Showing posts with label 1930s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1930s. Show all posts

05 November 2023

Prohibition Peepers part 3 —
How to create closed captions

0085 00:03:48.800 --> 00:03:51.200
  Leigh, let’s wrap our slideshow how-to
  discussion talking about closed captions.

  Leigh, let’s wrap our slideshow how-to  
discussion talking about closed captions. 

0086 00:03:52.000 --> 00:03:53.225
  Sure, why not?

 Sure, why not? 

Prohibition Peepers cover

Closed Captioning

We return with the final how-to tutorial of creating a slideshow for Michael Bracken’s Prohibition Peepers. I doubted any of the tens of trailer viewers would rely upon subtitles, but I wished to expand my skills working within a non-critical environment I could share with you. This is largely technical, so feel free to read more interesting essays by my colleagues.

Subtitles include a multiplicity of flavors and formats. They presently have no one standard, nor even a mere two or three.  The most common kind is .srt, which stands for SubRip. I chose to work with its close cousin, Web Video Text Track. The .vtt format is newer, more featured, and natively supported by the HTML5 standard. It also uses the decimal point standard found in most English-speaking countries.

Subtitles can be married to videos in three different ways: physically separate files, embedding, and burning. YouTube and smart television programs can work with multiple files, usually bearing the same name but different suffixes:


You might also see files for languages and variants, say, British and American English, French and Canadian français, Cuban and Mexican español. File names may be labeled like this:

Burning Questions

Once you’ve created a closed caption file, then what? Depending upon your target platform, you may have three choices.

1. Associating Files
If you use a computer to peek closely at a movie DVD or a downloaded smart television movie, you’ll find numerous files. These include the movie itself in one or many segments, perhaps a preview, sound tracks in one or more languages, and closed caption files also in one or more languages. Separate files permit the viewer to adjust synchronization of sight and sound. YouTube also works with multi-file uploads, so I separately uploaded the slide show video and CC files, which YouTube accepted without complaint.
2. Embedding
Still curious, still expanding, I went beyond uploading multiple files to YouTube. I used an embed technique to create standalone videos, i.e, combined video and captions in a single .mp4 file. Videographers can embed subtitles with iMovie, independent apps like Shutter Encoder, or a web site that combines closed caption files with movie files. This results in a nice and convenient single file for viewers.
3. Burning
You may also see mention of ‘burning’, not to be confused with making DVDs. This method permanently overlays video images with text; that is, subtitles become an unalterable part of the picture. Only two advantages come to mind, (a) aiming for older platforms that don’t support closed captions, or (b) control over how subtitles look independent of the player.


Throughout the audio/video process, I relied on spreadsheets in several ways. I used Excel for odds and ends like building an authors list, preparing scenes and maintaining the script, but spreadsheets turned out to be a key tool for closed captions.

Although the .srt format is older and therefore more common, the .vtt format has a distinct advantage for North Americans, Britons, Swiss, Asians, and Oceanians. We use a dot ‘.’ as a decimal point and a comma ‘,’ to visually group digits. Most of Europe, Africa, and South America do the opposite.

This quirk arises in subtitle files. A primary difference is .srt uses decimal commas and .vtt uses decimal points. More significantly, the English version of Excel understands the decimal dot, which means it works nicely with .vtt files.

In theory, we could work with a default time format, but a slight modification provides finer time codes. Select Custom from Excel’s number format window and use either of these format codes:

hh:mm:ss.000or          hh:mm:ss.000;@

Thus, a one hour, twenty-three and three quarter minute time code might look like:



Closed caption files are plain text that can be opened in TextEdit, BBedit, WordPad, and so on. For the most part, white space consisting of blanks, tabs, and single lines of code are all treated the same. The following are equivalent:

0086 00:03:52.000 --> 00:03:53.225
Sure, why not?

00086 00:03:52.000 --> 00:03:53.225 Sure, why not?

Each of these is called a cue. Each cue is separated by a double-spaced blank line. Leading zeroes can be omitted, including the hour:

86 3:52.0 --> 3:53.23 Sure, why not?

Subtitles can be positioned on the screen, and they can be formatted with common HTML codes and CSS. I didn’t have a need for the latter, but I used HTML <i>italics</I> in a few places.

Down and Dirty

Some high-end programs and web sites offer audio-to-text timelines– usually for a fee– to build closed caption files. I wasn’t impressed and since my project was small, I stepped through the video and made notes the old-fashioned way– by hand.

In addition to the formatting above, the rules are straightforward. Obviously, the ending time of a cue must come later than the beginning. Likewise, each start time has to be greater or equal to the start time of the previous cue.

Although rarely used, the rules allow for cues to overlap or persist on-screen. That could be useful when off-screen action can be heard but not seen.

A number of closed caption apps can be found on-line, most still using the .srt format. If you happen to use one of these and want .vtt, you may be able to selectively scan-replace decimal commas with decimal points.

Try to save your captions as a .vtt file, but you may find it safer to save as a .txt file and rename it.

ThePrisoner.txt➨          ThePrisoner.vtt

Adding closed captions is easier than it sounds. Consider it for your next video. And be sure to pick up a copy or two of Prohibition Peepers for Christmas.

More information follows.

22 October 2023

Prohibition Peepers part 2 —
How to create book trailer video

Prohibition Peepers cover
Love that cover!

Prohibition Peepers, the trailer how-to continues from last week. Visual presentation typically drives videos, but as described last week, ours is centered around a soundtrack of a 1932 radio news broadcast. Today I'll thread two paths, a how-to for those interested simple, quick video creation and, historical notes and thoughts as I’m constructing this castle in the air.

Tools of the Trade

Any straightforward graphics apps and video creation program will do. I chose simple apps, nothing fancy.¹

Apple’s iMovie assembled pictures along with last week’s sound track, which was handed off to YouTube. Any simple video builder should work; Windows offers several options. It should be possible to create a slide show with Microsoft Power Point, but its learning curve requires more patience than I have Adderal. I opted for a dedicated video program.

It is possible to create a presentation with nothing but YouTube, but maintaining files locally felt more comfortable.

For graphics, I used both raster (bitmap) and vector images. Abandoning high-priced Adobe, I switched to Serif’s Affinity suite. It’s a clean, easy to use, inexpensive panel of picture programs. One of the best features is that Affinity files are interchangeable, meaning any Affinity program can work directly with any Affinity file. It makes life easy.²

program apps used to create video

Finally, we’ll touch upon AI.

To Err is Human

Abruptly, I made my first mistake. In the past, I’d loaded a few items to YouTube, mainly a collection of Rocky King TV shows. Visual recordings of the era weren’t locked into any one size. Historically, aspect ratios have appeared as 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, and 16:9, but others proliferated.

I erred immediately. I had decided upon YouTube’s original default 3:2 as a compromise between stretching, cropping, and ‘letterboxing’, awkward ways of dealing with aspect ratios outside the norm. After creating an initial half dozen or so 1800×1200 images, I opened iMovie… and could not find the menu item for aspect items. Annoyed, I opened YouTube’s editor… and once again could not find the menu for screen rations. They were gone. Vanished. Disappeared. Demised.

WTF? (Lithuanian for Huh?) I googled and googled and finally learned in recent versions, YouTube and iMovie have settled upon a common aspect ratio, 16:9. Damn. Never guessing both Apple and Google had finally standardized, I’d wasted valuable time and effort. Let my error guide you.

Fortunately, the waste wasn’t as bad as first thought. Many of my source images were 1800 pixels high. I settled upon 3200×1800 as my working size in the Affinity programs. A multiple of 100 and a power of two facilitates quick, mental calculations. YouTube’s HD maximum is 1920×1080, so I was over-engineering.³


I had numbered each paragraph of the script and appended that same number to graphics I intended to use. iMovie permitted me to load all at once and optionally space them n seconds apart. The final result would not be evenly spaced, but 5 minutes ÷ 28 slides allowed me to spread them across the timeline, meaning each was somewhat proximate to its intended position.

  1. The first slide recognized the significance of border radio, chiefly remembered in songs by the Doors, Z Z Top and others, and at least one movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou.
  2. Next we hear a sly evangelist trawling for donations. I had a little fun with the picture, an interrupted letter suggesting a small story in itself. Earlier in 1932, the post office had raised first class rates from 2¢ to 3¢. On the theory people like my mother might still have 2¢ stamps, I pasted a 1932 2¢ and 1¢ on the envelope.
  3. Likewise, the $2 bill series date was consistent with 1932, but a sharp detective might notice oddities. The handwriting is feminine but looks a bit young or naïve. The Reverend asks for a dollar donation, but Prunella intends to send two dollars (value of $45 today) plus a letter. He suggests a plain white envelope, but our charming correspondent selects pink lavender stationery… you can almost catch a scent of perfumed powder in it. What might happen when the Rev read the letter?
  4. Unregulated patent medicines were loaded with alcohol and opiates. Little wonder laudanum became the preferred energy drink, the feel-good medication sold by the doctor’s breathy assistant. Dr Cruikshank looks awfully familiar.
  5. When I was a child, ‘Tear It Down’ and other Clyde McCoy pieces appealed to me. His lip control and wah-wah mute could almost make a jazz trumpet talk. The hotel interior pictured is the real McCoy… the actual Congress Hotel ballroom.
  6. A teletype introduces the news with a silent movie news placard bearing ‘A Mixed Metaphor Production’, suggesting the irony of radio visual aids hasn’t been lost.
  7. The news opening referring to the incoming president and that Congress just approved 3.2% beer is factual. The next part about Ness, Moran, and Capone appears in support of the events in my story ‘Dime Detective’. Likewise the next paragraph refers to John Floyd’s story, ‘River Road’, and the awesome Windsor Manor without giving away the plot.
  8. Celebrity news comes next, homicides involving a dancer and an actress (‘Getting Away Clean’ by Joseph Walker and ‘Bearcat Blues’ by Susanna Calkins). Here we make an unusual departure. Neither pictured performer is real. Each is AI computer generated using ChatGPT teamed with Dall-E. I experienced a LOT of difficulty rendering the images. The programs has great difficulty with rendering eyes and counting fingers and arms.
  9. An ad for Penny Mickelbury’s Bubba’s Gym in ‘The Devil You Know’ provides a transition to sports. The Chicago Bears playoff is factual, but of course Steve Liskow’s story, ‘Peace of Mind Guaranteed’, is fanciful.
  10. Hugh Lessig returns us to a fictional page of mystery history in ‘Cloths of Heaven’, a sad tale of the first woman Prohibition casualty. Amazingly, I found a photo of an actual rum-runners boat seized in Virginia.
  11. I slipped in a slide of a simple (and operational) crystal radio schematic where my real voice can be heard.
  12. The wrap-up reflects the beginning. The outro pictures the actual Blackstone Hotel featuring homeboy Benny Goodman who, in 1932, hasn’t yet made a national splash. He plays as credits roll, wrapping up with the message that Prohibition Peepers can be found in fine speakeasies and bookstores everywhere.
   © 2023 Prohibition Peepers


Done! I saved the file as an .mp4, ready to upload to SleuthSayers’ channel.

This article grew longer than I like, so next week I’ll explain how to add closed captioning.


15 October 2023

Prohibition Peepers part 1 —
How to create book trailer audio

Prohibition Peepers cover
Gorgeous cover!

Trailer Perq

Last time, I introduced my 12yo detective heroes, Penrod and Sam, taking on Chicago mobsters at the height of Prohibition and the depth of the Great Depression. That article revealed inspirations for characters and the story, one of fourteen tales in Michael Bracken’s Prohibition Peepers. This week I’ll describe how I created the audio for a book trailer (a preview) and next week we’ll discuss the associated video.

I grew up with antique radios and still have a few. I built a crystal radio at age 8, just a few odd parts. Unsurprisingly, radio plays a major role in Dime Detective. Penrod, my little hero, nightly tunes in a homemade crystal radio. That sparked an idea…

Different anthology editors devise different promotions, so I wasn’t sure what Michael might have in mind after Prohibition Peepers hit bookstores. A book trailer by James Lincoln Warren initiated a desire to create a preview for Dime Detective built around an old-time radio broadcast. Like many solitary writers, I’m used to doing things on my own, but the anthology is Michael’s project and we had another dozen contributors to consider.

We sent out a request for participants with stories fitting the time and place of Chicago 1932. With a half dozen participants and their stories, I mapped out a script centered around a newscast.

   © 2023 Prohibition Peepers


We begin with homage to early radio, tuning in a half million watt Mexican ‘X-band’ border station, a radio evangelist (with hints that a listener has a romantic interest), and a patent medicine ad, before launching into a Clyde McCoy rouser. McCoy is considered the inventor of the wah-wah mute, a technique imitated by electric guitarists.

The nightly news intersperses fictional and factual items. The Chicago Bears playoffs must have been one hell of a game, one that set the stage for the Super Bowl, as hinted by the commissioner.

Items that didn’t fit the December 1932 Chicago setting I cast as wire stories, a historical reflection, or an ad. For the same reason, Penny Mickelbury led sports with an advertisement, a break from the rapid string of news.

crystal radio

The schematic following the newscast accurately depicts a real, operational crystal circuit. The video ends in a reversal of how it began, culminating with Benny Goodman playing through the credits.

How It’s Done

I’m a rank amateur when it comes to videos and some decisions reflect that. One example: Would recording the news in one or two long continuous takes be preferable to recording each segment separately? A single take could provide simplicity and consistency in sound quality, but I chose to manage about two dozen segments separately. It gave me more flexibility in article arrangement and sound effects.

But I made mistakes. I deliberately purchased an inexpensive microphone. Duh, you might say, you get what you pay for… but not what I hoped for. Early microphones suffered tinny, attenuated audio ranges and I was seeking that sound. Instead, the surprisingly solidly made cheap mic didn’t attenuate as hoped but merely responded dully. I bought a Snowball, which exhibited excellent range for the price and I thinned the voice by restricting frequency range after recording.

Macintoshes ship with iMovie video and Garage Band audio programs. Although most Mac users prefer Garage Band, I opted for Audacity. I had experience with the program, plus it’s cross-platform if for some reason Windows became a factor. I didn’t entirely abandon Garage Band;  as mentioned a moment ago, I created the tinny newscaster effect by tweaking Garage Band’s ’telephone’ filter.

Back on Track

In Audacity, I laid out three sets of tracks, two monaural tracks for voice and sound effects, and a pair of stereo tracks for music. The project didn’t require stereo, but imported sound came in stereo and I left it.

Audacity sound tracks

I edited three musical segments.

Music Excerpts
Sunny Side of the StreetTed Lewis
Sugar BoogieClyde McCoy
Let's DanceBenny Goodman

Listening to the trailer, you may easily miss ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’. It plays quietly in the background of Dr Cruikshank’s breathy advert.

To give the illusion of complete songs, I edited out the middles of Sugar Boogie and Let’s Dance, reducing the pieces to 20 seconds and 45 seconds respectively.



Static, tuning sounds, and a teletype constitute primary sound effects. A telegraph key beep-beeps in the introduction of the news that overlaps the telex. The music track quiesced emptily at that point, so I placed the Morse clip there, allowing me to maintain it separately without adding a track.

During my consulting career, I communicated by telex to offices in Europe. That oddly hypnotic clatter stuck in my head. I entered the project wanting to match that distinct teletype sound in my ears.

Dozens of ‘TTY’ clips were available on the internet, but that particular tone eluded me except for one YouTube video in which the owner incessantly talked all the way through it. And talked. And talked. I wanted to scream, “STFU!” which in Bulgarian means, “Please be quiet.”

Listening to the clip a few more times, I found a little less than 15 seconds where he actually fell silent. I captured those few seconds and replicated them several times for my purposes. The resulting teletype runs in the background under the news reader.

Voices in Secret

I’d planned for a professional stage presenter to handle the ballroom announcer, but he was on vacation in Europe and, unfortunately, he didn’t return in time to complete his part. Michael called time. He said, “Go with what you got, Sparky.” I’m pretty sure he said that.

Here’s a secret: I had created vocal placeholders with Macintosh-generated voices. In fact, Mac text-to-speech appears throughout, and I admit a couple I considerably liked. I wasn’t as keen about the big band ballroom voice, but without a professional announcer, we went digital.

Audacity blended all the clips together. Michael and the gang approved the audio draft, but then what? Next week: I inveigle the video.

Before departing today, I’ve created a timeline and jotted notes of our hearty pioneers settling the Great Plains and the role of radio in that lonely landscape. A bit backward, yes, but feel free to skip.

13 July 2023

Too Much Eye Contact

P.N. Elrod published this on her Facebook page and I immediately asked for permission to reprint it here. She is a writer and editor, best known for her Urban Fantasy series, The Vampire Files, a hard boiled take on the pulps of the 1930s. She has survived reading slush-piles, conducting countless workshops, and doing book deals in hotel bars over chocolate martinis.
— Rob

Too Much Eye Contact

by P.N. Elrod

An excerpt from the "Learn Your Craft" section of Dear Aspiring Author. (I'm still editing. It won't be out anytime soon.)

I've been through dozens of submissions from a wide variety of writers spread along all levels of a bell curve from the ready-to-publish to the "you need to read more."

A difference I've noticed between the neos and the ones who are almost there: neos are obsessed with EYES.

This is usually to do with dramatic scenes where characters are reacting to something or the protag is watching other characters. That's when we're given a lot of "eye contact."

The prose is full of eyes looking at this or that, characters looking at the eyes of other characters, and then the usual eyes rolling, darting, and following people about.

The latter descriptive is not only anatomically impossible, but always brings up a mental image of Bob Clampett cartoons where 'Toon eyeballs float about like tiny balloons to great comic effect. (Not to mention characters who "throw up their hands" – yikes.)

An Editorial Observation: Do trad writers do this? Yes, all the time. Their editors either don't notice or don't care.

There's one bestselling writer whose work I really liked but she became obsessed with eyes rolling, especially in her later books where she began phoning it in. Her protags roll their eyes every few pages, and sometimes twice a page. That's not funny any more.

Teen characters roll their eyes, but adults, not so much. I'm guilty of it as well, but am consciously cutting it out.

The more experienced writer may mention eyes, but they go past the surface description and get into what the protag is thinking and feeling.

One is an observer, the other a participant.

I understand how it has come about and so do you: blame TV.

When you see a really good actor with a fantastic script cutting loose on his or her craft it's all in their EYES. An actor can sell a whole show with one look and we feel what their character is feeling– which is pretty awesome when you think about it.

The neo writer, working hard to find his voice, focuses on the dramatic facial expression and what a character's eyes *look* like.

The more experienced writer is inside the character's head and letting us know what the character is *feeling*. She is thinking, not giving a description of eyes staring/glaring.

I hope this makes sense. I'll readily admit that I did the same Eye Thing starting out. In the movie I run in my head, the characters act out a scene, and I'm sure much of my early stuff includes lots of staring eyes. I've dialed that back!

Another point I want to cover to hopefully impart one good writer tip here, which is please eliminate stuff where characters "turned-and-looked-and-saw (something)."

Get rid of "He watched-and-saw/ he looked-and-saw/he looked-and-watched/he-watched-as" phrasing.

Please, just describe what's there. No need to put in stage directions.

For those with a work in progress, do a global search of words like "eyes, watch(ed), look(ed), stare, glare, rolled" and find a better way to get that drama across to a reader. Don't kick up a fuss that it's too much work. Having your software doing the search is better than going through hard copy pages the way we did in dinosaur times.

Besides, this is your CRAFT. No matter how much work it is, you do it to make a book better.

By way of example, one of my writer friends did a global word search. In his 350 page MS, he found 300 mentions of eyes. Yikes.

He's– um– editing!

11 July 2022

The Top Fifteen Crime Films of the 1930s

The Top Fifteen Crime Films of the 1930s

by William Burton McCormick

Lists are silly. After all, these things are highly subjective.

But, as a writer, the process of making lists can be useful. Analyzing why you like something in narrative form, why it works, and why it does not work, can clarify your understanding of storytelling techniques. At least, that’s my excuse for doing it.

My other excuses? Well, I’m a classic film fan for one and enjoy digging into this old stuff. Lastly, I have a story called “Myrna Loy Versus the Third Reich” in the July/August issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. That story is set in 1938 and includes references to the motion pictures of that era. So, I thought it might be enjoyable to review some of the crime films of the 1930’s. And having watched them, (many for the tenth time or so), why not list them based on my personal preference? It’s more fun (for me at least) than giving you a list in alphabetical or chronological order.

So, here in reverse order are my top fifteen crime films from the decade of the 1930’s. Why fifteen? Well, narrowing it down to ten was too hard and twenty would make this essay too long. Also, inside the crime genre I include mystery, detective, police, espionage, gangster films and even the odd adventure or dramatic film if a crime is central to the plot. Also, there are spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen a film on the list, you might decide if you want to skip that entry. Here we go!

15. Manhattan Melodrama (1934)
Childhood buddies, Jim Wade (William Powell) and Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable) remain true friends, despite being professionally and romantically at odds. Jim is an incorruptible district attorney; Blackie is a mob owner of speakeasies and gambling dens throughout Manhattan. Both love dancer Eleanor Packer (Myrna Loy). When Blackie does Jim an unsolicited favor and rubs out a man who could ruin Jim, it is Jim himself who indicts Blackie and sends him to the chair. Despite the criminal conviction, and losing Eleanor to Jim, Blackie’s gangster is glad to see his friend for a tearful goodbye moments before his execution.

Manhattan Melodrama was the second of seven pairings between Loy and Gable and the first of fourteen pairings between Loy and Powell (released only three weeks before The Thin Man, both films were smash hits ensuring future collaborations.) Manhattan Melodrama was the picture Loy-fan John Dillinger was attending when ambushed and shot down by police in Chicago, July 22, 1934. Loy criticized her studio, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, for capitalizing on publicity from the killing.

14. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
lfred Hitchcock’s first classic of the sound era (he’d already produced a silent standout in The Lodger in 1927), The Man Who Knew Too Much tells the story of British couple Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) in Switzerland whose child is kidnapped by hostile agents.

Remade by Hitch himself in 1956 starring James Stewart and Doris Day, I prefer the original with its brisker pace, deadeye-with-a-rifle leading lady Jill and more memorable villain, Peter Lorre is his first English-speaking role.

13. Little Caesar (1931)
Edward G. Robinson became a star in his role as Rico “Little Caesar” Bandello, who climbs his way to the top of the mob only to come crashing down in fiery fashion. Along the way he drags his reluctant friend Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) in with him.

The film’s last line “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?” is a cultural touchstone among gangster film fanatics to this day. Immensely influential on Scarface and countless other gangster films, one can definitely say Little Caesar’s finale was not the end of Rico.

12. The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
Fay Wray’s other landmark film was filmed simultaneously with King Kong on the same jungle sets. Wray and Bruce Armstrong filmed the Kong scenes in the day and The Most Dangerous Game scenes at night for what must have been exhausting parallel shoots.

Based on Richard Connell’s 1924 short story of the same name, the plot hinges on a big game hunter Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) who decides to track and kill human prey as the ultimate test. Eve Towbridge (Wray) and Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea) must survive unarmed on a jungle island while a rifle-carrying Zaroff pursues them. Imitated countless times but seldom surpassed.

11. The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
Before Nick Charles, William Powell played detective Philo Vance in four films from 1929 to 1933. The best of these is The Kennel Murder Case, an excellent locked room mystery about the killing of Archer Coe (Robert Barrat), the owner of a dog show champion who had bested Vance’s own pooch the day before.

Powell plays detective Vance so similar to his later Thin Man role, one could almost imagine these are the adventures of Nick Charles before he met Nora. The studios were so concerned that audiences would confuse Powell’s two detective roles that the first Thin Man film made a special trailer where Philo and Nick converse to set the record straight.

10. Sabotage (1936)
Alfred Hitchcock kicked the suspense into another gear with this tale of a foreign saboteur (Oscar Homolka) in London planning to blow up Piccadilly Circus. The saboteur’s wife (Sylvia Sydney), ignorant of his plot, begins to suspect more and more, especially when confronted by a British agent (John Loder) who also has romantic interest in her.

At one point, an innocent boy unknowingly carries a ticking bomb across London. Only Hitchcock could get away with what happens next.

9. Another Thin Man (1939)
William Powell and Myrna Loy return as Nick and Nora Charles in Another Thin Man, the third in the series. Colonel Burr MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith), who manages Nora’s family industries, is murdered in his Long Island mansion and the police think Nick is the culprit. Humor and adventure ensue.

Watch for the scene at a Latin nightclub where an amorous dancer won’t let Nora off the floor while a gregarious drunk interrupts Nick’s attempts at interviewing a suspect. Asta, baby Nick Jr., “fourth” Stooge Shemp Howard, and future television producer Sheldon Leonard complete the cast.

Hound of the Baskervilles movie poster

8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
The first and best of the fourteen Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, the story keeps reasonably close to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original (save for a séance scene, the change of relationship between a few characters, and a third act action twist).

20th Century Fox surpassed rival Universal with their use of atmosphere, the eerie landscape on the moors, the sense of creeping dread all around and the ability to recreate the chilling howls of a demonic hound out there somewhere… A perfect fusion of Gothic horror and British manor house mystery.

7. The Public Enemy (1931)
James Cagney forever defined himself as tough guy with The Public Enemy. His Irish-American gangster Tom Powers is an enforcer for the bootlegging industry with a thirst for vengeance against any man or beast who crosses him. An early sound picture, director William A Wellman put the new medium to maximum effect.

The film reverberates with haunting sounds: the gurgling last line of a singer killed mid chorus, the terrified whinnies of other horses when a race stallion is executed (yes, ‘executed’, not ‘put down’), the pulsating popping of beer barrels burst by machinegun bullets. In one darkly funny scene, Cagney uses a gun merchant’s own wares to rob him, a motif used again by Sergio Leone in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The denouement is a kicker like few others, nearly as memorable as White Heat years later. Jean Harlow is second billed here as Cagney’s love interest but has little screen time. It doesn’t matter, this was the most powerful gangster film Hollywood had yet made, one that still stirs ninety years later.

6. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Possibly Alfred Hitchcock’s funniest film, The Lady Vanishes is the story of an elderly English governess Miss Foy (May Whitty) who vanishes on a moving train somewhere in central Europe.

British travelers Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) and Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) search for her, exchanging put-downs and romantic-tinged barbs worthy of the best screwball comedies, while indifferent cricket-obsessed passengers Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Charters (Basil Radford) were hilarious enough to earn their own spinoff series (directed by others).

An enormous success on both sides of the Atlantic, The Lady Vanishes paved the way for Hitchcock to leave London for Hollywood two years later. The rest is cinematic history.

5. After the Thin Man (1936)
Probably the best mystery sequel ever filmed, many hardcore Thin Man fans consider this the finest in the series. And what’s not to love? Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy again) return to San Francisco to find a New Year’s party raging in their house! Soon, Nora’s aristocratic family drags Nick into a mystery that devolves from a missing person to blackmail to murder.

With more time focused on Nick, Nora and Asta than the original, the humor and playful romance runs unabated throughout. My favorite scene is when Asta absconds with a clue and must be chased down by his hilariously frustrated owners. A young James Stewart costars. On a personal note, three reels of After the Thin Man play a key role in my aforementioned Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine story “Myrna Loy Versus the Third Reich.” So, this picture is something of an inspiration for me.

4. The Thin Man (1934)
But how can you surpass the original? When The Thin Man came out in 1934 it was something of a revolution. There had been comedic detective movies before, but none so witty. Bumbling sort of mystery comedies with clownish detectives and bungling thieves were the norm. Think Keystone Cops. The Thin Man, inspired by author Dashiell Hammett’s relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman, was as much a comedy of manners as a mystery.

Clever, teasing dialogue and the immense chemistry between Loy and Powell captured the minds of Depression-era movie goers. Before The Thin Man flirting and romance (on film) were trappings of courtship ending at the altar. Married couples were meant to be dignified and private with their affections – if they had them at all. But – shock! - Nick and Nora proved romance wasn’t dead after marriage. That married life could be sexy and adventurous, and maybe fun and funny.

The Charles’ relationship became the ideal to which many couples aspired. Once known for playing vamps and mob molls, Loy would be voted “The perfect wife” for years afterwards in national magazines. And, of course, with Prohibition ending only five months before, Nick and Nora were free to drink for an entire nation marooned on the wagon for fourteen years. Nominated for Best Picture and a runaway hit, The Thin Man was a release of pent-up frustrations in the mid-1930s. You can see its influence in every romantic sleuth couple since from Hart to Hart, Moonlighting, and countless sexually-entwined literary detective teams. Very close plot wise to Hammett’s original novel, the first film has the strongest mystery element of the series. Much screen time is spent developing the suspects, a rogues’ gallery of colorful oddballs, sycophants and weirdos. As Nora said at the climatic party: “Waiter, will you serve the nuts? I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts?”

3. Scarface (1932)
“The World is Yours,” folks. Directed by Howard Hawks, produced by Hawks and Howard Hughes, and with a screenplay by Ben Hecht, Scarface reigned for forty years as the undisputed greatest gangster movie ever made (until The Godfather arrived in ’72.) Taking the story of a ruthless mobster’s ascent similar to Little Caesar a year earlier, Hawks ratcheted up the violence to unprecedented levels and infused it with an operatic finale worthy of Greek tragedy.

At the heart of Scarface is Paul Muni’s electric performance as Tony Camonte, charismatic yet thoroughly terrifying in his pursuit of his twisted version of the American dream. Even Tony’s would-be-redeeming qualities, loyalty to his friend Guino (George Raft) and love of his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak), turn to vengeful jealousy and incestuous control respectively by the end. A few of the comedy bits among Tony’s underlings are dated, but even those increase the movie’s effectiveness when those loveable buffoons are murdered in the third act thanks to Tony’s monomania. Watch too for Boris Karloff as a rival gang leader gunned down in a bowling alley. Brian de Palma’s 1983 remake with Al Pacino is good, but the original is the greater film. Not to be missed.

2. M (1931)
With all due respect to Metropolis and the wonderful film noirs Fritz Lang made for Hollywood in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, this is the Austrian director’s greatest picture. And one of the finest films ever made. The story of the manhunt for a child killer in Berlin, it melds unforgettable imagery and brilliant use of the then-new dimension of sound with social commentary. As the underworld and police both seek the killer, Lang hints that differences on either side of the law are not as distinct as some might like. And Peter Lorre’s performance as the murderer remains his greatest triumph, terrifying, unknowable, yet almost sympathetic during his speech before a kangaroo court of thugs who profess to try him. (He asserts essentially that these mobsters choose to be killers, while he is forced by sickness to kill. That their free will makes them – and by extension society – unfit to judge him.).

M’s influence is everywhere including my own novella A Stranger From the Storm. On weight of theme and sheer artistic merit, this is the greatest film on this list, but I can’t quite place it number one…

1. The 39 Steps (1935)
The definitive Hitchcock film (if not the best, though close to it.) Much like a British version of the later North by Northwest, our Canadian protagonist Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is chased from London to the Scottish Highlands and back in the best “innocent man accused” story Hitch ever did. At a time when British films were inert and cerebral, The 39 Steps was lively, funny and swiftly-paced with a perfect twist ending. (No one will forget Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson), pun intended.) The British Film Institute named this the fourth greatest British film of all time, behind only The Third Man, Brief Encounter and Lawrence of Arabia. And none of those have the humor or breathtaking pace. Hitchcock took very little from the source novel by John Buchan, instead choosing to tell his own tale.

His success heralded the age where directors were no longer beholden to the novelist, but storytellers and artists in their own rights who could take what they wanted from a work and discard the rest. On a personal note, it galvanized me to visit the Scottish Highlands, write a story about the location “The House in Glamaig’s Shadow”, and in many ways inspired me to be a thriller novelist. One of a handful of movies, I could watch on endless loop into happy oblivion, The 39 Steps can’t be anything but number one on this list.

So, that was my Top 15 Crime Films of the 1930’s? What would be yours? Any major films or favorites I missed? Have you seen any of these? All of these? Please let me know in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this, I may make it a series (though a very intermittent one). Next would be the 1940’s, the era of the film noir. Can’t wait!

16 May 2022

My Father and Cousin Clyde,
Reprise and Update

Clyde and Bonnie

It recently came to my attention that my Cousin Clyde Barrow was in the news again. His face along with Bonnie Parker's were seen on Russian television.

You've got to be kidding I thought. How could this pair of alleged (Do I have to say alleged if they were never tried?) bank robbers murders and all arround bad folks, who were killed in a shoot-out with the law enforcement in the 1930s, be shown on a Russian owned TV newscast? 

Bonnie and Clyde were young, she 19 and he, 23. They wound up being two of the most colorful and notorious gangsters in early USA 1930s history. Today is one week shy of the 89th anniversary, of that day on May 23, 1933.

I have no idea how or why their photos was shown on Russian TV this past Monday on the anniversary of Russia's victory day over Germany. But during a concert a photo of Bonnie and Clyde was shown, somehow supposedly depicting refuges from 1945 WW-II. 

This photo was shown for several hours until someone (from Russian media?) recognized the couple and the photo was taken down. You can Google Bonnie & Clyde photo on Russian TV if you want to  see it. I personally got a big laugh about it and decided to reprise my SleuthSayer article from March 15, 2015 about my dad and cousin Clyde.

Need I mention the Austin policewoman character in two of my novels, AUSTIN CITY BLUE and DARK BLUE DEATH was named Zoe Barrow? Her name came to me as a way to honor my dad and the Barrow name. The Barrows were from England, lived in VA, NC eventually moving to LA and came into TX with Stephen F Austin. I honestly don't think I was subconsciously thinking to rehab ole Cousin Clyde. REALLY!!

Find my original article here and following is Bonnie Parker's poem.

The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde

You've read the story of Jesse James
of how he lived and died.
If you're still in need;
of something to read,
here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang
I'm sure you all have read.
how they rob and steal;
and those who squeal,
are usually found dying or dead.

There's lots of untruths to these write-ups;
they're not as ruthless as that.
their nature is raw;
they hate all the law,
the stool pigeons, spotters and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers
they say they are heartless and mean.
But I say this with pride
that I once knew Clyde,
when he was honest and upright and clean.

But the law fooled around;
kept taking him down,
and locking him up in a cell.
Till he said to me;
"I'll never be free,
so I'll meet a few of them in hell"

The road was so dimly lighted
there were no highway signs to guide.
But they made up their minds;
if all roads were blind,
they wouldn't give up till they died.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas
and they have no clue or guide.
If they can't find a fiend,
they just wipe their slate clean
and hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There's two crimes committed in America
not accredited to the Barrow mob.
They had no hand;
in the kidnap demand,
nor the Kansas City Depot job.

If they try to act like citizens
and rent them a nice little flat.
About the third night;
they're invited to fight,
by a sub-gun's rat-tat-tat.

They don't think they're too smart or desperate
they know that the law always wins.
They've been shot at before;
but they do not ignore,
that death is the wages of sin.

Some day they'll go down together
they'll bury them side by side.
To few it'll be grief,
And to the law a relief
but it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.

16 December 2021

My Brain on Old Movies

Notes from my brain as I rewatched Otto Preminger's Laura:

My God, look how young Vincent Price was in 1944. This was nine years before he began his career in horror movies. Otherwise he'd never have gotten the 4 year gig on radio as The Saint.  But I have to say when I was young I read my way through a stack of Charteris' The Saint novels, and Price's was certainly not the voice I ever imagined for that British swash-buckler.  (You can listen to the episodes  HERE.)  Meanwhile, Price's Shelby is tall and soft and definitely a gigolo, which makes the idea that Gene Tierney's [breathtakingly beautiful] Laura would fall for him a real problem. Judith Anderson's Ann Treadwell (Laura's aunt) is more understandable, although I think they should have had Agnes Moorehead reprise her role as Emily Hawkins in Since You Went Away. She would have eaten Shelby alive, purring the whole time.

Musing: Agnes Moorehead is the main reason to watch Since You Went Away, because I find the movie pretty saccharine, not to mention trite, melodramatic, and I get tired of watching Claudette Colbert only being filmed from one angle. Oh, and I keep waiting for Jane to run into one of the posts as she runs after Bill's departing train. They spoofed that in some movie, but I can't remember which one.

BTW, Dana Andrews (Detective McPherson) and Gene Tierney had real chemistry.  I looked it up, and they ended up doing 5 movies together - Tobacco Road, Belle Starr, Laura, The Iron Curtain, and Where The Sidewalk Ends. BTW, my favorite Dana Andrews movie is The Best Years of Our Lives.

And my favorite comment about him comes from Radio Days, where all the kids are down at the Rockaway shore and talking about their favorite actresses:

Young Joe's Friend #1: My favorite is Rita Hayworth.

Young Joe's Friend #2: I like Betty Grable.

Young Joe's Friend #3: I like Dana Andrews.

Young Joe's Friend #2: Are you kidding? Dana Andrews is a man.

Young Joe's Friend #3: She is? (IMDB)

And I'm always happy to see Clifton Webb. 

He alternated between character actor and leads, nominated 3 times for an Academy Award - Laura, Sitting Pretty, and The Razor's Edge - and deservedly won it for The Razor's Edge (and if you've never seen it, watch it - Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney are the leads.)  He also played Frank Galbraith in Cheaper by the Dozen (with Myrna Loy as his wife), and his character, Mr. Belvedere (in Sitting Pretty and Mr. Belvedere Goes to College) was the model for Mr. Peabody in my favorite cartoon series of all time, Rocky & Bullwinkle.  

Excuse me while I wallow in nostalgia:  Mr. Peabody, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Boris Badenov, Natasha & Fearless Leader, Fractured Fairytales, Aesop & Son, Bullwinkle's Corner & Mr. Know-It-All...  

And Myrna Loy was also Frederic March's loyal wife in The Best Years of Our Lives, which brings us back to Dana Andrews, and back to Gene Tierney:

Very beautiful, with great range. Watch Laura, and then watch her Oscar nominated performance in Leave Her to Heaven and The Razor's Edge. Great success, interrupted more than once by tragedy.  Manic-depressive before anyone knew what that really was, and the shock treatments made her lose much of her memory.  And of course, hers was the source of the tragedy in Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd:  her daughter, Daria, was born deaf and mentally disabled, because a fan broke a rubella quarantine and infected the pregnant Tierney while she volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen.



Otto Preminger was a great director. Here are the ones (besides Laura) that I remember watching a long, long time ago:

The Man With the Golden Arm 
Bonjour Tristesse
Anatomy of a Murder
Advise and Consent
Bunny Lake is Missing (this one will twist your head off)
Hurry Sundown (Michael Caine in one of his many appalling American accents, but otherwise, like all of these, very educational for a young girl/teen in the 1960s…)

Oh, and can anyone point me to where I can find a maid like Bessie Clary, Fidelia (Since You Went Away), Matilda (The Bishop's Wife), etc., etc., etc.?  

Oh, damn - the movie's over. What's up next?  
The Bishop's Wife, or The Man Who Came to Dinner?  
Monty Woolley's in both, 
        and Bette Davis is in The Man Who Came to Dinner
               and she starred with Humphrey Bogart in Dark Victory
                       and Bogart starred with Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray in We're No Angels...


17 May 2021

Old Style

Journey into Fear

It is a truth universally acknowledged, to paraphrase Jane Austen, that after a certain age the phrase, “they don’t make them like they used to,” enters one’s vocabulary. Material goods of all kinds, favorite foodstuffs, athletes, movies, political figures are all set against the scale of nostalgia and found wanting. Thrillers, too.

When I started writing, one of my idols was Eric Ambler, the god of suspense. Knowledgeable, skillfully plotted, and free of stylistic affectations, his short books did not deal with the big bangs, heavy weaponry, and super-efficient operatives that fill so many modern thrillers and spy novels.

His protagonists tended to be amateurs (part of the old British tradition) without too many pretensions or illusions and with a distinct lack of idealistic posturing. They tended to find themselves in what might be called ordinary life dangers. They weren’t facing the death ray but the possibility of being caught red-handed with incriminating documents, fake passports, or ambiguous passengers. Danger lurked, to be sure, but so did the possibility of a humiliating unmasking and, from the combination, Ambler extracted an amazing amount of suspense.

Zoo Station,
start of the Russell novels
They certainly don’t make thrillers like that any more, preferring even amateurs like Lisbeth Salander of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to have preternatural abilities in everything from computing to martial arts. So, I was pleased to discover David Downing’s  Zoo Station, the first in a series of half a dozen novels about John Russell, an Anglo-American correspondent in pre-war Berlin.

Russell is an interesting character, a former Communist and a veteran of WW1. He dislikes the Nazis, but he wants desperately to remain in the Reich where his son Paul, age 11, lives with his German mother, and where the charming Effie is a B level actress.

They are his reasons for not wanting to rock the boat, and he only moves out of his comfort zone after he begins tutoring the intelligent Wiesner girls, whose desperate parents are trying to prepare them for a safe exit.

Silesian Station,
next up in the series
His affection for the Wiesmers, combined with a mysterious offer to ghost write articles for Pravda, sets in motion the, at first, rather leisurely plot. Russell’s entanglement with not one, not two, but three spy agencies soon commences, and the way Downing works out the unraveling is a real old fashioned example of clever plotting.

If Zoo Station is not quite like what they used to write, it is a welcome variant. Less brutal and cynical than Philip Kerr’s excursions into the same territory, it still conveys the terror of the regime, the desperation of its Jewish citizens and the despair of anti-Nazi patriots, while offering suspense without firearms or official status.

John Russell is one of the amateurs of espionage and he’s a good one.

20 October 2019

Viola doesn't play the Viola

Nat King Cole
O’Neil wrote about the blah saccharine music of the 1940s and early 50s. I suffered some of the same issues he touched upon. We chatted about his music-loving private eye in that period.

My parents allowed no television, so we didn’t endure dreck as much as some ruining their televisions with Lawrence dullest-of-the-big-bands Welk. At least nuclear families could participate with Sing Along with Mitch Miller.

In the 1940s, the war hit hard. Less than creative but happy, treacly songs helped people feel a bit better. Sadly, many of the best talents were killed off, most notably Glenn Miller. This resulted in the least significant digits surviving awash in bland, washed-out numbers by Lawrence uh-one-uh-two Welk whose claim to fame was outliving all the greats.

One day I started listening to recordings of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The 1920s were pretty interesting, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ for example, but the 1930s blew me away. Everyone knows Glenn Miller’s great ‘In the Mood’, but Louis Prima and Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing, Sing, Sing!’ (all 6-zillion versions) blew me away. Arguably, the 1930s proved as creative as the 1960s. Unlike Lawrence God-spare-us Welk, these sounds vibrantly lived.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo’ was written on the cusp of the 1930s/1940s as WW-II geared up. Superficially, it seemed a trivial song with insipid covers and uninspired remakes. But the original, what a tune! Glenn Miller made it playful (as did gorgeous Dorothy Dandridge and the wing-footed Nicholas brothers), but underneath it was musically brilliant, embedding one of the most ingenious transitions ever. I’m grateful Lawrence put-me-out-of-my-misery Welk hadn’t ruined it for me.

As it turns out, the 1940s weren’t at all devoid of good music. Radio fans weren’t looking (or listening) in the right places– Darktown! Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine, Count Basie, Duke Ellington. Thank God they weren’t into the Champagne bubble music of Lawrence just-shoot-me Welk.

And there was Viola Smith. Never has the world seen such a drummer. Tom-toms, snares, kettles… She featured in girl bands, she featured in boy bands. She's amazing. Currently at age 106, she’s even outlived Lawrence gag-me-with-a-pitchfork Welk.

15 May 2016

The Girl with the Golden Gun

by Leigh Lundin

I’m seeing another woman. She’s stunning, vivacious, rich and generous, and… she can dance.

Miss Fisher’s fan dance

I told my girlfriend. Surprisingly, she doesn’t mind, which is saying a lot given her antipathy towards the Antipodes. Not our Stephen Ross’ New Zealand, mind you, that other country down under that does horrible things vis-à-vis soccer, rugby, and the purported game of (yawn) cricket, but that’s another story.

Anyway, about my new Australian darling…

But wait. First I’ll tell you why I longed to murder Lawrence Welk. I’ll tie this together, trust me.

Ever since I was a little kid, I despised that dastardly big band leader and his insipid Champagne Bubble Music™. His primary talent was outliving the really good musicians of the swing era, Count Basie, the Dorsey brothers, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Glenn Miller, King Oliver… pretty much everyone other than Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway. Welk’s idea of pop was pap and pablum for the masses. His flaccid phonographic flummery almost ruined the music of the 1920s and 30s for me, one of the most creative eras in the 20th century, and we're not talking Stravinsky, Schoenberg, or Shostakovich. Imagine a modern Clyde McCoy on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey muting a trombone, Viola Smith thumping tom-toms

Listen to this as you read on:

This piece was not written nearly a century ago during the 1920s flapper era… it was written practically yesterday by Greg J Walker for the Australian television production of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I wouldn’t normally write about television mysteries when I haven’t read the original books, but I confess I’m doing exactly that. That’s how smitten I am and it’s all Dixon Hill’s fault.
original Phryne

MFMM is, if you haven’t guessed already, a period piece and to my eye… and ear… dazzlingly done. It features wealthy flapper Miss Fisher, christened with the appropriate given name of Phryne. (You may recall the suitably scandalous Phryne (pronounced like Friday with an ’n’ instead of ‘d’) from classical studies.)

The rest of the ensemble includes Phryne’s ever-fluid household, primarily comprised of Mr. Butler, Cecil, her ward Jane, and especially gentle Dot. The police presence includes newly minted Constable Hugh Collins and Inspector Jack Robinson.

The young constable is earnest although inexperienced, but the inspector proves highly intelligent and smart enough to give Phryne her head: Her charm, wit, money, and standing in society allow her to access social circles he can’t. As Phryne gives an entirely new meaning to ‘man eater,’ he’s sufficiently wise to let her do the romantic pursuing.

If you’re guessing characterization is key, you’re dead on. Phryne is engaging and entrancing. She carries a gold-plated revolver and is slightly reminiscent of Emma Peel. Inspector Robinson manages to be both firm and lenient with her and sensibly underplays his rôle. Phryne’s imposing Aunt Prudence– every family needs a matriarch like her– is an old dear who represents old school and old money. And then there’s Phryne’s companion/assistant, little Dot– she steals scenes and everyone’s heart.

Miss Fisher’s logo
Lady Detective

Before I stray too far, I must mention that Dixon Hill wrote the original article that intrigued me a year and a half ago. Curiously, two of my female friends expressed no interest in the series but one of me mates (oops, I've been overdosing) has started watching Miss Fisher from the beginning. Miss Marple she’s not. One review said Phryne ‘sashays’ through the stories, something a guy notices. Clearly we males find Miss Fisher fetching.

The historical detail is impressive. I admire many cars built in the 20s and 30s and Miss Fisher drives a beautiful Hispano-Suiza. Other viewers will applaud the costume of the era and Phryne wears at least a half dozen each episode. Indeed, one of the mysteries takes place in a house of fashion.

Sometimes writers imprint our present-day morals and values on the past, often imbuing a protagonist with a superior outlook. Not much of that shows through here– by nature Phryne is open-minded and the flapper era was daring, progressive, and sexually expressive. Thus Phryne’s physician friend Mac who dresses in men’s clothes comes off as genuine rather than contrived, not so much butch but a don’t-ask-don’t-tell person you’d like to know.

Miss Fisher’s Mysteries
The plots? They take second place to the characters and costuming, but even when you guess the culprit, you enjoy how Fisher and Robinson get there.

And the music? Most of it’s straight out of the 1920s and early 30s and thoughtfully offered in three albums (thus far). Wonderful stuff. I’ll leave you with Duke Ellington’s dirge, East St. Louis Toodle-oo.

Legendary drummer Viola Smith is still among the living at age 103½!