Monthly Archives: January 2010

40′s movies marathon – part 70

Here is Germany (1945, USA, Capra) – Those Germans look like ordinary folks on the surface, like people we can understand.  “Or can we?!?!!(?!!)”  Seems Nazi Germany was just the logical conclusion of centuries of German militarism.  Their culture is all screwed up, and now it’s time to fix it.  Watched it all.  Interestingly, despite showing pictures from German extermination camps and gas chambers, this movie does not refer to Jews or anti-semitism directly.  At all.

Counter-Attack (1945, UK, Korda) – I don’t mind watching a bit of pro-Soviet war propaganda, but I’d prefer if it was made by the Soviet Union itself, not Britain.  Watched: 12 minutes.

The Horn Blows at Midnight
(1945, USA, Walsh) – A bad musician dreams he’s gone to Heaven, which is all cutesy with white robes and angel choirs and ha-ha-funny parodies of earthly bureaucracies.  Watched: 12 minutes.

Mildred Pierce (1945, USA, Curtiz) – Mildred Pierce murders her husband and frames some poor schmuck, but the police arrests her former husband instead, so now nobody’s happy, etc. etc.  And then we go into flashback mode, and then I’m not happy.  Watched: 20 minutes.

And Then There Were None (1945, USA, Clair) – A bunch of people on an island get killed off, one by one, by the butler.  This is the earliest Agatha Christie filmatization I’ve seen, but it’s not a good one.  Watched: 26 minutes.  Despite the noise sometimes made about politically correct changes to classic novels, I’m glad nobody’s using the original title of this one any more.

Good and bad World War II cartoons

There were some really good American war cartoons made during World War II, such as Donald Duck ..

.. and the more educational Private SNAFU, made by a dream team of cartoon artists:

Was World War II the last time one side of a war had all the funniest people in the world on their side?

Other cartoons were less successful.  The Hook cartoons were just thinly veiled lectures about not forgetting to buy your war bonds:

.. and then there’s Cap’n Cub, the absolute bottom of war cartoons:

Watch it to the end, where the cute little bear takes on a squadron of stoopid Jap monkeys.

Models of British grit and rugged independence

Having staked her political destiny on the recovery of the [Falklands], Mrs Thatcher could not subsequently admit to any doubts that they were worth it. Not noted for her sense of irony, she had no choice but to elevate the hardy but notoriously unenterprising ‘kelpers’ into models of British grit and rugged independence. She invested the homely names – Goose Green, Tumbledown, Fitzroy and Mount Kent – with the glamour of Alamein and Agincourt. Towards the end of 1982, John Nott visited the islands and gave the Cabinet on his return a graphic description of how cold, wet and dismal they were, ending ‘You must go there, Prime Minister’ – at which everybody laughed.  But Mrs Thatcher did not laugh. She wanted to see for herself where her destiny had been decided.


Mrs Thatcher reverently walked – in most unsuitable shoes – over the hallowed soggy terrain where ‘H’ Jones and other heroes had fought and died (she refused to wear wellingtons), while Denis memorably characterized the islands as ‘miles and miles of bugger all’ and sighed for a snifter in the Upland Goose. At one point, being driven over West Falkland, she spotted an abandoned ammunition box. ‘What a terrible waste!’ she exclaimed.  ‘For God’s sak, woman,’ Denis begged, ‘don’t get out and count them.’

- John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher, Volume Two: The Iron Lady

40′s movies marathon – part 69

The Story of G. I. Joe (1945)

The Story of G.I. Joe (1945, USA, Wellman) – Journalist Ernie Pyle embeds with the troops in North Africa, and gets to see how they live.  Despite the title, this is a down to earth and realistic movie that has a lot in common with Generation Kill.  There’s little plot, just infantry soldiers marching and fighting and marching, through desert and mud and hills, losing friends and becoming veterans along the way.  Best line: “You know, when this war is over I’m gonna find me a map and find out where I’ve been.”  Watched it all.

The Valley of Decision (1945, USA, Garnett) – The poor Irish immigrant workers at a Pittsburgh steel factory are surprisingly sympathetic to the principles of capitalism, all except that one angry guy who rants about “unions”.  Watched: 6 minutes.

House of Dracula (1945, USA, Kenton) – Count Dracula asks a doctor for help to cure his vampirism, which turns out to be caused by midichlorians in the bloodstream.  Watched: 10 minutes.

Pillow to Post (1945, USA, Sherman) – An oil tycoon loses all his salesmen to the military, and his spoiled daughter gets the preposterous idea that maybe a woman might just possibly attempt to do the job.  It doesn’t start well, and I expect she’ll end up with a husband instead.  Watched: 8 minutes.

She Wouldn’t Say Yes (1945, USA, Hall) – A bit of shell shock is no match for a few encouraging words from psychiatrist Rosalind Russell.  Watched: 7 minutes.

He’d believe that at any moment the world was about to shatter and some huge malevolent force would break in and whip him savagely

The heroes in Stephen Hunter’s novels are sort of redneck Jason Bourne’s. Master killers at the bottom of the hierarchy who are screwed over by the higher-ups, and get even by changing the game from a game of politics to a game of close, personal violence.

Hunter’s best known novels (and his one movie) are about Bob Lee Swagger, an Arkansas sniper who unravels conspiracies with the help of his sniper rifle.  When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  Bob Lee Swagger has a sniper rifle, and three hundred kills in Vietnam, and solves his problems accordingly.

Hot Springs is Hunter’s first novel about Earl Swagger, Bob Lee’s father, who comes home from World War II to help root out the gangster scum from a lawless town.  His military experience comes in handy.  As always in Hunter’s novels, the battles aren’t just people shooting at each other, they’re battles.  Hunter puts great thought into his shootouts.  It’s one area where his novels excel.

And you just have to love the names.  The anti-hero of Dirty White Boys, a Bob Lee Swagger gone to the dark side, is called Lamar Pye.  Bob Lee Swagger, Earl and Lamar.  Aren’t these names fantastic?

I don’t know if Stephen Hunter is the best that macho thrillers have to offer.  I don’t read enough of them to say.  But when I do want to read one, he’s the author I pick up.

40′s movies marathon – part 68

The Way to the Stars (1945, UK, Asquith) – RAF pilots are cheerful, dashing fellows with stiff upper lips, and American pilots are allright too.  Yet more proof that the best war movies were British.  Watched it all.

The Vampire’s Ghost (1945, USA, Selander) – “Africa, the dark land where voodoo drums beat in the night.  Africa, where men have not forgotten the evil they learned in the dawn of time.”  A vampire is loose in deepest, darkest Africa.  Luckily there are some white people around.  Watched: 5 minutes.

Divorce (1945, USA, Nigh) – Divorce is a terrible, terrible thing, but can usually be avoided with a few stern words from a wise old divorce judge.  Watched: 11 minutes.

The Lost Weekend (1945) - Ray Milland

The Lost Weekend (1945, USA, Wilder) – A cultured alcoholic tries hard to avoid having to stop drinking, despite the best efforts of his friends.  A bit didactic, but it’s nice to see alcoholism presented as a problem for once, not an amusing hobby, as in the Thin Man movies.  Also, the Miklos Rosza soundtrack contains one of the earliest uses of a theremin in a Hollywood movie, (woohoo!)  Watched it all.

The Spider (1945, USA, Webb) – Plots within plots, private detectives who use words like “dollface”, and comical, subservient black people.  And no giant man-eating spider.  Watched: 10 minutes.

The Bells of St. Mary (1945, USA, McCarey) – How many Father O’Malley’s are there in Hollywood?  Always ready to arrive as the fresh new face with new ideas and a gentle disposition.  I’m pretty sure there was one last year too.  Watched: 12 minutes.

Ah, the twentieth century. Ah, the turn of the great wheel.

Academic Earth has a (free) video lecture series about France since 1871.  I’ve watched a few, it seems good. Go have a look.

Why France?  Well, why not?  I find myself more and more interested in 20th century history these days.  The subject is so big, and the change is so rapid, that wherever you look there’s something interesting and unexpected.

The movie marathon is a part of that, especially since I reached the war years.  All stories of the 20th century converge on World War II.  The war itself actually doesn’t interest me so much, (we need to get over our obsession with this war), what interests me is how people understood and responded to it, and how it’s connected with what came before and after.

Movies bring the past to life, and books provide the actual facts and details.  Most of the history books I read are audio books or lectures, because I don’t like to read huge and difficult paper books, and good history books are often huge and difficult.  Unfortunately I don’t know how to review audio books, (the writing part of my brain shuts down when I listen), so I don’t blog about them.

Right now I’m listening to a history of the Algerian War. Earlier it was a biography of Charles de Gaulle. And I’ll probably keep going with the above-mentioned lecture series.  I like to fill in the blanks, and French history is one of the blanks.  Up next: Well, practically anything!

Communications systems that have no inherent eavesdropping capabilities are more secure than systems with those capabilities built in

Bruce Schneier writes that surveillance and data retention laws – like the one now being pushed here in Norway – make everyone less safe:

In order to comply with government search warrants on user data, Google created a backdoor access system into Gmail accounts. This feature is what the Chinese hackers exploited to gain access.Google’s system isn’t unique. Democratic governments around the world — in Sweden, Canada and the UK, for example — are rushing to pass laws giving their police new powers of Internet surveillance, in many cases requiring communications system providers to redesign products and services they sell.


Any surveillance and control system must itself be secured. An infrastructure conducive to surveillance and control invites surveillance and control, both by the people you expect and by the people you don’t.China’s hackers subverted the access system Google put in place to comply with U.S. intercept orders. Why does anyone think criminals won’t be able to use the same system to steal bank account and credit card information, use it to launch other attacks or turn it into a massive spam-sending network? Why does anyone think that only authorized law enforcement can mine collected Internet data or eavesdrop on phone and IM conversations?


Communications systems that have no inherent eavesdropping capabilities are more secure than systems with those capabilities built in. And it’s bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state.