Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

 

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The legendary Bette Davis was born in 1908, so by the time 1964 rolled around, she wasn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore. At age 56, she wasn’t precisely finished, but it was widely acknowledged that the ‘good’ roles were mostly behind her.

The release that summer of Hush. . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte, would do little to dissuade many of that notion. To say it was not widely heralded as an instant classic by the critics, would be something of an understatement. More accurate perhaps, to say that it was widely dismissed as dreck.

Well .  .  . the critics were wrong.

The cast was stunning. Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Morehead, Cecil Kellaway, Bruce Dern, Victor Buono, George Kennedy, and Mary Astor, in her final film role. It was produced and directed by Robert Aldritch, It would be one of his few commercial disappointments.

The plot is as simple as it is timeless, and this wonderful motion-picture not only holds up well over time, but to my mind, has gotten better and better as the years have gone by. It was a cautionary tale at the time, and remains so today.

The subject was .  .  . gaslighting.  And oh yeah, not judging a book by it’s cover. And things are not necessarily what they seem. As if they ever were, in a Bette Davis film.

Charlotte Hollis, played by Davis, is a lady with a past. And about a ton of personal baggage. A tragedy in her youth  has left her, in the eyes of those who know her, a very mentally unstable character. She does little to change that perception of herself, as she ages in her childhood home, carrying a torch for a lover named John Mayhew(Bruce Dern) long dead. A man everyone assumes Charlotte has killed in a jealous rage. A man that went headless and handless to his grave, courtesy of the meat cleaver wielding killer.

The head was never found.

 

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Of course, long-missing decapitated heads have a tendency to re-appear in the movies, and old John Mayhew’s is no exception.

Charlotte’s home is slated for the wreaking-ball as progress marches on, and a new highway planned for the area. She has only a short time to leave the house, and of course, she refuses to do so, her decision enforced at the end of a rifle. No one wants to shoot the old lady, so construction is halted as reinforcements are called in.

Enter Charlotte’s cousin (Olivia de Havilland) and her partner (Joseph Cotton) to try to get old crazy Charlotte and her ever faithful housekeeper (Agnes Moorehead) out of the house.

As the inimitable Sherlock Holmes might have said .  .  . “The game is afoot.” A game that is sadistic, disgusting, and sometimes brutally sickening.

I won’t give away a shred of the ending. It’s just way too good for that. But I will tell you that it is a crackerjack ending. It made me smile as a fourteen year old kid, and it still does today, all these many decades later. It made, and makes me feel good too, and that is not a routine result in an ‘almost’ horror film.

Call it a mystery, thriller, suspense, a gothic tale with a touch of horror and a dose of the macacbre; whatever–it is riveting. Filmed in an age of Technicolor, in beautiful black and white, it is, I believe, an old film that was not well though of .  .  . that has become a classic.

Couple the suspense and atmosphere with a haunting song sang by Al Martino. It occurs throughout the film, and is practically guaranteed to make your skin crawl, and blood run cold.

Give it a watch and see if you do not agree. It is readily available on streaming service such as Netflix, and also for purchase at Amazon, both new and used. I provide an easy link for anyone interested.

 

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Next up, another great film from Bette’s golden years .  .  . Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Until then, Goodnight.

 

 

Nevada Street

An excerpt from The Reckoning – The Watchmaker – Book Three, by Lee Capp. Anticipated publication date: End of Summer, 2015

 

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We hit Nevada Street just as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. It was not a good time. It was the time of day when the rough guys come out to play. It was the time of day when bad stuff happens. I could see a couple of rough guys just down the street and on the other side.  Skulking next to an abandoned car up on cinder blocks. A couple of “ganstas.” Complete with hoodies. Bulges  in the pockets too. I didn’t think they were sacks of candy.

I figured we probably had five good minutes before the shit would start. Trouble was .  .  . Brick wanted ten.

We stood on the sidewalk in front of the old house, leaning on an ancient and rickety picket fence. I could see that Brick was lost in thought and memory. He didn’t seem to notice or care that we might just be a couple of sitting ducks. Jedediah ‘Brick’ Wahl didn’t carry weapons of any sort, and wise-guy Johnny O’Brien had left Betsy back at the hotel. I felt just a little naked and vulnerable.

“My dad was born here,” he began. “The man who created me. Well, not actually in the house. In a hospital over on Seven Mile Road. It was called Grace Hospital. Long since gone now. Torn down years ago to make way for a Home Depot .  .  . progress, I guess.”

“This was a beautiful house then, back in ’49. And a lovely street as well. Tree lined. It was like a tunnel driving through them. Dutch Elm disease killed them all. This was what we used to call a ‘neighborhood’, Johnny. Everybody knew each other. All kinds of businesses and stores and shops within just a block or two. All gone now, of course. Empty, burned-out, or bulldozed away.”

He was right. The “neighborhood” had turned into what closer resembled the surface of the moon. It was hard to see the near ruin of the building in front of me as having ever been a livable residence, much less a nice house. I couldn’t quite  squint my eyes that much. Death and destruction had long ago come to Nevada Street.

“The Detroit riots were in ’67, but it was even pretty decent back when I was a kid in the seventies,” Brick continued. “But then something happened. Something went bad. Something moved in to the city. For the want of a better word, I guess I’d have to call it ‘Evil’. Sure, you can blame the economy, blame the Democrats, General Motors, the post-industrial revolution period, or whatever else you like. But you just can’t get around the fact that the goodness here  took a hike .  .  . and Evil moved in. Most of these empty houses are used now for doing drug deals, and for the dumping of bodies after the deals go bad.”

“The houses here used to be close together. Most of them are gone now. Long ago burned down for the insurance money. I’m surprised, Johnny, that dad’s old house survived. He worked for a while right next door at a garage and gas station. It was called Ned’s. It burned down a long time ago too.”

I looked around. Where Ned’s used to be was an empty and weed-infested parking lot. On the other side of the house was a vacant space. A brief outline of what was once a basement was the only evidence that a structure had ever existed there.

Brick went on. “Right across the street, was the Detroit Bank and Trust.” Now it was a liquor store. “Around the corner I used to run to Perry’s Butcher Shop to pick up stuff for mom to make for dinner. Next to that was The Rainbow Bar. A guy with no legs used to sit right over there on the corner of Nevada and John R. and sell pencils. He did a good business too. Everyone liked him.”

Brick was in memory lane. I could see that I was going to have a tough time getting him out of it. I could also see that the two goons down the street had decided to make their move. Brick and I must have looked like easy pickings for them–a quick payday.

They had pulled their guns. A couple of rather pricey and nice looking high-capacity semi-automatics. The two ganstas held them down low, next to their sides, with their fingers on the triggers, as they hot-footed it toward us. Looked to me that this was probably not their first attempted robbery.

“Time to go Brick,” I said. “We’re about to have company.”

Brick continued to stare at the house for a few seconds more. “Are they definitely coming at us?” he asked.

“Definitely,” I said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Brick replied, as he turned to face the two rapidly approaching men.

“Why is that?” I asked.

Brick sighed. “Because I hate to hurt people.”

 

To be continued .  .  .

 

Celtic Autumn – The Origins of Halloween

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Samhain (pronounced Sow-in): The origin of Halloween can be traced to this ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago (states the Word Book Encyclopedia). “The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living.”

It hasn’t changed all that much since then. The dead still walk among us that night, joined now by Zombies, Witches, Warlocks, Werewolves, Vampires, Black Cats and various other “haunts.”

Halloween night has become very crowded indeed.

Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallow’s Evening.” Also know as Allhalloween, All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saint’s Eve. Whatever you call it, it’s pretty scary. It used to scarier still, but in the nineteen fifties, it became sort of  “family friendly.” Now it is the second most popular holiday of the year, second only to Christmas. Americans spend about six BILLION dollars buying Halloween stuff.

And that doesn’t even include the candy.

According to many scholars, Halloween is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals. In many parts of the world, religious observances of Halloween include attending Church services and lighting candles on the graves and tombstones of the dead.

The word Halloween dates to about 1745, and is of Christian origin. It is a Scottish term. Samhain is old Irish and means “The end of summer.” Indeed. Gaelic Halloween was on November the first, rather than the last day of October. I’m not exactly sure which day I prefer. Both seem somehow very apropos, either night seemingly a good one to “Rattle dem dry bones.”

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At Samhain, places were set at the dinner table for the dead. It was believed that the departed would re-visit their homes on that night, and apparently be hungry when they got there. In 19th century Ireland, candles were lit, and prayers formally said for the souls of the deceased.

In modern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Mann, and Wales, the festival includes Mumming and Guising. The adult mummers go door to door, reciting verses and singing songs in exchange for food. Guising is closest to our own tradition, with children making the rounds in disguise, searching for food or coins. The food usually consists of apples or nuts, with very little sugar.

“Trick or treat is largely America – demanding treats with menace. But then, that’s more or less the American way. One improvement we did make however, was to center the tradition largely around candy, and lots and lots of it. Chocolate is preferred.

No matter how it started, or where it came from, children the world over love it. I know that some of my very best memories of my kid-hood involve trick or treating around the neighborhood with my dad. The nights were cold and crisp. The scent of apples and cider were in the air. Dad was always by my side to ensure my safety. He was as constant as the sun rising in the morning.

Years later, when I was grown and dad was old, I would usually visit on Halloween night. I would bring about a half ton of candy, and dad would have more. We always bought a whole lot more than we knew we would distribute to the kids. But that was exactly the point. We got to eat the leftovers, as we watched an evening marathon of horror movies on the television. Old black and white monster movies were preferred.

Memories don’t get much better than that.

Dad has gone on himself to the great beyond now. I celebrate his life and his passing. And I will do it in typical (and traditional) Halloween style. As in light a candle, carve a pumpkin, eat a ton of candy, set a place for him at the dinner table, just in case he wants to drop in and is hungry when he gets there.

And just generally scare the crap out of myself and the grandkids as we watch an evenings marathon of old black and white horror flicks.

Because Halloween is, and always will be, the most wonderful (and scariest) night of the year.

Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful (and incredibly frightening) Halloween night.

We will meet again in a few days, with an excerpt from my upcoming book in The Watchmaker series, THE RECKONING.

Until then. Happy Halloween .  .  . and Happy Nightmares.

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Sunset . . . and Wyatt’s War

Young Wyatt

It’s not a very good movie in the final analysis. Mostly dreck, to tell the truth. But one of the very first scenes .  .  . well, that’s another matter.

The late, and very great  actor James Garner plays an aging Wyatt Earp in the 1988 crime comedy, Sunset.

Early on in the film, Wyatt is serving as a consultant and advisor on a Tom Mix (played by Bruce Willis) motion picture featuring the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. Mix, and the participants of the gunfights are dressed up ridiculously in overly ornate boots, spurs, chaps and ten-gallon hats. They carry pistols that are not much more than cap guns, making feeble little silly popping noises as they employ them.

They are filming the gun battle, running around in childish fashion shooting their fake pop-guns at each other, grabbing at their chests and falling over in absurd pantomime of death. It is totally inane. A troop of grade-schoolers could have done it better.

Wyatt watches all this, a faint smile playing on his face. The watcher of the film Sunset however, gets to see inside Wyatt’s head at the same time. And he’s remembering the real gunfight. The gunfight where guns boomed, where real people died, where real blood and guts flowed. Where people fell over and stayed dead–real dead. It plays in slow-motion in his memory, the dirt and the dust, the screams and shouts of the wounded and the dying, the panicked and bucking horses. Without any doubt, it is a memory of a dark day, a bloody day, a day that old Wyatt will never be able to erase from his mind. It is part of him forever.

When the scene is finished filming, Tom Mix wanders over to Wyatt, and asks how the scene went. Wyatt smiles even more broadly at the question, and replies .  .  . “Perfect boys–that’s just the way it was.”

Like I said, Sunset is a pretty crummy movie. But it’s worth watching just to see that one sequence. And maybe the rest of the movie as well, just to see the incomparable James Garner doing his thing one more time.

OK Corral after a fire.
OK Corral after a fire.
The OK Corral today.
The OK Corral today.

The well-known and much filmed real gunfight at the OK Corral happened in the mid-afternoon, October 26, 1881, one hundred and thirty-three years ago tomorrow. It happened in Tombstone, Arizona territory. It was a bloodbath. Eight participants; three ended up dead and several more seriously wounded. Only Wyatt was not harmed. But then, a bullet never touched him in his long and bloody career. He led a charmed life that way.

It happened in a very small vacant lot, and it was over in thirty seconds, something like 33 or so bullets being fired. One side made out a whole lot better than the other. The “cowboys” lost big, with three of their members buried up in Boot Hill Cemetery a couple of days later.  The Earps, and their friend John Henry “Doc” Holliday, all walked away, but Virgil and Morgan would pay a heavy price, with Virgil being crippled for life a few months later by the cowboys, and Morgan killed, shot in the back as he played pool. Doc died in bed a few years later, of tuberculosis.

For those who are interested, the gunfight was filmed best in Kevin Costner’s movie “Wyatt Earp.” It is a nearly perfect recreation,  realistic–at least as much as a movie scene can ever get to be.

Wyatt went on to  a long life, living until 1929 when he was eighty years old. But the memory of that day never left him. He would never return to Tombstone. He would never go near blood alley again, except perhaps in his nightmares. He was a haunted man until the day he died.

You see, he kind of started it. It all, the entire grudge that turned into the most famous gunfight of all time, was largely due to the machinations of one man, Wyatt Earp, gunman, lawman, sinner and saint. Take your pick. But he was also a consummate politician, running for a well-paying public office, and playing both ends against the middle to get the job. It all blew up in his face.

I often wonder if Wyatt, watching his brother Morgan’s body being lowered into the ground, wished it might have been him that died that night, and Morgan lived.

Wyatt was a circumspect man. In his later years however, he talked a lot about his Tombstone days.

But that little tidbit–he never divulged.

His dying words were .  .  . “Suppose .  .  . ”

Wyatt Earp at 80.
Wyatt Earp at 80.

Later this week .  .  . the origins of that most wonderful day of the Fall.

Halloween.



 

Tales of Enchanted October (the scariest story ever written) . . . The Monkey’s Paw

 

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The author at work.
The author at work.

His full name was William Wymark Jacobs, although he wrote his stories under the simplified handle of W. W. Jacobs. An Englishman, Mr. Jacobs was born in London, England on September 8, 1863. He would spend 79 years on the planet Earth, dying the 1st of September, 1943, still in his beloved London.

He was a short story writer and novelist. Much of his work was humorous. Much was not. His most famous story was a short one, the ever-remembered and much beloved THE MONKEY’S PAW. It was written in 1902.

Every once in a while, if a reader of fiction is really lucky, he will encounter a book so incredibly well-written, that he (or she) becomes so totally engrossed in the story, that the book in the hands seems to simply disappear. The reader enters into the story, becoming for all intents and purposes, a participant.

So it is with Mr. Jacobs’ most wonderful story of the paw. And it doesn’t seem to matter if you are reading it for the first time, or the fifteenth. It’s power to capture and hold the reader’s imagination is just that great. It is, to my mind at least, and in my very humble opinion, the scariest story ever written.

The entire story, which is not very long, is readily available on the internet, it having gone into public domain long ago. For any lover of horror, I would suggest reading the complete work, and basking for a short period of time, in the genius of the master. The best of modern-day horror genre novelists, mostly have their roots in this gentleman’s work. Lover’s of the work of Stephen King take note.

In the story, three wishes are granted to the owner of the monkey’s paw, but the wishes come with an enormous price-tag for interfering with fate. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, as the old saying goes.

The story involves an old couple, Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son Herbert. He works in a factory, around a lot of machinery. Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend of the Whites, and a veteran of the British Army in India, visits. He brings with him a dried monkey paw, a paw that contains a curse put on, “by an old Indian Fakir.” “A very holy man,” according the  Sergeant-Major, he wanted to show that fate ruled people’s live, and those who interfere, do so to their sorrow.

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The paw comes with three wishes. The old Sergeant-Major, has had very bad experiences with his wishes, and throws the paw into the fire. Mr. White rescues it, thinking he could use a little cash. He wishes for 200 English pounds, which he gets a day or two later when his son Herbert is killed in a horrific accident at the factory. The 200 pounds is a goodwill gesture from the factory owners.

The poor boy has been thoroughly mangled by the machinery. His father can only identify him by the clothing he was wearing. The man, horrified by what he has done, which was basically trading his son’s life for money, attempts to destroy the paw again. Mrs. White interferes this time, and uses the paw to wish her dead son back to life. It is an ill-considered desire.

Remember, he’s been buried for ten days. Not very pretty, huh? Well, he’s on his way home.

I won’t give away the ending. I couldn’t begin to do justice to the late, and very great genius of the master story teller, Mr. W. W. Jacobs. He probably had more “diabolical” in his little finger, than I have in my entire body.

Give it a read before Halloween. Better yet, wait for that wonderful dark and crisp last day of October. Wait until late at night, when all the kiddies have gone home. When the witches fly. When the black cats scream. When ghosts rule the night.

When the dead make their way back home from the Cemetery.

Light up the fireplace. Lower the lights. Settle in with this story. And whatever you do, don’t look over your shoulder. Not even when you hear that faint and mild tapping at the door.

A change of pace for the weekend. A hundred and thirty-three years later .  .  .  back to the alley. Back to the gunfight at the OK Corral.

In the meantime, good reading. And many happy nightmares.

W. W. Jacobs
W. W. Jacobs

 

 

 

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