Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Music: James Hunter

Yesterday Rosemarie and I celebrated the anniversary that officially makes us an old married couple. We didn’t have to put any thought into how to mark the occasion, because James Hunter was in town.

Hunter has been described as a cross between Sam Cooke and Van Morrison. (Morrison is an avowed Hunter fan.) That description works for me. Hunter sings R&B in the 1950s/early ‘60s style, mixed with some soul and a touch of the blues.

Brooklyn’s own Jonah Smith was the solid opening act, then the man himself took the stage. He’s an accomplished showman who knows how to raise the roof while wearing a sharp suit. He also namechecked Lon Chaney during his performance, then threw in a Charles Laughton impression for good measure. And he offered a beautiful rendition of “The Very Thought of You” for those of us in the audience who were romantically inclined.

Hunter’s album People Gonna Talk is out now. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen. His tour continues for the next few weeks with stops in California and Texas before swinging back to the Northeast.

Movie: Dragonwyck (1946)

You want your Gothic? Joseph L. Mankiewicz has your Gothic right here. Naïve young girl (Gene Tierney) raised by stern religious father (Walter Huston) sent to big, spooky house complete with brooding lord of the manor (Vincent Price).

Mankiewicz, making his directorial debut, lets some of the story get away from him: Price’s creepy daughter falls out of the movie, and the haunted harpsichord never pays off. Mankiewicz is clearly more interested in the politics of the era – there’s some fascinating material on the system of government dominated by landowners known as patroons, a holdover from the Dutch era in New York – and in tweaking Gothic conventions.

He has the perfect accomplice in Price, never better than he is here. He gets into the spirit of things right away, as when his doomed wife asks him why he keeps retreating to his tower room.

Doomed wife: What can you possibly do up there?

Price: Possibly? Anything from pinning butterflies to hiding an insane twin brother.

Price and Tierney co-starred in Laura and Leave Her To Heaven. They also appeared together in the 1941 film Hudson’s Bay. I suppose I have to track that down now, just to say I’ve seen them all.