Notes on “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


One of Preston Sturges’ least known works, “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock” is a wry and tenderhearted tribute to American failure — a sort of inverse Horatio Alger story. Sturges uses the movie to comment on the persona of leading man Harold Lloyd (the movies’ quintessential optimist), the culture of the interwar and postwar years, and the gulf that inevitably divides our youthful hopefulness from the realities of middle age. (It and the 1986 “The Best of Times” have more in common than football.) Lloyd is playing an older version of his go-getter of the ’10s and ’20s. Having parlayed athletic fame into a career desk job, he’s come, in the mid-1940s, to a series of sour conclusions. He persists in talking in aphorisms, not because he believes in them, but because they’re all he knows; you sense that without them he couldn’t keep going. He’s so curdled in the juices of his habits that when his crush cozies up to him, he can’t recognize her interest. He’s rehearsed his excuse for giving up on her so many times it’s become an inevitability; he needs to mouth it, the way an actor needs to play his part (it, too, is a kind of aphorism). The movie is courageous in the way it takes on business and financial interests. Diddlebock’s boss, the wonderfully named E.J. Waggleberry (Raymond Walburn), is a man who treats his employees like parts; when one wears down, he swaps him for another. The characterization works in part because Sturges, with his Twain-like nose for guff and charlatanism, is too in love with the caricature to make it villainous. But Waggleberry’s cheeriness makes his actions all the harsher. There’s a commentary here on the deceptiveness of American manners. Like Harold’s aphorisms, those manners can be a dodge — a ruse that we use to avoid painful truths. Yet there’s also much to appreciate in our manners: they’re inseparable from that percolating national style that Sturges did so much to chronicle. Great scenes: Diddlebock ruefully removing the engraved aphorisms from the wall above his desk; Diddlebock’s long monologue about his past loves (all unconsummated); the cocktail scene, especially Edgar Kennedy’s performance as the bartender; the montage of presidential photos, with its long run of increasingly smug Roosevelts. The final section, a skyscraper-set tribute to Lloyd’s silent pictures, is marvelously staged and edited, but it’s probably not as funny as it should be, and its zaniness feels calculated. Several members of the Sturges stock company make appearances, all of them enjoyable. As Harold’s sister Flora, Margaret Hamilton seems to be auditioning for that stock company. It’s a pity this is her only credited appearance in a Sturges film.

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Weekend Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

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Fenster writes:

Mostly on Mommy and Daddy themes.

“As a human being we should pay attention to fear and not logic”.  As a friend puts it, pathos beats logos any day of the week these days.

Kirsten Gillibrand seems to be cornering the pathos market.   They used to refer to the Republicans as the Daddy Party and the Dems as the Mommy Party.  She is pushing things pretty far towards the Mommy pole, though of course that particular term is now verboten.  In any event, a heart-uber-alles approach to national policy could well be a wise politically–for a time at least.

Though she may have to deal with Nxivm in her past. Talk about Bad Daddies!

The Daddy Party still has purchase in Israel.  One has to hope that Benny Gantz is overreaching, but you never know.  Jewish values appear to play out differently in homeland mode than they do in diaspora mode.

And on that point, Israel’s willingness to give in to Daddy urges does not sit all that well with a lot of Americans of a universalist persuasion, many of them Jewish.  Michelle Alexander–herself not Jewish–recently took Israel’s Daddy side to task. In the New York Times.  That seemed to unearth some native tensions.  Will she be at the New York Times a year hence?  Betting window now open.

More tension between Mommy and Daddy.  Recently at UR Paleo linked to a Joanna Williams essay in Spiked pointing out how virtues such as Stoicism have become deeply unfashionable.  But even the New York Times will concede that “the Stoics are wildly popular among readers (predominantly men)”.

And here is a link to Modern Stoicism.  Free courses,  Stoic Week and Stoicon, an annual conference.  A guy thing mostly, looks like.

Mommy is not always to be supported, especially if she kowtows to a Bad Daddy.  That’s Melania’s curse as a First Lady.  After bashing her with what amounted to lies the UK Telegraph has formally apologized to Melania Trump for an article about her.  It contained what the American press might choose to call inaccuracies but which the Telegraph, to its credit (even if under legal duress) acknowledges as “false statements that should not have been published”.  A money settlement, too.  Interesting that we don’t hear much about this in the US press, which is as good as or better than the Telegraph at fake news.  The UK just has tougher libel laws.

Finally on to the epic Mommy-Daddy battle of Pelosi and Trump.  What is Trump up to with the Shutdown and the Wall?  Is he really backing down or is he preparing the battlefield?  Does he really have three weeks to save his presidency?  Is Q relevant to any of this?

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Notes on “The Island at the Top of the World”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


There is little build-up to the adventure story presented in the 1974 “The Island at the Top of the World.” Almost immediately after their initial meeting, an aristocrat and an archaeologist set out for the Arctic and a hidden isle, where the former hopes to find his missing son. The picture has a flat, TV look, which works against the fancifulness required to adequately present a Verne-style adventure. Fortunately, the special effects offer partial compensation. Matte paintings and optical effects abound, some of which are successful in spite of (or perhaps because of) their obviousness. The scene depicting various species of whale swimming towards the cetacean graveyard is one that children are likely to remember long after they’ve forgotten the movie’s shortcomings. And there are some lovely images: the explorers’ airship emerging from a barn as children tend sheep in the foreground; the airship, wounded in a collision, slowly careening off into the clouds; the explorers, in a faux distance shot, picking their way through an enormous underground ice cavern; the interior of a Viking hall decorated with huge fire-lit statues. The climactic fight against killer whales is novel but something of a letdown. Why not give our heroes a real sea monster to battle? Director Robert Stevenson and his Disney team are smart enough to keep the incidents flowing; the action never grows tiresome– not even after it’s revealed that the inhabitants of the much-sought-after island are movie-lot Vikings with silly beards. You can see what drew Disney to David Hartman: He has the puppy quality required of the studio’s leading men of this period. But it’s disappointing that the screenplay doesn’t give him more to do. Mostly, he provides “archaeological” background details. Disney would have done well to allow his character to develop an attraction to Agneta Eckemyr’s luscious Norse maiden. Then you might feel something when he’s forced to remain in the land of the Vikings. Instead, you think, “Good, stay there.”

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Weekend Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

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Weekend Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

  • By over-protecting our children, are we driving them crazy? Jonathan Haidt thinks so.
  • My wife and I enjoyed this Brendan O’Neill conversation with Jonathan Haidt.
  • The very smart Stuart Schneiderman responds to the American Psychological Association’s distaste for “traditional masculinity.”
  • Milestone du jour: The Alt Right becomes tabloid fodder.
  • Is the Obama administration to blame for all the financial-provider deplatformings that we’re witnessing these days?
  • Who could have predicted this development?
  • Although being a writer never made much financial sense, it makes even less sense now.
  • Loyalty-oath alert: Do we have any right to expect writers to be moral?
  • From Joel Kotkin: “Trends in American and to some extent European mass culture are beginning to look almost Stalinesque in their uniformity.”
  • On the ridiculousness of M.F.A. programs.
  • What is France’s gilets jaunes movement really about?
  • DNA co-discoverer James Watson gets Watsoned for a second time.
  • Sorry to report that I didn’t love ancient DNA specialist David Reich’s new book. Tons of fascinating and up-to-date information, sure, but Reich and/or his editor is ‘way more fascinated by the geeky detective work that goes into scientific discovery than I am; where reading about fresh science goes, I’m more of a “just tell me what you think you now know” kinda guy. And Reich’s determination to wrap up his very un-PC findings in cheery PBS-style platitudes is more than a little ridiculous, however understandable in a “Please keep my funding coming!” way. If you want to sample Reich’s mind and info without committing to a long book, there are lots of presentations and speeches by him on YouTube.
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Wither the Yellow Vests?

Fenster writes:

The American press has had a herky-jerk relationship with the Yellow Vests.  The media avoided much mention of the protests when they first occurred, presumably banking on them fading away quickly.  Then, when it became apparent that coverage could no longer be fairly avoided, stories began to appear.

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