Damp rainy day; leave a cigar outside for a minute and it's a noodle. Of all the attributes cigars may have, "al dente" is not a good one. On the other hand the rain was welcome - finally, relief, huzzah, etc. Not a cold rain, either. Humid rain. Intermittant, then torrential, then drips and trickles again. The skies lost the knack. The clouds need practice.

Spent the day inside with Gnat, who amused herself by various means after she lost computer privileges. I never did that before, but her inability or disinclination to tear herself away when I requested finally resulted in Consequences. Sorry, Charlie.

Off we went on errands; I looked at appliances at BestBuy and found a new phone (next Tuesday’s Quirk) – contrary to something I’d written earlier for the future, there is a home phone whose rings and color screen can be customized. The phone we have now sounds someone drove a drillbit up a ferret’s rectum. A cold drillbit. So I’m experimenting with homebrewed varieties that say “phone” without sounding like, you know, a phone. At least the modern phone, which has been an audio irritant since the Bell System went the way of the Persian empire. (This is what I’m considering using.) I’ll take me forever to make the ring tone, and by then I’ll be sick of it. We’ll see. I intend to spring this on my wife tomorrow: new phones with color screens with caller-specific wallpapers and rings! ISN’T IT GREAT?

Well, isn’t it? Hon?

The phone also has a color security camera option – it feeds video to the tiny color screen, and that’s too too sweet; since it’s wireless, I could hook it up by the front door and wait until the mailman shows up. There he is! That's him! What fun!

(Side note about the appliances: the fridge I liked didn’t have in-door ice. Why? Because surveys showed consumers didn’t really need it. I’ve suspected this for a while; I stopped using the indoor ice feature long ago, because it shredded the cubes, spitting out EZ-melt shards,  or it jammed up. It was easier to reach in for a handful. So to speak. I wonder if I was on the vanguard, or a lagging indicator.)

And that was my exciting day. Filed two columns. Did not make supper, because tonight was National Night Out, which we spent indoors, at a neighbors’ house, fighting crime and takin’ back the street from the roaming blokes in white jumpsuits and bowler hats who terrorize us every night and make it hard for decent people to move about unmolested without getting their teeth kicked in while someone whistles show tunes. (Or Beethoven, but more often show tunes.) Everyone from our block piled in a house and gnoshed and chatted and met the Nice Young Couple who just moved into the Anderson’s place, which shall ever after be known as the Andersons place, their tenancy notwithstanding; we also met the Nice Young Lady who just moved in next door. All around, very nice. Gnat found a confederate and disappeared. I noted one dad off from the group, slowly wandering behind a toddler new at the bipedal ambulation game. I remember that. I remember being utterly separate from social events while I watched Gnat explore. I remember thinking what an excellent excuse it could be for dull parties.

But this was not a dull party. There were two police horses present, Wrangler and Oliver; the latter had been a racehorse before assuming constabulary duty. Gnat was duly awed; nothing about horse toys prepares you for the total horsitude of a real life example. They’re among the densest looking animals around, for example. Cows look like they’re retaining water; pigs are overinflated, and chickens are just bones and noise. But a horse? Solid flesh. Their hair is made out of muscle.

As much as I admire the art of the motorcycle, I understand why the derogatory term “hog” fits – it has a brash & grinning implication, it fits because it doesn’t. Calling a motorcycle “Dog” would seem silly; horse would seem just wrong. (Calling a motorcyclist “Dog,” however, is perfectly fine.)  Likewise, a “cowboy” refers to the thing he herds; you’d never think of a man who rode a cow as a sowman, and the idea of a pigman is preposterous. The only word that synthesizes animals and humans is “horseman,” and that makes perfect sense to anyone who’s slid into the saddle and felt himself to be some chimerical hybrid. For the moment, anyway. Until the horse reminds you otherwise.

Anyway. The party was fine; I went home, walked the dog, and now I’m here, still somewhat out of sorts from lack of food. Nothing will help. In an hour I’ll have some popcorn. The thrills never end.

We now restart that summertime feature, Wednesday Noir. Volume 3 of the Film Noir Classics Collection (Barrel Scraping Edition.) The first one: “His Kind of Woman,” featuring the manliest by-God stoner in film history:

Mitchum always looks baked.

Here he plays a gambler down on his luck, something which tells you straight off you're in the Dark City: "gambling" is considered a profession, and a bad run of luck is akin to having your middle-management job outsourced, your lucky cufflinks shipped to Bangalore. The film begins with lots of straight no-chaser noir promise:

Here Mitchum appears to be accosted by some yeggs at the Munchkin Mansion; the ceiling’s all wrong, the light’s all wrong, but it combines to make for a scene of great menace and claustrophobia. The plot point, revealed around this time: a hoodlum who needs to reenter the US hires him to go to Mexico, for reasons that will be explained later. Here’s the hoodlum:

Man, Bunny could be nine feet of stones, no? He made a great heavy, and for those of us who grew up with him as (trademark quick intake of breath) Perry Mason, seeing him in bad-guy roles is always a treat. The Wikipedia entry says he had a relationship with Natalie Wood, which surprised many people, due to his homosexuality. Really? He was gay, not stupid. If she made a move on him, he probably realized he was obliged to respond – if not for himself, than on behalf of all men. If he’d turned her down, and told the story at the gayest party in Gaytown in the state of West Gayginia in the nation of Gaydonia on the planet Gay, everyone would fall silent, and someone would say you turned down Natalie Wood? What is wrong with you?

The femme fatale here is Miss Crosmy Hart:

Jane Russell. Born in Minnesota of North Dakota parents: that’s my gal. In her “Outlaw” period she was the reason the Society for the Incoherent Reactions to Bosoms added the second “Hubba.” By the time she hit this pic, however, a certain hardness had set in. Maybe it was the lighting. But there was a meanness to her face, a certain nasty flat cheap quality:


On the other hand, she got along well with Mitchum; both had that wry go-to-hell-why-doncha quality, and while the chemistry on the screen isn’t that great (with Mitchum, you always got the sense that he regarded the actual filming of the movie as an amusing prelude for the party that would follow after they’d wrapped for the day) they seem to like each other, lots, and that lifts the film up a notch. But what really saves the movie is this guy:

Just kidding. It's Jim Backus as Jim Backus! Ever the Thurston, poor fellow. You wonder if he regarded his exile on Gilligan’s rock as a cruel insulting come-down from his earlier promise, or whether he knew he was crafting a broad comic creature from his own raw material, a character that would survive him for decades to come, a character people would imitate in 2010 when they played Monopoly and bought Park Place, lovey. Thurston was Backus’ Captain Kirk; I hope he knew it before he died.

No, this is the fellow who makes the movie.

Vincent Price slides and stutter-steps through many 40s movies, noir and otherwise; he never seems to belong anywhere. Part of that has to do with his later fame as Mr. Scary Guy, which makes it jarring to see him as a Suthun fop in “Laura,” for example. The reason he made it big in horror is simple: he added a tincture of camp before anyone knew what camp was. The Scary Guy is evident in all his roles, but rarely in the service of anything frightening - you see the mannerisms and tics in raw form, connected to effete overcultured supporting characters. Once he had the chance to combine all the mannerisms and add intimations of menace and insanity, he became iconic. Who cares if half the work was krep? Some of it was fine; he raised neck-hair in his reading of the "Thriller" voiceover, he spent the money on art, married three times, and died in his eighties. Bully.

In this film, he plays a movie actor vacationing at the resort where Mitchum is waiting for Raymond Burr to do something or other. Mitchum enlists his game-hunting skills to shoot at the bad guys, which utterly transforms Price from a silly actor into a silly actor who’s really into shooting people while quoting Shakespeare. That bit gets tiresome, but the entire movie gets tiresome – if you understand the genre, you know that nothing kills the noir vibe like an excess of rote sadism and a runtime over 90 minutes.

But. The moment when Vincent Price discovers his new true self is one of Mr. Price’s finest moments. A lesser actor would have underplayed the moment. How did it feel? Fine. You couldn’t know how fine. (600KB file) He wasn't a noir kinda guy, but damn: that's noir and then some.

New Quirk (link fixed; I used an old template with the ancient URL. Sorry.) Thanks! See you tomorrow.


c. j lileks. email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.