THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994) is the Coen Brothers Capraesque tale (the ending owes a lot to both It’s a Wonderful Life and Meet John Doe) of how Indiana hick Tim Robbins becomes president of a national conglomerate as part of Paul Newman’s scheme to drive down the stock price, then snap it up for a song. Jennifer Jason Leigh further complicates the mix doing a dead-on Katherine Hepburn impersonation as a brash reporter (but frankly I think a more toned-down Barbara Stanwyck character would have fitted better). Entertaining, but not as hilarious as Raising Arizona—I think the Coen style clashes with the style of the forties material too much. With Charles Durning as Robbins’ predecessor, Bruce Campbell and John Mahoney as fellow newshounds (Sam Raimi cowrote this, which may explain Campbell showing up) and Jon Polito and Peter Gallagher in bit parts. “I’m never supposed to do that—but could you think of a better option?”
SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinette Kowal Is a not-quite-successful fantasy set in a Jane Austen world where illusion casting is considered a demure womanly art like painting watercolors or playing piano. The protagonist is the ugly-duckling sister of a pretty young thing and, unfortunately, comes off even more passive than the protagonist of Mansfield Park, spending most of the book sitting around wringing her hands and wishing she were pretty. This has all the elements Austen heroines deal with (Obnoxious and Irritating Suitors, insecurity, annoying relatives and protecting friends from bad decisions) but never catches the magic.
John LeCarré forsook espionage in THE NAÏVE AND SENTIMENTAL LOVER for the old warhorse of a successful man having a midlife crisis—specifically a British businessman who dives into the waters of the sexual revolution, most significantly with a male author who’s slid into obscurity since his legendary first bestseller. This didn’t work for me, but I agree with LeCarré in the introduction that it’s not as far removed from his spy thrillers as critics complained at the time (as the author puts it, Aldo has the same inability to work out his personal issues as Smiley does and for the same reasons).
BLACK PANTHER BY JACK KIRBY reminds me why it took years for me to take Kirby’s standing in comics seriously—I didn’t start reading his stuff until the New Gods era was almost over, and almost everything he wrote after that was pretty feeble (Eternals and Kamandi excepted). While this collection is full of energy as T’Challa falls in with a scheming group of relic hunters called the Collectors, the stories and concepts are recycled old-hat pulp stuff (with the exception of King Solomon’s Frog, a tiny time machine in the shape of a frog figurine—a shame everything wasn’t that zany). For most of the series, T’Challa’s standing as King of Wakanda and a technological genius is largely ignored in favor of reducing him to the big tough sidekick (to the primary Collector, Mr. Little) who hits things. Very unimpressive.
WORKING-CLASS WAR: American Combat Soldiers & Vietnam by Christian G. Appy argues that class was the great dividing line between Vietnam veterans and non-veterans as the lower classes went to ‘nam for reasons ranging from lack of a job to ignorance about ways to get out of the draft to the guilt or shame factor when everyone else in their neighborhood was signing up. Appy’s work follows a general overview of how the grunts reacted to Vietnam, the Vietnamese and the war, and the shift in attitudes over time, most of which he finds More Complicated Than We Think (a lot of veterans who opposed the war didn’t come out and say so because they found the anti-war protesters equally objectionable). Very good