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

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!

08 May 2016

Professional Tips– S S Van Dine

I’d planned a different column for today, but due to a technical glitch, we were unable to get an important part of the article working, the audio mechanism. We’ll try again at another date. In the meantime, enjoy the following advice by the author of the 1920s-30s Philo Vance series, S.S. Van Dine, pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright.

Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories


S. S. Van Dine

Stern Winter loves a dirge-like sound. — Wordsworth
The detective story is a game. It is more– it is a sporting event. And the author must play fair with the reader. He can no more resort to trickeries and deceptions and still retain his honesty than if he cheated in a bridge game. He must outwit the reader, and hold the reader's interest, through sheer ingenuity. For the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws– unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding: and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them.

Herewith, then, is a sort of Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author's inner conscience. To wit:
  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
  2. No wilful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
  3. There must be no love interest in the story. To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
  4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses.
  5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions– not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
  6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.
  7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded. Americans are essentially humane, and therefore a tiptop murder arouses their sense of vengeance and horror. They wish to bring the perpetrator to justice; and when “murder most foul, as in the best it is,” has been committed, the chase is on with all the righteous enthusiasm of which the thrice gentle reader is capable.
  8. The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.
  9. There must be but one detective– that is, but one protagonist of deduction– one deus ex machine. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader, who, at the outset, pits his mind against that of the detective and proceeds to do mental battle. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his co-deductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.
  10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story– that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest. For a writer to fasten the crime, in the final chapter, on a stranger or person who has played a wholly unimportant part in the tale, is to confess to his inability to match wits with the reader.
  11. Servants– such as butlers, footmen, valets, game-keepers, cooks, and the like– must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. It is unsatisfactory, and makes the reader feel that his time has been wasted. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person– one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion; for if the crime was the sordid work of a menial, the author would have had no business to embalm it in book-form.
  12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.
  13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. Here the author gets into adventure fiction and secret-service romance. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance, but it is going too far to grant him a secret society (with its ubiquitous havens, mass protection, etc.) to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds in his jousting-bout with the police.
  14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. For instance, the murder of a victim by a newly found element– a super-radium, let us say– is not a legitimate problem. Nor may a rare and unknown drug, which has its existence only in the author's imagination, be administered. A detective-story writer must limit himself, toxicologically speaking, to the pharmacopoeia. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.
  15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent– provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face– that all the clues really pointed to the culprit– and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying. And one of my basic theories of detective fiction is that, if a detective story is fairly and legitimately constructed, it is impossible to keep the solution from all readers. There will inevitably be a certain number of them just as shrewd as the author; and if the author has shown the proper sportsmanship and honesty in his statement and projection of the crime and its clues, these perspicacious readers will be able, by analysis, elimination and logic, to put their finger on the culprit as soon as the detective does. And herein lies the zest of the game. Herein we have an explanation for the fact that readers who would spurn the ordinary "popular" novel will read detective stories unblushingly.
  16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action, and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude; but when an author of a detective story has reached that literary point where he has created a gripping sense of reality and enlisted the reader’s interest and sympathy in the characters and the problem, he has gone as far in the purely ‘literary’ technique as is legitimate and compatible with the needs of a criminal-problem document. A detective story is a grim business, and the reader goes to it, not for literary furbelows and style and beautiful descriptions and the projection of moods, but for mental stimulation and intellectual activity– just as he goes to a ball game or to a cross-word puzzle. Lectures between innings at the Polo Grounds on the beauties of nature would scarcely enhance the interest in the struggle between two contesting baseball nines; and dissertations on etymology and orthography interspersed in the definitions of a cross-word puzzle would tend only to irritate the solver bent on making the words interlock correctly.
  17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by house-breakers and bandits are the province of the police department– not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. Such crimes belong to the routine work of the homicide bureaus. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.
  18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to play an unpardonable trick on the reader. If a book-buyer should demand his two dollars back on the ground that the crime was a fake, any court with a sense of justice would decide in his favor and add a stinging reprimand to the author who thus hoodwinked a trusting and kind-hearted reader.
  19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction– in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.
  20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective-story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality.
    1. Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect.
    2. The bogus spiritualistic séance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away.
    3. Forged finger-prints.
    4. The dummy-figure alibi.
    5. The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar.
    6. The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person.
    7. The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops.
    8. The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in.
    9. The word-association test for guilt.
    10. The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unravelled by the sleuth.
What are your thoughts?

21 November 2014

The Joys of Miss Fisher

Leigh's recent quips about cricket, coupled with Rob's mention of a "sexy cozy" triggered this post about Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, an ABC (um … that's: Australian Broadcasting Company, in this case) television series, which I've been watching on NetFlix.

Kerry Greenwood
This two-season (so far) TV series -- which I think could be accurately called a sexy and humorous cozy -- is set in Melbourne and based on a series of books by prolific Australian author and defense lawyer Kerry Greenwood.

Ms. Greenwood has penned no fewer than 20 books about Miss Fisher, plus several more novels spanning the YA, Sci-Fi and mystery markets.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, she's also a playwright.

The series' titular "Miss Fisher" is, point in fact, Miss Phryne ("Fry-nee") Fisher, a young upper-crust Australian woman of the 1920's who evidently served in the ambulance corps during the First World War.  It seems that the horror she encountered there stripped away her innocence, baring a wry and often humorous cynicism that I, as a viewer, find delectable.

In a word, I'd say she's "cheeky."
Delightfully so!

Dot quietly feels
Miss Fisher drives
far too recklessly. 
Having returned to Australia from England, in the first episode, young Phryne pronounces herself a lady detective.

And – stylish detective that she is – she even sports a gold-plated revolver, when needed. As well as a gorgeous Hispano-Suiza, which she drives at breakneck speeds.

The mysteries here are not mind-bendingly difficult to solve.

Nor do people running around with fancy metal-plated weapons usually entice me to watch a show.  Quite the opposite on both counts. But, if I'm honest, I'll have to admit I don't watch Phryne to test my wits against hers, as I might with a good Sherlock or Miss Marple. And, the fact is, the gold-plated revolver works in this case.  It's just the right weapon, with just the right feel of "decorative accessory," that would make it seem likely to strike the character's flair for the unique and stylish -- two things Phryne Fisher definitely personifies.  But, I really don't watch shows because of weapons.

So, why do I watch Miss Fisher?

Frankly, because the show is so much fun.

The characters are delightful.  First, there's Phryne's friend and assistant, Dorothy, often called Dottie or Dot.  Little Dot is devoutly religious, and frightened by technology.  One of my favorite scenes, which occurred in the first episode, involved Dot trying to answer a telephone.

As the young woman had earnestly explained to Phryne earlier, the priest at her church had told everyone that the electricity in the phone lines was building up in the center of the earth, and that – one day – one telephone connection too many would be made, causing the world to explode. Thus, as Phryne's phone rings, Dot, charged with answering it in Phryne's absence, is torn between doing her duty to her friend and employer, and her fear that answering the instrument might trigger a cataclysm that  destroys the entire planet.
The results had me rolling.

Then there's Phryne's female doctor friend: Dr. Elizabeth "Mac" Macmillan.  The good doctor dresses in men's clothing, as many women of the time actually did.  It had nothing, necessarily, to do with their sexual leanings; it was simply a style fad in the post-war years, according to my professor at ASU, when I took a class on this time period in Europe's history.

This taste in clothing may actually be associated with the view that women with bodies that looked "good for breeding" were thought of, at the time, as being similar to cows, or even "breeding machinery" (a connotation much distrusted in the wake of a war that saw the horrific effects of combat mechanization for the first time).  Consequently, "le garçon" arrived on the scene in Europe -- women whom the French called, literally: "the boy" because of their thin hips, flat chests and "masculine" behavior (such as smoking in public).  The wearing of men's clothing, according to one line of thinking, was an extension of such new social norms.

On the other hand, there is strong evidence (albeit off stage) that "Mac" may enjoy the company of women in her boudoir – something that bothers Phryne not one whit.  Mac also harbors a deep grudge against the male establishment, which would be perfectly understandable for a female M.D. of that time period. She's quick to anger, slow to trust, but is fast friends with Phryne, whom she evidently trusts implicitly.

Detective Inspector John "Jack" Robinson carries on a – so far – unrequited love affair with Phryne, though the femini Phryne doesn't appear to let this interfere with her bedroom gymnastics with other, more immediately willing, partners.  Robinson is quite conservative, but he clearly can't get this remarkable woman out of his mind.  And, the fact that she keeps showing up at the scenes of crimes that he's charged with investigating does little to alleviate this problem.

Robinson is assisted by Constable Hugh Collins, an innocent new police officer who soon begins dating Dot.

Add in Bert and Cec, two rather rough-around-the-edges manual
laborers with hearts of gold, who do some of Miss Fisher's heavy lifting, and Phryne's dowager aunt Prudence, along with a few other characters, and you've got a gold mine of humor, conflict and fun.

I highly recommend the show, if you haven't seen it already.

Phryne Fisher: Not only can she drive, and fly a plane…
She's also not afraid to fan dance!
See you in two weeks,

27 November 2013


by David Edgerley Gates
There was a Golden Age of travel writing between the world wars, Robert Byron, Freya Stark, and Peter Fleming, among others. (Fleming wrote three terrific books in the 1930's, BRAZILIAN JOURNEY, ONE'S COMPANY, and NEWS FROM TARTARY.)

Given their daring and dash, maybe it's
presumptuous to suggest that the guy who should be given top billing is the astonishing Patrick Leigh Fermor. He may be best known for his WWII adventures with the Special Operations Executive, a Brit spook outfit: he worked with the resistance in Crete for two years, during the German occupation.

Late in 1933, when he was eighteen, he set out on a tramp across Europe, on foot, with a backpack, starting in Holland, and ending up in Constantinople, a year or so later. He kept detailed
journals, but he didn't actually write about it, or publish, at least, until he was well into his sixties. The first book---of three---A TIME OF GIFTS, came out in '77, BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER appeared in '86, and THE BROKEN ROAD wasn't published until just this year (Paddy Fermor died in 2011, at ninety-six).

The really interesting thing is that although the books were written in recollection, there's no hindsight, no foreshadowing, no historical irony. Fascism was on the rise in '33. Hitler had come to power in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, there was the Iron Guard in Romania, and Fermor takes vivid note of all this, but he maintains his relative innocence. The point of view is not the older man looking back, but the younger man seeking
adventure. He doesn't entirely ignore the events of the years between, but the present intrudes very little. We get Hapsburgs, milkmaids, Gypsies, ostlers and monks, stables, cloisters, minarets, black bread and cheese, with straw for a bed, venison and wine and damask sheets. The sense of an old order fading, at times, or the past manifest and alive, an inhabited reality, in stones, in language and landscape, in gesture, or costume, or habit of mind. Fermor is, above everything else, evocative. Smells, shapes, or sounds. He doesn't simply notice, he inhales.

The best of this generation of writers, Paddy Fermor, or Peter Fleming, convey a sense of 
wonder, not weariness. We know the worlds they describe are lost to us, the Balkan monarchies, the salt-harvesters of the Iraqi marshes, the nomadic 
herdsmen of the steppe, as far removed from our own experience as they themselves were from the Crusades. On the other hand, they give us context and continuity. They may be closer to the Crusades than we are to them---an enormous gap opens in history, in the second half of the 20th century, the mechanics of war and tyranny, mass murder, the atom bomb. Reading somebody like Fermor isn't just a bridge to the past, it's a journey of discovery, to a time, we might say, when our hearts were still open and glad.