Just a minute

Running late and rushing to catch the bus to Palo Alto for a double feature at the Stanford, I realized I’d forgotten to bring a pen, and darted into a convenience store. (Gotta have a pen to take notes when something barely interesting happens, or I’d be sitting at my typewriter at the end of the day with nothing to write.)

All the store's pens were out of reach, shelved behind the cashier. She was on the phone, talking about her hot date last night, and giving the universal gesture for “just a minute” to two people ahead of me in line. My bus was coming soon, and I was grumpy anyway, so I gave her a different universal gesture as I walked out.
The only other option was a nearby deli, so I walked in, picked up a Bic chained to the counter, and told the lady there, “I don’t need a sandwich, but I’ll give you a dollar for this pen.” She pointed out that it was chained, and also nearly dry, but took a newer, better pen from her pocket instead. Sold. It is still possible, then, to get good service in America, so long as you buy a pen in a deli.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

In my backpack, there were zines to be absorbed in the bus on the way, but of course I soon got bus-sick. Can't read much in a moving car or bus, before it makes me nauseous, and SF to Palo Alto is a really long bus ride. It’s quicker to take the train, and on the train I can read cuz it doesn't shake much, but it's more expensive so, no train today. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Night Must Fall (1937) begins as a British drawing room drama, a genre that bores me, but eventually it becomes an absorbing little movie. There’s been a murder in the local township, and Auntie’s mentally flimsy niece suspects the new butler might have done it. Is there a severed head in the smooth-talking boy’s baggage? Is Auntie in danger? And Auntie is so casually cruel, if he kills her should we care, or applaud? Robert Montgomery plays a wonderful slimeball, and the movie is grisly, eerie, and intelligent. I’d never heard of it before, but I’d say give it a watch if you can find it.

Mostly, though, I came for North by Northwest (1959), yet again. I’ve seen it many times, never tire of it, and anyone who thinks they’ve seen it on video (or worse yet, on television) hasn’t seen it at all. From the impressive opening credits — Saul Bass, of course — to the closing cliché shot of the train going into the tunnel (innuendo much?), this most quintessential of American movies (by that Brit, Alfred Hitchcock), simply must be seen in all its VistaVision splendor on the big screen, preferably at a grandly restored movie palace like the Stanford.

Cary Grant is, well, Cary Grant. Did he ever play anyone but Cary Grant? Here's he's a New York ad-man, who tries to send a telegram at exactly the wrong moment, just as the bellboy is paging one George Caplin. For the rest of the movie, the bad guys can’t be convinced that he isn’t Caplin, and this mistaken identity takes Grant into all sorts of dangerous business with nasty spies up to dastardly deeds.

It’s an almost perfect movie. The story is compelling, the cinematography is beautiful, the screenplay is clever, the direction is Hitchcock — say no more — the performances are excellent, and the popcorn was delicious. The fully-clothed seduction scene on the train is sexier than any so-called 'erotic thriller' (another genre I abhor). It was made 35 years ago, back when things were relatively innocent, but it shows the moral bankruptcy on both sides of the Cold War, and I always get a little choked up at Grant’s brief but impassioned plea to the CIA chief, for human decency in foreign affairs. Really, the most dated aspect of North by Northwest is that passenger trains exist, and that the cabbies speak un-accented English. Other than that, it could be 1994.

Watch for the scene at a Mount Rushmore concession stand, where a little kid puts his fingers in his ears before Eva Marie Saint pulls her gun. It’s so funny and obvious, and Hitchcock was so expert, I’m sure he left it in the movie on purpose.

And as a bonus, the Stanford also showed an old Tex Avery MGM cartoon murder mystery called Who Killed Who? It was funny, gory, and mordantly macabre, with a cameo from Tex himself. What more do ya want for three bucks?

From Pathetic Life #3
Saturday, August 27, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called
Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


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  1. Captain HampocketsJune 13, 2021 at 5:38 AM

    I love Hitch, and love Cary Grant *sometimes*, but never really liked NxNW. Not sure why. Definitely wish I could see it once on a big screen.

  2. My wife didn't like Hitchcock, and particularly didn't like NxNW, so you're not alone on that.

    When do you *not* love Cary Grant? He made some crappy movies, but he was never what made a movie crappy.

  3. Captain HampocketsJune 13, 2021 at 12:42 PM

    >When do you *not* love Cary Grant?

    Well, I don't know. I just looked at his filmography, and have seen maybe 8 of them, almost all winners except for North By NW, in my opinion. I am in the vast minority of people who dislike Bringing Up Baby as well. Not sure why. I haven't seen them in years, but three of my favorites as a teen / college kid were His Girl Friday, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and Arsenic and Old Lace. So I like his comedies as well as the thrillers.

  4. That's a movie theater? It looks more like a church./ I have never seen a movie anyplace like that.

    1. I moved to SF in 1996, when I was 23. I had never seen a theater like that either. But They still existed in San Francisco and surrounding areas. I saw movies at The Paramount, The Castro, and maybe one or two other movie palaces, thanks to Doug.

      Calling it a Church isn't wrong.

    2. That's a movie theater. A century ago, going to the movies was a big deal, and the theaters themselves were part of the attraction. They built 'em huge and ornate, and the few old-time theaters that survive can make any movie seem better.

    3. Worship Cary Grant — he's a better god anyway.


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