During World War II, a Finnish writer by the name of Mika Waltari explored an ancient Egyptian text known as the Story of Sihuhe. Waltari’s goal was to create a narrative so thoroughly researched that it would entertain not only a casual reader but also bring a smile to the lips of Egyptologists. The book “Sinuhe egyptiläinen” was published in 1945. The book became very popular and was printed in English in 1949 under a simpler title, “The Egyptian.” Its tale of the hero’s disillusionment and war-weariness impressed readers who had just endured a world war. 20th Century-Fox thought The Egyptian perfect for CinemaScope. Never to let a good thing go to waste, another studio, Paramount, would reuse The Egyptian’s wardrobe, props and sets two years later for The Ten Commandments. And, as was often the case in the studio era, some of the actors and extras appeared in both movies. Also, two well-known studio composers shared the workload to create the score for the soundtrack. The Egyptian fared well at the box office. And was nominated for an Academy Award for its cinematography. While it didn’t win an Oscar, Bella Darvi did receive a New Star of the Year - Actress award at the Golden Globes for her portrayal of Nefer, the seductive Babylonian courtesan. I always loved watching The Egyptian. I saw it regularly on television when I was growing up. And it was in our family’s collection of books, where I discovered a copy of the novel that inspired the movie. I was overjoyed to read a lavishly expanded version of the story where I envisioned Victor Mature, Peter Ustinov and others in their designated roles. When I discovered the musical score was available digitally, it didn’t take me long to find my wallet. It’s hard to explain why The Egyptian captivates me so much, why I’m such a fan. I’ve been rattling off trivia about the film, but not going into the story. I guess the same chord that struck readers in 40 countries through the novel and millions via the box office struck me, too.
The Home of the Creative Mind
Welcome to PooBahSpiel, the online voice and home of the creative mind of Mark Monlux, Illustrator Extraordinaire. Prepare yourself for an endless regaling of art directly from the hand of this stellar artist. And brace yourself against his mighty wind of pontification. Updates are kinda weekly and show daily sketches, current projects, and other really nifty stuff.
Monday, February 19, 2018
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Citizens Band Radios were another craze that swept the country during the seventies. When technology reduced the size and cost of transistors, suddenly owning a citizens band radio became affordable. Truckers were the first to make use of mobile CBs for practical reasons. With gas shortages a serious problem, truckers were able to network and locate stations that had supplies. And it wasn’t long before average citizens started to take to the CB airwaves. Their popularity was so high that what little licensing was required was eliminated altogether as enforcement become impossible. C.W. McCall, aka Bill Fries, wrote the song “Convoy” to perfectly capture a slice of America, that of the American trucker dealing with the economic and fuel crises gripping the country. The use of CB jargon was a hook that set deep with the radio listener. While it’s common for books to be made into movies, songs doing the same thing are a bit more rare. When Convoy was released, the storyline of the movie didn’t quite match that of the song. Knowing when to adjust to a good thing, Bill Fries rewrote the lyrics to match the storyline of the movie and re-released the song. Trucker movies like Convoy, employing car chases, out-witting police, and heavy use of CB radios would remain a staple through the ‘70s, with homage paid to them in subsequent films. And later, CB radios would remain in basements, rec rooms, dens where they would eventually gather dust as the Internet and cell phones became the next big things.
My copy editor John Markuson would like you to know:
[Fries was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.]
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Becket is one of those historical movies created more for entertaining audiences than for being accurate. In the movie, Henry’s mother is alive; in history, she’s dead. In the movie, he has three children; in reality, it was eight. In the movie, the wife says she will return to her father; in reality, he’s been dead for some years. In the movie, both women torment him; in reality, he relied on their counsel. And perhaps the most glaring inaccuracy is portraying Becket as a Saxon when he was, in reality, a Norman. But film writers were never ones to adhere to facts when a good rewrite would create drama to intrigue audiences, who probably forgot all their history lessons and now hear the name Becket only in plays and dramas. And audiences came to the theater because two of the best actors of the day are the leads and all the talented filmmaking professionals are doing their best to make Becket an award winner. Both Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton give tremendous performances. But it is the ever-talented, history-revising writers who would walk away with the statue.
Received an Academy Award out of eleven nominations.
Monday, January 29, 2018
To Have and Have Not was Lauren Bacall’s film debut and her talent was immediately recognizable. The chemistry between her and Humphrey Bogart was obvious. In the original script, Dolores Moran’s role was larger, with her and Bogart’s characters’ relationship having more depth. But everyone involved in the production immediately sensed the magic in Bogart and Bacall’s interplay. The script underwent revisions to take advantage of this. The novel was written by Ernest Hemingway. William Faulkner worked on the script, but a large part of the dialog was improvised by the actors themselves. Bogart was still riding high from the unexpected success of Casablanca. Audiences turned out to watch him continue to portray a tough character who plays low and cool, ruled by his own code. They were not disappointed; To Have and Have Not carried those same themes. But audiences were also rewarded with the performances of two actors falling in love on set. The studio would quickly parley this success into three additional movies featuring the entrancing duo, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo. Bacall and Bogart did start an affair during the making of To Have and Have Not. Bogart, who was in an unhappy marriage, would divorce his wife and marry Bacall, who was twenty years his junior. They remained married until Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957. At his funeral, Bacall laid a whistle on Bogart’s coffin in homage to her famous quote from the movie, “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.”
Monday, January 8, 2018
I had a much easier time watching Gentleman’s Agreement when I was the same age as the boy in the movie. What I heard in the film were social instructions. They weren’t new. They were reaffirming what my parents taught me. But it was the first time I was seeing insidious examples of bigotry as well as obvious ones. The scenes I watched of Gregory Peck explaining the world and how his son should behave struck a strong chord in me. I remember thinking, “He explained that just right.” I found my recent viewing of Gentleman’s Agreement more difficult to watch. The viewpoint I’m associating with now is that of the adults, how the characters were reacting, their experience of recognizing their own actions, their casual privilege. And while I don’t recall seeing any obvious ethnic characters or extras, I can understand why: Gentleman’s Agreement focused on anti-Semitism to reveal the mindset behind bigotry. It’s just how I saw it as a kid, as an instruction manual to recognize and react with true, brave humanity. I found Gentleman’s Agreement difficult to watch now because you can easily replace Jew with Muslim to see the battlefield of bigotry is still here so many decades later. Exchange the word Jew with Muslim, Hispanic, Black or any other They instead of We. It’s terrifying and saddening, and it makes Gentleman’s Agreement as relevant today as in 1947.
Winner of three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Monday, December 18, 2017
The Blues Brothers is in my Top One Hundred favorite movies of all time. While it never won an Oscar, it remains a cinematic treasure to moviegoers everywhere. The magical team chemistry of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi is at its brightest. They would later team up to do Neighbors, which didn’t capture the same magic. It could be that in The Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd and John Landis joined forces to write the script, or that John Landis was definitely on top of his directorial game. But I’d like to think it was an even larger group effort. The music of The Blues Brothers and the exceptional performances of the musicians explode across the screen. The entire film feels like a celebration of sound and life. The villains of the movie are those that go against sound and life. And we know from the get-go that they don’t stand a chance to hamper the boys who “are on a Mission from God.”
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
There’s nearly as much to the story behind the making of Old Acquaintance as there is to the movie’s story. The most notorious being that the two female leads loathed each other. Maybe it was because Bette Davis had had an affair with Miriam’s husband during production of another movie some time before. They were pros when the camera rolled. And no doubt, their off-screen relationship helped with their on-screen performance. Old Acquaintance easily passes the Bechdel Test. The women have names, they talk to each other, and their conversation isn’t about men. Men are a topic a portion of the time, but a great deal of the conversation has to do with careers and life goals. I noticed something else about the men. There’s hardly a scene where two of them are in the same room, let alone talking to each other. And something I found very interesting is that the main male characters in the story bear a strong resemblance to each other with slicked back hair, pencil mustaches, and wry smiles. When the war comes around, they become even more identical. The dialog is well written, so much so that the audience is tuned into the dialog, listening for the carefully selected words. When a blunt statement is finally made, it’s almost a shock as well as a catharsis. Old Acquaintance is a well-told and visually strong movie that’s become a staple amongst classics. And while I have fun with it in the strip, this film truly does show off Bette Davis’s eyes.