Monday seemed like a day off, even though it wasn’t. Natalie was in her pajamas all day, drawing on her new tablet. A Christmas gift. She’s been plinking away at Photoshop, drawing with the mouse, and I wanted to see if she what she would do if she got some proper tools.
Not bad for eight. Wait until I show her the rest of the tools. (It's a copy of a drawing, BTW, but not a tracing.)
I bought an electric shaver, and I don’t want to hear any arguments. There will be rueful nods and sighs – we thought better of you; we thought you appreciated the old ways. I don’t want to hear how it’s a link to bygone standards of manliness, what with the razor slapping the strop and the soft cluck of the lather machine and the clink of the combs dropped into blue bottles of Barbicide, the Esquire mags on the table, the smell of cigars, the hearty bonhomie of the tonsorial parlor. Fine. I know. And I know there is something comforting about the ritual of shaving in private, the way you face the fellow in the mirror and stare into his eyes at least once a day. But I take my glasses off so I don’t see much. I know there’s a virtue in good lather, but even when I used a quality cream I felt as if I should be grinding up lather-rock and adding witch hazel and applying it with bristles taken the belly-scalp of English hedgehogs. All of this I know. Lost art. Convenience over substance. Haste over meaning. FINE. I’m just tired of making the sink look like a scene from Hellraiser.
I know it’s my fault; I should prep the beard, swaddle my puss with scalding towels, use better cream, better razors. I was perfectly happy with the multi-blade razor that vibrated like it was full of bees; either on or off it did the trick, more or less, but I began to balk at laying out a double sawbuck for four refills, and slunk back to disposables. Didn’t get the store brands, because those things are like shaving with a garden rake. I wasn’t going to go for the two-blades; no man likes to think his beard can be tamed with a mere two blades, not when science is working as we speak on a razor with more blades than a Chinese acrobat pyramid has levels. Three blades seemed right, with a “lubricating strip” that deposited a stratum of imaginary soothing-agents on your face. The first shave was always good, unless you cut yourself making a turn on the jaw, in which case you had to have the razor put down immediately. Once they go rogue, taste blood, they’re useless. I usually managed to cut myself once a week, though – the side of the lip, or one of those absolutely unstanchable disasters on the top of the philtrum, or around the chin-dimple hillocks. Once you’ve opened a new account, so to speak, you’ve no choice but to scrape it open the next day, unless you shave around it and cultivate a small plot of beard to go with the conspicuous blot of clotted blood. If you have two going at once, well, you look like you shaved by dragging an angry parakeet over your face.
Since I have to do some TV this coming year, I can’t be bleeding. So I bought an electric. A Norelco, because it’s as traditional as you get. Right? Santa drove one in the commercials on the Rudolph special. There were several models, of one which actually dispensed Nivea cream as it passed; while that seemed like a jolly treat for the mug, the cartridges were $20, which defeated one of the objectives. I’d have to put it on by hand. But that would be traditional, wouldn’t it?
I was reminded at once what I liked about shaving with an electric: you do other things. You can shave at your desk, if you really want that Jack-Lemmon “Days of Wine and Roses” vibe. When you’re done your face feels mostly shaven – not blade-slick, but you’re not blood-slick, either. Downside: you lose your place if you’re not paying attention. Shaving cream, like the rear view mirror, tells you where you’ve been. You end up grinding the razor into your face over and over just to be sure, and this leads to the dreaded Chin-Burger Syndrome. Previous experience taught me that the chin hates electric razors, and responds with all manner of dermatological protests. We’ll see.
At least the first shave was the same as the shave I’ll get tomorrow. Someone once planted a horrible seed of doubt in my mind: he said the blades in the introductory packs of a new razor were better than anything else on the market, and once you’d tried them you’d switch. Even if the real blades weren’t as good, you remembered that first perfect shave. At the time this struck me as the sort of paranoia you find in the people who thought they airbrushed SEX into ice cubes (or, my favorite subliminal example, airbrushing SEX into the photos in Playboy, because otherwise you’d be completely at sea as to the point of the pictures) but as the years go on, I wonder. That first shave with a new brand is better than any other shave you ever get. It makes you wonder if there’s a whole different level of razor technology reserved for the uppermost elites, the Presidents and Premiers and 33rd degree Masons and Popes and Politburo poohbahs and everyone else who lives in the rarified air above. The job has to have some compensations. Obama’s first day in office will begin with the best shave he’s ever had.
Man, that’s incredible. Any other surprises in store today?
Yes, sir. After you receive the briefing on our strike on the Iranian ship bringing a nuclear device into the New York harbor, they will give you the second season of “Firefly.”
We continue with our salute to Laird Cregar, strange doomed man of the early 40s. This week:
That’s all you needed to say back then. Everyone knew what this was about. “The Lodger” was one of Hitchcock’s first movies, in the late 20s; it was the pilot episode for the immensely popular radio show “Suspense” – with an appearance by Hitch himself at the end – in 1940. What’s it about?
Well, the film opens with a shot of John Cleese and a friend discussing the frightful goings-on in town:
Not Cleese, but damned close. If you don’t know the subject by now, perhaps this will help:
That’s right. London, the fog, the gaslight, the man with a bag: it’s Saucy Jack. The Ripper. “The Lodger “ radio plays concerned a strange man who rented a room, stayed out all night, flew into rages whenever anyone mentioned showgirls, and generally acted like THE MOST SUSPICIOUS MAN IN ENGLAND. But here he is played with painful reserve by our subject, Laird Cregar:
Sad, distant, chilly, frightening – it’s the most human Jack the Ripper you’ll ever meet. Naturally, as the story requires, his rooming-house owners have a lovely showgirl relative, played by the incomparably lovely Merle Oberon.
Bonus fact: she was to play Messalina in a 1937 adaptation of “I, Cladius.” And she was probably part-Indian. (Born in Bombay, which she later denied.) I always thought she was one of the most beautiful actresses of the era, although I like Paulette Goddard better; much more fun. (By the way, if you think they don't make them like that any more - you know, the gorgeous creamy dames shot in smoky black-and-white by George Hurell - well, Mr. H lived long enough to shoot Audrey from "Twin Peaks.")
Anyway: it was shot on the backlot, moves a bit slowly, and has that suffocating Gothic air you either enjoy in a movie or find somewhat tiresome. It has some shots that exploit the B&W vocabulary to the fullest, though:
It finally comes to life at the end, when Cregar’s Ripper stops hiding his crimes, and is so unhinged by his attraction to Merle he makes an advance, even though his entire nature is screaming for him to gut the sinful creature.
Trapped in the theater, he becomes the Ripper, and this ought to be the iconic image of the entire horrible story:
The movie does something very unusual at the end: it drops the music. All we hear is the Ripper’s breathing as the mob closes in. The last few scenes redeem the entire picture, if you haven’t been unduly impressed.
"The Lodger" was done and redone a few times on "Suspense." Here's the first. A subsequent version had too much oi-blimey overacting; this one has a downright bizarre conclusion, when it turns into an argument between the actors about the script and the director. You'll see what I mean.