"WHAT DO YOU WANT MEANING FOR? LIFE IS A DESIRE, NOT A MEANING." (Charlie Chaplin)
What's It All About?
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
"It's a quarter to three, there's no one in the place except you and me."
That phrase from a great Sinatra song beautifully evokes the feeling of being awake in the darkest hours of the night. In my case, the setting is not a bar but my darkened living room, and no one is in the place except me and my movies and books. It's not a bad time, really. I have always loved the night. Sometimes, though, worries and fears easily surface and whisper in your ear. So instead of a drink, or maybe even with one, I pull out an old familiar friend. Sometimes it's a book I've read many times, sometimes a movie I know by heart. I feel that tonight will be a long vigil, so my choice is two classic movies that I love.
Somehow, for me, the black and white films of the 30's and 40's are my favorites for such times. They aren't always particularly calm, quiet stories, they aren't always deep drama, but they have a soothing, otherworldly quality that suits me at night. One that I picked for tonight is a sweet and funny little detective story released in 1934 called Murder on the Blackboard. My favorite crotchety spinster with wry humor and a good heart is Miss Hildegarde Withers, played so well by dear Edna May Oliver. She is a schoolteacher who finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery and uses her particular talents of biting wit and action to follow the clues and reveal the murderer. Edna May did two other movies as Miss Withers, The Penguin Pool Murders and Murder On A Honeymoon. I wish she had done more.
If I don't fall asleep, which I believe will be the case, I am putting on The Lodger, a 1944 film about a mysterious man (Laird Cregar) who shows up at a London home late one night looking for a room. In the streets, newsboys are crying out headlines about Jack the Ripper's latest murder that very night. I guess you can see where this is going. Merle Oberon and my favorite dashing Englishman, George Sanders, find themselves enmeshed in the life of this menacing man. It is a great film, rich with fog and shadows and sinister atmosphere.
I might have picked one of Val Lewton's films of the early 40's, like Cat People or I Walked With A Zombie, perhaps something of the early 1930's, like Dracula or The Werewolf of London, maybe one of the 1940's series The Saint with George Sanders. All have the qualities of light and shadow, atmosphere and story that appeal to me.
I wonder what you would choose in the dark hours of the night.