Wednesday, May 16, 2018

THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN: A Splendid Time is Guaranteed for All


"For the love of money is the root of all evil. . . " I Timothy 6:10a (KJV)

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what is commonly known as money. It comes in all sizes, colors, and denominations. Like people. We'll be using quite a bit of it in the next two hours; luckily, I have enough for all of us." Sir Guy Grand, opening narration

A “comfort movie” is like “comfort food,” sought out like an old friend sure to lift sagging spirits and make one feel good. And The Magic Christian is indeed ”guaranteed to raise a smile” and a help you “forget about life for awhile.”   
The film boasts Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, a bevy of Britain's top talent, and the music of Badfinger. It was filmed in the spring of 1969, and we get Ringo Starr circa Abbey Road just as the Beatles were winding down, and Graham Chapman and John Cleese the year Monty Python pitched its flying circus tent and were ramping up.

Chapman and Cleese helped write the screenplay and each enjoys a small scene. The screenplay needed additional material because the original 1959 Terry Southern novel is a spare affair,  a series of loosely connected vignettes, but set in America and wholly lacking the character of Youngman. The one scene I recall that hewed close to the book was Grand’s “big, get acquainted sale,” one of the film’s weakest episodes, but which true to the book features only Sellers. The Magic Christian is a rare instance where the film is better than the book.
I admire the big name stars who showed up willing to forsake reputation and dignity for filthy lucre. Bollocks to the Bard! Laurence Harvey lets it all hang out and oh, yes! Yul Brynner lets down his hair.  Wilfrid Hyde-White, a few years out from My Fair Lady, plays a proper British ship's captain. Hammer fans will get a kick out of seeing Christopher Lee playing—what else?—Ship’s Vampire.

This is a veddy British film, opening with “God Save the Queen” playing over a ten-pound note. Fans of 1960’s British television series such as  The Avengers will recognize among the cast familiar faces in Terence Alexander, Peter Bayliss, and Patrick Cargill. And fans of the beloved Britcom Are You Being Served will enjoy seeing both series co-creator Jeremy Lloyd and star Frank Thornton in small scenes. Interestingly, Lloyd attempts an American accent in his scene, and by the time of the film's release in December 1969 he was appearing on American TV screens as a regular player on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.  
The music of Badfinger is practically a character unto itself and is integral to the film. The Paul McCartney-written “Come and Get It” was the film’s famous hit, and it recurs regularly throughout the movie. But my favorite song is “Carry On Till Tomorrow,” a Badfinger original written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. The song plays over contrasting scenes of Sir Guy Grand and Youngman beginning this fateful day in each of their lives. Guy begins his in grand style, a sumptuous feast and a violinist accompanying him to his car, while a bedraggled Youngman, dressed in a peacoat and faded jeans, is bullied and badgered by the world. In my favorite scene of the film, their paths intersect on a bridge in a park, where Youngman is leaning over the railing casting his bread upon the water. Strolling past in a commanding gait is Guy, who slows a bit for a glance as he passes, but who continues on, walking off screen a few seconds before returning to approach Youngman. I love how, at this pivotal first meeting, the music shifts to a celebratory blare and the credits appear in Grand’s wake, crawling across the screen in time with him. A deceptively simple scene that was carefully choreographed, bringing together the three elements of action, music, and text.


A selection of clips, including the opening titles. Enjoy!
In short order Guy Grand adopts Youngman as his son and he is warmly welcomed by Grand’s dowager sisters Agnes and Esther, played by Isabel Jeans and Caroline Blakiston. From here the two men embark on a series of episodes designed to upend convention and to prove every man has his price.

“You’re certainly putting everyone on today, Dad,”
“Well, you know, Youngman, sometimes it’s not enough merely to teach. One has to punish as well.”

And punish they do, from hapless hot dog vendor Victor Maddern to “pompous toff” Peter Bayliss to the very model of a “mad major” Terence Alexander.
Some episodes are more successful than others. Laurence Harvey’s Hamlet is a highlight, as is the directors meeting aboard the train, which gives Dennis Price and Jeremy Lloyd moments to shine. There’s also an animated sequence here promoting Grand’s “new, great British Zeus” (pronounced Zee-us), a super-sized car Grand hopes will show up the “American big boys.” A traditional British pheasant hunt is then upended by the boys bringing in heavy artillery to ensure a "quick, clean kill."


Less successful is Grand’s gastronomic feast in the restaurant, which was recycled for the even more awful “Autumn Years” sketch in Monty Python and the Meaning of Life. There’s a heavy-handed harp-playing and war games scene that aspires like Icarus to social commentary with similar results. And the film’s final major scene with the vat of excrement is an overreach and proves anticlimactic. Thunderclap Newman’s apt “Something in the Air” makes it bearable, however. The closing tag is a winner, which like a great novel brings us back to the beginning in the park.
It being 1969 there is a revolutionary air and theme of the “old values are crumblin’,” as Ringo puts it. There's pot puffing and an interracial couple of homosexuals in speedos who unnerve the social set. 

If you see the film, resist the urge to skip the closing credits because they offer a never-heard-elsewhere version of “Come and Get It” that shifts from Badfinger’s into a lush orchestral version. 
So just what is The Magic Christian? This film features neither magic nor Christians, unless one counts a fleeting few seconds of Sellers dressed in a nun's habit. It’s not a spoiler to say it’s the name of a cruise ship, and the social event of the season is to be aboard her maiden voyage. The shipboard portion of the film is packed with many of the film’s most memorable moments and guest stars, with Christopher Lee, Roman Polanski, and Raquel Welch as the Priestess of the Whip (whose mere minute of screen time overwhelmingly dominates the publicity and  memories of those who have enjoyed the movie). 
I first saw and VCR-recorded The Magic Christian off television in the mid-1980s. And it was your proverbial love at first sight—cinematic, of course (to paraphrase a line from the move)! The version I saw was edited for television and cut in its entirety the vat of excrement episode and dubbed over John Cleese’s profanity with a belch!  After that first viewing I knew it would forever be one of my favorite films, and lo over thirty years later it still is. 

Extra Credit Assignment: Double the fun and pair The Magic Christian with its perfect complement, Candy (1968). Both movies have their origins in the madcap imagination of Terry Southern and feature Ringo Starr along with all-star casts in hilarious episodic romps. 
This post is my contribution to the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon, hosted by Rick at The Classic Film & TV Cafe. Click HERE to check out other films that have brightened the blue days of our fellow film buffs. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

DALLAS: Confessions of a Forty Years After the Fact Fanatic

First season title. It's a Lorimar Production, but this sure ain't the Waltons!
When Forty Winters Shall Besiege Thy Brow . . . 

Forty years ago tonight--on Sunday, April 2, 1978 at 10pm Eastern--audiences first met Miss Ellie, Jock and their ambitious boys J.R. and Bobby in the premiere episode of DALLAS, "Digger's Daughter." The title of course refers to Pamela Ewing nee Barnes, Bobby's brand-new bride who was also the daughter of Jock's arch-nemesis Digger and brother to professional Ewing-hater Cliff. The stage was set for epic drama, and this series delivered it over 14 seasons and a whopping 357 episodes.

Perhaps you're like me: In the spring of 1978 I was wholly ignorant of all things Ewing. I was an eleven-year-old fifth grader and when not poring through Marvel Comics my primetime television fare skewed towards HAPPY DAYS, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, THE HARDY BOYS, CHIPS, and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Even had I been interested, a 10 o'clock program on a school night was never an option, and my family was five years away from owning a VCR.

Thirty-nine years later this 50-year-old television fan learns that DYNASTY is free on Amazon Prime. I had never seen an episode, though remember my mother and grandmother were fans and it seemed in the '80s that if  it wasn't Elizabeth Taylor it was Joan Collins and Linda Evans gracing the covers of my mother's STAR magazine (bought for the crossword puzzle, of course). So on a whim I watched the three-hour premiere with the pithy title "Oil." And I was hooked.

DYNASTY proved to be the "gateway drug" to DALLAS, because at some point I realized that in my heart I had committed myself to embracing in their entirety all the eighties' primetime soaps: THE COLBY'S, FALCON CREST, KNOTS LANDING (and if I can locate it, even the short-lived EMERALD POINT N.A.S. starring Dennis Weaver). That epiphany sparked me to "take it from the top" and take up watching the fountainhead from which all these other shows sprang: DALLAS.

Strange Bedfellows: Major Tony Nelson and Ginger Grant
He's more handsome than Bob Denver, but he still can't hold a coconut-powered radio to Russell Johnson!
Now what would have perhaps interested my eleven-year-old self would be seeing two stars from a couple of my favorite afterschool reruns appearing together: Larry Hagman and Tina Louise. Though on second thought, it would have undoubtedly been distressing to see these beloved characters engaged in the sordid stuff of primetime soaps. Watching Hagman and Louise now (and I only the other day enjoyed the riveting "Red File" two-parter from the second season) I grew increasingly impressed by the dramatic talents of these erstwhile sitcom stars, which only deepened my appreciation for their work on I DREAM OF JEANNIE and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. I sure got a kick out of seeing them working together.

O Brave New World, That Has Such People In 't!

Longtime television fans know the joy of discovering a new hitherto-unseen series that promises reunions with actors from others series who are like old friends. DALLAS has delightfully surprised me with its guest casts, which in less than two seasons has boasted in recurring roles David Wayne (father to ELLERY QUEEN), Barbara Babcock (STAR TREK) and Fred Beir (TWILIGHT ZONE), plus memorable one-shot appearances by familiar faces Ed Nelson, Brian Dennehy, Gene Evans, Morgan Fairchild, Talia Balsam (Alex's estranged daughter on TAXI), Melinda O. Fee (David McCallum's wife on THE INVISIBLE MAN), and Richard Kelton (Ficus on QUARK). My personal favorite guest star was Greg Evigan, on the cusp of fame with B.J. AND THE BEAR, playing the unhinged abductor of Lucy Ewing in "Runaway." And I'm confident many more such casting surprises await me in the seasons still looming before me. I bought the big white box o' DALLAS DVDs, and am settling in for the long haul.

The look when your agent says you gotta trade in that hottie for a chimpanzee.
Two score years ago tonight DALLAS began its auspicious 1978-91 run and became a genuine pop culture phenomenon. The journey of 357 episodes begins by watching the first one, and I'm only 23 shows into the sojourn. I hope to have the series completed--along with watching contemporaneously the other primetime soaps it spawned--before DALLAS celebrates its golden anniversary in 2028.

*    *    *
PS: For those already on the journey or who have joined our happy throng, marching as to Southfork, I highly recommend the website THE DALLAS DECODER, which has been a trusted traveling companion and a wealth of information for this wide-eyed neophyte. (And also the source for the swiped borrowed screencaps accompanying this post.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Star Trek Baddies in Breaking Training

Perhaps only the most avid of Star Trek aficionados would appreciate my delight when seeing two favorite future guests stars appearing together on Route 66, "The Man on the Monkey Board" (28 Oct. 1960 | 1.4). The above photo--my very first attempt at a screencap!--boasts Alfred Ryder (Prof. Robert Crater, "The Man Trap") in the center with Roger C. Carmel (Harcourt Fenton Mudd, "Mudd's Women," "I, Mudd," and the animated "Mudd's Passion"). Bookending the picture are Lew Ayres and series co-star Martin Milner.

While Ryder was prominently featured in the episode, this was the sole scene for Carmel, billed only as "Man in the Shower." It is notable, however, for being Carmel's first credited role. Bright futures were just ahead for both talented men.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Movie of the Week Blogathon: HORROR AT 37,000 FEET (1973)


PLEASE NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD!

A film that deftly weaves together those twin 1970’s obsessions--the airplane-in-distress movie and the supernatural thriller. HORROR AT 37,000 FEET is a thoroughly entertaining movie with eminent rewatchability. On Midsummer’s Eve a jet airplane travels from England to America carrying a dozen passengers and ominously the stone chapel of Grove Abbey, site of human sacrifices and home to a Druid sacrificial stone. Adding insult to injury, the decadent architect intends to use the rebuilt abbey as a bar on Long Island. Strange and stranger things immediately begin happening aboard this hellbound flight.

This CBS-produced movie aired on Tuesday, February 13, 1973. Two strengths are its brisk running time of 73 minutes. The action never lags. Second, aside from the opening scene at the Heathrow Airport ticket desk where we meet some key players, the entirety of the movie’s action unfolds aboard the jet.

But what really puts this film over the top is the cast. William Shatner, Roy Thinnes, Buddy Ebsen, Chuck Connors, Will Hutchins, Paul Winfield, Tammy Grimes, the Professor and Elaan of Troyius! For fans of 1960’s television it was a treat to see sci-fi series stars Captain Kirk of STAR TREK and David Vincent of THE INVADERS together. Buddy Ebsen, erstwhile Clampett clan chief, had just a month earlier premiered his folksy detective BARNABY JONES. [And interestingly, the second episode of that series broadcast a week before this movie boasted guest stars William Shatner and Darleen Carr!]

Shatner’s brooding defrocked priest Paul Kovalik was the film’s protagonist and bright light. He shined in every scene, with a highlight being his conversation about faith and fear with Jane Merrow in the bar.  His character had the greatest depth and experienced the greatest change over the course of the story. It was also a restrained performance by Shatner (I compare it favorably with Richard Burton's defrocked priest in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA). Wholly unbelievable, however, was the idea that scholarly Paul would ever have thrown it all away for the elfin guitar-plucking hippie Lyn Loring.  Her nagging, shrieking and hysterical panicking made her increasingly loathsome as the story progressed. I suspected their relationship died when Loring masterminded the ill-fated voodoo doll ruse while Shatner simmered with contempt.

Another highlight in a cast of luminaries was Paul Winfield’s refined and British-accented Doctor Enkalla. He was impeccably played and rose to a prominent role early on.  A short six months after this film was broadcast, Winfield was on the big screen headlining the blaxploitation classic GORDON’S WAR. One just has to admire this actor’s range. And of course Winfield would memorably appear alongside Shatner nine years later in STAR TREK II.

I was unfamiliar with Tammy Grimes, but she was enchanting as the druidess Mrs. Pinder secretly relishing her demonic deity’s onslaught upon the passengers. She was perfectly cast and played a formidable foil to Roy Thinnes’ apathetic architect Alan O’Neill (no David Vincent he). Alas, evil knows no loyalty, and learning later that her beloved dog Daemon was flash frozen by the entity appeared to have sent her cascading into a faith crisis.

Speaking of faith, the film has a recurring religious theme that is especially evident in the climactic ending. Paul’s horror at seeing the desperate passengers were about to offer Jane Merrow as a human sacrifice, coupled with the tearful pleading of a child, lead Paul to reembrace his faith (implied by the quick cut to him wearing his priestly collar). Hutchins’ yelling, “I see the sun!” had a striking parallel in Paul seeing the Son through eyes of faith. Paul’s being blasted through the airplane door was not the horrible death it appeared—which would make no sense in light of the victory he just achieved over evil—but rather his being assumed into heaven like Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus himself, a reward for his act of faith and sacrifice. 

Mine is perhaps an eccentric interpretation, but such religiously symbolic endings were not uncommon in this era (cf. the ending of THE OMEGA MAN). And it seems fitting in what was essentially a good vs. evil plot.

But the most important thing about HORROR AT 37,000 FEET is that it's just a lot of fun to watch and watch again. Make it a Midsummer's Eve tradition! And the film is available in a beautiful print on DVD or free on YouTube.

What Else Was Cool:

  • Buddy Ebsen’s businessman dressing down Roy Thinnes for not knowing what he was paying to transport the accursed abbey.
  • Mrs. Pinder referring to “The Old Ones,” which pricked up the ears of this Lovecraft fan.

What Was Fool: 

  • Will Hutchins not receiving an up-front credit. His bombastic Western actor Steve Holcomb was a key player. And a decade earlier Hutchins had his own series, SUGARFOOT, and later played sidekick to Elvis Presley in a couple movies. Creds a’plently for front billing.
  • Underutilized actors Russell Johnson and H.M. Wynant, though Wynant gets one of the movie’s best lines: “You can’t burn the plane to save it!”  France Nuyen was wasted, too.
  • The stewardesses’ outfits. Yeah, a lot of fans love them—hats and go-go boots—but to me they were just ridiculous.  They looked like something from a Gerry Anderson production.

NEXT: MAYDAY AT 40,000 FEET

After rewatching HORROR AT 37,000 FEET in anticipation of this blog post, YouTube kindly recommended to me a 1976 TV movie with a strikingly similar name--MAYDAY AT 40,000 FEET. Once I saw it starred David Janssen, Christopher George, and Dandy Don Meredith I was hopelessly hooked! So please stand by and watch this space for a complementary review of another mid-70's airplane-in-distress movie-of-the-week.

WANT MORE MOVIE-OF-THE-WEEK REVIEWS? YOU KNOW YOU DO!

This review was just one of over twenty TV movie reviews posted today as part of the Classic Film & TV Café Movie of the Week Blogathon. Check out the full roster at Classic Film & TV Cafe.




Sunday, December 20, 2015

"You Don't Have Steinbeck to Kick Around Anymore" (Unless You're the NY Times Book Review).

Today, Sunday, December 20, 2015, marks the 47th anniversary of the death of John Steinbeck (1902-68). And almost a half-century after his death Steinbeck's work is still read and respected by a broad audience. Recalling fondly my own past readings, and eagerly anticipating future re-readings of Steinbeck's work, imagine my dismay at opening this morning's New York Times Book Review and finding its erstwhile editor Sam Tanenhaus throwing Steinbeck under the wayward bus.

Tanenhaus' target is Steinbeck's 1936 novel In Dubious Battle, which fictionalized real-life cotton strikes in the San Joaquin Valley. According to Tanenhaus, Steinbeck "first conceived [of the novel] as an almost documentary record, though he didn't visit the strike camps (instead relying on interviews). In the end he buffed and prettified the material, making it a fable of salt-of-the-earth whites, forerunners of the Okies in The Grapes of Wrath, when in fact 75 percent to 95 percent of the work force was Mexican."

Has our obsession with race poisoned even our ability to read, enjoy, and appreciate classic literature? Should Steinbeck's work be weighed in Tanenhaus' scales and be found wanting? Since In Dubious Battle is a work of fiction, shouldn't the author have the privilege of casting his narrative with anyone he pleases, regardless of color and gender? Should the exclusion of any demographic be looked upon conspiratorially, as an act of overt exclusion that belies racism or prejudice?

Tanenhaus finds a comrade in political correctness in Kathryn Olmsted, whose book Right Out of California sparked Tanenhaus' take-down of In Dubious Battle. Reviewing Olmsted's book, Tanenhaus says Olmsted, "is doubtless correct that Steinbeck's 'decision to erase brown-skinned people and women of all colors from the story was political.'"

Upending both Tanenhaus' and Olmsted's implications that Steinbeck harbored anti-Mexican prejudices, one need only look at his previous novel, Tortilla Flat, published in 1935, which was a celebration of the Mexican paisanos of Monterey, California.

John Steinbeck's work speaks for itself, at least to those who invest the time in reading his books. Doing so will dispel the cloud of criticism left by the likes of Tanenhaus and Olmsted, and prove to be both enlightening and enjoyable.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Reluctance to Reread Favorite Books

I finished reading The Temple of Gold and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yeah, it had its shortcomings and disappointments, but for a first novel by a 26-year author it was a great read. It was one of those books that leave a lot of ideas rolling around in one's mind and had me eager to discuss it with someone. But since I don't know of anyone who read the book, I enjoy the "virtual book club" of reading reviews on Amazon or Good Reads.

Among the comments on Good Reads was one left by Linda Robinson back in February 2010. She awarded The Temple of Gold the full five stars and posted the below comment:

I read this book in 1970, and it had an enormous impact on me. I'm not going to read it again because I don't want it out of time. J. D. Salinger just died, and I won't reread Franny and Zooey either. I'd rather remember them both as the most amazing books I've read in my life and leave the books and their brilliantly timely authors there.

Robinson's reluctance to revisit old favorite books left me vexed. On the other hand, I sympathized with her reluctance. Like most longtime readers, she has undoubtedly been burned by going back to a youthful treasure and finding fool's gold. Such an unhappy experience happened to me a year or so ago when I reread Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse. I first read it around the age of twenty and recalled it as a profound work that deftly contrasted the life of religious faith with the life of secular indulgence. It inspired me and encouraged me along the pilgrim's path. My original copy long gone, I serendipitously chanced upon the same mid-70's Bantam paperback edition at Half Price Books one day and was overcome with nostalgia. It was like meeting an old friend. Of course I snapped it up and looked forward to rereading it, naive fellow that I was. Reading it proved to be a chore, disenchantment growing with every page. "What was so great about this book?" I asked as I plodded along, waiting for the profundidty I was so confident was in there somewhere. I never found it.


Do I regret rereading it? No. Once the initial "bummer" passed, I spun the experience as an indicator of how far I've come--in life and in literary appreciation. It also gave me a sense of urgency to reread my sentimental favorites, to weigh them in the scales and see if they're found wanting.

And that is what brings me to Salinger. Goldman's Temple of Gold is compared right on the front cover blurb to Salinger. And virtually every reviewer feels an obligation to acknowledge the similarities. I was just last Thursday in my Western Lit Survey course bemoaning how few students read or are even aware of J.D. Salinger, a man with whom every English major circa 1990 was well versed. When Salinger died in January 2010 I looked to commisserate with my Creative Writing students, but only one had heard of him and none had read him. What happened? When did young people stop reading Salinger? Or maybe I should ask. when did Salinger stop speaking to young people? Could it be that what spoke to the disaffected youth of earlier generations is irrelevant to the students of today, who as a rule don't read a great deal and when they do tend to read Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight?

All of which is to say that I'm committing to rereading the Salinger canon over the Christmas break. Unlike the Good Reads reviewer, I don't want to cling to romanticized memories when it comes to books. I don't want to be championing false gods to my students. While talking about Salinger to my students, I was startled to realize that the one and only time I read Catcher in the Rye was in the mid-1980s. I did reread Salinger's short story "A Good Day for Bananafish" last year and found it held up over time, so my hopes are high for a happy reunion with Holden Caulfield and the distinguished Glass family.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Playing Hooky, Buying Bookies!

Giving my World Civ I students a work day left me footloose and fancy free this afternoon. Idle time and a crisp $20 bill in my wallet will invariably find me in the stacks at Jackson Street Books. I always intend "just to look," but who am I kidding? After 40 minutes of browsing the paperbacks on the back wall I left thirteen bucks poorer and four books richer:

(1) The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. I love Bellow--Mr. Sammler's Planet my favorite thus far--and I buy up any I find that I haven't read (which are many). This is early Bellow from 1953. I found for three bucks a 1965 Crest Book printing that appears to have been unread. Cover blurbs are from  forgotten and fast-fading names like Clifton Fadiman, Robert Penn Warren, and Alfred Kazin. Augie March is now published as a Penguin Classic and is free from such crass commercialism (though I admit I prefer literary classic paperbacks from before they were anointed Literature, such as the 1960's Bantam paperbacks of Steinbeck's works).



(2) The Hot Gates and Other Occasional Pieces by William Golding. Golding, "author of 'Lord of the Flies,'" as the cover reminds readers, is a genre of book I've come to love: the essay and article collection. I've sought out all of John Updike's collections (still need Higher Gossip, however), and from a flip-through Golding looks like a good addition to my groaning shelves. I have Golding's Lord of the Flies and Pincher Martin, but--like so many of my books--I haven't read 'em... yet.

(3) The Temple of Gold by William Goldman. A new author find of 2012! This is one of those serendipitous stumblings upon that only happen when one is idly looking over the shelves. My eye caught a paperback of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and I thought that might make a good read. I was disappointed to see it was just a screenplay of the film by William Goldman. William Golding I know, Oscar Goldman I know, but not William Goldman. I found this, his first novel from 1957, in a nice condition black-spined 35-cent Bantam paperback (A1834 4) dating to 1958 and for only $4.00.



(4)  The Thing of It Is... by William Goldman. This is Goldman's 1967 novel and I must confess that what provoked me to pull it off the shelf was its provocative cover boasting a rather risque painting by James Bama, whose covers for Bantam's Doc Savage paperbacks I've long adored. The inside cover description sold me on it, especially this line: "The Thing of It Is... Amos McCracken's very precious, very precocious daughter just happens to look like Edward G. Robinson." Yeah, this sounds like a book I'll enjoy. This copy is a little shelf-worn but nonetheless a still nice Bantam paperback (S3706 6) dating to July 1968 when it cost its original reader a mere six bits. I got it for $3.00 and am delighted.

I started reading The Temple of Gold on my hourlong bus ride home and was immediately drawn into it. I'm up to where young Raymond Euripedes Trevitt and his pal Zock run away to Chicago. There they sit and weep through three back-to-back screenings of Gunga Din. Raymond recounts Gunga Din's heroic climb to the top of the temple of gold from where he warns the British soldiers of an impending ambush. And that scene provides the book its title.

Before 3 o'clock today I wasn't aware of this author, so I feel as if I've met a fascinating new friend. Here's hoping this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, to quote another old movie.