September 3, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel “The Great Gatsby.” In an effortless manner, it sweeps the reader into a magical world through prose that brings the parties and characters to life. Nick, Jay, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan become people we know … some we may like, others not so much. We precisely envision Gatsby’s estate, Nick’s bungalow, and that speeding yellow car. There have been multiple movie versions, with the most famous being 1949 with Alan Ladd, 1974 with Robert Redford, and 2014 with Leonardo DiCaprio.

In 2013, Robert Steven Williams and Richard Webb began a project documenting the five months in 1920 that Scott and Zelda spent in Westport, Connecticut. A 1996 article in “The New Yorker” magazine by renowned writer Barbara Probst Solomon gave credence to the idea that much of Fitzgerald’s inspiration for “The Great Gatsby” (and West Egg) came from those few months spent in Westport, Connecticut. Now you might think, ‘yeah, that’s kinda interesting’, but in the literary and academic worlds, it caused quite an uproar and backlash. See, foremost Fitzgerald expert and biographer Matthew Bruccoli was adamant that Great Neck, Long Island was Fitzgerald’s only inspiration for the classic novel … and Bruccoli staked his career and reputation on it. He scoffed and refuted any such notion that Westport played a role.

Filmmakers Williams and Webb proceed to systematically examine evidence, even though many literary scholars were, at a minimum, quite skeptical. Some background on Westport is provided, including noting its two most famous residents, Paul Newman and Joann Woodward, the 1956 movie THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT, Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” episode based there, and an entire season of “I Love Lucy” where Ricky and Lucy were living in the town. Numerous writers spent time in Westport, though few of the town’s current residents are aware of Scott’s and Zelda’s summer of 1920.

We see the cottage they lived in. She was only 19 years old, and the couple had been married only a short while. What’s most compelling is that during that summer, an eccentric and private millionaire named F.E. Lewis resided in the massive estate adjacent to the Fitzgerald house. Lewis was a mysterious man who threw lavish parties at his mansion overlooking the water. Sound familiar? Was Lewis the inspiration for Jay Gatsby?

An academic conspiracy doesn’t gather much interest outside the ivy walls, but Williams and Webb make a very compelling case that deserves consideration. It has always been presumed that Long Island was the basis for the novel, but even Scott’s and Zelda’s granddaughter, Bobbie Lanahan, believes it’s obvious that a writers experiences can be blended into a composite for fiction. Further evidence is offered by the previously unknown McKaig Diary, which details much of what occurred that summer.

Williams enlists the help of actor Sam Waterston (who played Nick Carraway in the 1974 film version) and narrator actor Keir Dullea (Dave in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) to guide us through the journey. Clips from the movies and an analysis of Scott’s other writings, as well as Zelda’s novel “Save Me the Waltz”, lend credence to the thought that those 5 months in Westport made quite an impact on ‘America’s first pop stars.’ Most of us simply prefer to enjoy a good book, but for those who must know the background and what influenced the writer, the documentary makes a very good case for the important role of Westport, Connecticut for Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”.

watch the trailer:


December 4, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Finally caught back up to this one after close to 30 years. I have always listed it among my favorite Film Noir movies and now I remember why! The story is not dissimilar to many of the detective films from the 40’s and 50’s, but this one is based on Daniel Mainwaring‘s brilliantly titled novel “Build My Gallows High”. It stars ultra-cool Robert Mitchum and an up-and-coming actor named Kirk Douglas, in just his second film.

 As with any Film Noir, there must be a “dame” stirring up trouble for the men who just can’t seem to think clearly around them. Here we get two fabulous women who can’t be trusted: Jane Greer and Rhonda Fleming. We also get some of the most creative lighting you will ever see in a movie. I am guessing the production budget was very small, but the shadows and darkness work very well for the story. The next best part of this one is the stream of classic lines. Some are funny and others are quite jolting, given the seriousness with which they are delivered.

The movie is directed by Jacques Tourneur, who also directed Cat People just a few years prior. His best scenes here involve Mitchum, Greer and Douglas playing cat and mouse with dialogue, but I also enjoyed Rhonda Fleming’s brief but impactful appearance.

 A couple of interesting notes on those involved. Jane Greer was discovered by Howard Hughes and has some pretty frightening things to say about their time together. She was a very young bride to Rudy Vallee, but Hughes broke up the marriage pretty quickly. Ms. Greer also appeared in Against All Odds in 1984. That film was basically an updated remake of this one. In that film, she played the mother of Rachel Ward‘s character. Since this was Kirk Douglas’ second film, you can really see how little range he had at this point. Very interesting to compare this to some of his later work.  If you enjoy the noir genre, this is a must see.

check out 39 seconds of one scene and you’ll get a feel for the shadow effects: