Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sapphire and Steel (TV)

Sapphire and Steel
Created and written by
Peter J. Hammond
Starring David McCallum, Joanna Lumley
IMDB Entry

Sometimes you get the wrong impression of a TV series that you heard of but never saw. When I first heard of the UK series Sapphire and Steel, I got the impression it was some sort of private detective show where the stars solved mundane crimes. Having seen it, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are two mysterious beings that appear at places where mysterious things are happening, usually involving ghosts. Their origins were never explained, other than their job is to fix anomalies in times. Sapphire has some ability to control time, and Steel can kill the creatures by lowering his body temperature to near absolute zero.  They can also communicate telepathically. It's implied that there are other people carrying out other missions.

The show has a Doctor Who feel to it -- low budget, cheap special effects -- and was conceived to rival the Doctor in its adventures, but didn't quite work as well, possibly due to a lack of humor of the characters. Steel is cold and dismissive of the people they meet. Sapphire is more considerate and more willing to listen to see if it includes any clues to what's happening.

There were six serials of the show, ranging from 4-8 episodes each. The pacing was very slow, but it seemed to work as a way to ratchet up the tension. Another problem was the availability of the main actors, who had thriving careers that led to availability issues. Further, issues with the production company management also worked against it. The final series was basically just burned off.

The show was revived as a series of audio dramas at Big Finish with Susanna Harker and David Warner. 

The show never seemed to have a regular run in the US, probably because of the lack of episodes. But it is an interesting attempt at a science fiction/fantasy series.

Sunday, January 8, 2023




Written and Directed by
Jacques Tati
Starring Jacques Tati, Maria Kimberly, Marcel Fraval 
IMDB Entry

Readers of this blog may have noticed my liking for Jacques Tati (especially likely). I decided to take the time to watch his final film Trafic, again. I remember being disappointed, but maybe a rewatch would change my mind.

The story is simple.  M. Hulot (Tati, or course) is a designer of a new type of camper car, which he plans to unveil at the Amsterdam auto show. It's loaded on the truck for the journey, with a driver (Marcel Fraval) driving. Maria, a publicist for the auto company (Maria Kimberly) is also involved in getting the car to be displayed.

The movie has the thinnest of plots -- which is typical of Tati. He always depended on gags to carry the story, and a specific type of gag where it is the reactions of the characters that are the basis of humor. For instance, when there is the inevitable car crash, the section -- one of the best in the film -- shows a strangely calm reaction as they gather up the part that had ended up on the side of the road and the edge of the woods.

There's also an amusing sequence where Hulot shows the features of the camper car, where each bit had a double duty. It's right out of some of Buster Keaton's work.*

Maria is the catalyst for events. She's American and a master of disregarding traffic laws, leading to the situations that make Hulot's trip a frustrating one. She got the role because her millionaire lover was going to finance the film. Tati had lost a fortune in on his previous film, Playtime, and had troubles getting financing, so he jumped at the chance. Kimberly was a model in the US and acquits herself well.

Another nice technique is that the film doesn't use subtitles. Dialog -- not a lot of it -- switches from one language to another, so if you don't know the word, someone will repeat it in another. This sounds clunky, but it comes across as perfectly natural.

Admittedly, the film doesn't reach the heights of Tati's best, but even this, his least successful film, you can see the signs of his comic genius.

*Tati was a big fan of Keaton.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Jour de Fete

Jour de Fete
Written, Directed, and Starring
Jacques Tati
IMDB Entry

I've mentioned before that I consider Jacques Tati as one of the great film comedians, and the last one to work in essentially silent cinema. His output was small -- five full-length films in twenty-two years -- but it was all classic. And it started out with Jour de Fete*.

It's set in a small farming town in France. A tractor arrives, bringing a merry-go-round and other parts of a small fair -- some games, a small theater, and other attractions that everyone in the village comes by to take part in.  The town's postman, Francois (Jacques Tati) is conscientious and hardworking, but a bit clumsy and simple and the butt of jokes. When he sees a satirical movie about postmen in America, he vows to take up their methods.

Francois is an proto-Hulot, Tati's great comic creation. In this case, he even speaks to advance the plot.** The gags are well constructed -- Keatonesque in his
use of objects behaving badly. Most of it is plotless -- just vignettes about the people who are at the fair. The part about the postmen doesn't show up until around 45 minutes in. That is the sequence that is usually listed as the plot of the movie, and it is impressive -- a series of sight gags and Francois delivers the mail. The movie also showed the main theme that runs through Tati's work -- a wariness about the new.

Tati is, as always, brilliant. Francois is an early version of M. Hulot, though for this he sports a moustache.  I suspect Tati didn't keep it so that you could see his entire face.

The film was originally shot both in color and black and white. The color process used worked poorly, so it was released as a black and white film, though a color version was recreated by his daughter in 1995. It was an immediate success and started Tati's career.

*Festival Day in French.

**Hulot was not a completely silent character, but he was a man of few words and got most of his points across with gestures.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Illusionist

The Illusionist
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
Written by Henri Marquet, Sylvain Chomet (screeplay), Jacques Tati (story)
IMDB Entry

Jacques Tati is the last of the great silent comedians.* He started making films long after sound came in, but continued the art form. There was sound, but no actual conversations. They story was told through actions and character reactions. Generally, any speech was short and consisting of a handful of words.  But the visual comedy was top notch,Tati died in 1982. He only directed five full-length features, all of which are gems of comedy. The Illusionist is an animated film that was adapted from a screenplay that he never directed.

It's the story of Tatisheff,** a stage magician. He's good,  but no one is interested in his act, and he keeps appearing in smaller and smaller venues. He travels with his recalcitrant rabbit, to a small village in Scotland for a performance, and sees a young woman, Alice, working as a maid. Feeling sorry for her, he buys her a pair of decent shoes. When he travels from there to Edinburgh, she decides to go with him.

They hole up in a theatrical hotel and he gets work where he can, while she admires him, and they set up a father-daughter relationship.

The gags are funny and, in typical Tati fashion, there are more than one going on at once. It's not slapstick, but about the reaction of the human reactions to the event.

There are plenty of memorable characters, especially in the hotel. There's a ventriloquist who is kind to Alice and never puts his dummy down, three acrobat who are always practicing their art, the hotel owners who are little people and who go in their office by only opening the lower part of a Dutch door, and a rock band that steals his thunger..

The film is visually superb. Backgrounds are filled with details and the portrayal of things like smoke and rain is unsurpassed.

The movie got an Oscar nomination, but didn't win. Director Chomet had made a mark with The Triplets of Bellevue, but hasn't been able to do much since, especially since his studio and distributor folded.

There was some controversy over the film. Tati has written it for his daughter, as a way of apologizing her for his being too busy for her. Members of the family didn't like the usage, and objected to changes that Chomet had made, but I think the result is well worth it.

You don't have to know Tati to enjoy this. It's full of charm and pathos and an example of a film that uses animation in a way that is rarely seen.

*I don't count Mel Brooks, whose foray into silent comedy was a one-off thing. Shaun the Sheep is the only real challenger.
**Tati's real name. The character design is clearly based on Tati, too.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Hangover Square

Hangover Square
Directed by
John Brahm
Screenplay by Barré Lyndon* from a novel by Patrick Hamilton
Starring Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, George Sanders, Alan Napier, Faye Marlow
IMDB Entry

Laird Creger was one of the great losses to the cinema of the 1940s. He was a charismatic actor, and a strong cinema presence. But his performances showed a lot of promise before he died at age 31. Hangover Square is one that shows how good he was.

It starts out strongly:  we see a shopkeeper being murdered and his shop set on fire. The killer's face is not seen, but we show George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) stumbling through the streets. Bone is a composer and we learn that he suffers from blackouts where he cannot remember what has happened. His fiancée, Barbara Chapman, learns his situation and takes him to a police psychologist, Dr. Alan Middleton (George Sanders). Middleton investigates and sees no evidence Bone killed the shopkeeper and suggests take a break to relax, and he ends up going to a nightclub where he spots Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), who convinces him to write songs for her. He falls for her, but one day realizes he's being used.  And the blackouts start again.

Cregar puts on a fine performance. He's not a villain, and doesn't realize he's done anything wrong, since he remembers nothing about it. He's a tortured man who can't find peace and is especially good when he starts to go mad.

Sanders is his usual urbane self as he begins to suspect the truth. Linda Darnell makes a great femme fatale. 

Modern fans can spot Alan Napier (Alfred  from the Batman TV show) as Bone's future father-in-law.


*An obvious pseudonym. He won an Oscar for the screenplay of War of theWorlds.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

One Body Too Many


One Body Too Many

Directed by
Frank McDonald
Written by Winston Miller, Maxwell Shane
Starring Jack Haley, Bela Lugosi, Jean Parker, Lyle Talbot, 
IMDB Entry

Sometimes a cast list surprises you, and I was delighted when I stumbled upon One Body Too Many.

Albert Tuttle (Jack Haley) is an insurance salesman who goes to sell a policy to Cyrus Rutherford, an eccentric millionaire. Problem is, Rutherford is dead and the family is gathered for the reading of the will. It lives up to eccentric:  there is no listing of who gets what until Rutherford in buried in a special glass-domed crypt. The family will be getting different bequests, at smaller and smaller amounts, but, if Rutherford is not buried as designated, the one with the smallest bequest getting the largest, and vice versa.

Haley stumbles on this crew and is stuck there overnight as a storm rages. And people start getting murdered by people who think they were going to be stiffed by the will. Rutherford's niece (Jean Parker) asks the timid Tuttle for help, and he reluctantly agrees.

Haley, of course, is primarily known as the Tin Man of The Wizard of Oz and you can see that in this role, along with a hint of the cowardly lion. Bela Lugosi -- billed third -- is there as the butler, a role that gives him nothing to do but act vaguely sinister.

Also in the cast it Lyle Talbot, who was a familiar face in movies and TV.

The film is a mildly amusing programmer, with more smiles than laughs.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Mayor of Hell

Mayor of Hell
Directed by
Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by Edward Chodorov,  based on a story by Islin Auster
Starring James Cagney, Madge Evans, Dudley Digges, Allen Jenkins, Frankie Darro, Allen Jenkins
IMDB Entry

People often make the charge that modern films are too "woke," usually meaning that they are conscious of social issues. They don't seem to know that films have been dealing with social issues almost from the beginning. Warner Brothers especially became known for stories showing society's losers and The Mayor of Hell is a prime example.

We fist see a group of boys, let by Jimmy Smith (Frankie Darro) who are running some minor scams on the people. They get caught and some of the gang, including Jimmy, are0 sentenced to reform school.  The school's superintendent, Thompson (Dudley Digges), treats his charges with a firm hand, while enriching himself. This is upset when the deputy commissioner, Patsy Gargan (James Cagney) shows up and begins to reorganize the place, treating the boys with respect, giving them decent food, and setting everything up a democracy.

Considering that at the period, Cagney was usually playing tough guy roles.* He's tough enough to earn the respect of the boys, but clearly is looking for them to be well treated.  Madge Evans plays the nurse at the reformatory, who urges him to do what is needed to help the boys.

Of note is the performance of Allen "Farina" Hoskins. He was a major star of the Our Gang silent comedies -- possibly the most successful Black actor of his time. By this point, he had aged out of Our Gang and was struggling to find roles. One good thing was that he was treated by all the boys as an equal and didn't resort to the usual stereotypical behavior.

The social commentary in the movie is more than obvious and Thompson ends up getting more than his due. The point was especially important in the 1930s, when people sometimes skirted the law due to poverty.

*Indeed, most posters make it look like Cagney is a gangster type.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

He Ran All the Way

He Ran all the way

Directed by
John Berry
Written by Dalton Trumbo (as Guy Endore) and Hugo Butler from a novel by Sam Ross
Starring John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford, Selina Royle, Bobby Hyatt, Gladys George, Norman Lloyd
IMDB Entry

The Hollywood blacklist ruined careers and lives and perhaps none more than John Garfield.He had burst on the scene after growing up in Brooklyn and his talent for acting was noticed and he was brought to Hollywood, usually cast as a boxer or gangster.*  His final film before his early death was He Ran All the Way.

Nick Robey (Garfield) was a man down on his luck and living with his mother (Gladys George). His friend Al Molin (Norman Lloyd) convinces him to rob a payroll, despite the fact that Nick is starting to get cold feet.Of course, the job goes sour, a cop is killed and Al badly wounded.  Nick goes on the run with the money. When hiding out at a public pool, he meets Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters).She is charmed by him and he offers to take her home, at which point Nick takes her and her family hostage, using them as hostages until the heat is off.

Garfield is, as usual, excellent.  He capture the character’s desperation, and at the same time manages to make him both sympathetic and potentially dangerous.Shelly Winters was in her early career, when she could still play the ingenue, and she also makes the most of the role, She goes through the movie both repelled and attracted to Nick, so there is some real doubt as to the climax.

This was Garfield’s last film. He refused to name names before House Un-American Activities Committee.  He was blacklisted. The stress, and his long-term heart problems – which he seemed to have ignored – caused his death at age 39. Wallace Ford is also memorable as Peg’s father, who is backed into a corner trying to protect his family.

Writer Dalton Trumbo was under the blacklist at the time, but was able to find work using various pen names. Director John Berry also felt the touch of the hysteria, but found work in Europe before returning to the US once things calmed down, directing the charming romance, Claudine.

*One of his earlier films, They Made Me a Criminal, was a good description of his movie career.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Michael O’Donoghue (comedy)

Michael O'Donoghue

Wikipedia Page

Michael O’Donoghue’s influence on 20th century comedy is incalculable. While he was not the type of comic writer who would ever get mass appeal due to his dark approach to humor, he was a part of two of the most influential comedy institutions of his era.

O’Donoghue grew up in Rochester, NY, and by college, he became enamored of being a comedy writer, writing original revues. Once he graduated, he wrote a comic strip for the Evergreen Review—not a comic magazine – featuring Phoebe Zeit-Geist, a woman who often ended up kidnapped and naked, parodying superhero comics. Gary Trudeau has cited it as an influence.

He ended up being one of the founding writers of The National Lampoon. Now the Lampoon has faded in every way since its heyday, but it was a smash hit when it started, showing a new form of humor – irreverent, dark, sexy, and willing to take no prisoners in its satire.  O’Donoghue was in the center of that. He contributed many articles and eventually rose to be its editor.  One of my favorites was his “How to Write Good,” a hilarious parody of writing advice columns.

By the late 70s, the Lampoon could do no wrong. It jumped into movies with Animal House. O’Donoghue wrote a record album – National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner, and wrote and appeared in the short lived National Lampoon Radio Hour.

Then Lorne Michaels came calling.  He hired O’Donoghue to write and perform in the new sketch comedy he was developing – Saturday Night Live.  O’Donoghue was one of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players. As such, he was the first person to be shown in the first sketch, and also had the very first line on the show.

O’Donoghue had specific ideas about comedy, and put them into place. In general, he thought violence was funny. The sketch above shows some of it, and it was even more obvious in one recurring sketch where he would do impressions of celebrities have steel needles poked into their eyes. He also did a series of sketches as “Mr. Mike,” who told fairy tales that ended up with death and mass destruction – as he put it “random acts of meaningless violence.”

His most successful SNL sketch – considered a classic of the show --- was the brilliant “Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise.” If you haven’t seen it, watch it here:

O’Donoghue was prickly, and thus left SNL after arguments. He tried to do a TV special – Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video – which was deemed* too violent and released as a film. He would be hired back a few times to SNL, but always was fired.

He took up acting roles and co-wrote and appeared in Scrooged. He also had some success as a songwriter, most notably “Single Women” which was a hit for Dolly Parton.

O’Donoghue died in1994 of a cerebral hemorrhage; he suffered from migraines for years. I would write more about him, but suddenly I am run over by a truck. The End.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Pope Must Die(t)

The Pope Must Diet!

Directed by
Peter Richardson
Written by Peter Richardson and Peter Richens
Starring Robbie Coltrane, Alex Rocco, Paul Bartel, Beverly D’Angelo, Herbert Lom
IMDB Entry

In memory of Robbie Coltrane.

Some movies court controversy and have to overcome it.Sometimes it works out. Other times it kills the movie’s chances. The Pope Must Die(t) is an example of the latter, despite the fact it’s a very funny bit of satire.

In the first scene, the pope dies. A conclave is held, and by accident, they elect David Albanizi (Robbie Coltrane), a humble and honest (and klutzy) country priest, who plays a mean rock guitar. It was part of a plot by Cardinal Rocco (Alex Rocco) who secretly is an agent of the crime boss Vittorio Corelli (Herbert Lom)*.

It turns out the Church is badly corrupted and Rocco is willing to do anything to get rid of Abanizi before he discovers it all and to put the preferred candidate in his place.

Coltrane is excellent as a good man who is overwhelmed (and a bit naïve), and Alex Rocco is perfect as the corrupt cardinal.

Of course, the subject was bound to offend. To say it puts the Church in a bad light is putting it mildly. It is clearly not meant to be a serious look at things and is clearly supposed to be a fictional version of the church**

Still, the film ran into more difficulties. The original title – The Pope Must Die! – was in terrible taste to begin with. The basis for the plot is shenanigans at the Vatican Bank, which paralleled a real scandal.

The studio insisted on cuts, and changed the title in the US to The Pope Must Diet.”*** The title didn’t make a lot of sense, and ultimately didn’t help. The subject turned away many audiences. Many media sources refused to run ads for it under the original title, and didn’t change their minds when the title (and posters) were changed.

Ultimately, the movie failed at the box office. However, once you get past the dark blasphemy of a fictional version of the Church, it turns out to be a first-class comedy.

*Best known as Chief Inspector Dreyfuss the foil of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films.

**They have female priests, for instance, leading to the final joke.

***At Robbie Coltrane’s suggestion,since he saw posters for the movie defaced with the “T” at the end.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Whitehall 1212 (radio)

Whitehall 1212


Written and Directed by Willys Cooper
IMDB Entry

Success in media begets copycats, especially in TV and radio. When Dragnet became a hit, other producers tried to copy the format of choosing actual cases from police files. Of course, Dragnet wouldn’t allow anyone to use the files of the Los Angeles police, so people looked elsewhere. Willys Cooper managed to get the cooperation of Scotland Yard in London, and used it as a basis for Whitehall 1212.

The show clearly was imitating Dragnet*, though with a formula all its own. It would introduce the audience to Scotland Yards’ Black Museum, where mementos of crimes were kept for study.** After talking about the artifact of this week’s case, a police inspector would come in and discuss the case from start to finish, dramatizing what he found and how it all unfolded until the criminal was caught (and usually hanged).

While the show did not have the great characterizations that made Dragnet a hit, the crimes were well chosen and listening to police procedure in the UK shows the difference between the two legal systems. If there was any doubt that these weren’t real cases, one of them was clearly the famous Hawley Crippen case, with all the names changed.***

The show was performed by an all-British cast, and went through different actors in the main show for most episodes.

At about the same time, Orson Welles hosted The Black Museum, another radio show based on its artifacts..Welles’ version wasn’t a police procedural, though, and showed the crime being committed.

The show ran for around a year. Clearly it wasn’t the success Dragnet was, mostly because it lacked the quirky characters that made Webb’s show latter so fascinating (though they tried). Welles’s version didn’t fare much better. But both are fine examples of radio drama.

*Including the line in the introduction: “The names, for obvious reasons, have been changed.”

**There was (and still is) a Black Museum (now called the Crime Museum), though it’s not open to the public.

***Not sure why they had to. The case is famous even today.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Nicky Hopkins (music)

Nicky Hopkins

Wikipedia Entry

Even if you don’t recognize the name, if you listened to rock music – especially UK rockers – you have heard Nicky Hopkins play. He was quite simply, the businest studio musician of his era.

Hopkins learned the piano at age 3, and began playing professionally when he was 16. Just as his career was taking off, he became bedridden. Hopkins had Crohn’s disease, leading to operations and frail health. It prevented him from joining a band – the touring was too stressful. So he settled into being a session musician.

For a while, if you wanted someone to play piano, you called Hopkins.And the big names called him. He started with the Kinks and the Who, and then worked with the Rolling Stones for nine years.  Other acts that used him included Jefferson Airplane, Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker, Rod Steward, Donovan, Jerry Garcia, Steve Miller, Donovan, Carly Simon, Art Garfundel, Spinal Tap, Joe Walsh and even the Beatles – both as a group and individually with all four members.

With Quicksilver Messenger Service, he recorded his most exciting composition, Edward the Mad Shirt Grinder.

Hopkins took on the nickname of “Edward” elsewhere. When the Rolling Stones released an album of jams from their Let it Bleed sessions, the named it Jamming with Edward.

Hopkins also put out some solo albums, but they didn’t sell enough to make him a star.

He also was a member of the early supergroup, Sweet Thursday. Consisting of Hopkins, Alun Davies, Jon Mark, Harvey Burns, and Brian Odgers, The group might have achieved much, but their record company went bankrupt and could not promote it.

His Crohn’s finally caught up with him in 1994, but he left a legacy of brilliant piano playing.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

That Was the Week That Was (TV)

(1963-65) (US)
Created by
Ned Sherrin 
(UK) David Frost, Millicent Martin, Kenneth Cope, David Kernan, Bernard Levin, Lance Percival, William Rushton, Roy Kinnear, Timothy Birdsall,  Al Mancini, Robert Lang
Starring (US): David Frost, Nancy Ames, et al.
IMDB Entry

I think I mentioned before that I became a fan of political satire at a young age. Of course, political satire was considered iffy programming in the early age of TV, so it was hard to find examples of it. But what I remember most was a short-lived show called That Was the Week That Was (abbreviated as “TW3”).

It started out in the UK. Information about it is sparse, but it looks like the BBC charged Ned Sherrin to produce a TV show that could latch on to a current UK trend for political humor. David Frost was chosen as the presenter and would introduce news stories, often in humorous song.*

The show was a smash, but created controversy and ran for about a year. But an American executive decided to give satire a try and came up with a US version. David Frost crossed the pond and worked on an American version.

The show also used music and in this case, much of it was written by Tom Lehrer, one of the great names in musical satire. He put out an album of his songs for the show, That Was the Year that Was.

The American version lasted a big longer than the UK one. The satire wasn’t quite as vicious.

David Frost went on to be a talk show host and scored a coup when he got an extensive interview with Richard Nixon after Watergate. The movie about their meetings Frost/Nixon, has Nixon thinking Frost was a lightweight who knew nothing about politics, but Frost’s work on TW3 showed he indeed knew the subject.

The videos of the US version have been lost, though there are some of the UK version. I’m not sure how well it would hold up 60 years later, since most of the references are badly dated, but it’s an important milestone in televised satire.

*The catchy theme song was by Ron Grainer, known to millions of fans as the composer of the Doctor Who Theme.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

I've Heard the Mermaids Singing

Written and Directed by
Patricia Rozema
Starring Sheila McCarthy, Paule Baillargeon, Anne-Marie MacDonald
IMDB Entry

Most Americans don’t think about Canadian films. There are plenty of American films that use Canadian locations for shooting, but films created completely in Canada with Canadian talent are rarely shown outside the big cities. Which is a shame when something like I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing comes along.

Polly (Sheila McCarthy) is a temporary administrative assistant who is incompetent at everything. She gets a job at an art gallery run by Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon). While there, Mary (Anne-Marie Macdonald) comes by, Gabrielle’s ex-lover and a painter and they revive their relationship. Polly, who takes photos as a hobby, also want to take part in the artistic life.

The movie has little plot. It mostly focuses on Polly, who videotapes her thoughts and her fantasies. Polly is absolutely charming, someone who is trying to find her place in the world. Gabrielle is cool and calculating, and more than a tad manipulative.

This was near the beginning of Sheila McCarthy’s career. She won a Genie Award for the best  Actress in a Canadian film* and has since garnered a second win and many other awards. She had a recurring role in the first season of The Umbrella Academy and was a regular in the Canadian TV series, Little Mosque on the Prairie.

This was writer/director Patricia Rozema’s first feature, the start of a very successful career as a writer and director, including an Emmy.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim and won a special prize, allowing it to get a distribution deal that paid all shooting expenses. It has also been listed as one of the top Canadian films of the 20th century.

If you’re looking for action, this isn’t the film you want, but if you like a charming character study, give it a look.

*There are several familiar names on the list of winners, including Sandra Oh and Brie Larson

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Street Scene

Street Scene

Directed by
King Vidor
Written by Elmer Rice
Starring Sylvia Sidney, William Collier Jr., Estelle Taylor, David Landau, Beulah Bondi, Russel Hopton
IMDB Entry

The Hays code went into full effect in 1934 and its strict rules on what could be portrayed was a major limitation on the subjects of films until it was finally was dropped in 1968. It’s not that there weren’t good movies made while it was in effect, but it restricted subject matter, especially dealing with adult subjects. Street Scene dated from before the code, and is a strong drama dealing with subjects that the code wouldn’t allow.

The movie was based on a Pulitzer-Prize-winning play by Elmer Rice about a day in the life of the inhabitants of a single New York City tenement block. It’s a hot summer day, and Emma Jones (Beulah Bondi) is busy gossiping with the neighbors about what’s going on in the building. The chief gossip involves Anna Maurrant (Estelle Taylor), who is having an affair with the collector for the dairy, Steve Sankey (Russell Hopton). Anna’s husband Frank (David Landau) is suspicious. At the same time, their daughter Rose (Sylvia Sydney) is being pressured by her boss to quit her job and go on the stage. He even offers to set her up in an apartment. Rose wisely sees the offer for what it is and refuses, and is attracted to Sam Kaplan (William Collier, Jr.), even though there is a big hurdle:  he’s Jewish.

The main story is spiced by little slice-of-life vignettes, sketching characters both good and bad. It all leads up to a tragedy, but life goes on in the street.

The ending is relatively advanced for its time, with the final shot showing Rose taking on an independent role.

Beulah Bondi holds the movie together. Her comments and explanations not only set up the various situations, but also act as a Greek chorus. This Bondi’s first film role after having played it on Broadway, and she went on to a long career as a character actress, usually playing mothers.*

Sylvia Sidney also had a long career, lasting into the 1990s.

King Vidor was no stranger to directing movies showing ordinary people. His The Crowd is considered one of the classics of silent film and he continued to direct successful films into the 1950s. Except for one scene in a taxi, everything takes place on the same set, as though it were a play on stage.

The movie got caught up when the Hays Office took over.  It went into obscurity, so much so that many of the prints were lost. But it can be found now online at

*Including George Bailey’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Wild Boys of the Road

Wild Boys of the Road

Directed by
William Wellman
Written by Earl Baldwin from a story by Daniel Ahern
Starring Frankie Darro, Edwin Philipps, Dorothy Coonan, Sterling Holloway, Rochelle Hudson
IMDB Entry

Before talkies came in, Warner Brothers was struggling. The Jazz Singer turned them into a major studio and they continued with gangster films and other movies showing the seedier side of life, and especially life in the lower classes.* Wild Boys of the Road is one of their gems, but one that tends to be overlooked.

Eddie Smith (Frankie Darro) and Tommy Gordon (Edwin Philips) are two teens during the Depression who are suffering its effects. When Eddie’s father loses his job, the two decide to hit the rails to Chicago in search for work. On a freight train, they meet Sally (Dorothy Coonan), and go from train to train until they reach their destination – but there’s no work there. Sally has an aunt who can give them a home, preventing them from being rounded up and sent home, but the aunt turns out to be running a bordello. When it’s raided, the three escape and keep heading east, getting into trouble all the way

The movie still is powerful after all these years.  The three are all attractive characters and you quickly sympathize for them.**

Since this was a pre-code film, the script doesn’t shy away from things the Hays office cracked down upon a few years later. It makes the story that much stronger.

Frankie Darro had been acting on screen for quite some time, starting when he was six. He worked regularly in the silent days, since he was a talented stunt performer and was often the first one called when they needed a child to do a stunt. He kept working through the 1960s, with is best-known role one that he wasn’t credited for – one of the actors who operated Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet.

Wild Boys.
Wild Boys. Sterling Holloway is the gawky boy second from right.

He’s excellent as Eddie – the driving force of the trio and the one who eventually helps to get things fixed for them. Edwin Phipps also puts on a good performance, though his career didn’t extend past this. This was also the only named and credited role for Dorothy Coonan, who left acting soon after this to marry director William Wellman.

Wellman was the director of The Public Enemy, which introduced James Cagney to the world, and had a long and successful career with movies like A Star is Born,**  Nothing Sacred, Beau Geste, Lady of Burlesque*** and The High and the Mighty.

There are two other familiar names and voices. Ward Bond – who appeared in many John Ford westerns and, of course, the Bogart Maltese Falcon --  has an uncredited small but memorable part as a horrific brakeman. And Sterling Holloway was working regularly into the 1980s, appearing on a lot of 50s TV as well as lending his distinctive voice to Disney characters, most notably, their original Winnie the Pooh.

There are many interesting elements in the story. The various teens end up hanging together, including two Blacks. Though their roles stay close to the stereotypes of the time, they seem to be accepted by the other boys riding the rails.

Another touch is the judge who ultimately decides their fate. The actor has the glasses and accent of Franklin Roosevelt, and there’s a prominent poster of the National Recovery Administration eagle in his courtroom.*****

It’s a shame the movie is not better known. Like many 30s films, it is fast paced and fits a lot into its short running time. Not having to abide by the Hays code makes it more realistic than later films.  It’s available at

*When they weren’t doing lavish musicals.

**Darro was actually still a teen  and the other two were just barely out of them.

***The original Janet Gaynor version

****From the novel The G-String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee

*****One of the earliest of FDR’s agencies to fight the Depression, until it was declared unconstitutional.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann)

The Last Laugh
Directed by
F.W. Murnau
Screenplay by Carl Meyer
Starring Emil Jannings
IMDB Entry

Interest in silent films is fading and younger audiences don’t have a lot of regard for them. If there is anything still relevant, it’s usually silent comedies from Chaplin and Keaton. But there were plenty of good dramas, too, and one of the classics is The Last Laugh.

The story is a simple one. A hotel doorman (Emil Jannings) is happy in his job, which is quite prestigious. People in his neighborhood tip their hats and salute him.  But the doorman is getting old and, when he is spotted taking a break, his boss decides he’s not up to the job, and reassigns him to be a restroom attendant.This breaks him. He keeps his uniform so the neighbors don’t realize his loss of status, but the secret is eventually found out, earning him the scorn of his family and everyone who knows him.

Doorman gets the bad news

The tragedy is averted by a tacked-on ending that even the director thinks is improbable.*


Jannings was a top actor of the late silent days. This wasn’t the only time he played a tragic protagonist and he even was the first winner of the Best Actor Oscar. He returned to Germany immediately after**,  knowing that his German accent was not going to fly once sound came in. He made his most successful film, The Blue Angel, there, playing opposite Marlene Dietrich. Though he was still an important actor in Germany, his legacy was tarnished because he made Nazi propaganda films. Though he argued that he had to make the films, his career ended with the end of the war. Dietrich, who fled Germany and was a staunch anti-Nazi, hated him for it.

From a technical point of view, the film was groundbreaking. Murnau and Mayer wanted to avoid intertitles and there is only one in the entire movie. In addition Murnau, working with cinematographer Karl Freund,*** developed camera techniques that had never been tried before and which were quickly emulated. Murnau is considered by film scholars as one of the greatest directors, and this film shows why.

One aspect of the film that is not clear is the background of German cultural assumptions, which were not known to the American audiences when it came out and are even more obscure now. The doorman’s prestige was because he wore a uniform**** and the demotion devastates him for that reason. Another point is the German title, Der letzte Mann. Literally, it means “The Last Man,” but another meaning is “The man who used to have this job.”

The film was a big success, both critically and financially, and is still highly regarded by film schools and students. The acting style may be dated, but if you watch, you will be moved by the doorman’s fate.

*He specifically says so in the single intertitle.

**I’ve seen accounts that he was waiting for a train to take him to New York to sail to Germany when he learned he had won.

***Freund moved to the US and worked on movies like the original Dracula (sharing directing duties uncredited), The Mummy, and Mad Love.

**** Murnau thought the story absurd because "everyone knows that a washroom attendant makes more than a doorman."

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Baby Face

Baby Face

Directed by
Alfred E. Green
Written by Gene Markey, Kathryn Scola (screenplay), Darryl F. Zanuck (Story)
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, John Wayne, Theresa Harris, Alphonse Ethier
IMDB Entry

Movies always attracted the attention of bluenoses, and the introduction of sound made it worse. Eventually, a code of censorship – the Hays Code – was set up in 1930, but not rigorously enforced until 1934.* During that short period, files did not shy away from adult subjects, and a perfect example is Baby Face.

Lily “Baby Face” Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) works in her father’s speakeasy, where he forces her to have sex with customers. She develops a friendship with Cragg (Alphonse Ethier), who introduces her to the philosophy of Nietzsche and gives her the idea of only doing anything she needs to survive. When her father is killed, she leaves for New York City with her friend Chico (Theresa Harris), seducing a railroad worker to let them jump a freight. The pattern established, she rises in success by seducing men who are in a position to help her goals.

The movie is much franker than Hollywood films from when after the code is established. It’s perfectly clear that she’s sleeping her way to the top and has no compunction about doing it.

Stanwyck is excellent. In her career, she often showed a hard edge in her roles and it is quite apparent here, along with the ability to turn sweet and helpless when it suited her. George Brent plays the man she finally falls in love with.

As an aside, Theresa Harris is excellent as Chico. Lily treats her as an equal throughout, unusual for a Black actress of the time.  Harris had a fairly long career in films but – as she complained – usually as a maid, because that was the best she could hope for.** This may have been her best role, she it’s clear that, though she is Lily’s maid when she rises to success, she is treated as a friend, confidant and equal. Theresa was also an excellent singer, and was given the chance to sing a bit in the film.

A discussion of the film usually mention John Wayne was in it. This was early in his career and before he established himself in westerns. But his role is small – just a couple of scenes and a dozen lines of dialog.

Despite there being no Hays Office, the movie was censored. Most notable is the addition of a final scene where Lily sees the errors of her ways. The original ending was darker and much more downbeat. It was lost for years, but someone uncovered the cut scenes and added it to the film in 2004.

The movie is a fine example of what movies can do when allowed to take on adult themes.

*Partly in reaction to the sexual innuendo in the films of Mae West.

**Her most visible role this days is as the housekeeper/maid to Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Ruling Class

The Ruling Class

Directed by
Peter Medak
Written by Pete Barnes, from his play
Starring Peter O’Toole, Alastair Sim, Arthur Lowe, Harry Andrews, Carolyn Seymour, William Mervyn,
IMDB Entry

Audiences sometimes had trouble thinking of Peter O’Toole as a great actor. O’Toole thought it was because he was considered so handsome that critics only saw him as a pretty boy, but I think it’s at least partly because his roles often had a quirkiness that some did not take seriously. A prime example of this is The Ruling Class.

Jack Gurney (O’Toole) inherits the title as the 14th Earl after his father dies in an embarrassing accident. The problem is that Jack is a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks he’s Jesus.  This is unacceptable to his family and friends, who find his message of peace and love – and his penchant for breaking into song – make him unacceptable.Jack rises above the machinations for a long time until one finally succeeds, creating a new form of insanity that is far more dangerous but far more acceptable to the ruling class.

This is a bravura performance by O’Toole. His Jack as Jesus has plenty of charisma and wit, and his change at the end is a completely different and dangerous character. The rest of the cast is also perfect for the satirical message that the upper class of UK society is completely corrupt.

This was early in the career of Peter Medak, who has kept busy directing movies and TV.

O’Toole got an Oscar nomination for the role, but, as was always the case, he failed to win it. The movie became forgotten, as people preferred O'Toole in less iconoclastic roles, but this is one of his best.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Sam’s Strip (comic strip)

Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas
Wikipedia Entry

Sam’s Strip was a comic book that was ahead of its time – and possibly too far behind it.

It was the brainchild of Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas. The two worked together on Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois in the fifties and both were avid comic strip fans and historians. The idea came to them to write a strip about comics, where the characters interacted with both the greats and the conventions of the genre.  The result was Sam’s Strip.

Sam had a round body, a cartoon nose, and a mouth hidden under the collar of this shirt.  He was joined by a unnamed assistant, and most of the strip talked about the difficulties of running a comic
strip. Sam would go to the comic strip prop closet to bring out some standard comic book devices, like a picture of a saw in a log when he wanted to sleep or exclamation points to hang in the air.  Jerry Dumas would occasionally appear or be referred to. Old-time comic book characters would show up and Sam would talk about the difficulties of getting help or good gags.

There was also a mild political element. Sam would comment on political figures, and editorial cartoon elements (like the weary world pioneered by Herblock) but the strip never took any strong stances a la Pogo.

Walker and Dumas came up with the gags, while Dumas did the art. Walker also did the lettering.

Sam's Strip 2
The strip was never very popular. Sam broke the fourth wall in just about every strip, something audiences were not used to. Also, Dumas concentrated on using old-time cartoon characters like Happy Hooligan, who the audience didn’t recognize. It wasn’t necessary to do so, but it may have confused readers.*

The strip folded after less than two years.

But Dumas loved the characters, so in 1977 he repurposed them with Sam and Silo, where Sam’s assistant now had a name. They were small-town police and the strip ran many years.

*This was also a lot of work for Dumas. Copiers were rare, so he had to draw each character individually, matching the original artist’s style.  A monumental task.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Pickle Brothers/The Uncalled for Three (comedy)

Ron Prince, Michael Mislove, Peter Lee
Wikipedia Entry
IMDB Entry
History of the Pickle Brothers

Everyone remembers their first rock concert. Mine was the Beach Boys.

This was around 1967.  You have to remember that this was the low point of their careers. Brian Wilson stopped touring, their albums were getting poor reviews, and it was looking like they were washed up.The concert was outdoors at Nassau County Community College, and it was free.

They didn’t draw 100 people.

But I’m not writing about the Beach Boys.   I’m talking about their opening act, “The Uncalled For Three.” It consisted of three wild comedians, a mixture of slapstick, puns, sight gags, parody, vaudeville, and rapid-fire jokes.  I loved it.

The group formed at Hofstra University on Long Island and began to find a local following and started appearing in clubs like The Bitter End and The Hungry i.* Eventually, they changed the name of the act to “The Pickle Brothers.” and toured as an opening act for the Beach Boys.**

They started appearing on variety and talk shows. Here’s their act on The Ed Sullivan Show  in 1966.

It was typical of their comedy, which seems much like that of Laugh-In, though faster and more frenetic. You can also see the influence of the Marx Brothers very clearly..

The group started to get attention and then tried what many comedians tried: a TV show.

They did it first class. The script was written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, who as a team wrote for Get Smart and the Monkees.*** The director was William Friedkin, who later went on to make The French Connection. The show included Maureen Arthur, who was memorable as Hedy LaRue in the film version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

The result can be found on Youtube.

You can see the similarities in concept with The Monkees.and the result was able to keep up their anything goes style of comedy.

Alas, as you probably know, the show wasn’t picked up. The pilot was well received by audiences, but TV executives didn’t think they could keep up the quality for a full season.

The group broke up a year or so after the pilot. It’s probably difficult to keep a comedy act together once vaudeville wasn’t around. The three members went on to other things.

Peter Lee has published an ebook about their history.

*Neither are well known today, but they were the top venues for comedy and folk singing in the early 60s, breaking many stars. The Bitter End is still in operation.

**I happened to spot their act a few weeks ago on Sullivan show reruns. The name “The Pickle Brothers” meant nothing to me, but there was something very familiar about their style. A little Googling and I found out that they were, indeed, the Uncalled For Three I had seen as the Beach Boys’ opening act. It seems they kept the name “Uncalled for Three” for their touring.

****You can spot the similarities between The Monkees and the Pickle Brothers pilot. Gardner also originated the Who’s in Charge Here? series of books, which took pictures of political figures and added speech balloons. (For example, the cover of the first one showed JFK and Harry Truman, sitting together, with Truman saying “So the bathroom still leaks.”

Sunday, May 22, 2022

In the Dark (TV)

(2019- 22)
Created by
Corrine Kingsbury
Starring Perry Mattfeld, Brooke Markham, Morgan Krantz, Casey Diedrick, Rich Sommer, Nicki Micheaux, Calle Riley, Matt Murray
IMDB Entry

In the Dark
The CW has an audience in mind: fans of Superheroes and teen dramas.*  But there is an occasional show that breaks out of the mold and works as straight drama. And one of their best shows is In the Dark.

It’s the story of Murphy Mason (Perry Mattfeld), who went blind in her early teens. She has learned to cope with it, but is aimless, taking comfort in sarcasm and meaningless sex. When Tyson Bailey, a street kid who saved her from a mugging, and someone she had taking a liking to -- is murdered, she gets involved in the case, dragging in her friend Jess Damon (Brooke Markham) and co-worker Felix Bell (Morgan Krantz) into it. Dean Riley (Rich Sommer) is the cop investigating, and who doesn’t believe any crime was committed.  Dean, however, recruits her to help out with his daughter Chloe (Calle Walton), who is also blind.

The show is strongly plotted as things get unveiled and we learn about why Tyson was killed.

The real strength, though is Perry Matfield as Murphy. Murphy is not a good person – she’s manipulative, getting others to help her out, and is more than willing to betray them all to get what she wants.  At the same time, she’s very funny and sometimes clearly vulnerable, even if she is loath to admit it.

Another great character is Nia Bailey (Nicki Micheaux) as a drug lord who speaks softly but who manages to put subtle menace in everything she says. Brooke Markham is great as Murphy’s best friend who is both frustrated and loyal to her.

I loved the show when it first came out, but somehow missed the second season. I picked up the third and finally decided to see what I had missed. The quality of the writing was that there was a certain even that was referenced multiple times the third season, but when I actually saw it happened, I was still surprised.

The show will have a fourth and final
season starting next month, and I’m looking forward to it. It can be found on Netflix.

*Sometimes both at once.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover

The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover

Written and Directed by
Peter Greenaway
Starring Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Alan Howard.
IMDB Entry

Peter Greenaway is not for everyone.* Originally a painter, he brings an artist’s sensibility to the screen, very stylized. He’s also not afraid of taboo concepts, especially sex, violence, and cannibalism. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Is a fascinating portrayal of his interests.

Richard Borst’s (Richard Bohringer – the Cook) is a chef, whose restaurant is taken over by Albert Spica (Michael Gambon – The Thief), a wealthy and crude gangster who eats there each day. Spica is sadistic, cruel, and intimidating, especially to his wife Georgina (Helen Mirren), who, spotting Michael (Alan Howard – Her Lover) in the restaurant, starts a torrid affair with him in one of the restaurant’s rest rooms. Of course, Spica eventually learns of the affair and kills him in the most humiliating way possible. But Georgina gets revenge.

The story is visually sumptuous, with rich colors and everything staged like it was in a classical painting (sometimes specifically so). There is a theme of colors; as people walk from room to room, their clothing changes to match the color of the room.

Gambon is excellent as a man you want to hate – a crude bully who thinks he can get away with whatever he wants. Helen Mirren is always great and this role lets her show her as a woman who gets tired of her husband humiliating her and turns on him.

The movie is well regarded, and certainly a great one, but clearly not for everyone’s taste.

*A friend of mine once called Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract as the worst movie he’d ever seen.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Shootout in a One Dog Town

Directed by
Burt Kennedy
Written by Larry Cohen (Story and Screenplay), Dick Nelson (screenplay)
Starring Richard Crenna, Jack Elam, Richard Egan, Stefanie Powers, Michael Ansara, Dub Taylor, Arthur O’Connell
IMDB Entry

Back in the day, directors specialized. Some were known for comedies, others for dramas. Burt Kennedy was known for comic westerns like the classic Support Your Local Sheriff! But he could also show his dramatic chops in the made-for-TV movie, Shootout in a One Dog Town.

It starts with a gang of outlaws ambushing some riders. One – Reynolds (Michael Ansara) – escapes and, though shot, makes it to the town of Opportunity, which does only have one dog. Banker Zach Wells (Richard Crenna) agrees to take the strongbox filled with money that Reynolds was carrying, while Reynolds goes for help. Unfortunately, Reynolds dies before he can do anything else.

The outlaws aren’t giving up, of course.  Leader Petry (Richard Egan) is greedy and not one to let that much money* slip through his hands, even after one of his gang is killed. Petry just thinks it’s a bigger share for those who are left.

Shoot Out in a One-Dog Town

Zach enlists the Sheriff and reformed drunk, Handy (Jack Elam) to help him out, while the other townspeople decide it’s best to be elsewhere. Zach’s wife Letty (Stefanie Powers) urges him to just let them have the money, but Zach will have none of it.

The movie gives the impression it’s a comedy,** but it is more of a western drama, with some lighthearted moments. Jack Elam was in the middle of his transition from villainous henchman to comic sidekick, but the character does show a good mixture of drama and comic relief, and veteran actors Dub Taylor and Arthur O’Connell have small roles as townspeople.

Richard Crenna is also quite good as he shows Zach’s resourcefulness holding off the deliciously vicious Petry. Richard Egan makes the character purely evil, without going overboard. Stefanie Powers is OK, but her part really gives her nothing to do.

Overall, though the film is a top-notch western.

*One minor quibble is that it supposedly contains $200,000 in gold, an insane amount of money for the time (at least $6 million today).

**The first credit card says it was produced by William Hannah and Joe Barbara. Hannah-Barbara did dabble in live-action action films, usually made for TV, around this time.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Egg (Music)


Dave Stewart (Hammond organ, piano, Mellotron), Mont Campbell (bass, vocals), Clive Brooks (drums).
Wikipedia Entry

There have been several attempts to label a group of musicians after the area they performed in. The San Francisco Sound was the most well known, with several groups from that area becoming major stars. The Boss-Town Sound was far less successful.* And in England, there was the Canterbury Sound.

The name is misleading. It didn’t have much to do with Canterbury; few of the groups performed or lived there. But there was a certain similarity in their music – experimental, progressive, and with a sense of humor. Musicians drifted in and out of the groups, which included Soft Machine, Caravan, Camel, Gong, Henry Cow, and, of course, Egg.**

The members of the band – Dave Stewart, Mont Campbell, and Clive Brooks played together for several years as Uriel. When they signed a record deal, they were advised to change their name, and chose Egg.***

Their first eponymous album was a mixture of prog rock, classical, jazz, and whatever else. They had ambitions: one side consisted of “Symphony No. 2,” a twenty-minute piece, with a title that showed their playfulness.

The album was critically praised, but didn’t sell well. Still it did enough for Deram Records to pay for the recording of a second album. “The Police Force” was recorded, but Deram got cold feet and shelved it. Eventually it was released, also to acclaim, but probably to no money. While they had enough material for a third album, Deram said “no” and wouldn’t be budged.  The group broke up after that, but Dave Stewart managed to get the third album released in 1974 as “The Civil Surface.”

The music is very much reminiscent of Soft Machine, with long meandering melodies and a lot of jazz influence. The lineup is much like Emerson Lake and Palmer, though Stewart’s style is nothing like Keith Emerson, more soft and less bombastic.

Stewart went on to join Hatfield and the North, and Canterbury-like outfit. Campbell moved out of rock and into world music, where he’s a renouned multi-instrumentalist. Brooks joined the Groundhogs, and then became a drum technician for Pink Floyd.

*It was actually an attempt by MGM records to build hype to match the hype for San Francisco. The groups signed were nowhere near as good, and people got turned off by the hype, making it a flop that hurt the bands who were being promoted (some of which were quite good, but bad hype can destroy anyone).

**None of the bands got widespread commercial success; they were critical darlings, but the complexity of the music guaranteed it would only be a niche audience.

***Supposedly because “Uriel” sounded too much like “urinal.”