelson has business on his mind. "So North White Street, that big shipwreck," Nelson says, referring to a large building he was looking at earlier in this episode. C.J. laughingly calls the rundown building a "fixer-upper." Nelson tells C.J. that at the planning meeting on Friday, "A friendly fella came up to me and congratulated me on my successful bid." Liguori gives a curious nod and comments, "That was friendly." "But the auction hasn't happened yet?" While Nelson may have been mystified, C.J. shows no surprise and instead just tells the Texan that he thinks he's making a wise purchase adding, "Assuming you win the auction, of course." Liguori then leans in close to Nelson and advises him not to pay more than $1.1 million for the property. "But that's just me," C.J. says.
Is a chance meeting between two people from the same Southern city at an East Coast bar going to lead to something else? It's too soon to say. but after Janette saw Delmond's show at The Blue Note and visited with him and his girlfriend Jill over drinks afterward, now the two New Orleans exiles are sharing a late meal at Chinatown's Big Wong, a staple on Mott Street for more than 30 years that offers reasonably priced meals that include what you'd find at any Chinese restaurant as well as more exotic fare such as the types Janette has talked Del into trying (roast pork) and failed to talk Del into trying (such as salt-and-pepper squid, though she insists it's delicious). Delmond can't believe how much food he's watching Janette consume. "Damn girl, where you put it all? You eat like you just got out of jail. They don't feed you where you work?" Del asks. "We don't eat food, we just cook it — there's no time. If there is time, just lookin' at it all day, you don't want it," Janette tells him. "About an hour after work, then you eat the box the Big Mac comes in." Del wonders how she picked being a chef as the thing she wanted to do with her life then, but she figures it's the same as it is with him and music. "People like us, we just do a thing," she says. "I don't have a choice really. Could you do anything else?" Del just sort of shakes his head in a doubtful way. "Probably not. Your parents cool with it?" Janette looks up wistfully, then down. "It's not exactly what they wanted for me, let's put it that way." Del nods. "I hear that." Janette doesn't quite believe him and says his father must be proud of him. "It's hard to tell sometimes. Actually, he's comin' to town tomorrow."
John Goodman's Creighton isn't the only season one character who makes a return in "Feels Like Rain," only these two aren't in a dream. Davis pays a visit to his gay neighbors downstairs that he once feuded with, but later made peace with after they rescued him following a beating. Davis comes bearing wine which Donald (Carl Walker), the bald gentleman, suggests they open right away but Davis explains they should save it because the next day he will be having musicians over to rehearse. The other man (played by Daniel Ladmirault who, like so many characters, the writers never got around to giving a first name) wails, "Oh God" when Donald asks what kind of music and Davis answers, "Brass funk hip-hop with a bounce twist." The other neighbor (who shall now be christened Daniel for my recap purposes) tries to be assured that it's just for the next day, but Davis adds it's also twice a week thereafter until further notice. "Forgive me my trespasses," McAlary begs as he exits and says through the door it's only until they get a couple sets together, then they'll move into the clubs. "Now's when you call the cops," you can hear Donald tell Daniel.
Albert can't believe how small Delmond's apartment is when he gets to New York, but Del says he's staying with Jill while Albert's there. Albert does say it proves Delmond isn't really sewing because there's not a bead or feather in sight. Delmond tells his father that he's set up over at Jill's because she has a lot more space than he does. Del tells his father he needs to hit the bead shop because he still has some things to pick up, but Albert has a more pressing need to take care of first. He heads to the bathroom, telling Del that's another reason for him to quit being chief. "It takes a young man's bladder to march around all day in an Indian suit."
The auction begins for that Mid-City "shipwreck" at 426 N. White Street in the 2nd Municipal District and Nelson is on the scene, ready to buy. The auctioneer we've seen before. He's Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff's Capt. Richard Lafouchette (James DuMont). Lafouchette places the property's root amount at $500,000. The auctioneer also announces the property has past due taxes owed to the city in the amount of $1,215.23. Nelson starts the bidding at the root amount, then someone bumps it to $600K. Hidalgo ups it to $700,000 and the scene ends.
Janette wakes up and bids good morning to Chas, who corrects her that it's more like afternoon. She sees a message with a New Orleans area code, but it doesn't explain what it's about and Chas can't help because Nick is the one who wrote it down. Janette deciphers that the number belongs to Susan Spicer. Chas suggests she's got a job for Janette back there but she says, "No thanks." Chas says to ask if she has one for him then as Janette returns her call.
Terry and Toni are having a meal together again, but it looks as if it's just an excuse for Colson to vent his frustrations about his police department. "It'd be bad enough if we had our act together," Terry tells her, "but homicide is a fuckin' trainwreck. You know why they don't have a viable suspect in the Helen Hill murder? They're only looking at the husband." That dumbfounds Toni. "He was shot three times holding a baby." Colson says they finally backed off that when even they realized how stupid that was. Majeeda Snead, the woman from The Loyola Law Clinic, greets Toni and tells her she's glad she ran into her. Toni makes the introductions and informs Colson that she had turned the Breau case over to the clinic. "I should update you on that some time," Majeeda says to Toni. Toni tells her to drop by the office some time. Terry seems surprised that she "kicked it to the law clinic" but Toni admits she couldn't afford to keep it. She asks him if he's working Sunday. He's not, so he invites him to the Pigeon Town Steppers' second line, assuming they get their fees together. He says he'll think about it and asks what happens if they don't get the money. "Then you can come to the protest march," Toni says. "Then I'll be working."
Del tells Albert that where they are going isn't like the old-style bead and feather stores. As always, his father is skeptical, saying anything he can't find in New Orleans, he orders from Koreans in New York anyway. Once they enter the store, Albert has to agree: It's not like those old stores. Albert starts testing, asking if they have certain items, but Delmond insists they have everything. One of the store's clerks, Dave Wilkins (Rock Kohli), knows Del so well he greets him on sight and asks if he's making progress. Delmond introduces his father to Dave who tells him he's heard a lot about him. Del says he's almost done beading that patch and asks Dave about a few items and he goes to see if they have them in stock. When Dave returns, he tells them that he'll have to order them and it should take about three days. Del says that it's cool while Albert tries to hide his wide, shit-eating grin.
Le Bernardin certainly exists in a completely different universe than Brulard's. Janette goes in to see Chef Ripert and tells him she has a problem back home. Her former sous chef is in trouble. He's been jailed and may be deported. "Friends, lovers, marriage — they come and go, but your sous chef — that's a lifelong relationship. Go," Ripert tells her.
"I'm goin' back to work — soon — after Carnival, when things calm down," LaDonna informs her husband. "We'll see," Larry replies. The old fiery LaDonna has begun to shine again and she asks Larry why he asked her mother to put that house up for sale. "Who am I to tell your mama anything? She's just as stubborn as you are," Larry responds. "Where do you think I get it?" LaDonna says with a grin that manages to make Larry laugh as well. LaDonna keeps laughing, but she's still has a drink in her hand most of the time. While I think they found a way for the short scene format to work in this episode (For example, the next scene will flow directly into GiGi's where Antoine is asking about LaDonna), Khandi Alexander may be the performer these less-than-a-minute scenes ill serves the most. She's so talented and may have given the best performance in season one, but she's been handed a heavy story to play this year so these quick bites come off more like sketches of what LaDonna is going through because there aren't scenes long enough to allow her to really explore her trauma or her growing substance abuse. It's a shame. Alexander deserves better all the time, but especially with this storyline.
"So she doesn't work nights at all, huh?" Antoine asks John, who tells him that LaDonna doesn't come in much during the days either. "That'll get old — quick," Antoine says. Apparently, Antoine's band had just completed a gig at GiGi's and he's handing out the night's pay to everyone including Cornell, who has reappeared. However, when he gets to Sonny, no full payment is forthcoming. "What the fuck?" Sonny asks. "For being late." Sonny insists that he didn't miss a note. "This last minute shit ain't gonna cut it. You weren't here on time for sound check and you were too fuckin' loud for the entire first set," Antoine tells him. "Shit. It won't happen again," Sonny promises. "You're damn straight because you're gone," Antoine announces. "What the fuck?" Sonny says again. Antoine reminds him that he gave him fair warning. Sonny guzzles down the rest of his beer, mutters something under his breath, grabs his equipment and leaves. "Say bro," Cornell says, "He just called you a motherfucker in Dutch." "Back at him," Antoine responds. He walks over to Thaddeus Richard, his keyboard player, who's taking down his equipment, and complains about how everyone is fucking up. "That's just regular band shit," Thaddeus says. Antoine asks Thaddeus since he's such an "organized motherfucker" if he'd run things if Antoine gave him a bigger cut. "But that's your job. You the leader," Thaddeus replies. Antoine explains he'd book the gigs, selects the songs, hire and fire, basically handle the artistic decisions. He wants Thaddeus to take care of logistics. "Make sure the cats are on time, fine them when they're late, lining up last-minute subs if we need them, handle payroll," Antoine defines the role he has in mind. "Oh, you want me to be the straw boss," Thaddeus replies. They negotiate the fee and settle on $50 plus Thaddeus will get to keep half of any fines. Cornell says he's off and he'll see them tomorrow night, but Antoine tells them that they'll have to carry him because he's sitting in with Henry Butler. Thaddeus takes to his job immediately and fines Antoine for missing a gig and giving less than 24 hours notice.
Davis' assembled band, with Lil Calliope fronting, certainly are living up to their promise — of being a noise nuisance that is, at least for a residential apartment. The number they are rehearsing takes on The Road Home program (with such insightful lyrics as "The Road Home ain't no road home" and wrapping "Home on the Range" into the mix for good measure). Annie sits, smiles and tries to play the supportive girlfriend, but it's all a bit much for her, so she takes her leave, seeking refuge with Donald and Daniel downstairs, who have indeed broken out the Bordeaux that Davis gave them. Daniel covers his glass as if to protect it from impending tremors from a stampede of dinosaur escapees from Jurassic Park. They welcome Annie and immediately pour her a glass as she joins them at their table.
Sofia is performing her internship duties in Oliver Thomas' office when Nelson arrives and gets permission to go in and see him. Thomas asks what brings Hidalgo to see him and Nelson regrets that it's not playoff tickets, but he doesn't have pull in Chicago and Thomas revels in the wonder of the Saints making it to the NFC Championship in his lifetime. Nelson tells him he is bearing a gift of some kind and informs the city council president of his interest in buying some real estate in Mid-City. "No offense, but if folks from Dallas, Texas, are already getting wind of plans for lower Mid-City, don't you think it's a little late to be telling the city council president?" Thomas says, asking Hidalgo what else he has in that bag of tricks. "I've got a million of 'em," Nelson responds. Oliver gets up and grabs his coat, "Buy me a cappuccino."
Majeeda Snead and Robert Turner (Dean West), one of the Loyola law students who works at its law clinic, drop in on Toni to fill her in on what they've discovered while looking into the case of Joey Breau. Turner informs Toni that in October 2005, they got a call from one of the residents of the Iberville projects about a possible police shooting a few days after the storm of a 29-year-old man named Leon Seals. His body was found in one of the projects' apartments. He had a gunshot wound to the head, close range, he tells her. Toni flips through the file, noting Seals' extensive criminal history. Majeeda adds that Seals grew up in Iberville and his family evacuated during Katrina, but he stayed behind. Toni asks how this relates to Breau. Turner tells Toni that his witness saw the cops chase Fields into his apartment and then heard the shots. "Can she identify them?" Toni asks. "She can, but she won't," he tells her, but he did get her to show where they chased Fields to and found two bullet casings, which he dumps on the table — the exact kind the officer retrieved at Robideaux's. Turner filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any police report, but has received nothing.
While Nelson and Oliver stroll and sip their cappuccinos, Nelson tries to sell Thomas on giving his firm the city's contract for computer cables, which he says would save New Orleans $250,000 a year. "Right off the bat, before I even get on the phone and start checkin' you out on this shit," Thomas tells him, "there's something I need to ask you to do — today. A show of good faith." "Name it," Nelson says.
Having arrived back in New Orleans, Janette arrives at the jail's visiting area to see Jacques. "Susan said it was a traffic stop," Janette says to him when she picks up the phone. "I had a bad taillight and bad papers," Jacques replies on the phone on his side of the glass partition. "Actually, no papers." This surprises Janette. "No papers? Well, how did you get in the country in the first place without papers?" Jacques says he will tell her some other time, when he gets out of the jail, that is if he doesn't get deported first. Janette tries to ease his fears about that. "That's not gonna happen. We'll get the bail money raised. What we really need is an immigration lawyer and Susan's got contacts," Janette tells him. "Just don't throw Sazerac at the chief," Jacques suggests. "Oh, you heard about that," she sighs. "Now you are officially a living legend of Louisiana," Jacques anoints Janette. "Great. Me and Edwin Edwards, Janette says.
Nelson walks into an unfamiliar part of the city, though there are a lot of those for him, as he steps into the Pigeon Town Steppers Social Aid & Pleasure Club. "Mister Henry?" Nelson tentatively addresses the man sitting at the counter. "You must be Nelson. Oliver told me you was comin', but he didn't say why," Joseph "Rollin' Joe" Henry says. "So this is Pigeon Town," Hidalgo proclaims. "Part of it," Henry responds. Nelson, still not up on his New Orleans terminology, says, "So you guys having a kind of parade, right?" Henry corrects him. "Second line. Do it every year. Pigeon Town Steppers. I'm the president." Nelson gets to his point. "You're short on cash is what I understand." Henry tells him people have been donating, but they still lack $2,000 with the event set for Sunday, which is just two days away. Nelson pulls out a wad of cash and starts counting. When he gets to $2,000, he hands it to Henry and says, "Compliments of Hidalgo and Hidalgo of Dallas, Texas. Vaya con Dios." It looks like Oliver Thomas has kept the promise he made to Sofia last week.
This next section of the show contains the one bad cut to a short scene that I referenced in the opening. We're back at the House of Blues again, only this time the musical star on stage is John Hiatt and though Annie watches from backstage again, she does so with Harley, not Davis, and she won't be joining Hiatt for a number. As we enter his performance, Hiatt is finishing his song "Memphis in the Meantime." "He wrote all these?" Annie asks Harley in a whisper shouted above the cheers and applause. "One right after another," Watt answers. Hiatt returns to the microphone to address the crowd. "Thanks so much. Now, I'm no weatherman, but it feels like rain." Hiatt then begins to sing his song, which gives this episode its title, "Feels Like Rain." "Down here the river meets the sea/And in the sticky heat I feel ya’ open up to me/Love comes out of nowhere baby, just like a hurricane/Kinda feels like rain/I said it feels like rain…" Then comes the only truly bad and pointless cut in this entire episode. They cut after barely starting the song that gives the episode its name (the second week in a row that they've done that) to show us Toni waking up on her couch, seeing it's late and that Sofia isn't home again, mirroring a scene from a previous episode, and dialing her cell phone, which she should know would be a fruitless exercise since her daughter never picks up for her. This scene lasts an entire 15 seconds. I'm not exaggerating. Fifteen seconds to interrupt John Hiatt's guest appearance for no good reason. The flow between scenes has been so excellent in this episode up until this point that it's jarring. I expected, since things had been going so well and after the 15 seconds it goes immediately back to Hiatt still singing "Feels Like Rain" at the House of Blues that perhaps we'd get a shot showing that Sofia was in the audience watching the show, so there would be at least a tenuous tie-in, but no such luck. It's just this episode's sole example of what happens a lot when they embrace this torturous structure for an episode and a reminder of how lucky they were that they managed to make the vast majority of it work this time out. Anyway, we're back on stage with Hiatt, who is finishing "Feels Like Rain," which never should have been interrupted in the first place, while Annie nods along as she listens intently. When Hiatt's done, she tells Harley, "Good song." He counters with "Great song, but what's great about it?"
Continuing both this episode's great flow and its theme of teaching and learning, we go directly from Harley's question to Annie to a walking conversation between the pair outside following Hiatt's show. "For starters…the melody is cool. It's simple, like the blues, but he's not locked into those chord changes," Annie comments about "Feels Like Rain." "Yeah, the music gives you what it can. Keep goin'," Harley encourages. "The lyrics — not so simple. I mean, he's so soft when he's singing about the weather, the river, the sea, you know. Then you realize it's New Orleans, but he isn't singing about New Orleans. It's really love he's got on his mind," Annie theorizes. Harley responds to that with merely an "OK." Annie goes on, "And love is not simple." Her body language (and faithful viewers of her love life over these past 16 episodes) indicates she's learned that from experience. "It's a little dark sometimes, a little dangerous — like New Orleans." Harley's entire body seems to be laughing when she says that, but Annie hasn't finished her analysis of Hiatt's song yet. "He's just riding it out no matter how rough it gets. He's like us — now — past the storm," Annie concludes, looking as if she's proud of her conclusion, that's she's solved the mystery. Harley shakes his head. "Hiatt wrote that song 20 years ago, darlin'. You still had training wheels on your bike and nobody had ever heard the name Katrina," he tells her. "Really?" Annie responds, looking quite puzzled. "That's what makes it a great song," Harley says. What other drama series ever has worked into its narrative time to analyze a song or teach about the origins of jazz or ragtime, or explain how someone puts their own spin on someone else's interpretation of a musical work, let alone do it all within the same episode.
Friday night has arrived and Antoine has gone back to being just a simple trombone player instead of a bandleader as he sits in on the stage of The Howlin' Wolf with Henry Butler. The legendary venue originally opened in a cotton warehouse in 1988, but outgrew its space and eventually relocated to its current site in The Warehouse District in the property that once housed The New Orleans Music Hall. As Butler burns up his keyboards and sings his number, backed by a band that includes George Porter's bass, a guitarist, drums, a trumpet player, a saxophonist and Antoine's trombone, Antoine looks positively giddy. Batiste always seems to be enjoying himself with his Soul Apostles, but with the weight of being the leader lifted from his shoulders for one night, Antoine seems happier on stage than we've seen him in a while. Seeing Butler in his blue suit also reminds me: What happened to Antoine's idea that his band would be outfitted in powder blue tuxedos?
In a further mirror of that scene from a previous episode, Toni's on her couch when she hears a car in front of the house. She opens the front door as Sofia comes up the path, only this time she goes straight to her bedroom and mother and daughter don't have a confrontation this time. Again though, no reason those 15 seconds of Toni waking up on the couch couldn't have been tacked on to the start of this scene so John Hiatt's performance was played in full.
Nelson tells his date of the evening as they have drinks wearing his hotel's robes and look out from his room's balcony, "I think I'm starting to figure this place out. It's a village — a village on an island. Everyone's connected. They may love each other, they may hate each other, but they're all related. This week, I bought an empty building for a million-one and laid out a couple grand on a little bar in the back of town. Both of them on a handshake because somebody told me to. It's all connected somehow." He then asks her if she's ever been to a second line. "Of course," she answers.
Despite her earlier whines that it's too hard, Annie gets out the guitar and starts work on another song.
Larry shakes hand with a real estate agent and they stick a for sale sign in front of Mrs. Brooks' house in New Orleans.
Delmond brings out what he's sewn so far on his patch. Albert says it's not bad, but he'd need a suit to go with it. Maybe next year. "It's for you, Daddy," Del tells his father. "I made it for you." Delmond points out the symbols on the patch representing Albert's house and the blue tarp covering it. "I was hoping you'd wear it this year," Delmond says. "I'm hopin' you make it out Mardi Gras day." Albert seems more stoic than usual. "You gonna be there?" he asks his son. "I told you I would be." Albert turns, "You told me you were sewin' too." "I have been — I'm just slow," Del responds.
LaDonna's having a smoke, exhaling out the window, when the doorbell rings. It's Detective Leroy. She asks if it's a good time and LaDonna tells her Larry is in New Orleans and the boys are at Sunday School. The detective wants her to look at some photos. It seems they arrested two men in a similar incident in the same neighborhood as GiGi's. LaDonna takes a seat and looks at the first array of mug shots, but none of the faces are familiar. The detective hands her a second sheet with six different faces and LaDonna says, "Oh dear God." She points at one and gives the picture back to the detective and out of her hands as quickly as she can. "Goddammit. Goddammit!" LaDonna shouts. Detective Leroy asks if she's positive and LaDonna sticks her finger into his photo as if she's stabbing him. "Good. That's who we arrested," the detective tells her. "Shit," LaDonna says, shaking her head. This scene gives Khandi Alexander slightly more to do but it's so quick that the actress gets short-changed again. She gets to do her best work when she's able to display her slow burn, but it's difficult to burn slowly when your scene runs less than a minute.
The ribs are grillin', the brass bands are playin' and, most importantly, The Pigeon Town Steppers are steppin' as their annual second line gets under way. Nelson has shown with his date. City Council President Oliver Thomas is dancing. Sofia seems to be enjoying herself. There is a police presence, not only for security, but in the form of Terry Colson who has taken Toni up on her offer and come. Sgt. Alonzo Wilson (Anthony Michael Frederick), riding in a squad car, accuses Colson of "going native" on them. "It looks different from out here," Terry tells him. "What are you gonna do now? Quit and join the public defenders office?" Wilson asks. "You should try it," Terry insists as he awkwardly tries some second-line dancing himself. Toni catches up with Thomas and says she doesn't know if she approves of the city council president somewhat endorsing the higher fees by making sure they get paid somehow. "We'll prevail in court eventually," Toni tells him. "That's what I love about you Toni. Your faith in the system despite all your experience to the contrary," Thomas says. Also joining in the second line and making it a more tuneful event is the Rebirth Brass Band. "Sofia seems to be having a good time," Terry notes. "It's a temporary reprieve. She is so grounded. I'm not letting her out for anything else." Toni tells him. Colson asks Toni what she did. "Broke the rules." "And people think you're a bleeding heart liberal," Terry says. "Punishment first, then forgiveness," Toni declares. "Wouldn't that be nice?" The second line continues on its route, police leading the way.
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You can't hurt a dead man
By Edward Copeland
Fritz Lang already was known as one of the world's greatest directors before he came to Hollywood. In fact, when Hitchcock was starting out, Lang's reputation for making masterful suspense films in Germany such as M, Spies and the Mabuse series earned Hitchcock the early label of "the English Fritz Lang." Hitler's rise to power led his propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels to offer Lang the job as head of the Third Reich's film industry. Instead, Lang fled Germany (losing his wife, who divorced him, in the process), first going to France, where he made one film, and then to America where his first effort produced the classic Fury, which premiered 75 years ago today. For his first time working in Hollywood, Fritz Lang made one helluva film.
Though critically well received upon its release, Fury didn't make a big splash or earn the revered status it holds today. Its release in 1936 also coincided with the year its male lead, Spencer Tracy, finally came into his own. Tracy had been kicking around Hollywood for several years, but hadn't achieved star status yet. In Fury, he was second-billed behind Sylvia Sidney, who was a bigger draw at the time. With 1936, not only did Tracy get his great role here (though he hated Lang and refused to ever work with him again), it followed Tracy's second-billed role to another bigger female star, Jean Harlow, in Riffraff, but his status climbed with his next two films that year. Almost exactly a month later, he was third-billed behind Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald, but Tracy's turn as a priest trying to reform a childhood friend turned gambler in San Francisco, the year's top-grossing film, really raised his profile. The part would earn Tracy his first Oscar nomination as best actor. He wrapped up 1936 as the fourth in the quartet of Harlow, William Powell and Myrna Loy in the comedy Libeled Lady. By year's end, Tracy truly had become a well-known quantity on his own, something set in cement when he went on to win the next two best actor Oscars in a row for Boys Town and Captains Courageous. While Tracy delivers fine work in San Francisco, his performance in Fury was the one that deserved that nomination.
Fury, even today, remains a powerful film and, as Peter Bogdanovich points out in the DVD commentary, seems quite unusual coming from MGM, a studio not known for making this sort of hard-boiled movie. Fury had elements of noir, but more accurately belongs in the school of tough social commentary with a lot of the expressionistic touches that Lang brought with him from his German filmmaking days, shots and styles that you wouldn't see in a film by an American director at that time, let alone an MGM release. Fury plays closer to something that might have come from Warner Bros., but truly, though the studio and even Tracy viewed it as nothing more than a "B" picture, Fury would have been unique for that time no matter who released it. On the commentary, Bogdanovich says he thinks it's the least likely film MGM ever made, but I have to differ with him on that point — I still think Tod Browning's Freaks holds that distinction.
The story for Fury, originally titled Mob Rule, was written by Norman Krasna (who earned the film's only Oscar nomination in the category of best motion picture story) while the screenplay was written by Bartlett Cormack and Lang. Joseph L. Mankiewicz served as producer. One of the best parts of the DVD's commentary is that you don't just get Bogdanovich, but get Lang himself, taken from an undated interview he recorded about the film, excerpts of which also are included on the commentary track, though Lang died in 1976 long before anyone had even thought of such a thing as a commentary track (Hell, few had video tapes by then). Lang addresses the subject of how he could have co-written the script when at the time, he barely spoke English. According to the Austrian-born director, he'd spent a lot of time just hanging around with regular, non-show biz Americans, trying to get a feel for how their syntax and really contributed more in the way of scenes while the co-writer MGM gave him, Cormack, turned it into dialogue. One change MGM insisted on, which I think actually was a good one, was they changed the character Tracy plays, Joe Wilson, from being a lawyer as he was in Krasna's story to being a man just trying to make ends meet. MGM's argument was that audiences would relate to Joe more if he were a "man of the people" and I think they were correct.
Fury takes places in 1936, but even when Lang made period pieces he approached them with the same attitude. "Every movie should be sort of a documentary of its time. Only then do you get a sense of its truth," Lang said. Fury starts out as a romance of sorts, but by its end it will have traveled as far from romance as you can imagine and Lang will have shown a lot of that sense of truth that he aimed for in his films. Joe loves Katherine Grant (Sidney) and wants to marry her, but he lacks the money for them to start a life together. As the film opens, Joe and Katherine are bidding each other farewell as Katherine is catching a bus back to her hometown. They stare longingly at a window display of wedding dresses that Joe wishes he could afford. While waiting at the bus station, Joe's coat gets caught, tearing the pocket. Katherine says they have enough time for her to sew it. As she opens her suitcase and retrieves her sewing kit, Joe even playfully fondles her delicates, slightly daring for the time. Joe also isn't as refined as Katherine, as she always has to correct him on words, such as when he gives her a "mementum." Katherine tells him she got him a memento as well and presents him with her mother's wedding ring which was inscribed Frank to Katherine (which also was her mom's name) and Katherine added "to Joe." Due to his large hands, Joe can only wear it on his pinky as they say goodbye.
Joe holds high principles and tries to pass them on to his two younger brothers, Charlie and Tom (Frank Albertson, George Walcott), that he rooms with in Chicago, which isn't easy since Charlie is involved with the rackets and a gangster named Donelli. That night after saying goodbye to Katherine, Joe gets particularly peeved and righteous when Charlie returns home with Tom as drunk as he is. Joe also has taken in a stray dog who followed him home, whom he names Rainbow (played by Terry). Joe and Katherine maintain a relationship via mail until Joe surprises her with the news that he and his the brothers saved enough money to open a garage/gas station. Charlie has given up his shady life and with the three in business together and it doing fairly well, Wilson's earning a steady income now. Joe is even able to purchase a car, which he plans to drive on a trip to see Katherine, now that that wedding day seems like a real possibility to him. That's when the story takes its dark turn and things go terribly wrong.
A cheery Joe hardly needs the car to get to Capitol City to see Katherine (with Rainbow at his side, who he's since learned was girl when she gave him of litter a puppies) — because Joe's practically floating on air and in anticipation of being reunited with his girl. Even though living is a bit easier for Joe now, he still sticks to his frugality, choosing to camp out on the sides of the highway rather than finding a motel. When he's nearly completed his journey, trying to find shortcuts on back roads, a man (Walter Brennan) holds up a badge and stops his car with a shotgun trained on Joe. Wilson cooperates fully, but his answers still strike the deputy as suspicious so he takes Joe to the sheriff for further questioning, even though the confused Wilson still has no idea of what he's being accused. 1936 not only marked the year when Spencer Tracy really made his mark, it also moved Brennan to the front ranks of character actors. He'd been working since the 1920s, almost entirely in uncredited roles, but in addition to Fury, 1936 brought him notable parts in Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, the many times remade Three Godfathers and Howard Hawks' Come and Get It, which would win Brennan the Academy's very first supporting actor Oscar, a prize Brennan would win a total of three times between 1936 and 1940.
Once Joe gets taken to the sheriff's office in Strand, he finally gets an idea of what's going on when Sheriff Hummell (Edward Ellis) asks him the seemingly innocent question of whether he'd like some peanuts. Joe graciously accepts, admitting he's had a weakness since he was a boy. That's when the sheriff shows him a newspaper headline about the ransom delivered to the kidnappers of a young girl from a family named Peabody and how peanut shells were discovered near the abduction scene. (As a former newspaperman, it's amazing to me just to see how wide broadsheets used to be.) Joe insists he's innocent and has people who can prove it. He wants to call Katherine, but when he notices the headline says the kidnappers were three men and a woman, he fears getting her involved and asks for his brothers instead. First, the sheriff wants him to empty his pockets, which he does, and they include peanuts and some cash which Deputy Bugs (Brennan) takes to check against the serial numbers of the money that was delivered to the kidnappers. Somehow, a five dollar bill with a matching serial number found itself in Joe's possession so the sheriff locks him up until the district attorney can question him further. Even poor Rainbow is stuck barking around the jailhouse.
It's at this point when Fury really starts rising toward its greatness on multiple levels and Lang delivers sequence after sequence, shot after shot that would wow first-time viewers today. The town of Strand already had been up in arms over the girl's kidnapping, but the sheriff actually displays a degree of professionalism in keeping Joe under wraps. Granted, he doesn't allow him to call his brothers, but he doesn't let the news leak out either. Would that his deputy had such impulse control. While Bugs hangs out at the barber's shop, one of the customers complain that the sheriff's department isn't doing its job or they'd have caught the kidnappers by now. His pride wounded, Bugs asks the man what he would think if he told him that they have a man in custody right then that they suspect could be involved. It sets up the first of many brilliant sequences by Lang as he films a rumor-filled small-town variation of the telephone game. First, the barber calls his wife to let her know what he just heard. She reaches across the way to knock on the window of a neighbor in the next building to tell her. As the news spreads far and wide, you even get women who will preface their comments with words such as "It was told to me in the strictest of confidence." As the story spreads, it gets embellished along the way. The man was caught with $5,000 — no $10,000 of the ransom money. There's a funny shot that Lang inserts during a run of gossiping women of a bunch of clucking chickens. You also get a sense of the small town's attitudes, foretelling how this could go bad and quickly. When one woman actually points out that the man in custody hasn't been convicted of anything yet, another woman responds with, "My dear young lady, in this country, people don't land in jail unless they are guilty." The gossiping men say that the first thing he asked for was a lawyer, so they can complain about those attorneys "that get these skunks off" and how if people had more guts, they'd settle matter themselves. Not everyone in town responds to the news with anger. The Chamber of Commerce anticipates the revenue and p.r. a trial like that could bring to Strand.
For the most part. that entire sequence plays for comic effect. Within the words of some of the citizens of Strand lie an undercurrent of undemocratic ideas and support for vigilante justice, but for now it's just played for laughs. The audience still has reason to be concerned for Joe regardless of how the town feels — we know that he's an innocent man locked up in a jail and that no one knows he's there, but the case against him is weak, even the sheriff has admitted that, so Lang hasn't tightened the screws on the tension yet, aside from Katherine, sitting alone at a diner where she expected to meet him by now. All it takes is a single ingredient to get the men of Strand riled up — a healthy supply of liquor. As many of the men in town get pie-eyed, including the town's well-known troublemaker Kirby Dawson (Bruce Cabot), they all agree that it's high time the sheriff start providing them answers about this man he's holding. Soon, they find the next best thing when Bugs wanders by and they pull him in and grill him to tell them what he knows. Unfortunately, Bugs tells them the truth: They searched Joe's car from top to bottom but all he had on him was a five dollar bill related to the ransom money. It doesn't make the men very happy because they, like all who have vested beliefs in a lie such as Birthers or Truthers, don't want to hear that their rumors aren't true. It's not that they can't handle the truth, it's that the truth doesn't interest them in the first place, not when compared to the lies they've come to love. Kirby and some of the town's businessmen decide they'll demand answers from the sheriff himself the next day.
When Kirby and the business leaders meet with Sheriff Hubbell the following day, he's honest with them: The case against Joe Wilson is at most weak and circumstantial and he's waiting to let the district attorney question him and sort it out, but for now there's nothing for them to worry about and they all should simmer down. The businessmen accept his word but Kirby won't go that easy, insisting that the sheriff let him see Wilson which Hubbell, of course, won't let him do. With the undertone of a threat in his voice, Kirby tells the sheriff that, "An attack on a girl hits ordinary people where we live and we're gonna see that politics" don't get in the way of justice. The sheriff shoots right back, "And I'm gonna see that a bunch of half-baked rumors don't either." Hubbell then orders Kirby to "hightail it" out of his office or he'll take his entire family off the dole. You can tell the incident does disturb the sheriff though as he tells one of his deputies that he's gonna make up a new list of names to deputize and get out guns and tear gas while he calls the governor to ask him to send the National Guard if he needs them. He talks to the governor (Howard Hickman) who promises the sheriff that the guard will be at the ready should things get out of hand.
It only takes another night at the bar for that to happen — and for the media and politics to get involved as well. As the drunks in the bar start rabble-rousing, creating new fictions such as the idea that maybe Joe gave the sheriff his ransom money in exchange for his freedom, the talk turns more into taking matters into their own hands, something spurred on by an out-of-town visitor just passing through after working to break a union strike in a neighboring town. One Strand citizen actually dares to call for calm, but he's quickly pushed away as Lang, in one great long pan moves along the angry faces populating the bar. He follows that up with an even more interesting shot where the camera takes the point-of-view of the approaching mob as it moves in closer and closer to the sheriff's building where Hubbell and his men stand ready on the steps, armed and warning them not to start trouble. For awhile, it's just a loud, noisy standoff, but the news gets out and soon newsreel cameras arrive, eager to film any melees. The sheriff anxiously awaits for the backup of the National Guard, not realizing that a sleazy power broker of the governor's party called them back when he heard that the governor had authorized them, telling the governor that no town likes to see itself invaded by troops, especially in an election year.
Lang's closeups of the crowd out for blood truly are frightening, managing to be distinct and indistinct at the same time. The standoff gets tenser and tenser as Kirby and the other ringleaders hurl insults at the sheriff who shouts back while Joe moves the cot in his cell to beneath the barred window so he stand on it and look out and personally see the horror gathering, probably not the best idea since it gives the mob another target to focus their hate on, yelling and throwing things at him. Joe pleads to the jailer to give him the keys and let him out — he knows he's not safe. At the diner, Joe Wilson's name finally has hit the airwaves. When Katherine realizes no more buses are leaving, she pleads with the owners to borrow a car so she can get to Joe. When they have none to spare, she literally runs to Strand on foot, arriving as the sheriff, having been struck with a tomato, has retreated inside with his men and barricaded the door. The scene of Katherine working her way through the crowd is quite telling. At the back, the people seem more shocked by what is happening, but as she moves forward, the mood changes. Around the middle she gets to the spectators there just to attend a good show, happily chomping on hot dogs as they watch. When Katherine finally reaches, the front, that's when she finds the ones truly gleeful with bloodlust and can see Joe through his bars. Inside, Joe still pleads for help, but no one's listening except Rainbow who comes and joins him in his cell.
The natural instinct of Katherine, horrified by what she's witnessing, is to call to Joe and try to reach out to him somehow, but with the crowd's mood, that obviously isn't the safest position to take. Inside, Sheriff Hummell, trying to stand his ground with the few deputies who haven't abandoned him, notice that it seems to have become eerily quiet. Soon they realize why. Led by Kirby, a large group of the men have fashioned a makeshift battering ram to force their way inside, in another example of one of those Lang visual touches you wouldn't expect to find in an American film of that time. The door comes down and the sheriff's office and jail is breached. The mob immediately head to the jailer, demanding the keys to Joe's cell.
The jailer denies that the keys are in his possession and the angry hooligans start practically choking the poor man to death trying to get him to cough them up. Then, one of the vigilantes spots the keys past the bars, beyond their reach. They try to use a long piece of wood to reach it to no avail and then Kirby hits upon the idea: They'll smoke him out. The mob gathers all things that will burn that they can and place them near the entrance to the jail cells and set them ablaze. The mob then return outside to joyously watch as Wilson waits to die. Kirby, no longer viewed as the town joke, beams with pride. Lang films the other faces in similar, eerie angles and lighting. Other films have depicted mob violence on film before (William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident, Arthur Penn's The Chase to name just two off the top of my head), but I don't know if anyone has combined great film artistry at the same time he's getting his point across about its madness as well as Lang, not only here but in what he told Bogdanovich he thought was the best film he ever made, M. A staunch opponent of capital punishment, Lang felt the case against capital punishment should always be made by using the example of someone who is guilty.
Katherine can't believe her eyes as a terrified Joe screams against the bars of his cell's window while the flames and smoke grow. She finally faints. A voice in the crowd yells that the National Guard is coming and the mob scatters. Before they do, a pair of them have a special cherry to place on the vigilante sundae. They light two sticks of dynamite and toss them at the building. They also spot the unconscious Katherine and, as if they were humanitarians, help carry her out of the way. Lang only lets you hear the explosion, but the camera does look back to cast its gaze upon the flaming wreckage that once was the sheriff's department and the jailhouse before going to a fade out.
When an image returns, we're back in the governor's office, where he's beating himself up for letting the political hack talk him into calling off the Guard. We could have prevented all that, he tells the man. The adviser tries to defend his position, reading congratulatory telegrams. The governor asks what kind of telegrams they will be getting now that the world knows Joe Wilson was innocent, showing him a newspaper headline touting the capture of the Peabody kidnappers. The adviser says that of course, he didn't know he was innocent at the time. "Now, this is on every wire," the governor tells him, showing another headline: INNOCENT MAN LYNCHED. In Chicago, Joe's brothers Charlie and Tom can't believe the gall as they read the headline. "Sure, now he's innocent," Charlie says. As they talk, one of Rainbow's pups peeks its head out from beneath a bed and Tom asks if they still have any milk and takes the dog to the other room to give it a sip as the brothers continue to talk about how they will get revenge on the people of Strand who killed their brother. A familiar voice suddenly speaks up behind them, "That's five-and-ten cent store talk." Tom and Charlie turn with a start to see Joe standing in the doorway, very much alive.
Needless to say, the Wilson brothers are shocked to see their supposedly dead older brother standing before them, but this isn't the Joe Wilson of before. This Joe is dark, hurt and angry as he takes a seat to start telling his brothers what happened.
"Know where I've been all day? In a movie — watching a newsreel of myself getting burned alive. I watched it 10 times. Or 20 maybe. Over and over again — I don't know how many. The place was packed. They like it. They get a big kick out of seeing a man burned to death. A big kick!"
Tracy really makes Joe's transition believable, from the upstanding, self-righteous man we first met to the embittered person we see before us now. He explains that poor little Rainbow did perish in the blaze, but the only way that he made it out was by sliding down a drain pipe, burning his whole left side in the process. Tom asks if he got burned bad, and Joe's answer proves more complicated than a simple yes. "Yeah, but that don't hurt me. Because you can't hurt a dead man and I'm dead. Everybody knows that. The whole country knows it," Joe spits. He tells his brothers that his murderers will pay and shows them something he tore from a law book indicating that lynching equals first-degree murder. Of course, Joe needs Charlie and Tom to pursue this for him, because he wants his killers legally tried and be given a legal death penalty and he can't very well bring that about, being dead and all. He also gives his brother another lecture about what this experience has taught him.
"Remember me preaching to you to be decent and to live right? Live right, ha! I tried it. Tried to like it and people, but they won't let you. Charlie, you were right. Donelli was right. Everybody was right and I was wrong, but I know now."
In Strand, District Attorney Adams (Walter Abel) investigates the case, but finds himself getting nowhere because the entire town is stonewalling him and trying to forget the incident ever happened, only referring to it in whispers, especially since they have their own guilt once they learned of Wilson's innocence. For now though, Adams can't find anyone who will even admit that they saw Wilson in the jail cell window. When Tom and Charlie hear that the D.A. needs an eyewitness, they go to visit Katherine, who basically has slipped into a catatonic state since the incident. When Charlie lights his cigarette, the flame of the match freaks her out and she has a flashback of Joe in the burning jail. It does bring her back enough that she recognizes Charlie and Tom and they explain to her what they need from her if they want to see the people who killed Joe face justice. When the Wilson brothers return to the room where they've been staying in Strand, they aren't very happy to find Joe there, telling their brother what risk he's taking by being there should anyone spot him. Joe doesn't care. He wants to be close if there's a trial. "I want to see them squirm like they made me squirm. I want to see their necks at the end of a rope," Joe tells them. Meanwhile, the same political idiot who talked the governor out of sending the National Guard tries to stop D.A. Adams from pursuing the lynching case, again citing the effect on the party in an election year. Adams tells him he doesn't care about the election — he must follow the oath he took first and enforce the law. The party hack tries to sinisterly remind Adams that he doesn't want to risk taking food out of the mouths of his wife and kids to which Adams responds, "Sure Will, but some of the things people have to had eat lately haven't set well in their stomachs." The discussion of the case turns into another one of Lang's bravura sequences where what starts as what he's telling the hack turns into his opening statement in the courtroom of the trial where the camera pans past the 22 defendants until it sees the radio mic and we still hear the D.A.'s speech, first with people listening to it at a bar, then by businessmen, then by a women in a bathroom somewhere (where we can see a man tying his tie in a reflection and finally to Joe listening in the room where he's hiding before we return to the D.A. in the courtroom.
I'm gonna assume that more people haven't seen Fury than have and therefore, I'm not going to tell you how the rest of the story turns out. You'll have to watch Fury and find out if the D.A. manages to break through Strand's wall of silence prove which citizens were guilty and, even if he does, if the fact that Joe's alive will be revealed making the case moot in the first place. You'll also have to see if Joe remains the bitter man he is and if Katherine ever learns that he never died. However, I do want to toss out a couple of moments that I always find particularly memorable.
First, a really odd one. During a brief break in the trial, the radio announcers remind their listeners that the broadcast is sponsored by "No-Make-a-Me-Fat, the magic dessert." It reminds me of the antacid commercial that Edward G. Robinson's character hears during Lang's The Woman in the Window years later.
I also liked how subtly the groundwork is laid for things early that will prove important later, but that's all I'll say. I don't know if this was factually correct in 1936, but the D.A. says that 6,010 lynchings had occurred in the past 49 years without punishment, though it did make me wonder how many actually were punished. There also are many great quotes, but they would give away things to come if I gave them away with the exception of one that Joe Wilson says at one point, that he really could have said at any point after his escape to anyone and it's so essential, I really must end on it.
"The law doesn't know about things that were very important to me, silly things maybe, like a belief in justice and an idea that men were civilized and a feeling of pride that my country was different from all others. The law doesn't know that those things were burned to death within me that night."
It's amazing how contemporary Fury feels 75 years after its release and how many angles it was able to cover concisely in a short, 90 minute running time. Fritz Lang maintains his reputation as one of the all-time great directors, but people don't mention Fury nearly enough when listing his best.
Labels: 30s, Arthur Penn, Bogdanovich, Browning, Capra, Edward G., Gable, Harlow, Hawks, Hitchcock, Lang, Loy, Mankiewicz, Movie Tributes, Oscars, Sylvia Sidney, Tracy, W. Brennan, Wellman, William Powell
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