I have too much Christmas music, if such a thing is possible; given the way I just drag the stuff with a Christmas tag into a new playlist every December, it ends up in the same order every time. And I am here to tell you that it is not necessary for your narrator to hear “Christmas in Killarny” again, ever. That goes for Mannheim Steamroller stuff, too; it’s like music designed to make you tear up as you think about nativity scenes populated with stuffed bears. It’s too calculated. Most of the 40s stuff is hit and miss; big bands really don’t do Christmas well. It’s often good music, but Les Brown’s version of the Nutcracker doesn’t really put me in the mood. More celeste, Les. It needs more celeste.
The good news is that I located the ur-album, the one album that always meant Christmas to me as a kid: The 1966 Goodyear “Great Songs of Christmas” album. I also found the 1965 edition as well as a few Firestone compilations – back then, you thought Christmas songs, you thought nationally advertised tire brands – but it’s the ’66 that has the one killer track: Eugene Ormandy (!) leading the Philadelphia Orchestra through “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Drama! Majesty! That tell-tale Ormandy coloration! The scratches on the vinyl! I’ll play highlights in the Friday podcast. It’s quite the artifact.
Does the picture above trip some circuits? Then you know what I mean.
For some reason I was in a black-and-white 60s Cold War mood last weekend, so I watched both “The Bedford Incident,” which is “The Caine Mutiny” meets “Fail Safe” a quarter century before “Crimson Tide.” No, I’d never heard of it before, either. The plot concerns a Navy vessel tracking a Soviet sub, attempting to make it surface. At least, that’s what drives the plot. It’s really about a scary captain, played by Richard Widmark. (He co-produced, so I suspect he saw this as a plum role in an Important Movie. It was neither.) We know things are bad when the visiting journalist (Sidney Poitier) notes how everyone on the vessel reups; no one ever transfers off. Why, in sick bay, there aren’t any malingerers. Everyone seems motivated, dedicated, and committed to the ship and the mission.
Obviously, something’s wrong.
This would not have been the case in 45 or 55, but by 1965 the rot has begun, and now a well-run ship with a brusque captain is a sign that something is horribly amiss here. Why, the captain beats his exec - not physically, of course, but he rides him hard. (As he explains later, the boy was all-American athletic hero, top of his class, etc., and needs to learn that the world is not his golden oyster, or words to that effect. BRUTE!) The vessel also has a former U-boat captain around – why, I’m not sure, but he stands around looking weary and Teutonic. Eventually, of course, the captain goes mad, as he attempts to get the Soviet sub to surface so he can shout neener neener or something; it’s not quite clear in the film what he wants to do. (When Poitier gets the Churman alone and asks “What is going on here?” he pretty much speaks for the audience.) I thought the captain was making a point – they’d caught the sub in the territorial waters of an ally, and had pursued it into international waters and forbade it to surface so Ivan could breathe diesel fumes for a while. Payback. But this is madness, according to the film. Madness!
At one point the captain is interviewed by the journalist, and you just want to reach out and grab him, get him out of the scene. Dude – it’s a humorless 1960s black-and-white politco-military thriller, and you’re being interviewed by Sidney Poitier; do you possibly think you can come off well in this scene? By the end, just so we know how dangerous the character is, he puts on his glasses and becomes Barry Goldwater.
Then he addresses the crew via intercom, and it’s obvious by his rhetoric that he is utterly unhinged. Sidney Poitier hears the address in the officers’ lounge, where he is conveniently joined by the former Nazi. Listen to the address, then listen to Poitier’s remarks. It didn’t take long for the unexamined, tone-deaf self-righteousness to settle in.
Bonus points: the radar operator is Wally Cox. Extra bonus points: name the goofy medical orderly is on the right!
Also saw “Fail-Safe,” a movie in which Larry Hagman and Henry Fonda are threatened by the world’s largest air vent:
Such a dry throat they should get! It’s pretty good, but I’ve seen it before, so it didn’t have the same clammy urgency. It features a stock item of the genre: The Noble Cultured Russian Counterpart. The Russians always come across as cultured, intelligent men in these movies. Not like Americans, who are jingoistic nutwads who refer to the other side as “rats.” In front of the crew, no less. The Russian is never some half-soused rural boor who advanced to his position by avoiding the purges, and has a head full of Marxist-Leninist clichés he neither understands nor believes. No, they always step right out of some Western university, where they inevitably studied. “I came to love yoor Bennay Gudman.” Why, they’re just like us!
Well, of course they are, inasmuch as there are certain common elements among people in the human category, and Russia has been influenced by the West long enough to make them closer to, say, a Canadian than a Bashi-Bashouk. As CAptain Haddock might have put it.
Warmer day than yesterday, which had its brutal moments. Saturday too, for that matter. We went out to dinner; tried a different Vietnamese restaurant this time. The menu had a note that said “because of the gas prices, all items will be increased 20 cents.” I guess they must truck in all their dark, greasy chicken meat from Florida. We sat by the window and s
hivered a little; on one hand, you want the window seat so you can see the Rich Pageantry of Life, or at least the cars which are driving towards same, or perhaps just the store for milk. On the other hand, it’s cold. Sunday was less of a problem – after the Train depot I drove around for an hour while Gnat slept in the back. I listened to Dragnet and Gildersleeve. I love Gildersleeve. It’s odd to think of a modern program, something that has the merest of plots and few actual punchline, but still tells a story and makes you smile. Not laugh: smile. The difference between the two is the difference between now and then, perhaps.
Et cetera. Well, off to pick up Gnat and a friend; they’re coming over for an hour of fun & shrieking. Then supper and three columns. See you tomorrow.