The Music Man offers a bit of extra Whiz Bang for your buck.
We got an e-mail from Bill S., who writes about our Capt. Billy’s Whiz Bang posting from last week:
Speaking of, said periodical is numbered among “the tell-tale signs of corruption” by Prof. Harold Hill, the Music Man, when he terrorizes the good people of River City with the horrors of Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Pool.
“Is he memorizing jokes from Capt. Billy’s Whiz Bang?”
Saw your post and went for my dvd copy of the great movie, as much about changing times as it is about music. Grabbed a screen shot of Buddy Hackett exposing a young lad as a Capt Billy’s reader to his mother.
Love your site.
You can see in Bill S.'s screen grab that, sure enough, Buddy Hackett is holding a copy of Whiz Bang. Meanwhile, Robert Preston is singing: “Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger? A dime novel hidden in the corncrib? Is he starting to memorize jokes from Captain Billy's Whiz Bang?” But Hollywood may have been taking liberties with the time period here, since the first Whiz Bang was published in 1919 and The Music Man is seemingly set years earlier. Bill S. responded:
Prof. Hill lies about being a grad of Gary Conservatory ’05 (“aught five”) and since Preston looks like no spring chicken, I added 15 or so years. Gets it in the range of the mag. Seems like turn-of-the-century but out in Iowa there might have been a lag. Still might. And so Hackett may just be yanking Capt. Billy’s Whiz Bang #1 out of the kid's pocket. The birth of modern pulp.
Re: the subtle subtext of a new era: it starts with the opening number, actually a “rap” about all the products the traveling salesman can no longer sell, and that even the profession of the drummer may already be obsolete. Hill’s nemesis sells anvils and carries a sample with him. Hill sells band instruments from a catalog by drop ship. He also peddles a teaching philosophy akin to modern self-help fads. The Think Method. And then there’s the unknotting of Shirley Jones’ repression. Oh my! Has any woman ever looked better in a movie?
An underappreciated work, that Music Man. Ripe for ridicule because of the obviousness of well-known show stoppers, but the love song was covered by the Beatles.
Have to agree about the movie. It’s a good laugh. Even that famous Whiz Bang number—the song “Trouble”—is quite funny. If you get a chance, check it out here. It’s worth your time. When Hackett pulls out the magazine—around the 3:00 mark—you can see the cover clearly, and it’s the one below. What Bill says about Shirley Jones is true, also. She’s very tempting. See the post below.
This Gun for Hire is a celebrated proto-noir—but is it good?
We checked the movie rating website Rotten Tomatoes for its assessment of the thriller This Gun for Hire and learned that the film scored over 92% among its stable of professional critics. Ninety-two percent? Then surely this must be one of the greatest films ever made, a near flawless work of art. But when you read the reviews more closely, many note the film’s unbelievable plot, reliance upon coincidence, cheesy musical interludes, and less-than-stellar dialogue. So then what’s with the high rating? Well, let’s just say professional critics sometimes rate with their sense of film history rather than their heads. This Gun for Hire helped establish tropes that would be used again and again as the film noir genre developed and flourished, so that’s a big reason film experts like the movie. But is it good? Well…
Now, don’t get us wrong—we aren’t out to slam the flick. Who’d listen to us anyway? We’re just a couple of heavy drinkers who slapped together a website out of sheer boredom. But we’re also fairly bright, and fairly well-versed in film, and we feel confident in saying that any honest assessment of This Gun for Hire would stress the bothersome structural improbabilities. Example A: Veronica Lake plays a San Francisco nightclub performer/magician who happens to catch the eye of a big-timeclub owner, who invites her to perform in L.A., resulting in a train ride that not only coincides with his, but with that of a hired killer he has betrayed, leading directly to an eye-roller in which that very same killer sits in the only empty seat in the carriage—right next to our singer Ms. Lake. Anything that puts Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake together is justified, to an extent, so you’ll probably let that pass. Example B: Lake is engaged to a cop who happens to be part of an investigation into two murders committed by the very same killer sitting next to Lake on the SF/LA night express. Hmm. There’s more, much more, but you get the point.
So what about that 92% rating? Well, Alan Ladd is magnetic and brutally handsome as the ice-cold killer Philip Raven. Veronica Lake is less good as the chanteuse Ellen Graham, but still manages a game performance in a role that could be better written. Robert Preston is note-perfect as the boyfriend detective. So there’s all that. The film looks good, is well-directed by Frank Tuttle, moves quickly and builds a nice atmosphere ofmenace. So there are those things too. And again, the film is a building block in the genre that would later become known as film noir. But if, hypothetically, you’ve never seen a film noir or classic melodrama and This Gun for Hire were to be your first, it would not convert you into a fan. On the other hand, if you already enjoy mid-century cinema, this one will fit snugly in your comfort zone. All in all, we very much appreciate the movie, but a film that rates 92% among professional critics should not be so chock-full of coincidences that even a fourteen-year-old would be incredulous.
At top you see one of the movie’s three French-language posters. The other two are below. This Gun for Hire, which opened Stateside in 1942 but went unseen in Europe due to the inconvenience of World War II, finally premiered in Paris as Tueur à gages or “Hired Killer” today in 1947.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1974—Police Raid SLA Headquarters
In the U.S., Los Angeles police raid the headquarters of the revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of six members. The SLA had gained international notoriety by kidnapping nineteen-year old media heiress Patty Hearst
from her Berkeley, California apartment, an act which precipitated her participation in an armed bank robbery.
1978—Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body Is Found
Eleven weeks after it was disinterred and stolen from a grave in Corsier near Lausanne, Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin's corpse is found by police. Two men—Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian—are convicted in December of stealing the coffin and trying to extort £400,000 from the Chaplin family.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
1905—Las Vegas Is Founded
Las Vegas, Nevada is founded when 110 acres of barren desert land in what had once been part of Mexico are auctioned off to various buyers. The area sold is located in what later would become the downtown section of the city. From these humble beginnings Vegas becomes the most populous city in Nevada, an internationally renowned resort for gambling, shopping, fine dining and sporting events, as well as a symbol of American excess. Today Las Vegas remains one of the fastest growing municipalities in the United States.
1928—Mickey Mouse Premieres
The animated character Mickey Mouse, along with the female mouse Minnie, premiere in the cartoon Plane Crazy, a short co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This first cartoon was poorly received, however Mickey would eventually go on to become a smash success, as well as the most recognized symbol of the Disney empire.
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