Thursday, May 5, 2016

Captain America: Civil War Movie Review

It was the summer of 2006. Fans keeping up with the Marvel storyline were introduced to Civil War, a story arc that lasted seven months and ended on a high note... not to mention the end of an era. After a horrific tragedy (an explosion killing the children of an elementary school) is televised, the U.S. Government initiates the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring anyone with extra-ordinary powers to register so they can be accountable for any destruction that remains after battle. This raised a moral question which continues in today's news (iPhones encryptions and personal privacy) and each side of the debate is justified supporting or opposing. Longtime Avengers teammates Captain America and Iron Man end up on opposite sides of the argument, ultimately leading to blood spilled on both sides. The fighting between many super heroes led to the middle of Times Square. At the climax of the battle, as Captain America was about to deliver a finishing blow to Iron Man, he was tackled by several emergency workers. Realizing the damage the war was doing to the city and its civilian population, Captain America surrendered. He would rather go to prison than see wanton destruction. Before his arraignment, Cap was shot multiple times through the heart on the steps of a Federal Courthouse and killed. 

It was when I reached the conclusion of this story arc in January of 2007 that I realized Marvel did not know how to close a chapter. Villains who were thought long-dead kept coming back in various forms (robots, computers, ghostly spirits). Peter Parker, during Civil War, chooses to unmask during a press conference. When Peter changes his mind about the Superhuman Registration Act, he moves his family from Stark Tower to a motel. An assassin hired by the Kingpin tries to kill Peter Parker, but hits Aunt May instead. Peter takes his dying Aunt to a hospital where she has lapses into a coma and is likely to die. However, Aunt May receives a radioactive blood transfusion from Peter, which he hoped would save her life due to his mutated healing factor. The demon Mephisto offers to restore Aunt May's health in exchange for erasing Peter's marriage from history, and Peter and Mary Jane agree. May lives, and Spider-Man's identity is once again a secret. Peter Parker and Mary Jane are not married, have no children and his life took a step backwards by three decades. And I was asking myself, "When will this ever end?" It was a soap opera that never closes with a final chapter. For the death of Captain America at the conclusion of the Civil War story arc, I decided that while the story may continue for decades to come... I was done. At Comic Cons I keep up with what is happening in the Marvel Universe. Bucky took over as the new Captain America, Red Skull came back (again), and recently Sam Wilson (The Falcon) became the new Captain America (red, white and blue wings instead of a shield) and Captain America returns as an aged, old man.

With all this in mind, you can understand why I say the Civil War was the last great story Marvel put out. When Captain America was shot dead on the steps in front of spectators and reporters, I consider that the end of an era. Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven split the Marvel Universe in two as friend fought friend. Sure, The Avengers had their squabbles and issues but those were petty and momentary. And when innocent life was threatened the heroes shelved their differences for the greater good. And learning over a year ago that the subtitle for the third Captain America movie was "Civil War," I was excited. This was going to be epic. My expectations grew.

The question of how much liberty an American is willing to sacrifice in exchange for security and safety has become a hot topic since 9-11. Captain America went back to the issues of the 1940s, fighting for liberties he believed in and not against agents of Hydra. There are two sides of the fence regarding what to do with a topic still being fought today. And Marvel created the Civil War story arc, providing readers to choose sides themselves. It made for a great story. And it was that same story that makes up the meat and potatoes of the political thriller that premiered this weekend, Captain America: Civil War. Yes, there is another Hydra threat (not a spoiler, this is indicated in the opening shot of the movie) but this threat is secondary to the primary concern: fighting for principals and standing ground.

Don't worry, I will not provide any spoilers here. 

A superhero registration act (here called the Sokova Accords)? Check. 
Superheroes choosing sides and hand-to-hand combat? Check. 
Captain America choosing a side for principals and sticking to them? Check. 
Spider-Man? Check.


After watching Captain America: Civil War, I cannot stop for a moment and wonder if Disney executives felt creating a popcorn movie would be more profitable and receptive than an allegorical interpretation during an election year.

Accountability and the moral complexities of modern warfare were predominant in key scenes but the movie instead deals with exploring the characters and their motives. Almost every superhero dealt with some form of inner battle. Could innocent people have been saved had they made a different decision? Could someone good in heart, possessing uncontrollable powers, be a real threat to the outside world? And in the end almost all of the destruction, fist-fights and explosions could have been prevented had everyone stopped for a moment and sought forgiveness in their heart. And that is the underlined moral you are reminded of when this movie concludes.

Dialogue is sharp and top-notch. Special effects were at times cartoonish (Disney needs to spend more time adding realism in some of those special effects, especially the opening sequences). There were two nods to the Star Wars franchise, not just the usual one. And if you are expecting a hand-to-hand death match between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers... you will not be disappointed. The combat scenes are truly lots of fun -- fan boys and young children will want to debate who is stronger, Captain America or Spider-Man? Tom Holland as Spider-man steals all of his scenes and makes Robert Downey, Jr. look like a second-rate straight-man (proving how versatile the talented Downey is on camera). Marvel hopes the third time is the charm and Holland's take on Spider-Man is dead on. 

For parents concerned about violence, vulgarity and death... all I can say without giving away spoilers is to shelve your concerns aside. It is perfectly fine to take the youngsters to see this movie. Disney wants to differentiate the Marvel movies from D.C./Warner Brothers and this certainly plays like a Disney movie. They want parents to bring their children to the theaters. There are no elementary school students getting killed in this rendition.

There are two post-credits sequences to watch after the movie so you do need to stay all the way to the very end of the closing credits. The very end. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

GANG BUSTERS: Old-Time Radio's Crime Fighters

When Phillips H. Lord created Gang Busters in January of 1936, crime was so rampant that it was almost tolerated. Obedience to the laws and respect for law-enforcement agencies was at a low ebb. Criminals and their methods were highly publicized in glamorous episodes. 

Lord, as an amateur criminologist of note and a man who had delved into criminal behavior by inclination, was appalled. He had just finished his G-Men series which dramatized FBI cases and he knew how the criminals lived, what they were like and how they operated. Civic-minded citizens, law enforcement officers and police organizations were approached. They were enthusiastic in their approval and unstinted in their cooperation. They turned over their files and Lord made radio history with his exposes.

At first Lord appeared on the program and interviewed the guest police officials. Later, as his other radio programs demanded more attention, he turned the hosting chores over to West Point graduate Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who for twenty years was nationally prominent in police circles. When the Colonel was recalled to active duty, Lewis J. Valentine, former Commissioner of Police of the City of New York, took over. Before any case was presented to the radio audience, it was triple-checked. A Gang Busters representative gathered the material from law enforcement bureaus scattered all over the country. The Chief from each bureau had to approve every fact in the report before it was used. Then the script department started to work, with instructions to “make it dramatic, but be sure it’s accurate.”

Every Gang Busters broadcast featured nationwide clues, which consisted of last-minute reports of wanted persons, received from the police and FBI. One hundred requests weekly was the average number of police bulletins received by Gang Busters. They were boiled down to one or two clues, selected for importance, color and ease in remembering the descriptions. Gang Busters files show that among those criminals apprehended by such nationwide clues were Lawrence Devol, Hoffman and Penning, Edward (Wilhelm) Bentz, Howard Hayes and Charles Jones, Claude Beaver, and Percy Geary. In addition to those named, by May of 1942, more than 277 other criminals had been apprehended by Gang Busters clues.

Known as the “Number One Idea Man” in radio, Phillips H. Lord – who was once presented on the floor of Congress as the “source of more enjoyment than any person living today in the United States” – conceived the program at a time when crime was rampant. It was his purpose to give credit to outstanding police work throughout the country and, at the same time, to implement the enforcement of law with real public service features for radio listeners. Mirroring the drama of a lawless era and sounding the tocsin for a crusade against crime, Gang Busters started a completely new trend in radio shows. The depression years accentuated the American citizens’ awareness of social ills, people began demanding more realism in their entertainment, and Gang Busters filled the bill. 

Gang Busters dramatized the war of society against crime and how the program evoked praise not only from law-enforcement officials, but from parents who saw in much of the present-day writing, a tendency to depict the lawbreaker as a picturesque and colorful Robin Hood, deserving the admiration of every hero-worshipping adolescent. The raw case histories presented on Gang Busters without a painful warping or twisting to secure an obvious “moral,” pointed out an ancient truth: that society’s way is the best way and that he who flagrantly defies law and custom never wins and usually pays a stiff price for his boldness. Human nature being what it is, this is a law that requires (even today) constant reiteration. Gang Busters accomplished that in a singularly successful fashion, and thus achieved social importance.

In 1937, Charles Michelson got into the radio business when his father’s export company began receiving requests for the first RCA/Victor electrical transcriptions available on phonographic discs. As radio was eclipsed by television in the early 1950s, Michelson formed what was to become a 30-year relationship with newspaper magnate Sir Frank Packer’s TCN 9 Network in Sydney, Australia. Michelson was on hand to bring the world closer together in the early 1970s when satellite technology first became available. During the 1940s, Michelson started a company to syndicate The Shadow and many other radio programs to stations all across the country. He entered into agreements with the producers/owners of the series to distribute them, including Gang Busters.

From November 1935 to January 1936, Phillips H. Lord was in constant communication with Charles Michelson, then the Director of Publicity for the Democratic National Committee of the National Press Building in Washington, with a proposal for a radio series endorsed by the Democratic National Committee. The proposal never blossomed into a regular radio program. Twenty years later, Michelson contacted Lord regarding the ownership of the radio program, Gang Busters. After learning that the rights reverted to RKO Teleradio Pictures, Inc., Michelson struck a deal with RKO to distribute recordings of the Gang Busters radio program for syndication. 

At present, it is estimated that 93 radio broadcasts are known to exist in corded form, from the long-running Gang Busters radio program. At least 52 of them exist courtesy of Charles Michelson's syndications. His syndicated versions are altered, however, with original network commercials deleted, alternate titles assigned and organ music replaced with orchestral pieces courtesy of LP records. The earliest surviving episodes are May 26 and June 2, 1937. So in the nature of gift-giving this holiday season, I offer you this early Christmas gift. The script titles, broadcast dates and plots for the first 15 or so episodes of the radio program.

Small note: With special assistance to Bill Abbott and the folks at the Library of Congress, in 2003 and 2004 I was able to compile an episode guide in the same manner you see below. It was published by OTR Publishing in late 2004. Since then (not beforehand), all of the titles and airdates have been lifted from the book and posted on the internet without proper authorship. It seems a number of people felt the need to take that information and post it on their website. Normally, I would not have had an objection but they never stated the source of their information (the book) or that I compiled the info. As a result, they are mis-leading web browsers into thinking they did the log. Thankfully, a couple kind souls rectified the situation by making mention of the book as the source. Others have yet to do so, believing they are doing a service for OTR fans. But what kind of service are they providing when they are stealing material and taking credit? Anyway, enough of my soap box preaching. The book speaks for itself. Enjoy the episode guide below!

EPISODE #1 (Broadcast January 15, 1936)
“THE CAPTURE OF THE MILLEN BROTHERS”
STORY:
Having robbed a sporting goods store, a theater and the Needham Trust Bank, the murdering Massachusetts Millen Brothers became legendary with a reputation for shooting anyone who defied them or stood in their way. The Public Safety Commissioner put his two best men on the case. They traced the criminals by placing an advertisement in newspapers, asking for information for the repair of a special type of car battery. The battery had been found in a burning car, which the criminals had set ablaze.

EPISODE #2 (Broadcast January 22, 1936)
“THE END OF ‘FATS’ MCCARTHY”
STORY:
Detectives Mark and Biggs were assigned to investigate a case involving the shooting of three New York policemen outside a rooming house. A fingerprint found on a mirror led to the identification of Jean McCarthy, wife of the notorious gangster, Fats McCarthy. The detectives watched all movie houses, dives and saloons for four months searching for Fats. A close study of the criminals and their habits led to a small house at the end of a lonely road…where a gun battle took the life of Fats McCarthy, and apprehended his gang.

EPISODE #3 (Broadcast January 29, 1936)
“THE SACRAMENTO POST OFFICE ROBBERY”
NARRATOR:
William N. Hallanan, Chief of Police of Sacramento, Calif.
STORY: Three thugs staged a daring hold-up of a United States mail truck on route to a local post office. The men overpowered the guards and escaped with $250,000 worth of valuables. Sacramento police followed every lead until it was discovered that the gangsters discarded license plates on their get-away car. This meant that the same gang committed two robberies in different cities. Detectives from Sacramento flew to Salt Lake City to continue their chase and during a violent struggle, subdued Barry Dwyer and his gang.

EPISODE #4 (Broadcast February 5, 1936)
“THE REPPIN MURDER CASE”
STORY:
Vincent Regan, working his way through college by driving a taxicab, was found with a serious gunshot wound. He was rushed to the hospital where he died, shortly after giving a police inspector information about his strange passenger/assailant. Inspector Barnes was assigned to the case. Through laboratory tests and the enlisted help of two convicts, Barnes investigated a three-year-old case involving stolen revolvers, discovering that a criminal named Reppin had cleverly changed the last figure of the serial number on the murder weapon. This almost put the police completely off track in tracing the gun, had they not been able to detect the change by careful laboratory testing.

EPISODE #5 (Broadcast February 12, 1936)
“THE CASE OF CLYDE BARROW AND BONNIE PARKER” (PART ONE)
STORY:
Clyde Barrow was an ex-convict out on parole. Bonnie Parker was an attractive girl who liked fine clothing, and had flaming yellow hair and a passion for smoking big black cigars. The couple agreed on certain principles – to shoot anyone who stood in their way, to operate within a very wide area and to keep moving fast. Within five weeks, they committed 18 crimes. They raced from one state to another, robbing and beating up citizens, breaking into banks. The pair eventually broke into a National Guard Armory stealing large quantities of guns and ammunition.

Trivia, etc. This episode (and the February 19 broadcast) actually has two titles. According to the script, the drama is also titled “The Bloody Barrow Gang.” This is not uncommon, by the early-mid forties, every episode of Gang Busters had two titles. One title featured on the cover of the script and another title delivered by the announcer.

EPISODE #6 (Broadcast February 19, 1936)
“THE CASE OF CLYDE BARROW AND BONNIE PARKER” (PART TWO)
STORY:
Clyde Barrow’s brother, Buck, pardoned from a penitentiary, got married and the couple joined the Barrow-Parker gang. The governor appointed Captain Hamer to smash the gang. He was a six-feet-three Texas Ranger who had killed sixty-three bandits in the line of duty. Hamer set a roadside trap for the pair staging the scene as if there had been an auto accident. Hamer and his men waited in the brush along the road. When Bonnie and Clyde stopped their car to find out what was wrong, gunfire and machine guns roared. Bonnie and Clyde attempted to leave the scene but lost control of their car and it crashed. Hamer and his deputies found the criminals dead inside, riddled with bullets – their car loaded with ammunition.

EPISODE #7 (Broadcast February 26, 1936)
“THE CASE OF THE LOS ANGELES SEWER BANK ROBBERS”
STORY:
About two o’clock one morning, a night watchman making his rounds heard a mysterious tapping and phoned the police. Inspector Moore and a detective gathered some complicated equipment and began investigating. It was soon discovered that bandits were tunneling through a sewer in order to break into the underground vaults of a bank. The detectives investigated a prior trolley car accident possibly linked to the crime and some plumbers’ candles, a flashlight and half-eaten sandwiches found at the scene of the digging. Without knowing the identities of the bandits, the detectives applied a clever ruse to make the true criminals reveal themselves.

Trivia, etc. This episode was previously titled “The Case of the Gray Anthony Gang.”

EPISODE #8 (Broadcast March 4, 1936)
“THE CASE OF MIDGET FERNEKES” (PART ONE)
STORY:
After robbing one office, Midget Fernekes dashed into another, placing his guns under some newspapers and pretended to be a photographer.  No one in the room dared tell the police that he was the robber they sought. His ruse failed to trick the police. Midget was sentenced to prison where he attempted to break out by blowing a hole in the prison wall with a homemade explosive. After numerous other escape attempts, he finally succeeded and fled. Posing very successfully for several years as a small-town businessman, Midget’s cover was once again revealed, sending him back to prison.

EPISODE #9 (Broadcast March 11, 1936)
“THE CASE OF MIDGET FERNEKES” (PART TWO)
NARRATOR:
Grace M. Poole, Dean of Women of Stoneleigh College.
STORY: Midget Fernekes proved to be too clever for police when the criminal escaped from prison by using an improvised disguise. He bleached his blue jeans white with lemon juice and wore a mustache he had grown unnoticed by faking an infected upper lip and keeping it bandaged. The prison guards unsuspectingly allowed him to walk out, believing he was a visitor at the prison. Midget’s habits of making pencil sketches in public library books eventually lead to his capture. Scheduled to go to the electric chair, Fernekes saved the state an electric bill by slipping something into his own coffee. Before the guard could open the cell door to stop him, he drank the coffee and fell dead.

EPISODE # 10 (Broadcast March 18, 1936)
“THE CAPTURE OF THE PHANTOM FLATS”
STORY:
The day after Filkowski was released from prison he called together eight underworld characters at an appointed hour in a deserted cellar in the Flats, the slum section of Cleveland. He informed them they were going to start operating together with him as their leader. He soon became known as “The Phantom” because no one ever saw him enter or leave the scene of his crimes. Two old-time detectives assigned to the case enlisted the aid of a rookie to help apprehend the Phantom, who apparently carried an explosive device with him in the event of his capture. Tracking Filkowski to a New York hotel, the police quickly knocked him unconscious and handcuffed him, guarding against the explosive.

EPISODE #11 (Broadcast March 25, 1936)
“THE CAPTURE OF LEONARD SCARNICI” (PART ONE)
STORY:
Leonard Scarnici, a racketeer from Springfield, came to New York to get into the Dutch Schultz Gang as a professional killer. Schultz ordered him to kill Wilson, Scarnici’s best friend in Springfield, as a test of his abilities. Wilson had complete faith in Scarnici and readily accompanied him to a place where Scarnici asked him to dig a hole six feet long and three feet wide. Then Scarnici shot his friend and buried him alive. New York police noticed that Scarnici and his accomplices had been conspicuously absent, and warned Boston police to be on the lookout for them. But it was too late. A prominent Boston businessman was kidnapped and tortured because he refused to sign a ransom note.

EPISODE #12 (Broadcast April 1, 1936)
“THE CAPTURE OF LEONARD SCARNICI” (PART TWO)
STORY:
Detective Jimmie Stevens was in his office at Rensselaer, New York, completing his retirement papers when the bank alarm sounded. Stevens and a police officer reached the bank and exchanged gunfire with the Scarnici gang. Scarnici fatally wounded Stevens, who died soon after. After following many leads and holding numerous interviews, officers in a patrol car spotted one of Scarnici’s men driving toward New York. The police followed discreetly, but relayed by radio which way the car turned at intersections. The car stopped at a Bronx apartment. Three detectives broke down the apartment door and found Scarnici and his men inside cleaning their guns. They were caught off guard, pounced upon, and taken into custody. The most cold-blooded of killers, Scarnici, was electrocuted in Sing Sing for the murder of detective Stevens.

EPISODE #13 (Broadcast April 8, 1936)
“THE CAPTURE OF THE DAGO PERETTI GANG”
STORY:
Dago Peretti was the leader of a gang responsible for a series of murders and robberies in the Chicago area. His real name and his residence were unknown, even to members of his gang. It took two small pieces of dirty cardboard and a bottle of toothache pills for the police to get the break they needed. With the delivery address attached to the bottle, law enforcement was able to learn the identity of Dago Peretti. Applying a trick forcing Dago out the kitchen door of his apartment, Dago was drilled “full of lead” by the guarding police.

EPISODE #14 (Broadcast April 15, 1936)
“HOMER VAN METER”
STORY:
St. Paul was dubbed “the Poison Spot of Crime” because of the large number of criminals who lived and operated there. Citizens held a meeting calling for unified action against the underworld. The worst of these criminals were Homer Van Meter and Eddie Green. To draw them out, police placed phony newspaper advertisements for a specially-designed automobile having a high-speed gear designed to be able to outrun police cars. Van Meter and Green answered the ad and were apprehended.

Trivia, etc. This script was originally titled “The Capture of the Dillinger Gang” since Homer Van Meter and Eddie Green both worked with Dillinger and his moll. While Dillinger’s reputation had been blown up by the media, Van Meter and Green were the real triggermen so Phillips Lord decided it would attract a large radio audience to learn about the criminal actions of Van Meter and Green.

EPISODE #15 (Broadcast April 22, 1936)
“THE CAPTURE OF THE D’AUTREMONT BROTHERS” (PART ONE)
STORY:
High in the rugged Siskeyou Mountains, 17 miles from Ashland, Oregon, the Southern Pacific Railroad was robbed by two men who jumped onto the coal tender and climbed forward to the engine cab. At gunpoint, they ordered the engineer to stop the train in the tunnel and jump off. Hugh D’Autremont, older brother of twins, Roy and Ray, joined them. Hugh and Ray robbed the mail car by lowing up part of the car with dynamite. They left three clues behind: the pistol dropped by Ray, the dynamite switch, and an empty knapsack.

EPISODE #16 (Broadcast April 29, 1936)
“THE CAPTURE OF THE D’AUTREMONT BROTHERS” (PART TWO)
STORY:
When the police were certain the D’Autremont Brothers were responsible for the train robbery, they had the F.B.I. send 2.5 million circulars worldwide, particularly to barber shops, lumber camps, opticians and dental offices. Five years passed but the police continued their search. Their big break came and Hugh was arrested in the Philippines. Roy and Ray were arrested in Columbus, Ohio where police noticed that the brothers had duplicated scars on each other’s bodies in order to throw the police off the track in case they were picked up.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jungle Book: 2016 Movie Review

While this is only April, Disney's live action version of The Jungle Book is the best film of the year.

The 1967 animated movie was the last film produced by Walt Disney. He passed away before the movie was completed and personally, I found it to be among his lesser features (alongside Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan -- the latter of which works as a stage play but never in film). The original concept created by his animators and songwriters was darker in tone but Disney insisted on a more lively and high-spirited rendition. Perhaps his death inspired the animators to complete the film as Uncle Walt insisted. The movie was financially successful for the Disney company in 1967 and may have been more successful had the film retain the initial concept of a darker tone. Only historians can speculate. In case you have not seen the 1967 original in some time, the vultures spoofing The Beatles only adds age to the picture. The saving grace was Phil Harris as the voice of Baloo the bear, which I assume many will agree with me. 

With Disney's new live action rendition Bill Murray, who receives top billing, voices Baloo and does a job equal to the task. In fact, all of the actors providing voices did a spectacular job and Idris Elba, voicing the villainous Shere Khan, is fast becoming one of my favorite actors today. Neel Sethi makes his screen debut as young Mowgli and he was perfect for the role. You can see this kid has a future if he sticks with Disney for a few years. 

For anyone who remembers the live action version in 1994 and the direct-to-video animated sequel in 2003, you'll be pleased to know that this follow-up to the 1967 movie proves the adage that the third time is the charm. You do not have to see the 1967 original to enjoy this picture, but knowing "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You" songs, which are reprised for the new movie, is a plus. And the vultures, sans The Beatles impersonation, make a quick cameo. Don't try looking for them. You'll see them.

If I read the closing credits properly, the movie was never filmed in the jungles of India. 100 percent of the movie was filmed in a warehouse in Los Angeles. Unlike Star Wars: The Force Awakens that applied puppets and costumes and props, this movie relied heavily on green screen. I would estimate 99 percent of the movie was green screen. Replicating reality has been an argument fought against by those in the industry who rely on their trade. Unless Mowgli had to jump over a log, slide down a muddy hill or climb a tree, there was little constructed in the physical sense. With knowledge before me, the trailer promoting this movie did not impress me. But my curiosity was piqued. The problem with computer-generated animals is that they never have the natural mannerisms that real animals have. Nor the intricate details such as 4,000 strands of hair on a wolf or tiger. The computer-animated renditions always look like a cartoon. In The Jungle Book, the computer-generated animals are the best I have ever seen. The bar was raised and whatever money Disney paid to have such top-notch computer effects, the studio got their money's worth. 

While I have made it known that I am not a fan of 3-D, my wife and I agreed this was the best 3-D movie since Avatar. Director Jon Favreau understood depth perception and there are moments where you really feel you are in the jungle. With Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and Maleficent as live-action adaptations of Disney's animated classics, with an applied darker tone that did not fare well with many critics, I am pleased to say The Jungle Book is a winner on all sides. I have always asked for one thing when watching today's movies: if you cannot impress me, entertain me. Disney accomplished both.

Family Values
Anyone concerned about scenes a bit intense for children, fear not. Only three animals die in the movie and you never really see their deaths on the screen. All three make a cartoon appearance during the closing credits to show young children that they did not die -- should the parents want to take advantage and comfort the kids. I doubt those scenes would scare any child over the age of five -- after all, this is Disney and they have a standard to maintain. If you are looking to get out of the house this weekend and want to spoil yourself -- or your children or grandchildren -- this is the family movie worth paying. (There is no post-credits sequence, FYI.)

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she also has a secret history. Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has uncovered an astonishing trove of documents, including the never-before-seen private papers of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman. She published her findings in 2014 in The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a book I highly recommend if you want to gain an appreciation for the fictional crime fighter.

Beginning in his undergraduate years of Harvard, William Moulton Marston was influenced by early suffragists and feminists, starting with Emmeline Pankhurst, who was banned from speaking on campus in 1911, when Marston was a freshman. In the 1920s, Marston and his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, brought into their home Olive Byrne, the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists of the twentieth century. When his wife disapproved of Olive's residence in their home, he confessed they were lovers and drew a line in the sand. Ultimately, all three of them lived together under the same roof in extraordinary nonconformity. As an expert on truth, he invented the lie detector test. Do these fact surprise you? 

Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman
Jill Lepore traveled to numerous depositories, both private and public. From the archives of Columbia University, Mount Holyoke College, the University of Minnesota, Saint Louis University, the Smithsonian, the University of Virginia, and the Library of Congress, among others, the author did the legwork and her finished product is top-notch as a result. While most people in this day and age believe in writing a book based on standard web browsing, in what academics refer to as "cut and paste," Lepore compiled what is the most comprehensive biography of William Moulton Marston, and a deeper understanding of the various elements that make up Wonder Woman. To understand the formation of the character is to understand the creator.

If you want to read the vintage 1944-1945 newspaper strip, which was short-lived, you have a chance to buy a copy of a hardcover compilation here:

One of the more amusing entries in the legend and lore of Wonder Woman is the 1974 made-for-TV movie which is now available commercially on DVD through Warner. A review from Variety magazine is reprinted for your amusement. And they hit the nail right on the head.


The Secret History of Wonder Woman will be consulted in years to come by historians and with the addition of two other books focusing on the comic adventures of the Amazon goddess, make up the essentials for your bookshelves. This is the kind of book that needed the treatment Lepore provided and regardless of the fact that some fans of Wonder Woman may not find this book as entertaining as an encyclopedia documenting every facet of the comic adventures, required a wide distribution from Alfred Knopf. Not only can the untold story be brought to light, but through her efforts the details of Marston and the influence that became Wonder Woman is now preserved.