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Keeping it short: I'm a very intellectual kind of a reader. For more, see my "Introduction" post.

Film Review: Tell Me in the Sunlight (1965)

The teaser: A 1965 low-budget indie black-and-white erotic-romantic melodrama shot on a semi-exotic location with all the seediness gloriously intact - not quite Last Tango in Nassau, but certainly an edgy, beguiling (and serious) piece of self-expression by an underrated talent.



Steve Cochran was a man of ambition. He was one of the earlier actors to form his own production company, Robert Alexander Productions (after his actual first and middle names) in 1953. The venture got off to a promising start with an excellent piece of Americana, Come Next Spring (1956) and became involved with international co-production on Michelangelo Antonioni’s Il Grido (1957). Both films show off Cochran’s talents as more than just an effective heavy.


The next few years after that didn’t bring equivalent opportunities, though, and when Cochran returned to self-production at the age of 47, it was with an even more unconventional and lower-budgeted movie, Tell Me in the Sunlight (1965/1967), shot entirely on location in Nassau in the Bahamas. After finishing this triple-threat project (actor/director/co-writer), Cochran went on a little yacht trip off the Pacific coast of Central America in order to scout locations for future films. Bizarrely (or not), he sailed with three women, one under-age, none of whom knew how to sail (but perhaps had other talents?). The jaunt was in keeping with Cochran’s lifelong reputation as a stud and womanizer, but went horribly wrong when Cochran died of an acute lung infection and the boat drifted around helplessly for ten days until it touched ground at the fishing village of Champerico in Guatemala. The women were rattled but not hurt.


This unusual denouement delayed the release of Tell Me in the Sunlight for two years until 1967, at which time it was barely noticed except as a footnote to Cochran’s personal drama. One commenter at the IMDB states that “Several minutes were cut from the original film…[Cochran] also shot 2 endings--the one used by the new distributor was not the one Steve chose.” I cannot vouch for the truth of this, although it all sounds plausible enough.


Paradoxically, what captures the attention here is the unshowiness, the low-key naturalism that seems akin to Cassavetes (but it is worth remembering that at this point, Cassavetes had only released one indie feature, Shadows). The film opens with a series of vignettes involving Cochran’s shore time in Nassau. He works as a supercargo for a merchant shipper, sometimes staying with the ship, sometimes flying ahead. Gradually the story hones in on Cochran’s immediate attraction to a beautiful woman in a trenchcoat, played by Shary Marshall, who turns out to be a stripper at the local joint Dirty Dick’s.


Cochran is a smooth pick-up guy, but lonely and quite clearly looking for a more genuine connection. Marshall began her stay in Nassau as a stranded member of a dance troupe and took up stripping as an economic expediency. It doesn’t thrill her, but it doesn’t burden her, either. She has a well-off patron in the person of an older gentleman, a doctor, but she is proud (one senses) to have her own little studio apartment and pet bird, that tiny measure of independence.


When these two people meet, it’s obvious that their needs and desires might make a nice fit, but also that a masculine ego such as Cochran’s seldom adjusts easily to the challenge of dealing with the past and present of a woman immersed in the lower milieu – even one as still-fresh and very sweetly appealing (but also smart) as Marshall. What will happen? Well, this is a movie, so there will be misunderstandings, and whether because this is a piece of honest naturalism, or exploitation drama (or both), one result is a sad and distressing scene involving sexual force. The movie retrieves itself rather swiftly to arrive at a “happy ending,” but it is a very provisional one: all the issues are still in play (and would probably have been, as well, with an alternate, less positive ending). Can this couple make a go of it? The odd thing, perhaps, is that even after Cochran has behaved very badly (many would feel unforgivably), the answer still seems to be a possible yes. This movie does not view its characters schematically, but as flawed and thus relatable human beings.


Needless to say, I like that honesty. Even though the two leads are undeniably attractive people, Tell Me in the Sunlight is so un-Hollywood. Cochran is looking a little older and more weathered here, and that totally works for the film. The screenplay is forthright and unaffected on the subject of non-marital sex. People sleep with other people, all the time, men and women both, for many and overlapping reasons, to satisfy urges, to assuage aloneness, to administer to the “universal pain in everybody’s gut.” No one needs to feel ashamed about this, but there are both emotional and physical risks involved (the latter highlighted by Cochran’s telling an unvarnished anecdote about syphilis!).


As befits the naturalistic approach, the minor characters are very real and well-observed, from the hard-bitten nightclub manager, to Marshall’s saucy fellow stripper, to an Artful-Dodger-esque pickpocket, to a knowing barber, to a desperate pregnant girl. You get the sense that if you had been walking around downtown Nassau those same nights, you might have encountered those people too. Best of all in that regard is Cochran’s shipmate played by George Hopkins (whose only film this seems to have been). Hopkins is a relaxed pal with a knack for enjoying life, a bit of a joker, always good company. The scene in the club where he realizes that Cochran has bested him in the pick-up game is a very enjoyable bit that any guy with a ladies’-man friend has lived through. But the joke is handled lightly, through the changing expressions on Hopkins’s face, not punched home as it would be in a more conventional film.


Tell Me in the Sunlight manages to impress without at all trying to do so. Looking at the movie with sympathetic attention, it is easy to see that Steve Cochran in his directorial debut was consciously remembering his experience with Antonioni, not his experiences in Hollywood. It is a more unusual effort than it appears at a glance.      


[Originally published at The Blackboard, a film noir discussion group, and slightly revised here.] 

Inadmissible Evidence (John Osborne)

Meet Bill Maitland, protagonist of John Osborne's massive play Inadmissible Evidence. Bill, a 39-year-old lawyer, is not that likable a guy but seems to have his pick of the ladies. The pursuit of women has become a lifestyle for Bill, who has a wife and several mistresses both short and long-term, as well as opportunistic encounters. But this certainly isn't a sex comedy. It is more of an indictment. Bill is to be tried and found guilty -- though less for his sexual appetites than for his utter disregard of every single other's personhood.


John Osborne turned British theater on its head in the 1950s with his brilliant play Look Back in Anger, featuring the definitive "angry young man" character Jimmy Porter. Osborne early in his career wrote among the most punishingly large male roles in the entire world dramatic literature -- Porter, Archie Rice in The Entertainer, Luther in an eponymous play. With Maitland, Osborne pushes this line of inquiry as far as it will go; Inadmissible Evidence takes three to four hours to perform, the lead actor is onstage continuously, and is given any number of three, four, and five page speeches to execute. On top of all that, the actor is playing a self-justifying creep who has barely a single appealing moment and whose last big monologue is a cruel and incestuously tinged rejection of his teenage daughter. One critic of the play's premiere production in 1964 noted that the play has "no plot, no action, no interesting situations, no climaxes and no comedy...not even a clever set to look at." I know this all sounds horrible, and yet, such is the nature of the challenge Osborne set himself, to write a masterpiece (it has to be a masterpiece or nothing) within those boundaries. He pulls it off.

In reading and viewing Osborne, a book I am finding very helpful is Luc Gilleman's John Osborne -- Vituperative Artist. Gilleman states that "in many ways, Inadmissible Evidence is a bad play," but I would say that if so, it falls into the category of "bad great play" that Kenneth Tynan proposed for Camus's Caligula. (One might say that Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a bad great film -- you get the idea.) One "badness" of the play is that it probably relies too heavily on a great central performer to really work up there on stage. Osborne was terribly lucky to have the incomparable Nicol Williamson as Maitland in that first production, and many times subsequently; Williamson played Maitland in a total of five separate productions in London and New York, and in a little-seen 1968 film version. This was a signature role for him, and he was by all accounts mesmerizing in it; one gets a little of the flavor in the photographs that accompany the 1965 Grove Press printing of the play. Gilleman writes:

In playing Maitland, Williamson in fact seemed to die on the stage every night and was not adverse to berating the audience when it proved unworthy of such a sacrifice. Once he stopped the performance...starting again only when fidgety spectators had been cowed into silence. In another instance, he staggered off stage with chest pains, and the curtain lowered, until, sixteen minutes later, his understudy took over. After the interval, Williamson returned to complete the play and in a curtain speech offered the audience their money back, explaining the role was "terribly, terribly difficult," and, since he had been suspected of sustaining a heart attack, quite literally "killing."

Of such incidents are theatrical legends made -- and the performing history of Osborne's theatrical oeuvre offers a number of others of like kind. Still, actors love the challenge. As Osborne himself noted (my bolding):

[My work] requires very proficient actors. That is why they are very difficult to cast. They require a great deal of pure acting skill of a very special kind, I think...[The actors] must have an extraordinary technique as far as using the dense text, because it always is very dense. Also, they must have a wide intellectual grasp and tremendous pure verbal facility and a great ear and stamina and a lot of power and feeling.

Nothing much to ask for!


[Originally published in my blog Patrick Murtha's Diary in 2008, and slightly revised here. It is one of the very first pieces that I thought of porting over. My admiration for Osborne is huge.]


I just learned about this site the other day, and thought I would give it a try. I am a long-time user of LibraryThing for cataloguing purposes, and you can see my personal library there:


Patrick Murtha's Library


My culture blog, Patrick Murtha's Diary, has at times been very active, but lately moribund. It has never had that many readers, partly because I have not promoted it much, and partly because it jumps all over the place, as my interests do. Focused blogs undoubtedly draw a more intent readership.


Patrick Murtha's Diary


Lately I have started a new Blogger blog to describe and post photographs of my adventures in Queretaro, Mexico:


Querétaro encantador


I post occasional reviews at Amazon and the IMDB, as well. I regularly comment at some of the blogs that I subscribe to, and I will probably review some of those blogs here. I take about 160 blogs at feedly, my successor tool to the late lamented Google Reader. (Repeat after me: Tech companies do not care about you.)


I'm not active on Facebook or Twitter. I had to establish a Facebook account once for a business purpose, but I keep it as hidden as I can, and I hardly ever use it. Twitter doesn't appeal to me because of the length restrictions.


As for facts about me (Thank you for asking!), I see that the material I included in my "Blog Description" is way too long for readability in the template, so I'll move it here and shorten it there. This is what I wrote:


I'm a 56-year-old single guy who has been a teacher for 20 years, and a writer longer than that. I've taught at the high school, university, and adult levels, specializing in humanities subjects: history, philosophy, social sciences, art history, and literature. My undergraduate degree was in American Studies from Yale University, and I also earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from Boston University, jointly awarded by the School of Education and the Department of English.


I have been teaching internationally for five years in Korea and Mexico. Currently I'm teaching business and conversational English to adults in Queretaro, Mexico, a delightful city where I plan to settle down (after a long history as a vagabond).


I live "alone" only technically, as I have great animal companions, three girl indoor cats and a male ferrret, all adopted or bought here in Mexico. I'm crazy about animals and have lived with many different species in my life.


My reading focuses on classic and literary fiction, including translations, and serious non-fiction of all kinds (especially books related to my academic subject areas). I enjoy hard-boiled and noir crime fiction, and the more ambitious sort of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.


Other areas of reading interest include poetry, drama, children's literature, biography and memoir, belles-lettres (essays, letters, etc.), film and cultural history, travel and adventure literature, baseball history, architecture and urban studies, Canadiana, and nautical literature. I read plenty of academic books, often on fairly obscure subjects.


Lately I have been amassing many interesting older texts that are among the free ebooks offered at Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and other sites where many real gems can be found.


I am a huge fan of movies, where my interests run parallel to my literary ones: I greatly enjoy serious films from all countries, both classic and contemporary as well as film noir and other dark thrillers. I love silent cinema.


Naturally I am also "into" music of many kinds (classical, opera and theater music, jazz, big bands, folk music, world music, Sinatra Era pop, early rock, Western Swing, etc.), the visual arts, and theater. My favorite spectator sports are baseball and golf (although oddly perhaps, I don't PLAY golf). Other interests include classic menswear and quality beer. 


One fact that I didn't include in that description originally, but what the heck, is that I'm gay, as you astutely guessed from reading about a 56-year-old unmarried guy with three cats. I don't usually lead with that information because it tends to predetermine many people's take on one; on the other hand, it is kind of basic, right? Although I would describe myself as an intellectual first, before getting to any other categories.  


I see lots of possibilities for blogging here at BookLikes, and although I will keep it book-focused, It's in my nature to spill over into related areas. 

Link: "Iceland Reads"

This is a great piece about the happily literature-mad country of Iceland, published last July in Canada's National Post:


Iceland Reads


There may not be another country on the planet where books enjoy such prominence. For a country that boasts a population of approximately 320,000 people — that’s less than Belize, Brunei, and the Bahamas — Iceland is punching above its weight class. Its publishing industry cranks out roughly 1,000 titles each year (including works in translation) and the country produces more published authors than anywhere else on the planet, Brooklyn be damned. According to a report produced by a consortium of Nordic publishers, in 2012 there were 3.5 published titles for every 1,000 of the country’s inhabitants — a number double that of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The average print run for a book is 1,000 copies, the equivalent of one million copies in the United States.

Loyal Unto Death: Trust and Terror in Revolutionary Macedonia (Keith Brown)

Loyal Unto Death: Trust and Terror in Revolutionary Macedonia - Keith Brown

In 1903, members of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization were often considered terrorists, and some later specifically described themselves as terrorists: killers for a cause. But by 1948, many wars and struggles later, the surviving elderly veterans of the group were retrospectively considered freedom fighters by the new Yugoslav Macedonian government, and were invited to apply for pension recognition. Although the shift in categorization from terrorist to freedom fighter is not Keith Brown's specific or overriding subject in this fine monograph, it hovered in my mind throughout my reading of the book, probably because it is an issue that has obvious contemporary relevance and that will never be fully settled to everyone's satisfaction. The linchpin seems to be that if one approves of the goals of a revolutionary organization, one has moved some way towards excusing its methods, and in re-defining terrorists as freedom fighters.

Keith Brown's study, Loyal Unto Death: Trust and Terror in Revolutionary Macedonia, is specialized, but quite readable. He uses up-to-date historical and anthropological concepts without getting bogged down in impenetrable language or overly convoluted relations of ideas. He also does not commit the common sin of sniffily dismissing earlier literature on his topic - in fact, he mines such writing, both academic and popular, for all it is worth, and in a very respectful spirit. His chief sources are archival - the aforementioned pension applications, and British Foreign Office records. His goal is to trace the internal workings of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization through anthropological analysis. The promotional copy for the book lays out the project well: "Keith Brown focuses on social and cultural mechanisms of loyalty to describe the circuits of trust and terror--webs of secret communications and bonds of solidarity--that linked migrant workers, remote villagers, and their leaders in common cause. Loyalties were covertly created and maintained through acts of oath-taking, record-keeping, arms-trading, and in the use and management of deadly violence."

Brown has some pointed things to say about the interpretation of past events in the Balkans through a prism of contemporary ethno-nationalism, even suggesting that it was not an ESSENTIAL goal of the MRO to replace one "distant" governing authority, the Ottoman Empire, with another, localized government that would presumably be more representative of and responsive to the people. He calls this skepticism "thinking past the nation," borrowing a term from Arjun Appadurai, and he draws on James Scott's work on traditional forms of "anarchist" resistance to "being governed" to elucidate the theme. I can identify this as an area where experts will debate his conclusions, without claiming any competence to make a judgment on them myself.

The readership for a work of academic history such as this, driven by analysis rather than narrative, is naturally somewhat circumscribed, but it could be larger than it is. Enthusiastic readers of "popular history" ought not to be overly wary of tackling more advanced analyses which will help them to understand historical events in a different, more complex way, and in fact this book is a perfectly recommendable one in that respect, because it is challenging without being inaccessible to the typical educated reader. Brown opens up the concepts that he uses in a way that invites further curiosity, rather than shutting it down, and his very ample bibliography offers many avenues for additional exploration.