——heartburn - 1
Having just watched an Angelica Huston movie, we felt that logic dictated that we watch a Jack Nicholson movie; the first one we were willing to subject ourselves to was Heartburn, a 1986 film directed by Mike Nichols and based on Nora Ephron’s fictionalized account of her ill-fated marriage to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. Nicholson plays a D.C. journalist named Mark Forman and Meryl Streep plays a food writer named Rachel Samstat. These two meet at party, do the “why don’t we go somewhere else” routine, stretch “somewhere else” to mean Forman’s bed, and get married. Even if you didn’t know Ephron’s story, you’d know in the first few minutes of this film where the relationship is headed.
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Mark seems to be an enthusiastic husband and, as nature takes its course, a doting father. The only stress on the marriage at first is the incompetence of the contractor the couple hired to renovate the wreck of a house they bought in D.C. But behind the scenes Mark is having friendly doings with an awkwardly tall Washington hostess, and this comes to light when Rachel is almost ready to give birth to their second child. Rachel reacts to the revelation by rushing back to her father’s home in New York, but she succumbs to Mark’s entreaty that she return to him. That turns out to be a bad decision. The messy outcome involves a key lime pie.
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I don’t know how literally this story reflects what went on between Ephron and Bernstein (he had an affair with the wife of the British ambassador to the United States) but it doesn’t make clear what either of these characters really wants out of life. Rachel’s decision to marry Mark — after mutual acquaintances urge her not to, and after she holds up the ceremony for hours while she has a panic attack — is hard to absorb, and Mark’s passionate insistence on remaining in a marriage that clearly cramps his style is no more understandable. One conclusion I came to: It is possible to grow tired of Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson within 108 minutes. It is.

By the way, Heartburn marked the film debut of Kevin Spacey, who plays an armed robber who relieves Rachel of her wedding ring.  The cast also includes Maureen Stapleton, Richard Masur, Miloš Forman, and Stockard Channing.

KEVIN SPACEY

KEVIN SPACEY

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ANJELICA HUSTON

ANJELICA HUSTON

I never thought of Tom Jones as a deus ex machina, but in the movies all things are possible. To wit, Agnes Browne, which was co-produced and directed by Angelica Huston, who, apparently to prove that she is no shrinking violet, also played the title role. This movie, filmed in Dublin and released in 1999, was based on the novel The Mammy by Brendan O’Carroll, who appears several times in the film as a derelict townsman.

At the beginning of the film, set in 1967, we learn that Agnes Browne’s husband has been killed in a motor vehicle accident, leaving her with seven children to raise. This is quite a challenge inasmuch as, unless she can collect on her husband’s union pension, her only means of support will be selling fruits and vegetables in an open-air market. She doesn’t even have enough to cover the costs of her husband’s funeral and burial, so she borrows money from neighborhood loan shark Mr. Billy, played by Ray Winstone. When, after a few months, a stroke of luck enables Agnes to pay off the balance of the loan and avoid the usurious interest, Mr. Billy is irritated and he finds a way to get even by strong-arming one of Agnes’s young sons.

ARNO CHEVRIER

ARNO CHEVRIER

On the block where the open-air market is located, a French baker named Pierre, played by Arno Chervrier, has opened a shop, and although he is very courteous, he doesn’t hide the fact that he has eyes for Agnes. Agnes is too preoccupied to respond at first, but eventually she agrees to what turns out to be a very elegant date. But Agnes gets most of her personal support during this period from her fellow street merchant Marion Monks (Marion O’Dwyer) who is full of joie de vivre and sexual insights. Marion is so solicitous of her friend that she manages to buy tickets to a Tom Jones concert that she knows Agnes yearns to attend. Tragedy will eventually deprive Agnes of Marion’s friendship, and it’s a loss that Agnes can scarcely afford.

MARION O'DWYER and ANGELICA HUSTON

MARION O’DWYER and ANGELICA HUSTON

Because of the debt incurred by one of her sons, Agnes finds herself hours away from losing her furniture to Mr. Billy, although a viewer would hardly believe that such a blow will actually fall on this heroine.

This movie held our interest until the last few minutes despite the fact that we found the dialogue hard to follow in places because of the strong Irish accents and the tendency of some of the actors to mutter. We were absorbed mostly in the characters themselves and in the environment; the story line  wasn’t very durable. It was difficult to follow Agnes’s reactions and motivations, beginning with her matter-of-fact response to her husband’s sudden death. But the real weak spot in this movie is the denouement, the resolution of the Mr. Billy crisis, which primarily involves the children, draws in Tom Jones — in person —under improbable circumstances, and is just childish in general.

This movie wasn’t received well in the United States, but it seems to have done much better in Europe.

KAY KYSER and MERWYN BOGUE

KAY KYSER and MERWYN BOGUE

From time to time, I hear myself calling Marcello the Cat by another name — Ishkabibble. Usually it’s an unconscious substitution, but I caught myself at it the other day and had a vague recollection that I first heard that name from my mother and that she told me that it was the name of a character on a radio show. Since I can’t ask Mom about it any more and time is running out for me, I looked it up and found out that, indeed, there was a radio personality, Merwyn Bogue, who went by that nickname.

Bogue was headed for a career in law but his comic bent and his skill with the cornet led him into the entertainment business. He was associated for many years with Kay Kyser’s orchestra — even while he served in the Army during World War II — and he appeared on Kyser’s radio and television show, Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge.
Ish - 1Bogue’s stage routine was laced with horn playing and nonsensical babble, but he was sharp enough in real life that he managed Kyser’s band from 1931 to 1951. He also appeared in ten movies between 1939 and 1950.
When the market for his brand of entertainment dried up, Bogue made a living in real estate.

According to Bogue his stage name was taken from the title of a song — “Ische ka bibble” — ostensibly a Yiddish expression meaning “I should worry?” I have read in several sources, however, that the title is gibberish, not Yiddish. The song Bogue referred to was written in 1913 with music by George W. Meyer and words by Sam Lewis. This song apparently made the term almost immediately popular as a nonsense expression. Some folks who dabble in language think Ishkabibble could be derived from one of several actual Yiddish expressions, such as “Nish gefidlt,” meaning “It doesn’t matter to me.” There’s a three-minute video about Merwyn Bogue’s life at THIS LINK.

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My mind has been wandering for a couple of weeks, but yesterday I caught myself humming “Just a Love Nest,” and that nudged me back to the topic of performers’ theme songs. “Just a Love Nest” was one of the best known of that category — the theme for George Burns and Gracie Allen on their radio and television shows. The song, with music by Otto Harbach and words by Louis Hirsch, was written in 1920 for the musical Mary, which was produced by George M. Cohan. The chorus, which provided the melody line adopted by Burns and Allen, was appropriate both for their domestic comedy and for their personal lives, which constituted one long love story:

Love nest - 4Just a love nest
Cozy with charm,
Like a dove nest
Down on a farm.
A veranda with some sort of clinging vine,
Then a kitchen where some rambler roses twine.
Then a small room,
Tea set of blue;
Best of all, room—
Dream room for two.
Better than a palace with a gilded dome,
Is a love nest
You can call home.

LOUIS HIRSCH

LOUIS HIRSCH

“Love Nest” was Hirsch’s most successful song, but he was a prolific composer as well as an accomplished pianist. Between 1910 and 1924 he wrote scores for twenty-four musical shows, including four editions of the Ziegfeld Follies. He often contributed to the story line of the shows he worked on. He was one of the nine founders of the American Association of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), and he was a director of the organization for seven years.

No doubt we would have heard a lot more from Hirsch, but he died of pneumonia in 1924 at the age of 36. Treatment pneumonia was in its infancy at that time, and the disease was still a leading cause of death in the United States.

OTTO HARBACH

OTTO HARBACH

Otto Harbach, on the other hand, lived to be 89, and he wrote the lyrics of an impressive list of hit songs, including “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Indian Love Call,” “Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine,” “I Won’t Dance (Don’t Ask Me),” “One Alone,” and “Yesterdays.” Among the shows he worked on were No, No, Nanette, Rose-Marie, The Desert Song, and Roberta.

Harbach was also a founding member of ASCAP and served the organization in various capacities, including as president.

There is a recording of “Just a Love Nest” made in 1920 by a popular tenor named John Steel. You can hear it at THIS LINK.

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JESSICA TANDY and HUME CRONYN

JESSICA TANDY and HUME CRONYN

Movies that look squarely at romance as a phenomenon of old age are relatively rare, but we watched a worthy exception: the 1994 film “Camilla” with Jessica Tandy in the title role — the next-to-last of her career.
This film, shot in Canada and Georgia, concerns a young married couple from Toronto — Vincent and Freda Lopez (played by Elias Koteas and Bridget Fonda) — and an elderly pair who once were in love but have long been apart.

Vince is an artist and Freda is a musician and composer, but Vince doesn’t take her ambitions seriously and thinks of music only as her hobby. This, of course, is a point of tension in their marriage. The pair go off on a vacation, booking quarters in an outbuilding associated with the home of Camilla Cara, a retired concert violinist whose accounts of her past seem to drift in and out of reality.Watching over Camilla, or hovering over her, is her worrywart son Harold (Maury Chaykin) who produces B movies.

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Camilla and Freda have a common interest in music, and they quickly develop a relationship in which Freda gets the encouragement that she hasn’t gotten from Vince. Vince and Harold also have some common interests, and they embark on a joint business project, but Freda declines to go along when the men leave for Toronto to pursue their scheme. Camilla’s reminiscences often focus on a concert she played in the Winter Garden in Toronto — a concert that perhaps didn’t go quite the way she describes it. After the men leave, Camilla agrees to Freda’s suggestion that they, too, go to Toronto, but for the purpose of attending a concert at the Winter Garden where a soloist will perform the same Brahms piece Camilla played there decades before. Their eventful trip includes a visit to Ewald (Tandy’s husband, Hume Cronyn), a violin maker and Camilla’s former lover.

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As the two women squarely face the realities of their own lives Vincent and Howard, who panic when they return to Savannah and cannot find Camilla and Freda, undertake some reevaluation of their own. The critics didn’t rave about this film, which was directed by Deepa Mehta, but they were of one mind in praising Jessica Tandy’s performance. She died at the age of 85 the same year this film was released, and yet she seems as if she’s at the height of her powers in this role: warmhearted, impish, and passionate. Janet Maslin of the the Times wrote: “While ‘Camilla’ reveres its heroine, hers is hardly a standard great-lady role. Not every octogenarian actress would be game for skinny-dipping, fishing, violin playing and a wonderfully tender bedroom scene with her real-life husband.” This  movie has been criticized as contrived, but whether or not that is valid, Jessica Tandy alone is worth the price of admission.

JESSICA TANDY and BRIDGET FONDA

JESSICA TANDY and BRIDGET FONDA