Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dissing "The Searchers"; Praising the Union; Coveting Titles...and Animal Husbandry

By Paul Levine

NEW ON DVD: The 50th anniversary edition of The Searchers, John Ford’s scenery-rich but cornball western. I’ve never understood why the movie was named to the American Film Institute’s Top 100 list. So I was glad to see Robert Duvall’s comments in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. Duvall, who has appeared in six films on the Top 100 list, says he struggled to get through The Searchers, “finding it too stagy and Ford’s frontier men unrealistically ‘up, up, up’ and with a superimposed energy, not their own.’”

In other words, Ford’s direction of the actors was just lousy. Spencer Tracy once said that the trick was “not to let them catch you acting.” If so, The Searchers fails miserably. And it’s no excuse that the movie is 50 years old. The Maltese Falcon is 65 years old and holds up well. Sorry, but pretty shots of Monument Valley (ludicrously standing in for Texas) and cinematic symbolism (John Wayne, the outsider, standing yep, outside the door frame) aren’t sufficient to make a great movie.

MEDICAL QUIZ UPDATE: Last week, I asked readers to guess my hospital bill at Cedars-Sinai for a 26-hour visit. First prize: a new knee. No, wait. I got the knee. The first person who came within 15% of the actual bill would get a signed book. But no one who posted here or sent e-mail to me directly came close. Most guesses were too low; some were too high.

The correct answer: $57,886, not including the surgeon or anesthesiologist. (Like some motels on Ventura Boulevard, the operating room charges by the hour: $11,424 for the first hour, $9676 for each additional fifteen minutes. Clean sheets are free).

Now, before you start chipping in, I have excellent insurance thanks to battles fought before my time by unionized screenwriters. I’m a member of the Writers Guild of America, and my share of that bill is $950.


The Only Good Lawyer by Jeremiah Healy

Legal Tender by Lisa Scottoline

Hot Damn by James W. Hall

BEST HEADLINE OF THE WEEK: "For His Next Trick, My Husband Will Put the Seat Down." It's in Sunday's"Modern Love" column in The New York Times, where Amy Sutherland writes that she learned how to deal with her husband by working with wild animals. [My wife Renee asks, what's so surprising about that?] Ms. Sutherland writes: "The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband."

LEGAL BLOGS: No...not, as opposed to illegal blogs. I'm talking about blogs that comment on the courts, law firms, and the general dissaray of the so-called justice system. As a recovering lawyer, I'm addicted to these musings. You'll find a good selection at Law.com. One of them, the lively May It Please the Court, by Newport Beach lawyer J. Craig Williams, was just named "best individual weblog" by the Los Angeles Press Club.

And that's the news from Lake Hollywood and Sea World...Paul Levine


  1. A few of my favorite titles:

    THE TRANSITIVE VAMPIRE: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon

    THE HAGGLER'S HANDBOOK: One Hour to Negotiating Power by Koren & Goodman

    THE KEY TO REBECCA by Ken Follett

  2. Patty,
    Of course, the author of "False Profits" and "Cover Your Assets" would like clever titles. Well, so do I. I even have a favorite cookbook title: Steve Raichlen's "Miami Spice."

  3. Interesting that you mention Sea World... my wife is a med tech and we were looking at an ad in a trade for med techs and there was a job posting in Anaheim for med techs to work at Sea World...

    time off, 401K, discounted tickets and all the fish you can eat...

  4. Actually, make that San Diego, not Anaheim.

  5. I don't know, Mark. If you move to San Diego, you'll miss all those wonderful winters in the Midwest. It'll get boring. Ocean sunsets, soft breezes, dolphins dancing on the water. Trivia question. In the wacky 1973 film, "Day of the Dolphin," where George C. Scott taught the animals to speak, whose voice was used? Answer: Buck Henry, who also wrote the script. Which begs the question...why weren't the dolphins funnier?

  6. Mark,
    I did not mean the preceding comment to be anonymous, but I was busy tossing mackerel to the dolphins and got confused.

  7. On the other hand, Michigan doesn't have smog, earthquakes or mudslides. It does have General Motors, which is roughly equivalent to smog, earthquakes and mudslides. On the other hand, this year we have the Tigers.

    But summer in January... hmmm....

  8. I'm a major fan of your books [and blog], but somehow I missed your deal to guess your medical bill's amount. I would have guessed $57, 886.50. So I *guess* I'll just have to buy your book and add it to my collection of *every single book you've ever written.*

    As for The Searchers, I've never paid to watch a John Wayne movie [I didn't like his politics, nor his oft-quoted opinions on women - one of which I use in my latest book], but I remember watching The Searchers on TV and spending the whole film staring into Jeffrey Hunter's eyes. Ah, the foibles of youth.

    [Some of] my favorite titles:

    THE LOTTERY by Shirley Jackson

    BOYS AND GIRLS TOGETHER by William Goldman

    GONE, BABY, GONE by Dennis Lehane

    TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD by Paul Levine

  9. Many thanks, Denise. Meanwhile, "Chain a Lamb Chop to the Bed" ain't a half-bad title, either. And I'm not just returning a compliment. As for "To Speak for the Dead," I stumbled across the phrase doing research. It's part of the credo of a medical examiner's society: "To Protect the Living, To Speak for the Dead." Too good to pass up, better than anything I could have conjured up.

  10. Isn't "to speak for the dead" carved into the granite above the entrance to the New York City Medical Examiner's Office? I've heard it was, but that could be an urban legend.

  11. I thought the sign said: "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Actually, I don't know. I do know what it says on the pediment of the U.S. Supreme Court building: "Equal Justice Under Law." I've always thought that was redundant since justice wouldn't be justice if it weren't "equal." The pediment on the other side of the building says: "The Guardian of Liberty," which I think is a bit boastful and not always accurate.

  12. I suppose "abandon all hope ye who enter here" would be better than "8000 Autopsies Served Yearly" like McDonald's. Although, you know...