Sunday, October 19, 2014

Psychotronic Zone: The Ape

By Ed Garea

The Ape (Monogram, 1940) Director: William Nigh. Writers: Adam Shirk (play). Curt Siodmak (adaptation and s/p), Richard Carroll (s/p). Cast: Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon, Gene O’Donnell, Dorothy Vaughn, Gertrude Hoffman, Henry Hall, Selmer Jackson, & Philo McCollough. B&W, 62 minutes.

And you thought only Bela Lugosi made movies this dumb.” Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.

In 1938, Boris Karloff signed a six-film deal with Monogram Studios. The Ape was the final picture under the contract, and possibly the worst of Karloff’s career. The screenplay was co-written by Curt Siodmak, adapted from Adam Shirk’s 1927 play of the same name. We have one first-rate actor and screenwriter working on the film. So what went wrong? Simple, it was made by Monogram.

Karloff is Dr. Bernard Adrian, a kindly doctor in the town of Red Creek. But though he’s a very kindly doctor, he keeps to himself, immersed in research for a cure for polio. Because of his reclusive ways, the good folk of the town distrust him. Some proclaim that he should be run out of town and circulate rumors that he used his patients as guinea pigs for his experiments. In one scene, the good doctor is at a shop where the shopkeeper warns him that a mob is forming because of the missing dogs in the neighborhood and the constant rumors about his experiments. This is a scene from which we’re expecting some sort of action against the good doctor, but it just stops there and goes no further. The Ape is full of scenes such as this, which promise much and deliver nothing. Could it have been an editing of the original script, or just plain laziness? Who knows?

Even the kids in town despise the doc, throwing rocks through his windows when he’s not home. Now the doc doesn’t have many patients, but he does have one special patient. She’s Frances Clifford (Wrixon) and she’s suffering from polio, which the Doc has vowed to cure. He takes special interest in Frances, as she reminds him of his late daughter. On his latest visit, he gives her a jewelry case that belonged to his daughter, remarking that she would have turned 18 this very day and the jewelry case was to have been her birthday gift. Dr. Adrian lost both his wife and daughter to polio, hence his determination. Talking with both Frances and her mother (Vaughn), Adrian suggests that Frances get out more. A circus has recently come to town, and that would be perfect entertainment. At that moment, Frances’s boyfriend, Danny Foster (O’Donnell) shows and Frances suggests the excursion to him.

From the opening credits suggesting a circus, we are led to believe this is a film about a circus, but no such luck, as we’ll see. Actually, the real reason for the circus is to introduce our other main player. While Danny and Frances are enjoying the acts, we cut to another section, where we see a gorilla in a cage. It’s in the process of being taunted by its handler (the unbilled I. Stanford Jolley). Seems he hates the beast because it killed his father. As the handler is also drunk, we can quickly figure where this is going. You guessed it the ape reaches through the bars and returns the favor. The cigar in the handler’s mouth drops into the nearby hay, starting a fire and enabling the gorilla to escape.

The injured handler is brought to the doctor’s place. Dr. Adrian has his maid, Jane (Hoffman), help him bring the wounded man back to his laboratory. After everyone else has left, the doc gets to work. While his patient is begging Doc not to let him die, Doc gives him a spiel about how he’s about to make history. Adrian then sticks a syringe into the man’s spine and draws out his spinal fluid, and that’s that for our handler. The next day, Adrian visits Frances, telling her that he has developed a radical new form of treatment. It’ll be painful, he warns, but when it’s all over she’ll be able once more to walk. She’s all for it and he injects her in the back.

Less than a day later, Frances tells Adrian that she feels heaviness in her legs, in which she never had any feeling since becoming ill years before. Adrian is ecstatic, and rejoices later in his lab. Unfortunately, in the midst of his reveries, the vial with the magic fluid rolls off the table and shatters on the floor. Uh-oh.

What to do? In such a film as this I need not remind anyone of the next twist in the plot. Of course the ape, being hunted by Sheriff Halliday (Hall) and his posse, breaks into Adrian’s lab, probably looking for his ex-handler. In one of the great preposterous scenes in B-dom (or B-Dumb), the Doctor, who looks as if he’d have trouble punching his way out of a wet paper bag manages to outwrestle the ape, crack him on the noggin with a bottle of anesthetic, and when the monkey is three sheets to the wind, knife him in the heart from behind. Now, lest that seem unbelievable, what happens next will really boggle the mind. Adrian skins the ape and uses both the ape’s skin and head as a disguise in order to obtain more spinal fluid. Again, to quote Weldon, “What a brilliant idea! Nobody would notice a gorilla killing people!”

The first victim of the “ape” is an adulterous banker. Before his untimely demise we were introduced to him in what seems to be an attempt at a sub-plot. His villainy is played up during a scene with his wife, where he turns down her dinner of lamb stew and dumplings, telling her he’ll eat out. “I wish you wouldn’t keep on going here where we live,” she whines, knowing full well what he’s up to. She then tells him that she doesn’t want to be pitied; she has no one but him, no folks and nowhere to go all of it falling on deaf ears. Of course, after his body is found, the townsfolk are saying how sorry they feel for his widow. The townsfolk also learn that the ape must be prowling nocturnally.

Meanwhile, Adrian gives Frances another shot of his newly obtained serum. But he has some problems. The first is Frances’s boyfriend, Danny. It seems he can’t get it through his thick skull how anything that causes Frances such pain could be helping her. "I don't like things I don't understand," he tells Frances. A bigger problem is another doctor from out of town, a Dr. McNulty (Jackson), who Sheriff Halliday has brought in as coroner and medical examiner in the gorilla case. McNulty notices the syringe marks on the backs of the victims. This gets him to thinking, and we learn that he and Adrian go way back together back to a research foundation that expelled Adrian years ago for his questionable experiments. Even back then Adrian was consumed by the idea that spinal fluid from healthy people might just result in a cure, and it seems he was no more discerning where he obtained it than he is now.

So, is the jig up for Adrian? Of course not: this is a B-movie made by Monogram, so when shown evidence in the person of Frances, who can now move her foot slightly, that such a controversial experiment did work, McNulty just doesn’t back off. No, he offers to let Adrian return to his old job with the foundation, but Adrian blows him off, saying it’s too late.

However, there now arises one problem Adrian has failed to anticipate. It seems that the sheriff, despite all his dimwittedness, has figured out that his bloodhounds go nutzoid whenever they come near Adrian or his domicile. Adrian had earlier deflected the hounds’ suspicions by claiming they were sniffing his insect repellent, the late handler’s coat, it was that time of the month, yada, yada, yada. Nevertheless, the sheriff is certain that something is going on around Adrian’s house, so he stations his deputies where they can both keep a close watch on the house and the surrounding woods.

Adrian tries one more attack, but only gets knifed for his efforts. While running back to his house, he is shot on the doorstep, and everyone now learns it was Dr. Adrian in the ape suit all the time. Adrian raises his head to see Frances take her first steps and then dies. Frances and Danny share the final scene, as Frances can now walk and has burned her wheelchair.

As we have seen, the plot is nothing short of idiotic. So how about the acting? Considering the leads, Gene O’Donnell comes off as entirely wooden. Maris Wrixon is good, considering she doesn’t have much to do. But it’s Karloff who shines and makes this worth watching. It seems that no matter how lousy the film is, how utterly worthless, Karloff always gives his all. Were it John Carradine or Bela Lugosi trapped in such a mess, they would have mugged their way through, but not Karloff; he always gives a dignified performance and nothing less than 100%, even if the vehicle he’s in isn’t worth his time. And it’s the case here Karloff plays Dr. Adrian not as mad, but with as single-minded with the best of intentions. He wants to cure Frances no matter what, and the people he kills along the way were not of the best moral fiber, not that it excuses killing, but the way the film positions its characters, it relieves Karloff of real malicious intent, instead presenting us with a totally misguided altruism.

The supporting roles are filled with Poverty Row veterans like Henry Hall (Kid Dynamite with the East Side Kids, The Ape ManGirls in ChainsThe Return of the Rangers, and Voodoo Man among his appearances) and Selmer Jackson (Bowery BoyDick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc.Paper BulletsDillinger, and Black Market Babies, among others). These were actors who gave average performances in below-average films. The man in the ape suit is none other than Ray “Crash” Corrigan, here in an unbilled role as both the ape and Dr. Adrian in the ape suit (it was too heavy for the slightly-built Karloff to don). Corrigan was both an actor, not famed for his Westerns, and a stuntman that owned his own ape suit. Other stuntmen famous for playing apes were Charles Gemora (Road to ZanzibarCharlie Chan at the CircusThe Monster and the Girl, and Africa Screams) and George Barrows (Gorilla at Large, and the unforgettable Robot Monster), who owned a gorilla costume which he rented to producers.

William Nigh, Monogram’s house director, helmed The Ape. To say he was prolific is somewhat of an understatement, as he directed 121 features in his career, which began with Salomy Jane in 1914 and ended with Stage Struck in 1948 (his retirement), mostly for Poverty Row studios. He was renowned for his assembly-line approach to film-making, and made movies in almost every genre, whether action, Westerns, musicals, comedies, dramas, war films, mysteries, and even film noir. (So much for auteur theory.) His films with Bela Lugosi and the East Side Kids have become cult classics, and he was familiar to Karloff as the only director the actor worked with while at Monogram. Ironically, his 1918 feature, My Four Years in Germany, was such a hit that it established Warner Brothers as a major player in Hollywood.

Faces In The Crowd: Maris Wrixon

Born Mary Alice Wrixon on December 28, 1916, in Pasco, Washington, Wrixon has 64 film and television credits to her name, yet she’s practically unknown today.

With only a bit of theatrical background, she signed with Warner Brothers in 1939. She had the necessary endowments and beauty to take her to stardom, yet her career at Warner’s never got off the ground. She appeared in 13 films in ’39, and 12 in ’40, mostly as an unbilled background character or given a line or two at best. When not in the studio, she modeled for numerous women’s magazines, such as Vogue, where she appeared on the cover. She was reportedly a favorite of George Hurrell, Sr., Hollywood’s premier glamour photographer.

Wrixon did eventually move up playing leads in such B-movies as The Case of the Black Parrot (1941, opposite William Lundigan) and Bullets for O’Hara (1941, with Roger Pryor and Anthony Quinn). She also had good roles in features such as Footsteps in the Dark (1941, starring Errol Flynn and Brenda Marshall) and Million Dollar Baby (1941, starring Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn). When not working at Warner Bros., she found herself loaned to Republic, where she worked with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and the Weavers, and Monogram, which she described as “being in a foxhole.”

Warner Bros. released her in 1942, and except for a couple of films at Universal, she worked on Poverty Row. Her last film, As You Were, with William Tracy and Joe Sawyer, was made for R&L Productions and distributed by Lippert in 1951. She then worked guest spots in such television shows as The Cisco KidBoston BlackieSea Hunt, and The Untouchables until her retirement in 1963. Her personal life was more of a success: from January 28, 1940, until her death on October 6, 1999, from heart failure, she was married to German émigré film editor Rudi Fehr.

Trivia: Nigh had previously directed a version of The Ape as House of Mystery in 1934 (again for Monogram).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: Dracula Untold

Of Dracula and Rare Steak Or Never Take a Vampire to a Steakhouse

By Steve Herte

When I was a teenager I had a passion for building models, mostly model cars. I had a Cadillac, a Lincoln Continental, a Corvette Stingray, a Toronado, an Avanti, and a Chevrolet Impala. I customized them and painted them in great detail. I wonder where they went? Then I got into ships, but I stopped after the Aircraft Carrier Shangri-La - too many parts. It was simpler to build the models of the Universal Studios monster collection. Number one of these was Dracula (the Bela Lugosi model), which was easy to do because it came in black plastic and I only had to fill in the pale face and red cape inside, and minimal painting before display. But all of these are in the past with only the memories remaining. I still think vampires are cool, but I'm not sure I'd like to be one. The only thing you get to eat or drink is blood. I like my restaurants too much to give up food for immortality. Which brings me to Dinner and a Movie. Enjoy!

Dracula Untold (Universal, 2014) Director: Gary Shorte. Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless (s/p). Based on characters created by Bram Stoker. Cast: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Diarmaid Murtagh, Paul Kaye, William Houston, Noah Huntley, Ronan Vibert, Zach McGowan, Ferdinand Kingsley, Joseph Long, Thor Kristjansson, & Jakub Gierszal. Color, 92 minutes.

"Sometimes people need a hero, and sometimes they need a Monster."

Having read Bram Stoker’s original story of “Dracula,” “Nosferatu,” all of Anne Rice’s tales of the vampire Lestat, and having seen all the incarnations of Dracula from Bela Lugosi (still the best) through Max Shreck, Louis Jourdan and George Hamilton, I was eager to see the movie that explains where it all began. Granted, Lestat had his own beginnings back in ancient Egypt, but it’s the inspiration for the legend of Dracula (Son of the Dragon), that this Universal film relates.

For this we must go back to the mid to late 15th Century in Romania, where Vlad Tepes III (Evans) is king. The Ottoman Turks are advancing into Europe and are about to attack Hungary and Austria. Romania has been paying tribute to Turkey to avoid war. Vlad’s father paid a human tribute of 1,000 young boys for the Turkish army, but Vlad will do anything to keep his people safe.

When a battalion of Turkish soldiers venture onto and inside Broken Tooth Mountain, they are mysteriously slain to a man. The Sultan thinks it was Vlad and his troops and sends an emissary to collect the tribute, plus 1,000 boys (including his son) to fill his ranks. Vlad tries to reason with his old friend Mehmed (Cooper). They became friends when Vlad’s father sent him to the Turks along with the 1,000 boys the first time around. His prowess and violent methods in battle won him the title “Vlad the Impaler.” But now that his kingdom is at peace he wishes it to stay that way. Mehmed, however, is unmoved.

A small contingent of soldiers comes to pick up the boy and Vlad kills them all in a whirlwind of swordplay. Mehmed is really mad now, and sends a large army after Vlad. The Romanian people accuse their king of starting a war they cannot win. But Vlad has an idea. He had met the creature living in Broken Tooth Mountain in an earlier scene where a Turkish helmet washes downstream from the peak and, investigating the cause, he and his men enter a cave. The remains of the Turkish battalion are scattered all over the floor of the cave when the creature attacks. Vlad loses a man, but was spared by the daylight streaming into the mouth of the cave. He knows that this monster has a secret to his power and that he might gain that power to vanquish the Turks.

Vlad climbs back up the mountain to the cave and confronts the Master Vampire (Dance) with his dilemma. The creature breaks a skull open, slashes his wrist with his teeth and pours his blood into the skull bowl. He tells Vlad to drink it and he will gain the awesome power of the Master Vampire. If he can resist the thirst for human blood for three days he will revert to his normal self. If he cannot resist, he will remain a vampire forever and the Master Vampire will be freed from his mountain prison. Vlad drinks.

From then on the movie is a computer-graphic joyride. Vlad discovers his new powers quickly and uses the capability of dispersing into a colony of bats and reforming to slay an army of 1,000 men solo. Vlad tells his men not to relate what happened on that battlefield.

But Mehmed figures out what Vlad has done and sends 10,000 men after him.

What does a vampire do when his men are hopelessly outnumbered and he can only fight at night? Well, he calls upon the millions of bats living in his country to do some of the fighting for him, creates a huge thunderstorm to enable him to fight in the daytime, and makes his entire people into vampires (except for his wife and son) to completely decimate the Turkish horde. Unfortunately, he loses his wife in a plunge from the highest tower of the monastery (where his people took refuge) and she begs him to drink her blood with her dying breath. Ergo, he’s a vampire forever and the Master is released.

Dracula Untold is a typical blockbuster-style movie, grand in scale and with a lot of fast action. It’s not the scary Dracula story we all know, but it’s a good concept for a prequel. Evans is much better looking than any of the pictures of Vlad Tepes, but that’s Hollywood. It’s quite jarring to hear Mehmed drop the Turkish accent and sound Russian several times, and the Castle Dracula looks more like Notre Dame Cathedral than a castle in the Carpathians. The special effects are great. Needless to say, there is a lot of bloodshed and impaling (parents, this is where your good sense comes in). There are also primal growls from the vampires and bone-crunching sounds when they bite.

The theater, for the first time in a long time, was almost full with a wide range of ages. In the last scene of the movie I heard someone say, “Sequel.” The scene is modern day Romania, castle Dracula is a tourist attraction, Vlad, who was saved by Shkelgim (McGowan), meets a beautiful blonde flower sales girl named Mina. This is where I came in.

Rating: 3 ½ Martini glasses out of 5.

The Strip House Next Door
11 East 12th StreetNew York

There’s nothing like a good old vampire movie to make one hungry for a rare steak and, two blocks from the theater at Union Square, the opportunity exists to have one. The Strip House is a 14-year old establishment in Greenwich Village at 13 East 12th, and the adjacent downstairs location (once a speakeasy) is its 2½-year-old offspring, “Next Door.” Sheltered from the garish red neon sign and black awning of the parent restaurant by a tree in autumn color, it’s only 10 steps down from the sidewalk.

Inside all is red-flocked wallpaper and photos of famous actresses as pin-up girls, and if you look closely, the pattern of the flocking on the walls is composed of female forms as well. A cheery young blonde girl in a black dress wearing killer lace stockings greeted me at the Captain’s Station and led me to the “perfect” table at the end of the bar. The intimate space comprises some 20-odd tables in addition to the massive bar. The lighting is low, but not dark, and there are votive candles in red glass on the white-clothed tables.

The equally cheery young man who would become my server welcomed me and took both my water preference and cocktail order as he presented me with the menu and separate wine book. He reappeared with my Beefeater martini before bringing the water and made witty note of the odd situation. I did my best W.C. Fields and told him, “I don’t really drink water. Fish DO IT in it.” He laughed and went to get the water.

Meanwhile, another server brought a silver bowl of homemade potato chips (complete with dip) as an Amuse-bouche and the breadbasket – one roll and a pretzel breadstick (that went first). I told my server I already felt spoiled. He recited the daily specials and left me to decide.

After a little while, sipping my perfect martini I choose three courses and a side. The menu was surprisingly simple. To start, I chose the Lobster Bisque – Maine lobster, pearl couscous, and a dollop of sour cream. It arrived without a spoon. I looked around to see if I missed it but . . . no. My server hurriedly produced one with, “This usually comes with this dish.” We both laughed. The bisque was smooth, hot and creamy and the pearl couscous at the bottom was a pleasant surprise.

The wine book was impressive in amount of pages and after hysterically giggling at the huge number of outrageously priced bottles I found the reasonable ones at the back of the book. There I found a 2011 Bucklin Bambino Zinfandel from Sonoma County, which was exactly what I needed. It was full-bodied without being overbearing and a rich red color.

My second course was a plate of oysters, three East Coast, three West Coast. They were deliciously fresh and cold, served on a bed of ice and accompanied by both a vinegar sauce and a horseradish sauce. Another server saw me taking pictures of my food and asked if I wanted a photo of myself with the oysters. (Another light-hearted moment.)

The main course (and the thing I craved after the Dracula movie) was a special of the day, a 14-ounce, bone-in Filet Mignon (On second thought, doesn’t the bone cancel out the Filet part?). It was a good inch and a half high blackened crisp on the outside and bright red on the inside, just the way I like it.

Sharing the plate was a head of baked garlic with a tree of rosemary sprouting from its center. The side dish was one I craved since I saw it on the website, Crispy Goose Fat Fries. I had no idea what this dish would look like. It was a baseball-sized crispy brown-coated ball of potatoes crowned with rosemary leaves. It was tasty but could have used less rosemary and more goose fat – something I noted to my server.

I was rapidly becoming sated but enjoying myself nevertheless when dessert time arrived. “The cheesecake’s on the house!” announced my server, and I agreed. But the slice of fluffy cheese on a graham cracker crust proved to be too much for me and I had them box half of it to go. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t even have room for espresso or an after-dinner drink. I called for the check.

The Strip House Next Door is a pretty, definitely cheery, little steakhouse, and comes in at number 92 on my database of steakhouses. But it ranks up in the top 20 as far as enjoyment goes and food quality. I may go back with a guest because, when my server was listing the specials he mentioned a 40-ounce T-Bone. I’m dying to see what that looks like but I don’t think I can finish it alone.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for October 16-31

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


We continue with Janet Leigh, the Star of the Month for October. While most of the programming scheduled for the two remaining days of her reign is mediocre, there are three classics definitely worth watching.

October 22: The pick of the night airs at 2:15 in the morning. It’s John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), one of the better horror films on the ‘80s, and one certainly worth a view.

October 23: The fun spills over into the next morning at 6:00 am with Leigh in one film she would have liked to have forgotten, the abysmal Night of the Lepus (1972). She and Stuart Whitman are married scientists seeking a serum to control rabbit breeding. Instead they have created a formula that causes the rabbits to grow to gigantic proportions. Imagine - hordes of pet bunnies on the loose, accompanied by the occasional stuntman in a bunny suit to inflict damage of unsuspecting humans. Yes, it’s an all-time laff riot and demands to be seen in all its “glory.”

October 29: Two great classics with Leigh are airing tonight. At 8:00 pm, it’s Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and at 10:00 pm, it’s Orson Welles’s overlooked classic, Touch of Evil (1958).


Each Friday night this month, except Halloween, TCM will run films about Africa or shot in Africa.

October 17: There are three excellent films scheduled, beginning at 8:00 pm with MGM’s remake of King Solomon’s Mines (1950), starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger. The incredible Trader Horn (1931) follows at 10:00 pm, where Great White hunters Harry Carey and Duncan Renaldo travel deep into the jungle to trade wares with the locals and find themselves captured by a bloodthirsty tribe ruled by White Goddess Edwina Booth. You have to see it to believe it, but it’s great fun if not taken seriously.

Airing at 12:15 am is Mountains of the Moon (1990), an intelligent look at the competition between British explorers Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke to find the source of the Nile River.

October 24: A night of heralded films begins at 8:00 pm, with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Danish writer Isak Dinesen’s autobiographical tale, Out of Africa (1985). Following at 10:45 is Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist (1988), another film based on a true-life story. This time it’s the story of naturalist Dian Fossey and her ultimately fatal struggle to save the gorillas of Rwanda from poachers.

At 1:00 am, it’s The English Patient (1996), a strange tale of a badly burned man who remembers a tragic wartime romance. It won Juliette Binoche an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in one of Oscar’s biggest upsets. The overwhelming favorite going in was Lauren Bacall for her role in The Mirror Has Two Faces.

And, wrapping up at the wee hour of 4:00 am is the classic sequel, Tarzan and His Mate (1934).


October 18: One can always make room for a classic, even if one has seen it umpteen times, and if the classic is John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). John Wayne is amazing in his portrayal of an Indian-hating Civil War veteran searching for his niece, kidnapped by Comanches many years ago. Anyone who thinks the big glom couldn’t act should check this one out at 10:00 pm and eat crow.

October 19: An excellent double feature from Spain comes our way with El Sur (1983) at 2:45 am, followed by The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) at 4:30. The former is a moving story of a young girl living in an isolated northern Spanish town. She is in awe of her father, and gradually comes to realize that he has a great secret and the realization that this secret is the center of his life while she is only a facet of that life. What this great secret is becomes her mission to find out.

The Spirit of the Beehive is an acclaimed film about two innocent young girls who see Frankenstein at a special showing in their village. The power of the film causes them to embark upon a mission to find the monster. It is a wonderful evocation of village life and the imagination of childhood that will keep viewers mesmerized throughout. It’s one to catch.

October 25: A very strange and interesting film is on the agenda at the late hour of 2:30 am. It is called Ciao! Manhattan, an avant-garde film from 1972 directed by John Palmer and David Weisman and starring the late, tragic, counterculture idol, Edie Sedgwick. It could be called a semi-autobiographical tale, as it follows the life and career of young Susan Superstar (Sedgwick) through her time as one of Andy Warhol’s Superstars. Using actual audio recordings of Sedgwick's account of her time in Warhol’s Factory in New York City, and coupled with clips from the original unfinished script started in 1967, the film captures the deterioration of Edie Sedgwick, aka Susan Superstar. It is not only a requiem to Edie Sedgwick, Warhol’s first superstar, but also to the New York Underground scene, which blossomed on the ‘60s and died from its own excesses.


On October 21, TCM is devoting an entire night to the films of director Edgar G. Ulmer. Ulmer, known as the director who did the most with the least, was the Auteur of Poverty Row. Not that he particularly wanted to work there, he was blackballed by the Hollywood studios in the mid-‘30s as a consequence of his affair with Shirley Alexander, wife of producer Max Alexander of Universal, a nephew of Universal’s president, Carl Laemmle. Shirley divorced Alexander to marry Ulmer and remained his wife until his death in 1972. Ulmer worked everywhere in the low-budget world, from films in Yiddish to fly-by-night production companies. He hooked up with PRC in the ‘40s, the largest studio he would work for, and created several minor masterpieces while there. Anyway we put it, Ulmer was an interesting character, and his films are always interesting to watch.

The night begins at 8:00 pm with the PRC drama Her Sister’s Secret (1946), a weeper about a woman who becomes pregnant by her soldier lover, who takes a powder. She gives the child to her sister only to have the lover return intent on having a family.

At 9:30, it’s a wonderful documentary about Ulmer’s films and influence, Edgar G. Ulmer -- The Man Off-Screen (2005). At 10:45 pm, it’s Carnegie Hall (1947), a story of a young piano prodigy and his stage mother. Following at 1:15 am is Murder Is My Beat (1955), a nice little quickie from Allied Artists about detectives’ search for the killer of a businessman.

Detour (1945), widely regarded as Ulmer’s masterpiece, airs afterward at 2:45 am. Then, it’s The Amazing Transparent Man (1960), which may just by Ulmer’s worst film: a story of a gangster who can become invisible. The less said, the better.


October 16: As part of the Special Theme - Ghost Stories, TCM is airing the superior horror-comedy, The Ghost Breakers (1940), with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, at 8:00 pm. The other interesting films of the night are two spook comedies from The Bowery Boys, beginning at 2:15 am: Ghost Chasers(1951), and Spook Busters (1946).

October 18: Tune in at 2:30 am for director John Carpenter’s updating of Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo in an urban setting - Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).

October 23: An excellent double-bill of ghost stories beginning at 8:00 pm with The Innocents (1961), based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, and at 10:00 pm, Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey in the superior ghost story, The Uninvited (1944).

October 26: It’s Lon Chaney’s silent horror-comedy, The Monster (1925), at 12:45 am, followed by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic thriller, Diabolique(1955), at 2:15 am.

October 28: It’s an entire day of horror films. The best of the bunch begins with Bela Lugosi in Columbia’s The Return of the Vampire (1944). At 8 pm, it’s Ealing’s classic anthology Dead of Night (1945), and at 12:15 am the anthology Kwaidan (1965) from Japan.

October 30: Films worth catching include the unintentional comedy I Was a Communist For The F.B.I. (1951) at 3:45 pm, The House on Haunted Hill(1958) at 8:00 pm, and The Haunting (1963) at 1:00 am.

October 31: A good day for horror films. Try Carnival of Souls (1962) at 4:45 pm, Repulsion (1965) at 6:15 pm, the original Night of the Living Dead(1968) at 8:00 pm, and Curse of the Demon (1958) at 10:00 pm.

Finally, at 5:00 am, it’s one of the most exotic and disturbing films from France, Eyes Without a Face (1959). Directed by Georges Franju, it’s the story of a surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) who kidnaps young women and grafts their faces onto that of his disfigured daughter (Edith Scob). It’s a “can’t miss” if you’ve never seen it and a “must see again” if you have.

Monday, October 13, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for October 15-22

October 15–October 22


I CONFESS (October 17, 10:00 am): How great was Alfred Hitchcock at directing? This 1953 film is excellent and it barely makes it into his 10 best movies. Montgomery Clift, an under-appreciated but outstanding actor, plays a priest who can't say anything about a murder because the killer told him about it during confession. To top it off, Clift's character becomes the main suspect in the crime. Hitchcock had issues with Clift while making the film because he wasn't comfortable working with method actors - even Clift who was easily the best from that concept of acting. However, you would never know it as the film is well paced with extraordinary acting and the master directing it.

THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (October 19, 4:30 am): A wonderful Spanish film, released in 1973, about two very young girls living in the time shortly after that nation's civil war when the army of Gen. Francisco Franco defeated Republican forces. The movie was made toward the end of Franco's reign and some have called it a commentary on Franco's time ruling Spain. Maybe, but it's much more than that. The two girls are greatly affected after watching 1931's Frankenstein and their imaginations run wild with one believing an escaped Republican soldier she discovers is the film's Monster. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote this movie "is at once lucid and enigmatic, poised between adult longing and childlike eagerness, sorrowful knowledge and startled innocence." That's a somewhat heavy concept, but having seen the film, it's a pretty accurate description.

THE GHOST BREAKERS (October 16, 8:00 am): Place Bob Hope as a cowardly guy on the run from the Mob alongside lovely Paulette Goddard, give them a spooky place to investigate, along with plenty of suspicious characters and unexplained events along the way, and we have a funny and entertaining film. The year before this film was made, 1939, Hope and Goddard starred in a remake of The Cat and the Canary. The film was an unexpected hit, and both patrons and exhibitors alike called for Paramount to reteam the duo in another one just like the first. So the studio found another old script that had been filmed a few times, updated it, and turned it into The Ghost Breakers. Hope is a radio columnist who has to leave town to escape the wrath of the Mob. He hides in the hotel room of heiress Goddard, using her trunk to leave the hotel. She’s bound for Cuba to claim her inheritance of a haunted castle, and Hope is now along for the ride. With him is his valet, played by the inimitable Willie Best, and together with Goddard unravel the mystery surrounding the castle. The sets are sumptuous, especially the castle, and the photography by Charles Lang is superb. The film made even more money than its predecessor and started a trend in Hollywood to make more Old Dark House comedy/mysteries. Even those who don’t especially care for Bob Hope may end up liking this one.

DETOUR (October 21, 2:45 am): It’s one of the most vaunted film noirs ever made; a cult classic that first gained its reputation in France and quickly spread to American film buffs. It was also one of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s favorite films, and looking at the existential irony that propels much of the film, that is no surprise. The myth that now surrounds the film is such that we are now led to believe it was shot by director Edgar G. Ulmer over three days for about $100. Of course, that’s exaggerating some, but Ulmer was known for his ability to stretch the most from the least. For instance, a simple street lamp in a fog-enshrouded studio represents New York City, and a drive-in restaurant and a used-car lot symbolize Los Angeles. The story itself is a simple one: Al Roberts, an unemployed piano player, is hitching it from New York to Los Angeles, where his girlfriend is as singer. When he hits Arizona, a dissolute gambler picks him up and relates a story about a female hitchhiker he had picked up earlier. Shortly after he dies of a heart attack. Al, panicked, leaves his body by the side of the road and takes his car. He stops to pick up a female hitchhiker, and the nightmare begins, for not only is she the hitcher referred to earlier, but also she’s as venomous as a room full of scorpions. This is a film that, if you haven’t yet seen it, you should make room on your recorder. It’s highly entertaining, and the performances by Tom Neal, and especially by Ann Savage as the Hitchhiker From Hell, are classics of Noir. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth catching again, just for the hell of it and to see a master craftsman at work.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . HIGH ANXIETY (October 19, 4:00 pm):

ED: A. There was a period from 1974, with Blazing Saddles, to 1983, with To Be Or Not To Be, when everything Mel Brooks touched turned to gold. High Anxiety, made in 1977, is another of Brooks’s spoofs of genre films. He had already made Blazing Saddles, a spoof of Westerns, Young Frankenstein, a spoof of horror films, and Silent Movie, spoofing the days of the silents. High Anxiety is a very clever spoof of Alfred Hitchcock. Brooks takes familiar Hitchcock plots and adds his very special kind of low humor. For Hitchcock fans, the delight of the film is to see which of the Old Master’s films is being spoofed at that moment. The setting for the film is straight out of Spellbound, where, instead of “Green Manor,” the mental hospital is named “The Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous.” Brooks’s character, Dr. Richard Thorndyke, suffers from vertigo, which he calls "High Anxiety,” hence the title. And the hospital is one where we can’t tell who is loonier, the doctors or the patients. It’s a wonderful, funny poke at the plot devices and conventions of Hitchcock done in a most reverential and loving way. Brooks is aided and abetted in the film by his usual cast of zanies: Harvey Kormann, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, Charlie Callas, and the superbly talented Madeline Kahn, who almost steals the picture. It’s one of my favorite Mel Brooks films, and a lot more entertaining than the recent spate of films about Hitchcock that made their way to the screen in 2012.

DAVID: C. This film is neither entertaining nor clever. High Anxiety had a few amusing moments, but overall it wasn't a funny movie in 1977 and is even less funny today. The spoofs of Alfred Hitchcock films are mostly juvenile, such as pigeons pooping on Mel Brooks' character rather than attacking in an attempted parody of The Birds. It's campy, corny, uneven and I can't help but groan at times at the simplicity of most of the spoofs. The film had potential, but failed to live up to it largely because of the weak plot. One of the bright spots is a funny set-up of the shower scene in Psycho. Also, some of the performances, such as Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman, save this film from being a total disaster. But High Anxiety isn't up to the quality of two of Brooks' other parodies, Young Frankenstein and Silent Movie though it's not as awful as Spaceballs, which doesn't say much.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The B-Hive: Don't Turn 'em Loose

RKO's Almost Breakout Star

By Ed Garea

Don’t Turn ‘em Loose (RKO, 1936) - Director: Ben Stoloff. Writers: Thomas Walsh (story), Harry Segall & Ferdinand Reyher (s/p). Cast: Lewis Stone, James Gleason, Bruce Cabot, Louise Latimer, Betty Grable, Grace Bradley, Nella Walker, Gordon Jones, & Addison Randall. B&W, 65 minutes.

By 1936, most of the themes for gangster films had been worked and reworked seemingly to death. Looking for new ground to tread, RKO’s Don’t Turn ‘em Loose takes a look at the parole system and the corruption and incompetence within.

The film boasts a good, solid cast, with Lewis Stone receiving top billing, backed by the capable James Gleason and Bruce Cabot. Stone plays a school superintendent, but his appointment to the parole board will remind viewers of his popular role as Judge Hardy. Nella Walker, as his wife, has a strong resemblance to Fay Holder, who plays Mrs. Hardy in the MGM series, and I would think her casting was intentional if this film were released in 1939. Stone’s character also shows the same penchant for making speeches and moral bon mots that he would later hone to a fine point in the Hardy Family series.

Gleason is his usual dependable self, again playing a cop. But it is Cabot who drives this film. 1936 was his best year since playing John Driscoll in 1933’s King Kong. He was just coming off an excellent performance as Magua in The Last of the Mohicans, and if a little more care had been exercised with this film, it would have been a breakout performance. Cabot’s the heel of the film, a totally unrepentant type called Bat Williams. When the film opens we see him before the New York State parole board with his wife and baby in attendance to bolster his case and show his repentance. He is granted parole over the objections of Detective Daniels (Gleason) and vows to stay on the straight and narrow. Minutes later, as he enters his lawyer’s car for the ride back to town, we learn that the “wife” was an actor and the “baby” borrowed for the day. Bat reunites with his gang and his moll, Grace Forbes (Bradley). He immediately begins planning the next heist, a payroll job at the Escow Creamery. The robbery goes off, but in the process Bat kills the payroll clerk.

Upon their return to the hideout, Bat takes his leave, refusing to tell the gang where he’s going. It turns out he’s headed for Barlow, New York, where he is known under his real name of Robert Webster. His family has no idea of what he really does; they are under the belief that he is a globetrotting engineer whose most recent port of call is in Brazil. Even his childhood sweetheart, Letty Graves (Latimer), has no idea of his real life. His father John Webster (Stone) is a respected school superintendent, and his mother Helen (Walker), is the typical Hollywood homemaker. Robert has come home for the wedding of sister Mildred (Grable). While the family is celebrating Robert’s return, John receives a phone call from the governor, who asks him if he would be willing to serve on the parole board. Afterward, John tells the family about it, with Robert advising against it.

Later, Bat breaks into a local jewelry store to steal a present for Grace. In the process, he kills a guard in cold blood. Before he returns to the city, however, Daniels tracks down Grace and secures her cooperation by threatening to tell Bat all about her affair with gang member Al (Randall) while Bat was in stir. This leads to a nice little scene where Bat comes back to the apartment to fetch her. She wants to go out and see a movie. He tells her to dress nicely, and she replies by telling him that she’ll wear her special red dress. (Shades of Dillinger!)

Daniels springs the trap as they leave the theater, with Bat giving Grace a knowing look as he’s led off. A few scenes later, Bat has hatched a plan for escape by hiding in the back of a truck delivering lumber to the prison in a scene that has to be seen for its sheer preposterousness. As Grace returns to her apartment that night, she discovers she’s not alone. Bat is waiting with his friends, Smith and Wesson. One shot later and Grace’s role in the film is over. Bat then returns to prison in the same manner he’s escaped, and despite the time he’s been away, no one at the jail seems to have noticed he was gone. Some prison this is.

Time passes and soon Bat is once again up for parole. Guess who’s sitting on the board? John Webster, who is willing to grant parole to everyone except Bat Williams, who he characterizes as an unrepentant career criminal to whom it would be a mistake to grant parole. Daniels, who is sitting in on the meeting, gives a “three cheers” type of response, while the parole board head, a slimy sort of character, responds that if John were only to meet and talk with Williams, he’d change his mind. And so Bat is brought in. This leads to one of the great double takes in film, as John sees his son standing before him. (If it was Curly Howard instead of Stone, he’s take one look at Bat and yell “Nyha-aa-aa-aa-aah!”) Obviously taken aback, John asks to speak alone with the prisoner.

What follows is another preposterous scene, as John begins to put two and two together to realize that his son has always been a no-goodnik, even from childhood when he broke into his sister’s piggy bank. Yes, John had overlooked it all, but now he realizes he can no longer overlook this. (Andy Hardy never did this to him.)

Bat counters with the argument that the soon-to-be-married Mildred would be absolutely devastated if the truth ever came out. It’s good enough of an argument for John, who agrees to Bat’s parole on the condition that he gets lost and never darkens the Webster family’s towels again. It’s a deal, and John calls for the board, telling them that after consulting with the prisoner, he has agreed to grant him parole. Daniels is devastated; he thought John would be different from the other namby-pambies and take a harder line instead of simply rubber-stamping these mugs for release.

Time passes, and the family gets ready for Mildred’s wedding. John is writing a letter of resignation to the parole board when he and the family receive a visit. Guess Who? Yes, it seems that Bat cannot resist dropping by to see his sister off. While he’s there, old girlfriend Letty lets slip the fact that her father, who owns a big, successful construction company, is preparing his huge payroll. This is a score too rich to resist, so Bat heads out to pay a visit to the old boy. Unbeknownst to him, his father has followed him, and the two have a confrontation. Suddenly, Detective Daniels, who has heard everything, breaks in to arrest Bat. They scuffle, and during the melee, Bat disarms Daniels. He tells Daniels to say goodbye before he pulls the trigger, but John, who has picked up Daniel’s revolver, shoots Bat before he can shoot Daniels. Daniels takes the gun from John and tells him to get the heck out of there. Having heard everything, he will see that the family is not embarrassed. In the next scene, Daniels is driving a mortally wounded Bat out of town. A telegram is received at the Webster’s home, informing John that everything has been taken care of and he no longer need worry.

What a film. One thing is for certain, it moves fast, not pausing long to linger upon its characters. And it all makes a kind of sense until the final scenes. The supporting cast is fine. Grable, in her limited role, is bubbly and cute. Latimer adds a nice touch as Bat’s old flame, and Bradley is solid as Bat’s moll, especially in her death scene. As mentioned before, Gleason is fine as Daniels, and Stone is more than capable playing John Webster. But the real star of the film is Cabot. He growls, sneers and stalks his way through the film, making the most of his part without resorting to overemoting.

If the studio had invested a little more money and preparation time to this picture, Cabot might have come out of it as RKO’s breakout star. But RKO was more interested in ”now” rather than taking a chance on “later.” Even its theme of corruption in a failing parole system is used only as background. RKO wasn’t about to launch a social campaign a la Warner Brothers, who by this time had also dropped its stance on social activism. Entertainment was in and advocacy was out.

Trivia: It was after the release of this film that RKO dropped young starlet Betty Grable from its roster, commenting that while she was cute, it wasn’t enough. She made a couple of films for Paramount before signing a contract with 20th Century Fox. She became a huge star in her first Fox film, Down Argentine Way (1940). She went on to become one of the studio’s most popular stars and her pinup during World War Two was posted in barracks all around the world.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: Jimi: All Is By My Side

Jimi Hendrix Near and Far

By Steve Herte

I'm gradually getting used to the crowd at the office, though I must admit some of the voices are difficult to listen to. But I will survive. Our new fiscal year has begun with new challenges and responsibilities. I'm going to make this short because yesterday my new tulips and hyacinths arrived and because of the rain I was unable to plant them. As soon as I finish this I'm changing into my gardening clothes and get it done. I was able to put the amaryllis into their dark pre-winter confines though. As for Friday, it was an adventure and fun. Enjoy!

Jimi: All Is By My Side (Open Road Pictures, 2013) - Director: John Ridley. Writer: John Ridley (s/p). Cast: Andre Benjamin, Imogen Poots, Hayley Atwell, Burn Gorman, Ruth Negga, Tom Dunlea, Ashley Charles, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Oliver Bennett, Laurence Kinlan, Danny McColgan, Amy De Bhrun, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Robbie Jarvis, Andrew Buckley, Jade Yourell, Ger Duffy, & Demetrice Nguyen. Color, 118 minutes.

Forty-six years ago in a music room of Cathedral Prep Seminary in Queens I heard our Senior band play two pieces, “Apache” by Jerry Lorden (originally recorded by the Shadows), and “Purple Haze” written and recorded by Jimi Hendrix. At the end of their performance I ran onto the stage and asked the lead guitarist, Frank Buccello, where they got that amazing song. He told me and I became an instant fan of Hendrix. I bought all his albums and was horrified to learn that he had been performing for two years already but was virtually unknown in America. I reveled in his unique sound and mastery of Les Paul’s invention.

Then in 1969, my friends at Manhattan Community College were all abuzz about the three-day music festival happening at Woodstock and that Hendrix was the closing act. At that time I had neither the money nor the spontaneity I have today and, looking back, would not have liked the mud and the rain. Then one day I was in the student lounge of the “B” building and my friend Vivian comes over to me sadly tells me Jimi was dead. “I know you’re a great fan of his and I thought you’d like to know.” I was crushed. He was 28.

This new biopic was released last year in Canada and then in Stockholm and took until the end of this year to be released in New York. It starts in 1966 with Jimi (Benjamin) playing at the Cheetah Club in New York’s Greenwich Village and getting admiring looks from Linda Keith (Poots). She sees his immense talent and how it’s wasted in this tiny club filled with people who are not even paying attention to him. She, as Keith Richards' girlfriend, decides to use her influence to make Jimi well known and get him into the right circles. She has Chas Chandler (Buckley), the bassist for the Animals, hear Jimi perform and he immediately wants to manage for him. He would be leaving the Animals soon and is eager to try his hand.

After Chas convinces Jimi to go to London with a promise of meeting Eric Clapton (at that time considered a god of guitar playing), Chas stays with Jimi, getting him gigs. And, good to his promise, introduces him to various people, including Clapton (McColgan), at another club where Eric is performing. Jimi asks if Eric would let him jam with him and Eric agrees to Chas’ suggestion. Eric introduces Jimi with a slight smirk and Jimi plugs his guitar in and begins a fantastic wailing jam that the rest of the group picks up easily. Eric’s jaw drops, he unplugs his guitar and goes backstage where Chas meets him. “You didn’t say he was f—ing good!”

Going from club to club, Jimi meets Kathy Etchingham (Altwell) who will become his girlfriend (to the annoyance of Linda), but who will also learn that no one girl can ever be Jimi’s “girlfriend.” He then meets Ida (Negga), a young black woman who introduces him to Michael X, a man of Caribbean extraction, who tries to convince Jimi that he’s only being used by the white population and that he should play for his people. But Jimi counters that they’re all his people and follows it with the show-stopping line,“Hey, when the Power of Love beats the Love of Power, all will be cool.”

By now Jimi has met Noel Redding (Bennet), who will become his bassist and the budding group is looking for a drummer. Two drummers are up for the position and with a coin toss Mitch Mitchell (Dunlea) gets in. The group is formed. Chas introduces Jimi to Michael Jeffery (Gorman), the current manager of the Animals, who takes over and gets them a slot at the Monterey Pops Festival. After an embarrassing gig at a club where Brian Epstein was in attendance, the Jimi Hendrix Experience is slated to open at the Sayville Theater in London. Jimi arrives late and brings a record into the dressing room. It’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles. He plays the opening cut for the others gives them their keys, cues and instructions for when his solo will be. “Paul McCartney (Duffy) and George Harrison are in the audience. Won’t it be insulting?” “Not if we don’t F it up.”

The group plows through an exciting version of the song, Paul’s mouth forms an “O” and the audience is on their feet in a standing ovation at the end. It’s the only entire song played in the movie except for Jimi’s version of “Wild Thing” at the end.

Andre Benjamin is Jimi Hendrix. I never doubted him. He even learned to play guitar left-handed for the role. He has Jimi’s voice and mannerisms down pat, sounding like he was in a drug-induced haze most of the time. But when he had something to say, at one point Linda comments, “It’s really annoying that sometimes you can be so damned profound.”

The music in this movie is typical Hendrix, but sadly, thanks to his estate (they got way too greedy), none of it is his creation. They forbade the use of any of his hits in the film. We only see his disappointment that “Purple Haze” didn’t even make the top 100 on the American charts. We never hear it. The characters are well played, although I thought Ashley Charles made Keith Richards look way too handsome. The “F” word is bandied about freely and this is probably the only movie where this is appropriate, so judge wisely. There are also scenes of drug use, with LSD and pot being consumed. The only violence is when Jimi jealously beats Kathy with a telephone receiver, and a news clip of Buddhist monks immolating themselves is shown.

It’s an excellent film. I now feel as if I’ve seen and heard Jimi Hendrix. The only drawback is that the movie flips between being a biopic and being a docudrama, with news clips and television interviews, which became slightly annoying when I wanted to hear more Jimi. On the other hand, the soundtrack included songs like “Itchycoo Park.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Miller’s Near and Far
65 Rivington Street (bet. Allen and Eldridge Streets)New York

Knowing the capabilities of my camera, I still fall for intriguing pictures of restaurants on Miller’s is one of those. But its menu was just as intriguing. Not having had too much experience in dealing with the named streets of New York’s Lower East Side, I used Googlemaps to get an idea of what this restaurant looked like on the outside and thus make it easier to find. To my surprise, the exterior matched that of an old rusting diner I once saw in a sci-fi film. But I said, “What the heck” and went.

The name of the place is etched into the glass of the only door. Inside, it resembles a diner in décor, but not in kitch. The ceiling is a series of infinity illusions in pale green and white. Likewise, the two end walls are painted pale green and white respectively. If there are 10 tables, it’s a lot, and there are stools lining the open kitchen.

The young man who would eventually become my server greeted me enthusiastically (forgive me, he introduced himself and I forgot his name – good reason to return). He gave me my choice of tables, and I chose one against the near wall under the light. He then presented the single card food menu with drinks, wine and beer on the reverse and left to get me a glass of water.

I learned that there is indeed a “Miller.” Christopher Miller opened the restaurant in 2013. The Near and Far part comes from his knack of combining East and West in his cuisine. Taking that into account I ordered the cocktail “Shiso Cool” not only for its clever name, but also for the ingredients – Plymouth gin, cucumber and Shiso tea. It was refreshing and interesting. The young lady who served the cocktail complimented me on my pale green shirt and tie combination and I had to confess I wore what I wore because it matched the décor of the restaurant. She loved it.

In the absence of the appetizer I had seen on the website – green Buffalo frogs legs with a pickled ramp ranch dressing – I chose the charred octopus – in a salad with citrus yoghurt, hearts of palm, frisée, sliced fingerling potatoes in a sherry vinaigrette and garnished with home-made potato chips. I marvel every time I have octopus and it’s tender. I even liked the potatoes. But the slightly salty, delicate little chips on top made the dish.

The wine list was very reasonably priced and I chose the 2012 Michael Sullberg California Pinot Noir/Gamay varietal. It was strange to be drinking this lovely wine from a non-stemmed glass but, considering the venue, it was appropriate. And . . . it worked well with my meal.

The other dish that attracted me to this restaurant was still being served and I ordered it. The Uni Pappardelle – homemade squid ink pasta made with sea urchin emulsion in a cream sauce and topped with toasted breadcrumbs – was amazing. The lighting added a slightly greenish tinge to the normally black pasta, the cream sauce added a sweet accent to the usually acrid squid, and the uni also sweetened the dish.

The restaurant was filling up rapidly and I was currently sitting at a table for four. I agreed to shift to the other single table when they needed mine. My server was the ultimate host, and didn’t mind chatting every now and then. That’s how I learned that we both went to the same combination of colleges, Manhattan Community and Hunter. (No not at the same time. That would have been too strange.) But really, it’s a small world.

The only dessert available came with the meal and I wouldn’t have refused it anyway. It was Peanut Butter and Jelly Panna Cotta – blueberry compote and chopped peanuts over custard made from thick cream, egg white and honey. It was lovely. I even commented on the tiny size of the blueberries. 

I wasn’t in the mood for a coffee, but an after dinner drink was not out of the running. The second young man who had requested I relinquish a table brought over a choice of two cordials. I chose the Fernet Branca because I’ve never tasted it before. It’s an Italian cordial, somewhat like an amaro. I researched it and found out that among the known ingredients are aloe, gentian root (probably where it gets its purplish color), rhubarb, gum myrrh, red cinchona bark, galanga (a blue variety of ginger) and zedoary (white turmeric). The taste? It was most unusual, somewhere between medicine, crushed plants and bitter mud. Helene would not have liked it. But I found it to be fun.

I felt so at home at Miller’s. I met the entire staff (including the Chef, who checked up on his dishes) and they were wonderful (both staff and dishes). I’ll have to call ahead the next time to make sure they have those frogs legs.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.