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Avast, ye steampunk swabs! The Crimson Pirate

(A special post as part of the Swashbucklerthon at Silver Screen Classics)

The moment I saw the opening of The Crimson Pirate (1952) I knew it was going to be different.

A shirtless Burt Lancaster swings on a rope from one mast of his galleon to the other. Grinning, he warns us that on a pirate ship in pirate waters, we should believe only what we see. Swinging back to the other mast, he pauses and corrects himself: “No. Believe half of what you see.”

Lancaster plays Captain Vallo, a Caribbean pirate as cunning as he is acrobatic (Lancaster was a circus acrobat before his movie career). In the opening, Baron Gruda (Leslie Bradley), a Spanish emissary, spots a vessel adrift, its crew killed by scurvy. When he sends some men aboard to investigate, the not-so-dead crew clobber them, then capture Gruda’s ship.

With the Caribbean rife with rebellion against Spain, the ship’s hold is packed with muskets, shot and gunpowder for the colonial military. Vallo realizes the rebels would pay handsomely for that kind of armament, a thought that horrifies First Mate Bellows (Torin Thatcher). He protests futilely that gun-running’s not piracy, it’s … business!

The rest of the crew, however, is thrilled with thoughts of splitting the 50,000 florins Vallo says the guns are worth. They’re even more thrilled when Gruda and Vallo strike a deal. Vallo will sell guns to the Cobra Island revolutionary leader El Libre, then lure the rebels into Gruda’s hands for another 100,000 florins.

On Cobra, Vallo, accompanied by his sidekick Ojo (Nick Cravat, Lancaster’s former partner on the trapeze), hunts for El Libre, runs rings around Spanish troops — okay, technically he and Ojo jump, bounce and tumble their way around them — and meets El Libre’s daughter, Consuela (Eva Bartok). They’re mutually attracted but she’s a freedom fighter and he’s a ruthless cynic (“All my life, I’ve watched injustice and dishonesty fly the flag of decency — I don’t trust it.”).

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say Vallo finally does the right thing, Gruda does not crush the rebellion and Consuela/Vallo shippers will end up happy. The ending of any swashbuckler is predictable; it’s the journey there that makes it fun. Lancaster and Cravat’s delightful acrobatics. Cravat clowning silently like a second-string Harpo Marx (staying mute concealed his thick East Coast accent).  Thatcher’s Bellows, constantly reminding everyone how movie pirates are supposed to behave. Though I could have done without his grumbling when Vallo rules out assaulting Consuela (“We don’t leave a pretty woman molested aboard ship — it would give piracy a bad name.”).

On the down side, Eva Bartok isn’t strong enough as the fiery islander (she was actually Hungarian) to match Lancaster’s screen presence. Bradley’s Gruda is disappointingly bland. I’m sure a lot of colonial officials were bland functionaries but that’s no reason to make one the villain in a pirate swashbuckler. Neither one is so bad as to ruin the film though.

In some ways, the end of the film isn’t at all predictable. For one thing we have the scientist Elihu Prudence (James Hayter) who turns the climactic final battle against Gruda into a steampunk extravaganza. After intense days and nights of work he creates a balloon, duplicates the formula for nitroglycerin and comes up with some prototype wooden tanks (cannon with a movable wall around them). The Spanish are utterly terrified when Ojo drops bombs on them from the air.

Then there’s the politics. As Jeffrey Richards says in his excellent Swordsmen of the Screen, most swashbuckler movies are pro-monarchy. Sure, they overthrow a lot of tyrants, but only to set the rightful king on the throne again. Once Robin restores Richard the Lionhearted on England’s throne, it’s a given that peace and justice will reign again. Zorro doesn’t fight California’s corrupt government to claim independence but to put a just governor in charge.

The Crimson Pirate ain’t having none of that. Cobra’s people want independence, nothing less. The movie ends with the island free; with Vallo and Prudence on their side, we can be sure they’ll stay that way. That’s almost as remarkable as the steampunk.

The film is an unconventional swashbuckling romp and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good pirate film

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.



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Plushie, being helpful

So last weekend we put a second rug in the living room so that the dogs would have less hardwood surface to run over. We don’t want them stumbling and the yoga mats we put down weren’t cutting it.

Plushie decided to help by standing on the backing mat and not leaving.

Later in the process, he jumped up on a couch we’d moved, then jumped off the back onto his ramp. Given his back and leg issues, TYG was terrified he’d hurt himself, but he was fine.

Both he and Trixie seem delighted with the new carpeted area. Particularly Trixie, as she’s more of a run-and-chase toys dog.


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So I’m doing a con of sorts on March 6

One of my fellow McFarland authors suggested recently that as we can’t safely arrange any events to sell our books, we do one online (unofficially — this is not a McFarland promotion, just a bunch of writers). We all liked the idea, so we’re doing various presentations the afternoon of March 6 via Zoom. Link is on the poster.Here’s the start of the schedule (you can find the whole thing if you go to the Virtual Voices page on FB). I’ll be speaking about political paranoia on film and TV, the same topic I covered in my third book for McFarland. I think I’ll have to condense the topic quite a bit to cover it in under 10 minutes.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Liking stuff made by horrible people

The question of how we deal with discovering art we love — music, plays, film, books — has been created by someone awful is not an easy one. I can generally separate the art from the person, but other people simply can’t. Unless it’s a gut decision — e.g. I don’t want to read Orson Scott Card’s fiction since his rants about Obama enlisting black street gangs as his secret police (I still value his  writing how-to books though) — it requires some sort of moral calculus: is anyone racist/sexist/homophobic objectionable (obviously I’m focusing on liberal issues here, though I realize conservatives face this issue too)? Is one tasteless homophobic joke a decade ago a deal breaker (I have no specific case in mind)? What if they committed sexual assault and served their prison time? Now that Baen Books has been caught out allowing lots of far-right rhetoric in their online forum, Baen’s Bar (some details here and here) is anyone who publishes with them tacitly supporting extremism?

My views haven’t changed since I posted about this a few years back: it’s a personal decision (ditto if the writing itself is problematic in some way). If A doesn’t want to read J. K. Rowling because she’s so anti-trans that’s perfectly reasonable, but I  don’t think reading her means someone’s endorsing her views. Not everyone agrees though. Right-winger Michael Medved once admitted he didn’t want to give a good review to a film because he’d heard the screenwriter donated to Democrats; his review was actually favorable, but he did see No Review as a valid option.

Conversely, Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money thinks judging art based on the creator’s personal life is bullshit: “The problem with just saying “I’m not going to listen to this” or “I’m never watching a Woody Allen or Roman Polanski film” is that it not only rapidly turns into judging art based on the personal behavior of who made it, which is an artistic black hole, but it also ignores the fact that most art is a collaborative process and you are also erasing a lot of great people in the process.” Refuse to watch Woody Allen and you miss great actors; refuse to listen to Phil Spector-produced music and you penalize Darlene Love and other talented singers.

Loomis quotes Amanda Marcotte dismissing Judging The Creator as “narcissistic self-involvement” and “self-purity as a substitute for activism” — besides, even if the director and the actors are good people, how do you know the cinematographer wasn’t an abuser, huh? So what’s the point?

I think they’re full of it. While it’s certainly true that piously refusing to listen can be a demonstration of self-purity, it can also be sincere; I have an automatic hackles-rising reaction to this kind “oh, you’re just virtue-signaling” dismissal of other people’s positions. And the argument that shunning bigots or rapists is pointless because there are other bigots and rapists you don’t know to shun is dumbass. A personal decision not to buy books written by known child molesters is not invalid because other authors you like may be molesting in secret. Sure, if Marcotte and Loomis want to separate art and artist, that’s cool — like I said, I do — but holding that out as the solution? Not so much.

It’s true that if you don’t watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer because Joss Whedon is a creepy person (Michelle Trachtenberg, who was 15 on the show, says it was policy he would never be left alone with her) you miss out on some awesome performances by the cast. And Darlene Love’s singing is indeed awesome. But guess what? If you never saw a single episode of Buffy you’d still be able to fill your life with amazing performances by amazing actors. While Spector has had a huge impact on pop, I’m guessing one could live a full musical life stuffed with talented singers even if you never heard anything he’d had his hands on (I “guess” because I don’t have the musical expertise to be certain). There’s a lot of great stuff in the world, so much we’ll never listen to/watch all of it. Using the creator’s morals as a sorting system isn’t inherently a bad solution.

Liberal evangelical Fred Clark writes that in some cases, separating creator and creation can be toxic: if we’ve taken inspiration from Buffy, did we absorb some of Whedon’s negative attitudes along with the good stuff? Clark derived much insight from books by theologian John Howard Yoder “and I don’t know what to do with that, because while I had no idea at the time I was reading and underlining and wrestling with the profound ideas expressed in that book, it turns out that John Howard Yoder was a serial rapist and a deeply twisted spiritual abuser.” He quotes from Christian author Tanya Marlow: “What does it say to survivors of abuse everywhere when the church quotes from sexual predators as authorities on human life or the things of God?”

Like I said, I have no clear answer to any of this. But you’re stuck with my thoughts anyway.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Covers for Thanksgiving week

But not Thanksgiving themed.

One by EmshUncredited art for a great short story collection.One by Powers for Amis’ much criticized book on SF.An uncredited cover for a book that became a 1950s SF film.  A truly weird title on this uncredited cover. “Blood in their veins (so it doesn’t whistle)” — WTF dude?A mystery cover by Mort KuntslerAnd a mystery cover by Griffith Foxley that looks almost like a strange sf/fantasy cover.And I’ll wrap up with this one by George Ziel.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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The religious right is always wrong about homosexuality.

They’ve been proven wrong, time and again.

Quite possibly they’re not wrong to think the Barrett nomination to the Supreme Court will enable them to overturn the Obergefell gay marriage decision. But everything else? They’re full of it.

They used to claim they opposed homosexuality because gay people were promiscuous sluts and have you seen the disgusting things they do at gay pride parades? Now we know they’re just as disgusted by the sight of a same-sex couple in formal wear pledging eternal love to each other.

They predicted gay marriage would somehow destroy straight marriage. Gay marriage has been legal in some states since 2003, and straight marriage still exists.

They predicted their churches would be forced to perform gay marriages and that preachers who called gay sex a sin would be jailed. Hasn’t happened in the past 17 years.

Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Conference has complained that when the right-wing loses it’s because the moral side of the debate has been ignored. He’s wrong: gay rights is the moral side.

The right routinely claims they have a first amendment right to call gays disgusting perverts and pedophiles. They don’t think anyone has a first amendment right to criticize them for it. Any more than they respect the religious freedom of those whose faith says gay rights are good.

As the link in the first paragraph notes, the religious right has always claimed the real issue was that gay marriage shouldn’t be imposed by judges. But they complain just as much when legislatures pass gay marriage. And I guarantee that if the Roberts Court ever ruled that no state had the right to allow gay marriage, the religious right would celebrate without one peep about states’ rights.

Their homophobia is a minority, but that’s part of what makes them so angry. They really do believe they’re holier than us and not getting respected for it, seeing the world ignore their wishes, is making them more vicious than ever.

I look forward to the day their hate is largely toothless but we’re not there yet.

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For anyone who’s curious

The WaPo has a piece on how to track your mail-in ballot. You can find state-specific voting and ballot-tracking information here.

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Women and their men: books read

Tim Hanley acknowledges that the title of his BETTY AND VERONICA: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale isn’t always accurate: for a lot of their history the girls have been supporting characters in Archie’s life, either prizes for him to win or plot obstacles (can he take them both to the same dance without either girl catching on?); progress away from that was often two steps forward, three steps backward (as might be expected from books created by men in their fifties, the women’s liberation era was particularly painful). At the same time, the need to create lots of stories within a limited fromula led to increasing emphasis on them being capable, and to their friendship becoming more important than their rivalry over Archie.

Hanley looks at how the girls’ stories has adapted to the many trends of Archie’s long history: the spy and superhero era (Betty became Superteen), writer/artist Al Hartley putting lots of Christian themes in the books (the point at which Good Christian Girl Betty began stealing some of the spotlight from Veronica), the rise of specialty comics stores (surprisingly good for them as the effects on the comics market led to their books outselling Archie’s), 21st century variations such as Life With Archie and Afterlife With Archie and the various attempts to bring them to other media (including a radio show, lots of TV cartoons and most recently the hit Riverdale). I’ve never been an Archie fan, but I still found this one fascinating.

Listening to the soundtrack of Six: The Musical (What If Henry VIII’s Wives Were a Spice Girls-Like Pop Group?) and realizing how little I really know about the women prompted me to check out THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII by Antonia Fraser from the library. Fraser does a good job showing there’s more to the women than their stereotypes (Betrayed Wife, Sexy Temptress, Good Woman, etc.). Anne Boleyn, for example, was just as interested in religion as Catherine of Aragon, though less devout and considerably more Protestant (a view that often put her at odds with her husband); Catherine Parr wrote a couple of religious texts herself. Fraser does well detailing the tangled scheming and political maneuvering around not only Henry’s marriages but the proposed marriages for children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, as well as on some of the mundane details (no sooner did the royal decorator replace Catherine of Aragon’s symbols with Anne’s than he had to start over replacing Anne’s logo with Jane Seymour’s). She also makes clear that Henry was seen even at the time as an outlier, one monarch quipping he’d marry off his sister to Henry if only she had a second neck. Very good.

#SFWApro. Covers by Bill Vigoda (top) and Brittney Williams, all rights remain with current holders.


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Feeling a little crazy this week

I now have two friends posting QAnon memes on FB. I got curt enough to tell one of them her LARPing and posting memes wasn’t saving any children.

I also had to deal with a woman who responded to one of my posts about paranoia about Obama’s presidency (remember the FEMA concentration camps?) by claiming she’d been put in a “financial concentration camp” when the IRS targeted her for being a right-winger and billed her an outrageous amount of back taxes. She kept linking to evidence that proved absolutely nothing (yes, the IRS did subject a lot of tax-exempt right and left-wing groups to excess scrutiny but that’s not the same as “the IRS hit me with a big bous tax bill!”). So I blocked her.

And as sometimes happened, the realization how totally insane things have gotten left me completely freaked out for a bit.

On the plus side, I recommended my friend Sherry Harris’s new book, From Beer to Eternity, on Facebook, and people actually bought it! Signal successfully boosted (review to come this weekend).

Even so, this chaotic Powers cover expresses my mood this week well. #SFWApro, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Pet photography

So last weekend I walked Trixie and Wisp followed us the entire way. She always sounds upset when we go, but this time it sounded a little different — given how fast she tucked into her dinner I think she was hungry. But as we were going up one nearby street, she and Trixie saw a rabbit on someone’s lawn and both immediately stopped and dropped into Hunting stance.You can just make out the rabbit in this shot.Then TYG set down one of our treat containers in front of Plushie. He smelled ’em, but he couldn’t get to them so he looked up at Mommy for help.And while our dogs rarely snuggle together, they somehow wound up doing it on the couch after I got up.Hopefully all that will brighten your day and tide you over to the weekend.


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