Frank Denton - The Rogue Raven

Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

What you have here is an old guy. In education for 30 years, started teaching elementary, ended as library and media director of community college. I've enjoyed mountain climbing, sports car rallying, was pipe major of a bagpipe band, played guitar and sang during the folk revival, walking and hiking later in life. Now fairly sedentary. Enjoy reading, esp. mysteries and fantasy, but my reading is pretty eclectic. Enjoy movies, giving Netflix a workout.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Old Friend, George

Funny things happen on blobs. Today I received an e-mail from a fellow who used to be a student worker in the college library of which I was administrator. George Cottrell was a dandy worker when he was there. But, you see, he had a love for the race track. “Where’s George today?” “Well, he’s probably at Longacres.” George loved the track and the horses and the betting. And guess what? Now he writes commentary for the Daily Racing Form, or as we ‘race track degenerates’ know it, DRF. It was a real pleasure to hear from George. I hope we can get together sometime soon so I can hear his many tales of the track. It’s been twenty-five years since I retired. I have seen George a few times since then. He would occasionally stop by the house. But I haven’t seen him in a long time. I am very pleased to be in touch with him again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

David Fulmer's Jass

I recently finished Jass by David Fulmer. It’s a novel set in New Orleans during the 1920s. The protagonist is Valentin St. Cyr, half-Italian and half-Creole, but pretty much passing for white. At one time he was an officer on the New Orleans Police Department, but now he is a private detective. Mostly he works for Big Tom Anderson who has the section of N.O. known as Storyville under his thumb. Fulmer’s first novel, Chasing the Devil’s Tail, had Buddy Bolden, early jazzman, at its center. In this one the murder of four men who had once played in the same jass band are murdered and St. Cyr, with some slight urging from Jelly Roll Morton, set out to find the murderer. Meanwhile Valentin’s love life with the octoroon, Justine, has gone sour and soon she leaves him. When Anderson calls Valentin off and Lt. Picot of the police threatens him, he is more than ever eager to find the murderer. This is an excellent mystery novel set in the early days of jazz in New Orleans.

By circumstance, I recently had acquired a recording of Kid Ory, legendary New Orleans trombonist. He had his own jazz bands as well as playing and recording with King Oliver, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and the aforementioned Jelly Roll Morton. These recordings were made in 1922 and 1926, which I assume was approximately the time of Fulmer’s novels. (I know that I will be condemned as a heretic, but I never cared much for Armstrong’s horn nor his voice. But I must say he was playing a much cleaner trumpet in this recording than at later times.)

Anyway, I have high regards for this novel, both as a mystery and as a glimpse of life in the lower sections of New Orleans when jazz was just beginning. And if you like this early kind of traditional jazz or Dixieland (as it's now called)I can recommend the CD as well. It features Edward Kid Ory and is entitled Ory’s Creole Trombone. It on Living Era label and is CD AJA 5148.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Recently I took the opportunity to view The Thirty-Nine Steps. This was not the original movie but a BBC production from 1979, I believe. It featured Robert Powell, John Mills and Karen Dotrice. I remember when the film was featured on televison. At the time we did not own a VCR. But I had a friendly gas station man. (Remember when you didn’t pump your own gas? I guess in some states that is still true.) I was yarning with Roger about the upcoming viewing and lamented the fact that we didn’t own a VCR and how much I liked the story, which was from the novel by John Buchan. He offered to tape it for me.

I hadn’t watched the film for a long time and had forgotten much of it. The film is quite different from the original 1935 version of the film which features Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. I also have not read the novel for a long time. I think the last time was in ‘93 when I was in the hospital and had an omnibus volume of the ‘Richard Hannay’ stories to pass my idle time.

Quite a few of the scenes are changed. Basically the story is about the attempt by English anarchists to blow up Parliament while the Greek statesman is addressing it. This will surely set off World War I. Richard Hannay obtains some information early on and becomes the object of pursuit by the bad guys to get it back. One obvious difference is the opening of the film. This later version has a lot more about politics and statesmen meeting to plan for the protection of the Greek statesman. In the original film the ‘Memory Man,’ a music hall act, was an important part at both the beginning and again at the end. Missing completely in the later version. And the scenes at the hotel where Hannay is handcuffed to the woman are missing as well. The ending plays out at Big Ben. ‘The thirty-nine steps’ in the latter film refers to three sets of steps leading to the clock tower of the parliament building. I seem to remember that in the original the thirty-nine steps referred to the stairs down to the harbor.

Robert Powell is quite good in the film. There is an exciting scene which Hannay plays out on the face of Big Ben, attempting to stop the minute hand. Karen Dotrice has beautiful eyes and wonderful hair. A search of the web tells me that she was born on the Isle of Guernsey and acted for Disney as a child. She’s seems not made many films as an adult but appears in television productions frequently. With the many differences I think I’m going to have to go back, read the novel again and then view both films for comparison. Not a bad task.