Thursday, January 27, 2005

DVD: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

It’s no classic, just a well-crafted studio comedy of its era. But there’s still plenty to recommend.

- It hasn’t really dated. The plot, about New Yorkers shucking the city for suburban splendor, is a comic staple, and this version holds up better than more recent treatments (THE MONEY PIT, FUNNY FARM). Even the specifics – like Manhattanites striving to get their kids into the right schools only to feel vaguely threatened by what they learn there – have resonance.

- Cary Grant is so skilled an actor that he can score laughs by not saying something, or by holding a glance at Myrna Loy a beat longer than you expect. He’s particularly fine in the near-wordless opening sequence, struggling to get dressed in the family’s too-cramped digs.

- Melvyn Douglas’ wry voiceover is reminiscent of a Robert Benchley short.

- The closing scene, in which the movie abruptly gets all meta on the viewer’s ass, blew my mind as a kid. It still comes as a surprise.

Book: Killy, by Donald E. Westlake (1963)

I try not to read two books by the same author in a row. But I think of Westlake and Richard Stark as different people anyway.

This is the fourth novel published under Westlake’s own name, according to his bibliography. I wanted to see how my spiritual uncle (the position of spiritual father is already taken by Lawrence Block) started out.

A young college student interns at a national labor union. He and the title character head for a New York mill town to follow up on a worker’s request to start a local. When the worker is found dead, the outsiders are framed for his murder.

There are a few youthful excesses. At times Westlake pushes his protagonist’s naïveté. But so many of the master’s gifts are already in evidence: the sense of place, the ability to reveal unsuspected and unsavory depths in his characters.

The book I read was a U.K. edition, so people in upstate New York were doing favours and holding lifts.

As if I wasn’t a big enough Westlake fan already, it turns out he wrote the pilot episode of SUPERTRAIN, the series that almost killed NBC in the ‘70s. There’s got to be a book in that.