Sunday, April 29, 2007

"You're an insensitive pill-popper, Fred, and I'm in love with Maggie. So there!"

Several Lonely People (1959; ToddAO; 123 min.; Peggie Castle, Edmond O’Brien, Biff Bogan, Hugh McHugh, Mindy Bing; music by Elmer Bernstein; DP: Floyd Crosby; written by L. Winchester and John Cheever; directed by Larry Winchester).

Winchester's sole foray into domestic melodrama follows the misadventures of neurotic housewife Maggie Carter (Peggie Castle), her pep-pill-addicted ad-exec husband Fred (Edmond O’Brien), Fred’s shell-shocked war buddy Bill (Biff Bogan), Bill’s nymphomaniac wife Mandy (Mindy Bing), and handsome bachelor neighbor Chad Bartwell (Hugh McHugh). Through two tortuous hours this gang of misfits searches for some sort of fulfillment, some wispy chance of happiness, some brief respite from the echoing vapidity of their suburban middleclass lives, and they fail.

This movie was just too plain depressing for the American public and was quickly yanked from the theatres. Released in a dubbed version in France later that year it was hailed by Jean-Luc Godard in the Cahiers du Cinéma as a masterpiece on the level of the best of Bergman, Renoir, Fellini and Ozu; this review ignited the cult of Winchester in that country which remains fervent to this day.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Heintz Factory, Nedro Avenue and B

By overwhelming popular demand, another Arnold Schnabel poem; this sonnet appeared in the March 27, 1963 issue of "The Olney Times", less than a week after Arnold's discharge from the Byberry mental hospital. (Grateful acknowledgement to the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

"These Are My Streets"

These are my streets, the pavement solid beneath my feet.
I was released from the hospital only yesterday
But shall remain on sick leave (as is only meet)
For another two weeks, then it’s back to the railway.
So I walk these streets: Mascher, Roselyn, Spencer and Grange,
These streets I love, among these people with whom
I have lived for sixteen thousand days, quotidian and strange,
And sixteen thousand nights within the Heintz plant gloom,
Its hellish fires and belching black smoking breath
Roiling outside my window like beckoning doom each night --
But no: I must not think of fire and darkness and death,
For I am better now and I must think of love and light:
Godfrey Avenue, and Olney; Rosemar, Sparks, and Champlost Street:
Friend Jesus, may this pavement stay beneath my feet.

(For links to other poems from Arnold Schnabel, some better but none of them worse, and to the serialization of his previously unpublished and indeed unheard-of memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page.)

"We must move swiftly, Leonidas! Swiftly, yea, verily, e'en like unto the wind, my good liege!"

Return of the 300 Spartans (1963; Todd-AO; 126 min.; Richard Harrison, Ed Fury, Eydie Gormé, Steve Lawrence, Reg Park, Cliff Richard; music by Ennio Morricone; DP: J.-K. Huysmans; written by L. Winchester and Tommy “Rags” Larkin; directed by Larry Winchester).

Following the world-wide success of the Richard Egan vehicle The 300 Spartans, Italian producer Dino DiLaurentiis commissioned Larry Winchester to come up fast with an unofficial sequel. “Problem being,” wrote Larry in his memoirs, “the 300 Spartans all got croaked at the end of the first movie.” With one week to deliver a script Larry called in his old pal “Rags” Larkin, who quickly came up with the twist that the 300 Spartans are raised from the dead by a sorceress (ravishingly realized by the never-lovelier Eydie Gormé), complete with buff new bodies and raring to kick some effete Persian butt. A lifelong believer in the musical interlude, Larry staged several wild song and dance numbers featuring the stylings of Miss Gormé and her husband Steve Lawrence as well as British teen idol Cliff Richard.

Shot in two weeks at the Cinecittà studios in Rome, this was Larry’s sole but brilliant foray into the noble sword-and-sandal genre. Some scholars deem this Larry's weakest film, but that still makes it better than 99% of the other crap out there!

(Check the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to "The Films of Larry Winchester" as well as to our serialization of the "Director's Cut" of his long-out-of-print Schaefer Award-winning novel A Town Called Disdain.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 2: "Cornelius Doyle"

Cornelius Doyle, Bookshop Clerk
(1958; B&W; drama/comedy; 60 min.; a DesiLu Production)

Arnold Stang played downtrodden schlemiel Cornelius Doyle, saddled with a harridan wife (Dolores Fuller) and four brutish drunken sons (Michael J. Pollard, Michael Parks, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris). Every episode began with Cornelius escaping the morning chaos of his Mascher Street rowhome and racing to catch the 47 trolley to go downtown to work at Leary’s Books (“Oldest Book Store in the Nation”), where he would happily lose himself in the musty world of old novels, histories, and memoirs. Even though he has worked at the store for over twenty years he remains a lowly clerk, completely devoid of ambition, and actually not very good at his job, as he is wont to spend his time lying on a stack of volumes in the store’s cavernous basement, reading some obscure novel of Arthur Machen or the Brothers Goncourt. Nevertheless each day brings some sort of mild drama, such as the day Cornelius gets trapped in the old wrought-iron elevator, or the one where his hand gets stuck in a pneumatic message tube, or that tour de force wherein he uses the basement toilet and the knob breaks off and he remains imprisoned till the next day with only Mme de Sevigny's letters to her daughter to keep him company .

Each episode ended with Cornelius reluctantly returning home to his screaming wife and brawling sons.

Unfortunately Cornelius Doyle aired in the same time-slot as the juggernaut that was M Squad, and its quiet charms failed to find a large audience. After eight classic episodes it was gone for good, as forgotten as the moldering 19th Century novels in Leary's basement.

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of other Great Lost TV Shows.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 1: "Kohlberg!"

Kohlberg! (1962; B&W; 1 hour; police drama; music by Quincy Jones; a Quinn-Martin Production, created by Phil Leotardo)

Brad Dexter starred in this Phil Leotardo-helmed series as crooked Philly police detective Lt. Max Kohlberg. Each episode featured Max getting over with some fresh outlandish scheme, and then losing all his profits through drunkenness, gambling or some other low vice: stealing heroin from the Mafia and selling it to the Irish mob (then leaving his share in a barroom urinal); knocking over the US Mint (then blowing the swag at the Atlantic City Racetrack); robbing guns from an armory and peddling them to Communist South American revolutionaries (a Parker Hotel hooker grabs the loot from that one); etc.

Featuring Nipsey Russell, Tommy Sands and Myron McCormick as Kohlberg’s fellow detectives-in-crime, and the lovely Miss Gloria Grahame as the long-suffering Mrs. Kohlberg. With a jazzy theme from Henry Mancini.

Sadly cancelled after only six episodes.

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of other Great Lost TV Shows.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"The Vacant City"

The Vacant City (1959; B&W; Cinemascope; 89 min.; Dennis Hopper; music by Art Pepper; DP: Floyd Crosby; written by Larry Winchester and Gore Vidal; directed by L. Winchester).

The intense Dennis Hopper plays a rather annoying young department-store sales clerk who wakes up one day to discover that everyone else on the planet has disappeared. After some tortuous establishing adventures (on the city streets of the old Monogram lot in "Gower Gulch"), Dennis moves into the enormous store in which he had previously been employed. He helps himself to all the wares, changing into several different flashy suits every day, cooking himself big frozen-steak dinners on charcoal grills, sleeping in different beds in the bed department every night. He turns on all the television sets in the TV department and spends hours staring at the test patterns. He sets up an enormous system of toy trains and leaves the trains running constantly. (For some reason the electric power remains on.) He then develops an attachment for one of the female mannequins, pouring out to her his hopes and dreams. Finally late one night he throws a fit because she won't talk back to him. He tosses her against a wall and her head breaks off. Full of anguish, he hurls himself through an upper-storey plate-glass window. (Spoiler alert!) The last shot shows him lying on the pavement with passersby stepping over him as if he isn't there.

Perhaps the strangest film ever made, and one of the best.

(Currently unavailable on DVD, rumored to be included in an upcoming boxed set of Larry's prolific late-50s work from Ha! Karate Home Entertainment of Yokohama, Japan.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"A Guy Named Jesus"

This poem was submitted to "The Olney Times" by Arnold Schnabel just a couple of weeks before his release from the Byberry mental hospital. (Republished with the kind "nihil obstat" of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

“A Guy Named Jesus”

A guy named Jesus came to see me last night;
He opened my door and for a moment just stood there;
“Hello,” he said, then, shutting the door tight,
He came to my bed and pulled up a chair.

“My name is Jesus,” said He, and extended His hand;
I took it and shook it, His grip was warm and firm.
“So,” He said, “You’ve had some trouble, I’m led to understand.”
“Yes, it’s true,” I said, “For I am a lowly misbegotten worm.”

“Poppycock!” said He; “and by the way, may I smoke?”
“Dear Lord,” said I, “smoking’s not allowed in patients’ rooms.”
“But you forget,” said He, “’Tis I who make the rules! (Ha! a joke!)
But fear not, for there’s nothing like a butt to dissipate the glooms.”

And taking from His pouch a lighter and a pack of Pall Mall
He lit us both up and said, “I have come, you see, to set you free,
from your absurd travails, and your own self-made Hell.”
“I deserve only Hell,” I cried, “And free I deserve not to be!”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” He said with a winning grin,
“that is, of course: the Holy Ghost, My Father, and Me.
So stop this nonsense, for I want you to begin
that long journey home to Avenue Nedro and B.”

A guy named Jesus came to see me last night,
a simple Jewish carpenter smelling faintly of wood;
we talked until the first faint glimmerings of light,
and when He left I slept the sleep of the good.

(For links to other poems from Arnold Schnabel and to the serialization of his previously unpublished memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, go if you dare to the right hand column of this page.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Mindy Baxter. I'm a singer. And a dancer."

Desert Rat Girls (1967; B&W; Cinemascope; 98 min.; Shirley Eaton, Michael Parks, Joanna Lumley, Tina Turner, Horst Bucholz, Stubby Kaye, Joey Heatherton; music by Jerry Fielding; written by L. Winchester and Dick and Daphne Ridpath; directed by Larry Winchester).

Four female entertainers and their pianist are shot down in the North African desert in 1942. Captured by the Germans, they are forced to put on a show for the Nazis. At the after-show party a German officer lets slip to song-thrush Mindy Baxter (Shirley Eaton, above left) that the Germans are planning a major offensive the next day. After the Krauts all pass out the plucky girls and their comic-foil accompanist Maxie (Stubby Kaye) sneak out of their tent and escape in a half-track, blowing up an ammunition dump on the way out. Driving across the desert they are strafed by an American fighter plane and forced to shoot it down in self-defense. The handsome young pilot (Michael Parks) bails out and approaches the half-track with his hands in the air. Imagine his surprise when...

A curious note: This wildly entertaining actioner was filming on location outside Gaza when the Six-Day war suddenly broke out. Not to be fazed, Larry turned his camera toward the actual fighting and picked up some battle footage he would never otherwise have been able to afford to shoot. Unfortunately the Israel Defense Forces were not amused and shut the show down. Larry completed production in his friend Jean-Pierre Melville’s studio on the rue Janner in Paris.

(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to many other fine Larry Winchester films.)

And now, the fabulous Tina Turner:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Why can't a white boy play the blues?"

That was the musical question asked by the young Michael Parks in this groundbreaking "bluesical", shot on location in "The Windy City":

Harvey Harmonica (1964; B&W; 96 min.; Cinemascope; Michael Parks, Ann-Margret, Ray Danton, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells; original score by Quincy Jones; DP: Floyd Crosby; written by "Remy de Gourmont" and Tommy "Rags" Larkin; directed by "Remy de Gourmont" {Larry Winchester}).

Still blacklisted ("Not for being a Commie, just for being an asshole," as he wrote in his memoirs) from working in Hollywood, Larry Winchester sneaked back into the country to film this legendary story of a white college boy from the 'burbs, Harvey Klein (Michael Parks), who longs to play hot Chicago blues. Howlin' Wolf, in his only dramatic role, plays the college handyman who hears Parks blowing his harp in the student union stairwell and invites him to come down to the South Side and jam with his band at the Killing Floor Club. But the club's mob-connected proprietor Archie Fine (Ray Danton) is not too happy about Harvey's budding romance with his sultry kid sister Midge (Ann-Margret), especially after Harvey declares himself to be "black on the inside". Featuring brilliant musical performances by Wolf, Wells, and Guy, as well as Muddy Waters, Magic Sam, and Otis Spann.

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of many other fine films from Larry Winchester. Be sure also to check out our serialization of the "director's cut" of Larry's long-out-of-print classic sprawling novel, A Town Called Disdain, third-place winner of the Pep Boys Award for Literary Excellence in Epic Literature.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Mr. Howlin' Wolf:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Larry Winchester: The auteur's auteur

One of only a handful of film makers truly worthy of the term auteur, Larry Winchester -- also a supremely talented novelist (see our ongoing serialization of his epic A Town Called Disdain) -- still maintains his home and office on Ivar Avenue in Hollywood, and (thank you, O gods of cinema ) plans to return soon to production with a film tentatively titled Plausible Deniability, starring Billy Zane and Kari Wuhrer.

Check out the right hand column of this page for links to appreciations of many of Larry's classic films, such as Desert Rat Girls, The Vacant City, Several Lonely People, and Calling All Call Girls.

"Fiche-moi le camp!"

Fiche-moi le camp! (1963; US title: Buzz off, Jack!; UK title: Hop it, Mate!; B&W; 93 min.; Cinemascope: Lino Ventura, Dane Clark, Marie Dubois; music by Gary McFarland; DP: Remy de Gourmont; written by L. Winchester and "Rags" Larkin; directed by Larry Winchester ).

In 1962 Larry Winchester found himself unemployable in Hollywood after a drunken brawl ("At least I was drunk," wrote Larry in his memoir I'll Take the Low Road) in the Musso and Frank Grill with a Universal Pictures vice president. Larry moved to France (where his pictures had long been lauded in Cahiers du Cinéma) and within a couple of months had already completed his first project, the unrelentingly hard-boiled Fiche-moi le camp! Supposedly written in one long weekend with Larry's old drinking and fishing pal "Rags" Larkin, this flick gave Gallic tough guy Lino Ventura what many critics consider the role of his career, as mob enforcer Mickey LeBouef, a very hard man whose heart goes dangerously soft for pouting chanteuse Millie Malone (Marie Dubois), the sexy young wife of exiled American gangster Danny Fingers (Dane Clark). Featuring an unbilled cameo by Fred Astaire as the debonair freelance hitman "Bobby Flowers", and one of the earliest screen musical performances of French teen idol Johnnie Hallyday.

A badly-dubbed version called Buzz off, Jack! was released on a double bill in the US by the Stanley chain in 1964 with the British kitchen-sinker This is My Street. It soon sank without a trace, and by all accounts this classic film has not been seen in this country since.

Criterion Collection: get on the case!

(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of other fine films from Larry Winchester. And be sure to check out our Walgreens Award-winning serialization of the "Director's Cut" of his long-out-of-print novel A Town Called Disdain.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nothing to be done

Some days there's nothing to be done but to post another Arnold Schnabel poem. This sonnet was published in the Olney Times in January 1963, a few days before Arnold suffered a nervous collapse and had to be committed to Byberry for eight weeks. Eight weeks in which he still somehow maintained his customary publishing schedule of one poem a week. (Poem republished through the kind indulgence of the Arnold Schnabel society.)


Nasty people should be shunned at any and all cost,
The grudging worker both and the arrogant boss;
To lose the friendship of the damned is nothing much lost,
Not to mention the stupid and habitually cross;
Bars are places one must never go into,
For in them sit the drunken, the boring and the loud;
Eschew the Protestant and Pagan and Buddhist and Hindoo
(And your average Roman Catholic, unjustifiably proud).
Avoid that silent man with malevelont eye
As well as that woman with her clacking tongue!
‘Tis only pity we cannot escape this one called “I”
On whom this baleful consciousness is hung.
Alas such is our fate and we have no other;
And this is why I live with my mother.

(For links to other Arnold Schnabel poems and to his sprawling memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, kindly check the right hand column of this page.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Later, Kurt.

"Why me?" he asked the guard.
The guard shoved him back into the ranks. "Vy you? Vy anybody?" he said.

-- Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Arnold and Sgt. Bilko

By popular demand, here is another achingly lovely Arnold Schnabel poem. (By permission of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

"The Day After Easter"

The day after Easter, and I am still alive,
And all those entrusted to my care have survived as well;
I walk home longing for leftover ham, with chive,
Through streets which if not Heaven then are not Hell.
From Fern Rock Station to Nedro and B
Is a half hour's walk, but I prefer it to the bus;
This is my time to think, to feel, to merely be,
Whilst ignoring not to tip my hat to those of us
Who live in this fair land that men call Olney;
And perhaps to pick up some treat for Mother,
A coffee cake at Fink's, or perhaps a stop at the Colney
Deli, to purchase some fresh wurst or other.
The evening gently awaits before our '51 Philco:
Tonight will be a good one, with my dear friend Sgt. Bilko.

(For links to other Arnold Schnabel poems and to his sprawling memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, kindly check the right hand column of this page.)

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Just another day in the life of Arnold Schnabel

Here's another classic Arnold Schnabel poem. (Reprinted by permission of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

"Dead Man's Hill"

I heard the joyful shrieking from Dead Man’s Hill
And saw the children each on his or her own sled,
But then a silence fell with a deafening chill:
Followed by a tiny shout: “He’s dead! Jimmy’s dead!”

Clambering through the bushes and stumbling I spied
At the frozen foot of the gulch a small crumpled form,
And all around it surged a multicolored jabbering swarm,
Each child eager and yet fearful to see the boy who’d died.

Throwing myself down that icy fearful slope,
I slid and rolled and tumbled and finally crashed
Into the midst of the youngsters who, bereft of hope,
Stared wide-eyed at the little body, lifeless, smashed.

Quick as a shot I threw myself upon the lad --
For I had taken a class and was certified in CPR --
And just as quick a small hard fist struck me like a car:
“Get offa me mister, or I’ll tell my dad!”

“Hoorah!” cried all, for Jimmy was not dead,
Merely knocked for a loop on Dead Man’s Hill;
Not death’s embrace but a mere bump on the head
The result of his descent and unfatal spill.

And so with bloodied nose and bemuséd heart I made away
First to St. Helena’s Church to see my patient confessor
(As was my wont on each and every Saturday),
And thence to the Fern Rock, to see “The Nutty Professor”.

(For other Arnold Schnabel poems, and for selections from his memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, please see the right hand column of this page.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Arnold Schnabel: "The Rhyming Brakeman"

AKA "The Poet Laureate of Nedro Ave.", Arnold Schnabel, for many years a brakeman on the Reading Railroad, simultaneously pursued a career as a lyric poet. From 1938 until his sad death in 1969 he contributed a poem a week to The Olney Times, verses touching on "the ordinary life of ordinary people in an ordinary way". He lived most of his life in the tiny rowhome he was raised in, "bathed in the dour shadows of the mighty Heintz factory"; was an usher at St. Helena's Church, a member in good standing both of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Youth Organization. Arnold never married and was devoted to his mother, a pious widow who outlived him by a decade. Here is one of his most famous poems (rebroadcast by permission of the Arnold Schnabel Society):

"In Fisher Park"

In Fisher Park I heard a lark;
‘Twas the first or perhaps the second day of Spring.
I ceased my rambles and sat upon a mossy rock --
The better for to hear him (or her) sing.

The song he sang (or was it she?)
Drilled deeply into my unworthy soul:
“Cheep cheep!” sang he or she to me, most wretched me,
And, yes, I wept, and soon lost all control.

In Fisher Park I met a young lad
In Wintertime, with cheeks of rosy apple glow;
He showed me what I knew not I had:
An innocence buried ‘neath frozen snow.

In Fisher Park I met a young girl
In Summertime, and like a flower was she;
She put my crazéd brains into quite a whirl
But in the end showed peace to me.

In Fisher Park I met an ancient priest,
Mumbling his daily office (yes, ‘twas Fall);
He told me that of men I was the very least,
But that to Jesus this meant nothing at all.

In Fisher Park I heard a lark,
I met a lad, a girl, a wise old priest;
What did I learn in my ramblings through the glades of Fisher Park?
Only this: that God loves every man and beast.

(For links to many other Arnold Schnabel poems, and to his previously unpublished vast memoir Railroad Train to Heaven,* go to the right hand column of this page.)

*"Simultaneously one of the great works of Catholic and fallen Catholic literature. Holy and unholy, sacred and sacrilegious,  and a ripping good read." -- Bill Buckley