Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Be in a Movie. Ten Shekels."

From Paul

Sorry for the two-week hiatus, but I’ve been under the weather and limping. I’ve suffered a summer flu bug; my formerly good knee is clicking like an old teletype with bone grinding on bone; and I can’t seem to write anything except checks to Los Angeles Water & Power. [In August, air conditioning cost more than my first car. And no, Jim Born, it wasn't a Model-T].

Many thanks to Jim Grippando for ably filling in last week.

Today, let's talk about some really talented people. For starters, how about David Mamet, Otto Preminger, and Christopher Hitchens?


This comes from David Mamet’s “Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business.”

In 1960, Otto Preminger lacked the budget to hire the 10,000 extras he needed to shoot a huge crowd scene in Jerusalem in “Exodus,” the movie about Israel’s fight for independence. So how did he get the extras?

“I charged them,” Preminger explained.

He papered the town with posters: “Be in a movie, ten shekels.” As Mamet comments, “That’s what I call a producer.”

My favorite Preminger film is “Anatomy of a Murder,” released one year before “Exodus.” It’s widely available on DVD, and I recommend it highly.

Many years ago, I was a pen pal of the late John Voelker, the Michigan judge who wrote the novel that was the source material for the movie. In one letter, I asked Voelker (who wrote under the name “Robert Traver”) if he was upset that Preminger, though faithful to much of the story, completely revised the ending. Voelker’s reply was, “Yes, Preminger changed it quite a bit. Made it better, don’t you think?” Unusual reaction for an author. Clive Cussler recently sued the studio over the adaptation of “Sahara,” which is sort of like complaining that the Dumpster messed up your garbage.

The film version of “Anatomy,” though tame by today’s standards, was something of a sensation nearly 50 years ago. The words “rape,” “girdle,” “panties” and “bitch” were pretty racy at the time.

There are a lot of quotable lines in “Anatomy of a Murder,” including this wonderful soliloquy about juries by the old, boozy lawyer Parnell Emmett McCarthy (Arthur J. O’Connell):
“Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind - unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.”

I agree...unless the Phil Spector jury returns an acquittal (highly unlikely) or cannot reach a verdict (a possibility).


Here's a wonderful courtroom colloquy between defense lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) and witness Alphonse Paquette (Murray Hamilton).

Biegler: “Mr. Paquette, what would you call a man with an insatiable penchant for women?”

Paquette: “A what?”

Biegler: “A penchant... a desire... taste... passion.”

Pacquette: “Well, uh, ladies' man, I guess. Or maybe just a damn fool!”

Judge: “Just answer the questions, Mr. Paquette. The attorneys will provide the wisecracks."

“Anatomy” was nominated for a passel of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (James Stewart), Best Supporting Actor (both George C. Scott and Arthur J. O’Connell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Wendell Mayes), Best Cinematography (Sam Leavitt), Best Film Editing (Louis Loeffler), but didn’t win any. Of course, 1959 was a banner year for films, including “Some Like It Hot,” “North by Northwest,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Room at the Top,” “Compulsion,” “Rio Bravo,” and Jim Born’s favorite movie, “Pillow Talk.” The winner in the Best Picture category was “Ben-Hur,” with Charlton Heston riding his chariot to the Best Actor award without the use of any firearms.


I've been reading about religion lately, a first for me. So, today's question for readers. Does God exist? We report. You decide.

"You're born. You suffer. You die. Fortunately, there's a loophole."
–The Rev. Billy Graham

“Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did.”
–Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”

“Reason is the devil’s harlot, who can do nought but slander and harm whatever God says and does.”
–Martin Luther

''In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me -- of God not being God -- of God not existing.''
–Mother Teresa’s private journal, 1959

“I am a man of one book.”
–Thomas Aquinas

“Cave ab homine unius libri.” (Beware the man of one book).
–Latin proverb.

Finally, in news from the world of sports & religion, Notre Dame is 0-3 with an offense that has yet to cross an opponent's goal line. That's right. Touchdown Jesus is AWOL.

(Click the envelope below to send this post to a pal. It won't cost you a shekel).

Vive, vale...



  1. I think I'll pass on commenting on God (I'm in enough trouble these days at it is).

    As for "Anatomy of a Murder," that's a wonderful movie and a wonderful book. I have to say I don't remember the endings being different. Might have to re-read and re-view now. I do remember that the ending of the movie can be a little unsettling. It's slightly ambiguous, only actually suggesting that although Jimmy Stewart got the guy off, he was actually guilty and Stewart knew it.

    The other thing I remember most (besides the now-silly conversation between the defense, the judge, and the prosecution--George C. Scott, if I remember correctly--about something less inflammatory to call panties, not a single genius coming up with the word "underpants", but one saying he knew a french word, but that was worse.) was the book takes place in Iron Mountain, Michigan, which isn't a thriving metropolis now, let alone 40 or 50 years ago. But if you watch the movie, the little honky-tonk bar has a pianist that happens to be, I believe, Louis Armstrong, which is pretty high-powered for Iron Mountain.

  2. Funny you should ask this. Just a few weeks ago I had a few evangelicals knock on my door. I told them I wasn't a Christian, something that usually ends the conversation and they move on with their nets. But one woman stopped and asked if I believed in God. I told her I believed that there was something, but It was too big and mysterious for me to understand. She pushed and I mentioned the story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant. No one could know the whole thing, only small parts and then imperfectly.

    I had never explained it like that before, but I think it sums up my beliefs pretty well.

    Anyway, it seemed to satisfy the young lady. Whether she gave it any more thought or not, I don't know.

  3. Mark,
    Good analysis of the film. Yes, actual guilt vs. innocence is unresolved. So, too, are the ethical questions of a lawyer who suggests to his client that he might have been temporarily insane.

    I love this touch, too. Jimmy Stewart's reward for his brilliant courtroom tactics: he doesn't get paid.

    Your memory only failed you at one point. That was Duke Ellington playing piano. He also wrote the jazzy score, which at first blush, doesn't seem to go with the rural locale. After all, this isn't "Sweet Smell of Success" territory. Nonetheless, the music works with the themes of the movie.

    David, keep making those evangelicals (and everyone else) think.

  4. Yeah, I have to say, why would Louis Armstrong be playing the piano? Duke Ellington makes sense. And it's a great score.

  5. If Notre Dame ever plans to see the promise of the End Zone, "Touchdown Jesus" is going to need the Apostles to show up, suit up, and form a non transparent "O-line."

    In your existential search may I suggest a good healthy dose of Kierkegaard...Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, Repetition, Philosophical Fragments,and The Concept of Dread.....[like you have the time to read all those]
    "God is a highest conception, not to be explained in terms of other things, but explainable only by exploring more and more profoundly the conception itself." Soren Kierkegaard


  6. Welcome back, Paulie!!!!!!! We missed you.

    I've never seen "Anatomy." In fact, I haven't seen most of those old classic movies. God wouldn't have approved.

  7. I'm impressed by two things.
    The dumpster comment is very funny and managing to get have opposng quotes from Christopher Hitchens and Martin Luther.

    I'd like to see Thomas Jefferson and Paulie Shore compared next week.


  8. Mark,
    I scramble names all the time. When I tried to type that "Anatomy" was written by Wendell Mayes, it came out Willie Mays.

  9. While I believe in a Creator, I have trouble believing in the bloodthirsty psychopath of Judeo-Christian theology, who demands literal blood--even the blood of His own innocent Son--to appease his wrath at us for being what He made us to be. The God of the Bible struck an innocent man dead who was trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling off a cart and smashing to bits on the ground. That God sent bears from the forest to dismember a group of children who were making fun of His prophet's bald head.

    I just have trouble reconciling that level of brutality with the same Creator that gave us DNA, the rings of Saturn, and the butterfly.

  10. J.D.,

    "...DNA, the rings of Saturn, and the butterfly."

    May I add to that, "creme brulee?"

  11. Don't forget chocolate. Never, every forget chocolate.

  12. Of course it was appropriate that Ellington was playing the piano in the bar, as he wrote the amazing score for the movie. James Stewart actually takes a turn at the keyboard and does nicely.

    I own this on DVD and just watched it again the other night. In my view, it’s the best courtroom movie ever (Paul Newman the “The Verdict” being a close, and more realistic, second). Just as barkeeps are seldom as articulate as Bogie’s Richard Blaine, and even icons of history never really spoke so well as O’Toole’s Lawrence, there are few lawyers, judges, witnesses, cops or clients who turn a phrase the way all the characters in Preminger’s movie do.

    But a trial lawyer can dream.

  13. Hmmm. I believe God exists, but we'll never understand Him. How can finite minds understand, let alone explain, the infinite? The blind men with the elephant may be the best attempt yet.
    Hope your knee quits grinding away.

    Hope you weren't saying SAHARA was garbage. I like Cussler, I like you, I like Born (and Bourne), I like Smiley (Patty and George) and Winspear and Grippando and Ure and.... I never believed I liked garbage. (It WAS a funny analogy, though.)

    Tom, T.O.

  14. Robert,
    My 3 favorite courtroom movies are:
    "The Verdict"
    "Anatomy of a Murder"
    "Witness for the Prosecution"

    If only someone had scripted my lines when I was trying cases...