Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Hepburn Hurricane of 1938

"My God. It was something devastating--and unreal--like
the beginning of the world--or the end of it--and I slogged and sloshed, crawled through ditches and hung on to keep going somehow--got drenched and bruised and scratched--completely bedraggled--finally got to where there was a working phone and called Dad."

~Katharine Hepburn, recalling the September 21, 1938

The first picture captures Hepburn's thoughts as to what she had just been through; a Category 5 hurricane. I've long been fascinated with this chapter in Kate's life. It's easy to imagine the plucky Hepburn taking charge of rescue and recovery, etc. in the wake of all that destruction. She's either great to have in a crisis or she is the crisis!

As someone who's been through their share of hurricanes--though nothing like that '38 storm, and that's including Hurricane Andrew--I find it to be a gripping story how Hepburn and her friends and family huddled in her stately home, Fenwick, located in Old Saybrook Connecticut, while destruction raged outside their door and soon destroying the home itself as well as nearly all of Kate's belongings, including her first Best Actress Oscar (later recovered).

It may cheapen the experience to say so, but I'd even watch a movie on this very subject. Kate vs. the Hurricane or Hepburn: A Tale of Survival. Okay, I really am cheapening the whole thing...

Here's the NOAA summary of the 1938 New England hurricane:

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938
CAT 3 - September 21, 1938

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was one of the most destructive and powerful storms ever to strike Southern New England. This system developed in the far eastern Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands on September 4. It made a twelve day journey across the Atlantic and up the Eastern Seaboard before crashing ashore on September 21 at Suffolk County, Long Island, then into Milford, Connecticut. The eye of the hurricane was observed in New Haven, Connecticut, 10 miles east of Milford. The center made landfall at the time of astronomical high tide, moving north at 60 mph. Unlike most storms, this hurricane did not weaken on its way toward Southern New England, due to its rapid forward speed and its track. This kept the center of the storm over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

Sustained hurricane force winds occurred throughout most of Southern New England. The strongest winds ever recorded in the region occurred at the Blue Hill Observatory with sustained winds of 121 mph and a peak gust of 186 mph. Sustained winds of 91 mph with a gust to 121 mph was reported on Block Island. Providence, Rhode Island recorded sustained winds of 100 mph with a gust to 125 mph. Extensive damage occurred to roofs, trees and crops. Widespread power outages occurred, which in some areas lasted several weeks. In Connecticut, downed power lines resulted in catastrophic fires to sections of New London and Mystic. The lowest pressure at the time of landfall occurred on the south side of Long Island, at Bellport, where a reading of 27.94 inches was recorded. Other low pressures included 28.00 inches in Middletown, Connecticut and 28.04 inches in Hartford, Connecticut.

The hurricane produced storm tides of 14 to 18 feet across most of the Connecticut coast, with 18 to 25 foot tides from New London east to Cape Cod. The destructive power of the storm surge was felt throughout the coastal community. Narragansett Bay took the worst hit, where a storm surge of 12 to 15 feet destroyed most coastal homes, marinas and yacht clubs. Downtown Providence, Rhode Island was submerged under a storm tide of nearly 20 feet. Sections of Falmouth and New Bedford, Massachusetts were submerged under as much as 8 feet of water. All three locations had very rapid tides increased within 1.5 hours of the highest water mark.

Rainfall from this hurricane resulted in severe river flooding across sections of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Three to six inches fell across much of western Massachusetts and all but extreme eastern Connecticut. Considerably less rain occurred to the east across Rhode Island and the remainder of Massachusetts. The rainfall from the hurricane added to the amounts that had occurred with a frontal system several days before the hurricane struck. The combined effects from the frontal system and the hurricane produced rainfall of 10 to 17 inches across most of the Connecticut River Valley. This resulted in some of the worst flooding ever recorded in this area. Roadways were washed away along with sections of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad lines. The Connecticut River, in Hartford reached a level of 35.4 feet, which was 19.4 feet above flood stage. Further upstream, in the vicinity of Springfield, Massachusetts, the river rose to 6 to 10 feet above flood stage, causing significant damage.

A total of 8,900 homes, cottages and buildings were destroyed, and over 15,000 were damaged by the hurricane. The marine community was devastated. Over 2,600 boats were destroyed, and over 3,300 damaged. Entire fleets were lost in marines and yacht clubs along Narragansett Bay. The hurricane was responsible for 564 deaths and at least 1,700 injuries in Southern New England. Damage to the fishing fleets in Southern New England was catastrophic. A total of 2,605 vessels were destroyed, with 3,369 damaged.

Widespread inland flooding, high winds inland, with severe coastal flooding.

Deaths: 564 Injured: >1,700
Destroyed: 2,600 Damaged: 3,300
Destroyed: 8,900 Damaged: > 15,000
Catastrophic fires touched off by powerlines in Connecticut.

This information was taken from "Southern New England Tropical Storms and Hurricanes, A Ninety-eight Year Summary 1909-1997", by David R. Vallee and Michael R. Dion, National Weather Service, Taunton, MA.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Manhattan Murder Mystery (“MMM”), Woody Allen's 1993 film brings the “Husband & Wife Detectives” concept towards a contemporary time frame, but this being Woody Allen and this being a Golden Age blog (mostly), there’s nostalgia aplenty in this lightweight effort, so it’s just the kind of mystery-comedy we love. Besides, even my dearest enemies know I’m a longtime Woody Allen fan, so reviewing this movie will come as no surprise to anyone.

The Story: Larry and Carol Lipton (Woody Allen and Diane Keaton), a middle-aged New York City couple have recently become “empty nesters” now that their son is away at college. Larry works as a book editor and Carol is a former ad agency executive who’s now thinking of opening her own restaurant. Carol feels that she and Larry have lost the romantic spark in their marriage and she fears that they’re becoming “a pair of comfortable old shoes.” When their neighbor dies from an apparent heart attack, Carol immediately believes that there’s something awry. She proceeds to drag her quite-reluctant husband into her off-the-cuff investigation into the woman’s husband, whom she suspects murdered his wife. There are a few clever twists in the mystery itself, but the more substantial plot is the evolving nature of relationships, but both story elements are well executed and of course, humorously done.

“Save a little craziness for menopause!”

Supporting Actors: Woody and Diane aren’t alone in this mystery, as co-stars Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston, already Allen players in 1989’s Crimes & Misdmeanors return to work for the director here. Alda is Ted, a successful playwright who’s sweet on Carol. Carol likes Ted because he’s enthusiastic and interested in the mystery, as well. Huston is Marcia, an author signed with book editor Larry’s publisher. She’s smart and attractive in her own confident way, and shows some interest in Larry. Larry, trying to keep Ted away from Carol, sets Marcia up with Ted.

“Larry, I think it's time we reevaluated our lives.”

“I've reevaluated our lives; I got a 10, you got a 6.”

What makes Manhattan Murder Mystery different from most Woody Allen fare is the absence of philosophical ruminations that usually inhabit his films. In MMM, an airy buoyancy dominates the proceedings and the film relies on the “earlier, funnier” style of Allen's movies with slapstick and lots of amusing one-liners, which are other Allen trademarks. However, like many other Allen films, MMM examines--with much humor--the state of marriage and how it needs an exciting jolt once in a while. That’s about as far as Allen goes with his examination of relationships in MMM, but other Allen films from that time period chronicle the state of a marriage in considerably serious detail, like 1992’s Husband & Wives. However, MMM is the message heavily-sugar coated, like one of Carol Lipton’s rich desserts.

Originally intended to be a sub plot in Annie Hall (1977), MMM is a fluffy confection that would serve as a fine introduction to the Woodyphyte, but for our purposes here, joins its illustrious predecessors as an entry in the Husband & Wife detective genre. Allen’s screenwriting cohort is Marshall Brickman, who co-authored the duo’s Oscar-winning script for Annie Hall (Best Picture, 1977; take that, Star Wars!). I’ve never been able to determine if MMM was already written back in the ‘70s as it was meant to be a part of Annie Hall or if Brickman worked on the story with Woody anew. Anyone know?

Music: Woody Allen is renowned for his use of music in his films. He has long eschewed a “proper” film composer (though Marvin Hamlisch scored Allen’s earlier effort, Bananas) and instead uses classical, jazz, and show tunes to serve as musical underscore. MMM opens with legendary cabaret singer Bobby Short performing Cole Porter’s “I Happen to Like New York”, which along with the aerial view of New York City, sets the film’s light tone. The “danger” music used is a live version of Benny Goodman Orchestra’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” For Carol’s sneaking around motif, is the Bob Crosby Orchestra’s “Big Noise from Winnetka.”

“Ted has a mind like a steel sieve.”

Use of Handheld Cameras: Like his previous effort, Husbands and Wives, MMM employs the use of shaky cam effects. Woody has gone on record that this film was an “indulgence” in addition to being something he’d always wanted to do, so the artsy camera movement is something akin to hiding the fact that the movie is a lightweight affair, but why not experiment with the camera’s movement?

Claustrophia and a dead body - this is a neurotic's jackpot!

The Wood Man Meets The Thin Man: In the excellent interview book with Stig Björkman, Woody Allen on Woody Allen, Woody states that he likes detective films but feels that there’s never been a good one made. He went on to say that he didn’t think The Thin Man was a very good movie. Whatever the case, Woody’s Manhattan Murder Mystery is well within keeping with the Thin Man tradition, albeit with a heavy dose of Allen’s trademark shtick. Whereas William Powell and Myrna Loy’s Nick and Nora Charles were sophisticated wisecrackers, Larry and Carol Lipton work within the tried-and-true Allen framework: Carol is the bold and brave one, while Larry is the committed coward who gets all the great lines.

“You're suggesting we try to provoke him into murdering us?”

“You have a problem with that?”

“Well, either that, or I suddenly developed Parkinson's.”

Double Indemnity and Lady From Shanghai: This being an Allen film, there’s bound to be movie references. In addition to the suspected murderer restoring an old movie house, MMM has Larry Lipton mentioning how he wants to see a (unnamed) Bob Hope movie on late-night TV--Woody Allen is a self-confessed Bob Hope admirer—as well as the couple going to see Double Indemnity where they can be heard commenting on how they love the Billy Wilder film. In MMM’s conclusion, the twisted finale of the 1948 bizarro Orson Welles-Rita Hayworth monstrosity, Lady From Shanghai on the big screen as the movie’s resolution plays out. Allen always makes movie references in his films, and a murder mystery like Manhattan Murder Mystery is bound to have connections to 1940s Noir pictures. When I saw MMM in the theatre back in 1993, I was completely unfamiliar with those types of movies. Now, eighteen years later (*gasp!*) I can enjoy this movie on its own terms, but my enjoyment is augmented with the knowledge of having seen the movie classics referenced.

This is a worthy entry in the Husband & Wife Detective Team genre, with enough Golden Age references to interest the old Hollywood aficionado, as well as the Woody Allen connoisseur. Factor in Diane Keaton’s return as a Woody Allen leading lady (her cameo in 1987’s Radio Days notwithstanding) after a decade of Mia Farrow hegemony makes for a refreshing change of pace in Manhattan Murder Mystery, an effervescent splash of comedic escapism…hey, this piece has to end somehow, doesn’t it?

Life Imitates Art in Manhattan Murder Mystery

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection (and Catching Up)

If there's any release that can break Hollywood Dreamland out of its moribund state, it's April 12th's release of Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection! It's a ten-disc DVD set of all nine of their films together. This blog has long been a bastion of Kate and Spencer-friendly posts, and the news of this tremendous release will snap me out of my long, long funk. It's been a horrendous year for me, folks, and I can't blame anyone for having dumped this blog to the virtual curb--or maybe they just read what I write!

Seeing this DVD set also reminded me of how much I've missed my two favorite actors of all time, the aforementioned couple pictured above, and I'd like to continue my Hepburn performance reviews as well as the Husband & Wife Detectives, a post of which is already in the works.

As for Kate and Spencer, I've long-since considered a review of Christopher Andersen's An Affair to Remember. Yes, there's much to catch up on. I miss everyone's comments the most...Oh, and I'll fix those pictures I swiped off Amazon once I get home this evening.




Burbank, Calif., January 17, 2011 – Just in time for Mother’s Day, Tracy and Hepburn: The Definitive Collection, the first and only complete anthology of films starring Hollywood's dream team, debuts on DVD April 12 from Warner Home Video. The collection includes all nine remastered favorites:

Woman of the Year (1942),

Keeper of the Flame (1942),

Without Love (1945),

Sea of Grass (1947),

State of the Union(1948),

Adam's Rib (1949),

Pat and Mike (1952),

Desk Set (1957),

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967),

Plus a bonus disc featuring an intimate tribute to Spencer Tracy moderated by Katharine Hepburn. This is the first time Keeper of the Flame, directed by Oscar® winning director George Cukor (A Star is Born 1954, My Fair Lady, A Double Life, Adam’s Rib, Philadelphia Story), and Sea of Grass will be available on DVD. Orders are due March 8 (SRP $59.92). Keeper of the Flame and Sea of Grass will also be available as singles (SRP $19.97 each).

Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection will also be available On Demand from cable and satellite providers. Individual film titles can also be purchased digitally through online retailers including Amazon On Demand and iTunes. Katharine Hepburn holds the record for the most Best Actress Oscar® wins with four (from 12 nominations), and was ranked by AFI as the greatest female screen legend of all time (1999). In this collection, she was nominated for an Academy Award® for Woman of the Year (1943) and won Best Actress in a Leading Role for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1968).

Known for the range and diversity of characters he portrayed, Spencer Tracy tied with Laurence Olivier for the most Best Actor Academy Award® nominations. He is considered one of the finest American actors to ever grace the screen. MARKETING SUPPORT TCM will support the release of Tracy and Hepburn: The Definitive Collection with an on-air mention and product hold up by TCM host Robert Osborne, online banners and a dedicated splash page, dedicated newsletters, and an ad in the March issue of the TCM Now Playing guide.


The only complete collection of all nine films by on and off screen collaborators, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Tracy and Hepburn: The Definitive Collection includes some of their earliest work in black and white, Woman of the Year, to their last performance together inGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which wrapped shortly before Spencer Tracy’s death. Also included as a 10th bonus disc is “Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn.” In Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn (1986), Katharine Hepburn reflects on the life of her former co-star and best friend, Spencer Tracy, in a touching and insightful look at one of the great American actors. The 87 minute documentary won two Emmys for writing and directing in 1986. The 10-disc set also includes two films never before released on DVD (Sea of Grass and Keeper of the Flame).