Movies and books

ONLY WITH MARRIED MEN (1974) is a flat made-for-tv comedy in which relationship burnout Michelle Lee decides that a no-strings affair with unhappily married David Birney might be the solution, unaware that she’s mistaken him for married colleague Dom deLuise and Birney’s actually the very kind of bachelor she’s running from. Despite a solid supporting cast (John Astin as a shrink and Judy Carne as DeLuise’s wife), this doesn’t have the energy a good farce needs, and the leads come off a little too nice (it would have been more fun if Lee had a pattern of dating married men, for instance). “You’ll lie to her because it’s in your own interest.”
11:14 (2005) shows that stories of Intersecting Lives a la Two Days in the Valley or Crash are harder to pull off than they look—this interweaving doesn’t make the whole more than the some of the parts and none of the parts about various lowlives in LA adds up to much. With Hillary Swank as a salesclerk, Rachael Lee Cook as a bimbo, Patrick Swayze and Barbara Hershey as her parents and Henry Thomas as a drunk. “I’m sorry, but we’re out of handcuffs.”
DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971) is the Hammer film in which Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) attempts to use female hormones as the basis for an eternal-youth formula, only to discover the effect is to transform him into murderous Martine Beswick. With Jack the Ripper and Burke and Hare thrown in too, this is so over the top it probably shouldn’t have worked, but it does. “I’m much stronger than my brother—I have been since the day I was born.”
BLACULA (1972) stars William Marshall as Mumuwalde, a black prince who makes the mistake of asking Vlad Tepes for support in ending the slave trade, resulting in his winding up undead in Los Angeles a century later, where he pursues Vonetta McGee as the reincarnation of his lost queen. An above-average blacksploitation film, and the earliest vampire film I’m aware of in which the vampire changes face going into attack mode; very inconsistent on the rules though, with Mumuwalde’s victims rising anywhere from a few days to a few seconds after being bitten. “This place will become your tomb—none of you will escape my vengeance.”

THE RAT BEGAN TO GNAW THE ROPE is an enjoyable 1940s mystery by C.W. Grafton (better known now as Sue Grafton’s father) in which a lawyer is asked to investigate why a corporate executive would offer the daughter of a deceased worker five times what the family’s shares in the company were worth (needless to say, it soon upgrades from stock-market fraud to murder). Entertaining (I can see some of his daughter’s style in this, though that may be my imagination) though the protagonist is nowhere near as outrageous and charming as the characters keep insisting he is (and the looooong exposition at the end is the kind of thing mysteries have moved away from, I think).
BRAK THE BARBARIAN—THE MARK OF THE DEMONS works much better than Brak vs. The Sorceress, as Brak’s efforts to cross a deadly desert force him to join forces with an ill-fated caravan targeted by vampires. This gives Brak more motivation to fight than the previous book (traveling across the desert he’s in no position to do anything else) and make for fun reading. It does show Jakes had a problem coming up with fantasy names though (Ibrahim of the Quran desert raiders, for instance).
PLAYING THE RACE CARD: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson by Linda Williams argues that melodrama is a defining trait of American film (and that rather than being opposed to realism, it can fit with it quite well), particularly when it comes to race. Williams argues that the key characteristic of melodrama is suffering as a badge of virtue, in which light the landmark works on race are Uncle Tom’s Cabin (asking whites to identify with the Suffering Slave) and the “anti Tom” Birth of a Nation (where the suffering is that of the Violated White Woman). Williams then goes on to discuss how this applies in such films as Gone With the Wind (in which Scarlett becomes the suffering, struggling one that we root for), Roots (“Uncle Tom’s Cabin invited whites to identify with the oppressed slave—Roots invited blacks to do it.”) and the O.J. Simpson and Rodney King trials. Interesting, if not completely convincing.
ARCHER’S GOON by Diana Wynne Jones is the hulking Brute Man who invades a writer’s house to find out how the man’s writing exercises have trapped seven powerful wizards in town for more than a decade, only to have the wizards begin to use their own power over mundane life to find out the same thing (“All the shops were open, but they were closed as soon as I got to the door.”). Reminiscent of Jones’ The Ogre Downstairs in showing a normal family suddenly beset by magic, and certainly one of Jones’ most functional family groups (but of course, she has the wizard family to handle the dysfunction, including her trick of having some relatives turn out not as bad as they appear).
ESSENTIAL TOMB OF DRACULA Vol. 4 collects various stories from Marvel’s B&W magazines of the seventies and eighties (Tomb of Dracula and Dracula Lives) showing Dracula’s initial transformation and rise to king of the undead, then his various adventures through the centuries that followed, culminating with a few in the present. Very much a mixed bag, but enough good stuff to be satisfying if you’re a fan, I think.

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