Monday, December 24, 2007

2008: The Year of James Bond?

The man who created the seemingly immortal superspy James Bond 007 would have turned 100 next year. Born May 28, 1908 (the same birthdate he gave Bond's archenemy Ernest Stravo Blofeld in the 1961 novel Thunderball), Ian Lancaster Fleming wrote the first 007 novel Casino Royale in 1951 apparently to work off impending wedding-day jitters. Fleming (who died in August, 1964)used elements of his life as a Naval Intelligence agent during World War II and as a foreign correspondent to form the foundation for his books and short stories about the larger-than-life Bond.

According to this site, plans are afoot to celebrate Fleming's birthday. MI6 also reports on forthcoming Fleming and Bond-related events for '08. (Including a new novel!)

In addition, production is scheduled to begin next month on the latest 007 film, a direct sequel to 2006's film version of Casino Royale, once again starring Daniel Craig as James Bond. Of course the library carries Fleming's Bond novels (I recommend From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty's Secret Service)as well as the still-popular films based on the books. (Any of the films with Sean Connery , the 1969 film version of On Her Majesty's... and last year's Casino Royale are recommended for your consideration.)

For a look at Mr. Fleming's life, I recommend Andrew Lycett's Ian Fleming, the most recent (1996) biography of the author.

Happy 100th, Mr. Fleming! -Ed

Greenwich Library Closes At 1:00 Today

We'll reopen Wednesday, December 26 at 9 am.

Happy Holidaze! -Ed

Friday, December 21, 2007

Classic And Cult Television: January, 2008

On January 16, 2008, at 7:00 pm in the Meeting Room, Greenwich Library's Classic and Cult Television program will present an episode (two, if we have time) of the long-running Perry Mason series. Starring Raymond Burr as the title character, the dead serious whodunit/murder mystery series (which ran from 1957-66 on CBS) was based on the long running mystery novels and short stories by Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970)about an attorney whose clients always seemed to be accused of murder.

The show's familar but popular formula (taken from Gardner's books) usually had one of Mason's clients say or do something towards another person (often a disloyal business partner, old pal or spouse), usually in front of witnesses, then sometime later wind up charged with the latter's murder. Mason, assisted by secretary Della Street (played on the show by Barbara Hale) and private detective Paul Drake (William Hopper), would track down evidence that would exonerate the client during the trial AND get the real guilty party to confess right in the courtroom at the same time! (Sometimes this formula would be tweaked, with, say, the killer confessing after getting caught outside the courthouse and/or another location.) Mason's friendly nemesis District Attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman), along with cynical LAPD detective Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins), both presenting the prosecution's case, would always hear the familiar words "case dismissed" (or a variation of them) at the end of every episode.

For it's time, the series was one of the best-looking shows of the period. The almost noir-ish black and white photography greatly contributed to lend a sense of mystery (especially in the night scenes, which unlike other shows at the time doesn't look shot with cheap day-for-night filters). The courtroom sequences often take up the second half of the episodes, yet the combined dynamics of deft writing (in addition to adapting Gardner's stories, original ones were used as well), acting and direction overcome any limitations such interior scenes could have and made most episodes stand out dramatically. You don't even question why any murderer would break down and confess in front of witnesses at the climax after following the story's well done build-up.

More importanly, the show worked thanks to it's appealing cast. After a horrible experience with Warner Brothers in the 30's (that studio did "comedy" movie versions of the books, with miscast actors like Warren William and Ricardo Cortez playing Mason as a hard-drinking, ladies' man type who was always broke and trying to avoid marrying his secretary), Gardner had reasonbly full creative control of the television series and personally approved of the cast.

Raymond Burr's Mason is steadfastly loyal to his clients, no matter how unstable some of them might seem. Despite facing all kinds of threats to his career and even his life, Burr's Mason keeps his cool. (One sequence in 1958's "The Case of the Lucky Loser" has Mason, after refusing to buckle under a threat by another, more influencial attorney to drop his current case, actually serve a suppoena to the bullying lawyer, ordering him to testify in court regarding the case in question!) Aided by loyal Della and Paul,who provide the investigative legwork, there's never any doubt in the audience's mind that Mason would let an innocent person take the rap. Even DA Burger & Lt. Tragg grudgingly admire and respect Mason's character and conviction, despite their losing so many cases to him. (In later years, Burger and Tragg not only sometimes assist Mason in his cases, and vice versa, but are even seen socializing with him and his associates after hours!)

More info on the Mason series can be found here. For anyone would likes a good brain-twisting mystery, the Perry Mason books (which we carry in our Mystery section on the second floor) and television series (we'll be carrying the first 15 episodes from the 1958-59 season after the Classic TV showing here next month) are recommended! -Ed

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cheap U.N.C.L.E.

If you've read my previous post & clicked on the Time Life link to view information about the massive Man From U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, you may have noticed it doesn't come cheap. (The 1967 episode "The Hot Number Affair" with guest stars Sonny & Cher, isn't even worth two cents...) But if you're fueled by nostalgia and/or just simply curious, check out AOL's In2TV site , which offers online access to selected episodes of that series & other classic TV programs that you can watch on your PC. And it's free! -Ed

Monday, December 17, 2007

Look What's Finally Out On DVD!!!

One of my all time childhood favorites, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has finally been released on DVD!!! This tongue-in-cheek adventure spy series, which ran on NBC from 1964-68, and starrred Robert Vaughn & David McCallum as secret agents Napoleon Solo & Illya Kuryakin, was television's answer to the then-innovative (and still popular) James Bond 007 film series at the time. I'm old enough to remember both the great toys that cashed in on the show's popularity (spy briefcase containing the easy-to-assemble U.N.C.L.E. gun, the cane gun, bubble gum cards, comic books and the cool corgi cars)and the fact that the program, after the first two seasons, dipped in quality somewhat. But there's a catch to this piece of news.

You see, you'll be able to purchase the entire set online from Time-Life Video only ( (Any fan of the show might suspect this arrangement was the work of U.N.C.L.E.'s archfoes, THRUSH, but we know that can't be...)

Time Life did the same arrangement last year when it offered all five seasons of the 1965-70 spy spoof Get Smart. The company promised that by Fall of this year, the shows would be made available to retail outlets like Best Buy & Borders, but that hasn't been the case.

Anyway, if you do order the DVD set (the library probably won't, due to budget, space & distributor considerations), keep in mind that'll include getting the awful third season U.N.C.L.E. episodes (from 1966-67), which you'll have no choice but to accept. That was the period when the show switched from tongue-in-cheek/suspense to all-out comedy. Bad comedy.(You'll all love the episodes from that period. With titles like "The 'My Friend, The Gorilla' Affair", how could you not?)

So, for those fans of the show who are interested, U.N.C.L.E. is now available on DVD & yours for the taking! -Ed

Update: Here's an online review of the set.

Dummy Post

Practice Posting. To be deleted. -Ed

Winter Safety Tips

Here's a link on dos & don'ts to get through the winter. -Ed

Little Steven's Underground Garage

For the past 5-6 years, I've been listening to the syndicated Little Steven's Underground Garage radio series (aired locally on WXRQ 104.3 FM Sunday nights at 10pm), hosted by Steve Van Zandt, gutiarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. "Little Steven"'s program focuses on "garage bands" from the birth of rock 'n' roll in the fifties to current groups. As such, a typical episode's playlist will include songs by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Beatles, Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Byrds, the (British) Birds, the Rascals, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, the Clash, the Who, the Faces, the Kinks, Johnny Cash, the Ramones, the Chesterfield Kings, Prince, the Rolling Stones, the Grip Weeds, Oasis and the Stems, scattered all over the place, Van Zandt also gives listeners background information on a variety of topics, from the strange life of Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys), the origins of Thanksgiving & Drive In Movies, and the life and works of such diverse artists as Allen Ginsberg, Frank Sinatra and Roger Corman (to name but a few).

Aside from walking down memory lane however, the Underground Garage is, next to satellite radio, practically the only source to hear new, young bands for the first time. I would not have heard of, and enjoyed, such current performers as the Kaiser Chiefs, the White Stripes and the Woggles without having first heard them via Little Steven's program. Similarly, I also rediscovered the joys of the likes of the Pretty Things, the(American)Wailers, the Sonics and Johnny Thunders.

The template for the show was obviously the classic Nuggets collections (currently available on CD by Rhino Records & carried by the library), which focused on the great unsung groups who'd meet & rehearse in somebody's garage and then try to go professional.

Little Steven's shows have been archived at his site here, so check it out! And play it LOUD! -Ed

Follow Up on I Am Legend

The third film version of I Am Legend, starring Will Smith and based on the classic novel by Richard Matheson, opened strong in first place with an estimated box office take of about $76 million. This despite some unnecessary alterations (especially in the last third)in the original plot. The film's ending is not the same as the book's. For a much darker take of the story, I again recommend the original novel. (We already have three holds on our four copies.) -Ed

Monday, December 10, 2007

From 1969! The Rascals!

From Guest Blogger David Waring:
Anyone who came of age in the mid-sixties in the New York metropolitan area would have had the opportunity to see the (Young) Rascals play live on numerous occasions. Those fortunate enough to do so would have caught a band that epitomized the excitement of rock ‘n roll, albeit with a strong, perhaps dominant, strain of r&b. Indeed, the Rascals, along with Mitch Ryder and the Righteous Brothers were the era’s prototypical “blue-eyed soul” acts. This video clip from 1969 conveys the power, tightness and dynamism of the band; including legendary drummer Dino Danelli’s propulsive stickwork and organist, Felix Cavaliere’s trademark impassioned vocals on the Rascal’s biggest hit, People Got to be Free.

(Thanks David. The first seven Rascals albums, previously issued by Atlantic Records in 1966-71, have now been remastered & reissued on CD by Collector's Choice/Warner Special Products with new, informative liner notes. In addition, the first four albums contain both stereo and mono mixes. The albums are carried by Greenwich Library and are very definitely recommended! -Ed)

More on I Am Legend

Looking over my previous post, I noticed I may have given the wrong impression and recommended the new film version of I Am Legend, which opens in theatres this Friday. Since I haven't seen the film (though I have read one review at Variety), I couldn't really recommend it in good conscience. What I was recommending was the original Richard Matheson novel the film is based on. That novel still packs a punch! (Guaranteed: after you finish the book, you'll be sleeping every night for a week with the lights on!)

I also wanted to point out that, while the new film takes some liberties with the book's plot, the casting of Will Smith is, I think, spot on. Vincent Price and Charlton Heston were two of the best actors to appear in films, but because of their theatrical backgrounds (and an occasional tendency for hamminess), neither of these guys ever struck me as playing "average joes". The protagionist of Matheson's novel is an average 9-5 guy in the proverbial gray flannel suit who quickly adapts to his surroundings as best as he can. Will Smith, in some of his previous performances, has shown he can "take it down a notch" and act in a more naturalistic manner (without being mannered), giving the sense that, yeah, he's a "regular guy" like you & me, which only makes the impact of the plot even more powerful. (What would we do in such a situation? Smith shows us one possible path by reacting the way we might in a planet where everybody else is a literal monster.) So I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Oh, and here's hoping the scenes of Neville (the book's protagionist) researching the history of what led up to his present situation by reading newspaper articles & research journals in the now-deserted local library in his neighborhood is kept in the film. (Take that Google!) We librarians have to get some good PR wherever we find it.... -Ed

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Am Legend

Richard Matheson's classic novel from 1954 that combines the horror & science fiction genres, I Am Legend , has been adapted for the third time by filmmakers. The new IAL, starring Will Smith, comes out next week. The production made news earlier this year with tales of it's on-location shooting in New York City.

Previously adapted for film in 1964 (the Italian black & white Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price), and again, in Hollywood, seven years later (The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, this time in color), IAL is basically the horrifying saga of Robert Neville, a man who survives a world wide plague that tranforms survivors (if you can call them that) into blood sucking vampires who come out only at night. (Matheson gives a reasonably convincing pseudo-scientific explaination for this.) Neville spends his days hunting down the creatures' resting spaces to destroy them and his nights barricading himselve from their attacks on his home. Then one day... But that would be telling.

I have no idea if the new film will improve upon the previous movie versions, but even if it doesn't, at least new audiences (as well as those who remenber Matheson's work on movies like Duel and the original Twilight Zone tv series) will be exposed to a timeless thriller classic that's guranteed to keep you up nights. Check it out if you get a chance. (In addition to several copies of the novel, the library also carries the '64 movie version as part of the public domain "Horror Classics" DVD set.)

A few years back, I had recommended the book for members of the now-defunct library Science Fiction Book Club. It's nice to feel ahead of the pack on this. -Ed