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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening Ol’ Robbo caught most of Chimes at Midnight over on TCM, which I’ve never seen before.  Orson Welles basically lifts all the Prince Hal/Sir John Falstaff bits out of Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2.  It’s actually a pretty good film, even though the sound quality was such that half the lines were less than intelligible.  Welles makes quite the credible Falstaff, although since he’s playing a drunken old letch, it really wasn’t much of a stretch for him.  John Gielgud, who I’d watch in anything, was satisfying as Henry IV.  And there were plenty of familiar faces among the secondary characters.  Perhaps my very favorite geek moment was realizing that Andrew Faulds, who played Westmorland, was the Roman officer who brought back the runaway Pseudolus to the house of Senex early on in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.  “Citizens! We caught your runaway slave, and now he dares challenge our right to execute him!”  (When I watch movies, I like to point these sorts of things out.  Mrs. R cannot stand this practice. We don’t watch many movies together anymore.)

I may have to toss this one in the Nexflix queue and take another look.

And speaking of said queue, up this evening is The Return of the Pink Panther, which I haven’t seen in years.  Another of those movies that couldn’t possibly be made today. (“CATO!”)  Be back later……

UPDATE: What fun! I don’t think I’d seen it since I was a teenager, but somehow I remembered all the sight-gags and prat-falls perfectly.  And Herbert Lom really should have been arrested for being that slyly funny.

You know one thing I dislike about The Pink Panther? The theme musick.  And I’ll tell you why: That theme is a favorite of piano teachers to use on beginner students, especially the youngest.  I suppose the reasoning is that it is an easily-recognizable and popular tune, and that this will encourage the little darlin’s to practice.  In any event, I’ve been forced to endure it many, many times at recitals.  And every time, the kiddies make the same damned mistake – they go blazing through the first line of the melody and then crash and burn on the first chord progression in the left hand.

Every. Damn. Time.

After awhile, it’s enough to make you start twitching like Chief Inspector Dreyfus.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo got detoured by the po-po as he made his way home this evening and had to navigate through several neighborhoods to get back to a main artery.

I may be completely delusional in this, but it seems to me that many more people are keeping their outdoor Christmas (excuse me, Holiday) light displays out later this year.  I’d like to think it has something to do with a heightened spirit of the season, but the skeptic in me suggests that it probably has more to do with the deep freeze that blanketed the area for the past couple weeks keeping folks indoors.

Heigh ho.

Speaking of such things, Ol’ Robbo took down the Port Swiller Christmas tree last weekend after Epiphany.  I’m happy to report that there were no successful ornament suicides this year, although I caught several of them lurking deep within the bows round back, just waiting for the opportunity to hurl themselves to the floor.

As is my wont, once I had stripped it, I hauled the tree round back and tossed it on the brush heap within the verges of the wood outside my back gate.  Interesting observation: It seems to take a fir about two years to fully decompose.  I tossed this one next to the brown and needleless hulk from last year.  The one from the year prior to that has completely vanished.

So long as it doesn’t go up too early, Ol’ Robbo doesn’t really care that much when the Christmas tree comes down.  On the other hand, I am delighted that this year Mrs. Robbo has agreed to let me keep my wreaths (front door and dining room table) and my new crèche out until Candlemas, (February 2nd).

(Also, although she doesn’t know it, I chalked the front door of Port Swiller Manor with Epiphany chalk this year.  20 + C + M + B + 18.  One of Ol’ Robbo’s goals this year is to quietly insert more and more of these little sacramentals into the daily routine of Port Swiller Manor.  I figure it will soften the blow when I eventually pull down on Mrs. R and start advocating for a Crucifix in the front hall.)

Oh, and continuing with this general line of thought, a glass of wine with staunch friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, who recently sent Ol’ Robbo a couple of CD’s of Medieval Christmas Musick.  Since I’m going hard-core this year, they’re still perfectly seasonal and appropriate for the next few weeks!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter will recall that Ol’ Robbo has written numerous times here regarding his beloved 2003 Jeep Wrangler rag-top.

La Wrangler and I have been through a few things together.  Some years ago, on New Year’s Day, perhaps still suffering the effects of New Year’s Eve, I backed her straight into the front end of the Former Llama Military Correspondent’s ride, thereby putting an almighty ding in her rear bumper.

At some other point, just after I had replaced her original canvas covering with a new set, somebody knifed through the driver’s-side window panel when I left her parked at the metro and looted what little I had left in her glove compartment. (Which is to say, practically nothing.  Ol’ Robbo is no fool, and my only actual mistake there was locking the door in the first place.)   That gash is still covered with duct-tape inside and out, by the bye, which I have to change about every six months or so, and which I believe gives her a rayther attractive raffish air.

More recently, she developed a case of the dreaded Jeep Death-Wobble which I had to have fixed, and almost immediately thereafter shredded her own rear-differential, which I had to have completely rebuilt.

Nonetheless, although I am hardly the orthodox off-road type, I love my Wrangler.  She’s intensely fun to drive, she’s only got about 90K on her, and she’s long-since paid for.  Plus, if I get rid of her now, I’ll have a very, very difficult time convincing Mrs. R to consent to my buying another such Wrangler (perhaps a four-door?) as a replacement.  (Mrs. R despises La Wrangler.  To her, a car should block out the surrounding environment, while anybody who drives a Jeep knows that it’s purpose is to bring one in closer contact with same.  Even in the harsh, bomb-cyclone conditions we’re currently experiencing, I’ve still got the rear window panel rolled up and intend to keep it that way.)

I mention all this by way of prologue to my latest small adventure: Earlier this week, whilst driving along in the dark of my evening commute, I suddenly noticed that I couldn’t see my speedometer because the light had gone out behind it.  Lord knows how long this had been going on, since I’m so used to the route I drive that I rarely bother to look at it, but there it was.

I’ve replaced numerous brake lights and both headlights over the years, but I’ve never had to tackle the interior components before.

Whelp, as friends of the decanter know, Ol’ Robbo is, as a general matter, deeply suspicious of searching for information on the Innertoobs, and also thinks that Jeff Bezos is preparing to take over the World.  Nonetheless, a quick Google search of “replace instrument cluster lightbulb 2003 Jeep Wrangler” coupled with an appropriate stop over to the devil’s website has set Ol’ Robbo up to rectify this dashboard deficiency his own self with every confidence.  (How did our former, disastrous President put it? “Yes we can!”)  Indeed, I even went so far as to order some fancy-shmancy blue LED replacement bulbs, just to give the thing a kind of updated look.

Yes, this is pretty small cheese, I suppose.  But Ol’ Robbo has never made claim to box above his weight, and I’m looking forward to doing the switch-out.

Aaaaaand, maybe apropos of all of this, maybe just because I served up a dose of Henry Purcell in the post below, and maybe because I’m a hopeless weirdo, Ol’ Robbo’s musickal thoughts are now swirling around one of his favorite country songs.  Enjoy:

Oh, one more thing:  The elder gels used to pester me to teach them how to drive a stick.  Dreading the burning out of La Wrangler’s clutch, I fobbed them off, saying I thought it more important that they get a couple years experience on the roads under their belts on an automatic before they started trying to deal with the additional distractions of shift and clutch.  I knew all along that this was, at least in part, something of a dodge to protect La Wrangler.

Well, that was then, and this is now.  Recently it has come to me that my own conditions have been met, both gels being excellent drivers, and that I now need to man up and let them have a go.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was under the impression that a January nor’easter was on its way up the coast, and that after clipping Port Swiller Manor tonight and tomorrow morning, is going to move on and cause the usual mid-winter headaches in New York and New England.

Apparently, thought, this is no ordinary storm, but is instead a dreaded BOMB CYCLONE!!!

(CNN)A massive “bombogenesis” — an area of rapidly declining low pressure — will wreak havoc on the Northeast this week, threatening hurricane-force winter wind gusts in a region already crippled by deadly cold.

The bombogenesis will result in what’s known as a “bomb cyclone.” And the bomb cyclone, expected to strike Thursday, will likely dump 6 to 12 inches of snow in New England.

By the end of this week, parts of the Northeast will be colder than Mars.

Six inches to a foot of snow?  Gusty winds?  And a really scary name to go with it all?  Mother of God, we’re doooooooomed!!!

Even the nice deejay at the local classickal station this evening was gently mocking the, er, bombast of calling the storm a “bomb cyclone”.  And “colder than Mars”? What part of Mars are we talking about? The polar caps? The equator?  Summertime? Winter?

Actually, I think there’s room for expansion of this kind of hyperbole, the better to scare the bejabbers out of us rubes who remained skeptical even during the full brunt of the whole Global Enwarmening scam.  The Weather Channel and its cohorts could make great play with such expressions as “military-style assault hail”, “thunderstorms of mass destruction”, “shock and awe storm surge”, “humanitarian catastrophe heat-index”, and, of course, “Trumpnado!”


Anyhoo, as for the immediate local impact, I gather that the storm will stay largely east of us and that we’ll get less than an inch of snow tonight and tomorrow morning, which will probably be just enough to make my morning commute tomorrow really rotten.  As Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) once observed, getting an inch of snow is like winning ten cents in the lottery.  On the other hand, it is going to get fairly cold for the next couple days for these parts, and rumor (or perhaps wish-casting) says the schools will be closed Friday so the liddle widdums don’t get all uncomfortable.

For the Children, how about a little musickal tribute to the next couple days?


What Power art thou,
Who from below,
Hast made me rise,
Unwillingly and slow,
From beds of everlasting snow!
See’st thou not how stiff,
And wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold.

I can scarcely move,
Or draw my breath,
I can scarcely move,
Or draw my breath.

Let me, let me,
Let me, let me,
Freeze again…
Let me, let me,
Freeze again to death!

This aria used to creep the hell out of a girlfriend of mine in college (this and the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz”).  Of course, I had another girlfriend in college who used to burst into tears when reading the final scene in King Lear where Lear is standing there with the body of Cordelia in his arms and ruminating on what a pig’s breakfast he’s made of everything.

(Yep – Ol’ Robbo seems to have a talent for attracting crazy people.  And cats.  Dunno why.)

UPDATE:  All is proceeding as I have foreseen.  We got about an inch this morning – dry stuff easily pushed off the driveway.  The roads proved remarkably dry and firm.  (Whatever the stuff the Virginny DOT lays down to prep them is really very, very good.)  Nonetheless, schools were closed today.  And will be so tomorrow because of the low temperatures and high winds expected.  Meanwhile, up the coast it appears that this is turning out to be a typical January nor’easter, yet the MSM is still in full “Omigod, you guyz, BOMB Cyclone!” mode.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy new year!

In what was perhaps a fitting tribute to 2017, New Year’s Eve at Port Swiller Manor proved completely and utterly random this year.  First, Mrs. Robbo had to catch a red-eye flight to Flarduh Saturday night because her grandmother has taken a turn for the worst, thereby breaking up our planned festivities.  (UPDATE:  Good nooz – things seem to have stabled up for now. )  Subsequently, both the younger gels got invited to New Year’s Eve parties at friends’ houses, where they slept over.  That left Eldest and me.  Eldest, who has a nasty cold, went to bed around 8:00 pm, so I simply read some Charles Portis,* listened to some Dvorak,** and went to bed myself a couple hours later.

Oh, and it was 8 degrees above this morning.

Anyhoo, thank Heaven 2017 is over and done with.  What a year.  I am, of course, speaking on a personal level, what with losing the Mothe and the impending loss of Mrs. R’s grandmother (which, for psychological accounting purposes, I’m including in the 2017 column).  In terms of the broader state of things, frankly Ol’ Robbo has been stuffing his face with popcorn and laughing his posterior off.  (If you haven’t read it yet, by the bye, I heartily recommend Dave Barry’s Year In Review column.)  The joke I’ve heard from at least three or four different people, responding to the insanity of the year that just was, is “2018: Hold My Beer And Watch This!

Back on the personal side, 2018 is going to be a Milestone Year at Port Swiller Manor:  My marriage to Mrs. Robbo will turn 25 in June.  The Gels will turn, respectively, 20, 18, and 16 in the next few weeks and months.  Middle Gel will start college this fall.  That’s all pretty impressive, if I may say so without sounding the braggart, and worthy of celebration.

So, let’s all take a deep breath and get on with it……

* His Masters of Atlantis.  It’s always been my least-favorite of his five novels but it grows on me with each re-reading.

** His Slavonic Dances cycle.  Just for fun.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Those of you who bet on Tuesday, December 19 as this year’s date by which Ol’ Robbo could no longer stand listening to the endless stream of Christmas musick on the local classickal station may now go to the window and collect your winnings.

Apart from the fact that it’s still Advent and not Christmas, there simply is a limit to the number of different arrangements of “The Holly and the Ivy”, “Oh, Holy Night”, and the Schubert “Ave, Maria” that Ol’ Robbo can stand listening to before he is overwhelmed with the urge to find a sharpened screwdriver and puncture his own eardrums.

I am also again deeply embittered by the foreknowledge that, come midnight on December 25, the Christmas playlist will stop dead.  Christmas will be dead and gone. It’s won’t be pinin’ for the fjords! It’ll be passed on! This sacred holiday will be no more! It will have ceased to be! It’ll have expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! It’ll be a stiff! Bereft of life, restin’ in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘it to the metaphorical perch ‘it’d be pushing up the daisies! It’s metabolic processes will be ‘istory! It’ll be off the twig! It’ll have kicked the bucket, It’ll have shuffled off it’s mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS WILL BE AN EX-HOLIDAY!!

**Quickly takes a swig of port**

I know, I know….I should be grateful that a publick radio station even plays such blatantly Christian musick in the first place and that it dares to acknowledge such a triggering hate concept as “the Christmas Spirit”.

But still.

I usually leave the radio on all day down to the office.  Today, there was only silence.  Tomorrow I must remember to toss a fist-full of CD’s into my briefcase before heading out.

By the bye, I see on their website that the station is doing one of those What Classical Composer Are You quiz things.  I got Mozart:

You are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. You epitomize the work hard-play hard philosophy. You excel in your chosen field through a combination of exceptional talent and crazy hard work. (People have probably had to force you to take a vacation more than once.) Yet, you’re also the life of the party wherever you go – you’ve got a great sense of humor and a distinct sense of style. While this means you can occasionally come off as a bit stuck-up or irresponsible, pretty much everyone wants to be your friend.

I must say, quite frankly, that this is completely and utterly wrong.  I am none of these things (apart from the coming off as a bit stuck-up bit).  And I can’t quite figure out from the questions and responses posed how it came up with the suggestion that I am.

But what do I know?  If it’s on the innertoobs,  it must be true, amirite?

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, here we are in December already, and with it, Advent.  The purple-bowed wreaths go up on the front door of Port Swiller Manor this afternoon.

In the meantime, some this and that:

♦  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Middle Gel’s madrigals group is doing their big Renaissance Feaste this weekend.  Earlier this week, Mrs. R said, in passing, “Oh, there’s a production managers’ meeting Thursday evening.”

“Oh,” I said.  “So?”

“So you need to go.”

I do? Why?”

“Because you’re a manager.”

“Uh, when did that happen?”

“I signed you up.  You said you wanted to volunteer this year.”

“What I said was meant only in the most general, speculative, and above-all non-binding sense.  I wasn’t anywhere near a firm commitment at that point.”

“Well, I signed you up anyway, so you’re going.”

So I went.  And last evening I managed the production, at least to the extent of standing in the wings and shooshing kids until it was their turn to go on.  (However, I did make the command decision to kybosh an artificial tree at the last second which was threatening to topple over on to the stage.)  Tonight, as Middle Gel is a senior, I get to be a guest instead, although I’m also committed to helping strike the set when they’re all done.

♦  Some interesting mail this week.  First, I got a cold-call letter from a real estate firm in Maine purporting to console me for the loss of my mother but also offering to take care of unloading any property fast.  (They had obviously spotted the estate notice printed in the local fishwrapper.)  I’ve worked in a small firm in my time and know what it’s like to try and drum up biznay, but I still find this sort of thing off-putting, and question it’s effectiveness.  Meanwhile, in the We’re The Feds And We Never Make Mistakes Dept., I keep getting letters to the Mothe from Medicare asking her to complete a customer-satisfaction survey.  I suppose it’s a sign that I’m coming out of my grief that a large number of malicious responses occur to me.  Probably get arrested for fraud if I gave in to them, tho’.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, somehow Mrs. R got a solicitation from Planned Parenthood yesterday.  It says, “Stand With Us”.  On that one, I’m tempted to scribble, “No, thanks.  We don’t want to go to Hell.”  I might give in to that temptation.

♦  As it’s December, once again the dreaded office “holiday” party looms on the horizon.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to go this year, as I can’t think of a reasonable excuse to duck it, and people noticed that I ducked last year.  I do draw the line at running the karioki machine, however, as somebody casually tried to get me to commit to this week.

And speaking of that, somebody had the idea of having an “office door decorations” contest this year.  I was discussing this with a colleague yesterday and she was actually astonished when I said I didn’t intend to participate.  “But…why not?” she said.

My first impulse was to reply, “Because I’m an adult” but I refrained, instead settling on the all-purpose, “It’s just not my speed.”

Ol’ Robbo is known as something of a diplomatist around the workplace, but really, they have no idea…..

♦  Finally, and now for something completely different, I borrowed a book from my brother over Thanksgiving called Monty Python Speaks.  It’s a series of interviews with the team in which they talk about the origins and development of the show and all its offshoots.  Interesting, with a few nice nuggets of trivia thrown in, but overall, although I will always love much of Python itself, I came away liking individual members of the team even less than before.  Especially Gilliam and Idle.

UPDATE: Oh, by the bye, we had an earthquake the other day.  4.1 and centered in Delaware, but Ol’ Robbo definitely felt a bit of a tremor at his desk.  Not nearly like the one we had a few years back that was positively sick-making, but noticeable nonetheless.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening, Ol’ Robbo popped in the DVD of “Barabbas” (1961).  This wasn’t part of my Hollywood History of the World campaign.  Rayther, I had caught about ten minutes of it on one of the movie channels last Easter and was intrigued enough to make a note to circle back to it.

The premise is an interesting one:  What happened to Barabbas after Pilate let him go instead of Jesus?

Alas, the actual execution is pretty flat.  *SPOILER ALERT** Barabbas has some kind of crisis of conscience at being spared.  In the meantime, he gets arrested again, transported to a sulphur mine in Sicily, survives that, and winds up in Rome performing in the Colosseum.  (Joey, do you like movies about…gladiators?”) Eventually, haunted by mental images of Jesus, he winds up becoming Christian himself.

In practice, most of the movie is nothing much more than Anthony Quinn standing around looking baffled and resentful.

There are a couple of nice little gracenotes featuring the underground nature of Early Christianity – a wink here, a secret symbol there – and the stoning to death of Barabbas’ Jesus-loving gal-pal is pretty grim.  And I will say that whoever wrote the score was well-acquainted with Gregorian Chant and put it to very effective and appropriate use.

As I say, Quinn is Barabbas.  Anthony Kennedy, one of the oiliest-looking actors of the time (I know him as the gun-slinger who double-crosses Jimmuh Stewart in the western “Bend of the River”), plays Pilate.  Ernest Borgnine has a bit part (and he was actually not bad looking in those days), and Jack Palance plays a psychotic bully-boy among the gladiators.  (There’s a surprise casting job!)

I’ll give it, say, four sips out of ten.

Next up, a 1954 version of “Ulysses”, starring Kirk Douglas as the Homeric hero.  I intend to laugh heartily……

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Mrs. Robbo and I had a long, but very pleasant day yesterday as we travelled down to The Homestead resort to hear Middle Gel perform with her All-State Senior Honors Choir, which I bragged about her auditioning into a few weeks back.  (Yes, this is going to be one of those Proud Dad posts.)

The Homestead, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a big place situated way down yonder near the West Virginia border and absolutely inconvenient to get to from just about any other point in the Great Commonwealth of Virginny.  After slogging through several hours of interstate traffic, you’ve still got another hour plus of mountainy backroads in order to get there.  It’s very scenic, but still…..

Actually, Mrs. R and I had been there once before.  Nearly twenty-five years ago and just a couple months before our wedding, we spent the weekend attending a state bar conference (back when I thought such things important).  My only recollection of that earlier trip was of Mrs. R humiliating me on the tennis court when we found ourselves on opposites sides of the net during a mixed doubles tourney she had talked me into.  (I was a mere weekend duffer.  She was varsity captain in college.)  Nonetheless, it definitely felt odd returning after all that time to see Middle Gel do her thing.

As for the concert, it was presided over by an egomaniacal little sparkplug of a man who spooled the thing out to about twice its length otherwise with a series of autobiographical anecdotes, one-liners, and crowd-participation exercises.  As time went on, I could see the smiles on the choristers’ faces definitely beginning to become rayther frozen.

The musick, though extremely well done, really wasn’t the sort Ol’ Robbo enjoys.  They started with Moses Hogan’s “Every Time I Feel The Spirit”, to which Ol’ Robbo usually adds sotto voce, “I Want To Slit My Wrists”.  Next was a bit by Britten, whom the Gel likes a lot but I’ve always put in the “Meh” category.  (I have a theory that there’s a different scale, as it were, of enjoyment between performing a work and just listening to it.)  Then we got “Father William” by Irving Fine.  It’s a setting of text from Alice in Wonderland, and I actually found it rather amusing.  UPDATE: The gel informs me that I am mistaken about Britten.  She likes his “Festival of Carols” but thinks a lot of his other work is “weird”.

This was followed by the Randall Thompson “Alleluia”, which is actually a favorite of the Gel’s from back in her Cathedral days.  Before they began, however, the Sparkplug went into a long, gooshy monologue about lost loved ones, and invited the audience to call out anyone’s name for whom they thought the “Alleluia” would be an appropriate tribute.  Ol’ Robbo hates this sort of thing.  I came near to saying, “All the souls in Purgatory” just to spike him, but thought better of it at the last moment.

Then it was the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.  Ol’ Robbo loathes Bernstein on all levels, personal and musickal.  (I thought Tom Wolfe got him absolutely bang-o right in his essay “Radical Chic”.)  The Sparkplug, on the other hand, was practically drooling, as were many audience members.  That tells you quite a bit.  (There’s a boy soprano part, by the bye, for which they got some young middle school kid, who was scared out of his wits but quite game.  It was nice to see how fondly the choristers looked at him as he did his stuff.)

The last two selections were by somebody named Healey Willan of whom I’ve never heard, and by the Sparkplug himself.  I don’t remember much of them, frankly, except that the text of the Sparkplug’s piece was inane.

When it was over, everyone leaped spontaneously to their feet, as was really right and proper here because the kids did an outstanding job, especially considering that there were about 130 of them, they all only came together for the first time on Thursday, and some of the pieces were really quite tricky.  I’m only a hack sight-reader at the piano myself, and I continually marvel at the caliber of this performance-grade talent and how quickly and expertly they can bring it all together.  Well done, indeed.

As for the Gel, she had an absolute ball, being immersed in a group that was on the one hand so dedicated to what they were doing, and on the other so immediately and extremely friendly with each other.  It helped that five other kids from her school were there, but I gather that even singletons were quickly made to felt at home.  She was very reluctant to leave when all was over and done.

So in a couple of weeks, the Gel’s school madrigals group is going to do their annual Renaissance Feaste, a mock-Elizabethan Christmas dinner with costumes, props, and silly dialogue, but also with musick much more to Ol’ Robbo’s liking: 20 voices performing 16th and 17th Century madrigals, rounds, and carols in mostly four and five part close polyphony.  That’s the stuff!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo’s latest cinematic treat this week was “The General” (1926), the classic Buster Keaton silent film in which he plays a Southern train engineer during the Civil War.   When Yankee spies slip into Georgia and steal a train with which they plan to cause mayhem behind the lines in support of a Union advance, Keaton’s patriotic character (actually named Johnnie Gray), although previously rejected by the Confederate Army (and his girl) because of the importance of his civilian work, nonetheless single-handedly takes off in pursuit with another locomotive and thwarts the Yankee plot.  Of course, I’m probably violating all sorts of Socialist Juicebox Wanker taboos just watching a film that has a sympathetic Southerner as its hero, much less commenting on it.

Without looking it up because I’m being lazy and because I couldn’t link it anyway due to WordPress’s continued cussedness, I’ve an idea that this film is loosely based on an actual Great Locomotive Chase that occurred during the War, although I can’t now recall which side did the original stealing, who chased whom, or what the eventual outcome was.  For some reason, I believe the locomotive involved in that one was called the “Texas”. UPDATE:  The lovely and talented Diane looked it up.  So did I.  She is correct that the stolen locomotive was, in fact, called The “General”, and that the Yankees were the thiefs.  The “Texas” was one of the locomotives the Confederates used in the chase.  Indeed, she was on the southbound tracks and the Rebs ran her backwards in pursuit.  Somewhere or other, Ol’ Robbo still has an old National Geographic book on the War that includes a painting of this backward pursuit.  That’s what was lurking in the recesses of my braims when I wrote this paragraph.

Anyhoo, I haven’t seen this film since I was about thirteen, when the Mothe took me to see it at the old Olmos Theatre in San Antonio as part of a “classics” series that also featured such greats as the Marx Brothers, the “Pink Panther” movies, Hitchcock, and others.  Of course here, Keaton is the film, and the pleasure comes in watching the combination of his deadpan face and the facility with which he did all his own stunts. (His very last film, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” (1966), is a huge favorite of Ol’ Robbo’s, in no small part because his character of Erronius – “a befuddled old man” – is really a loving tribute to Keaton’s skills.)

Alas, the version of “The General” owned by Netflix is seriously marred by the soundtrack that accompanies it, which is nothing more than a series of standard orchestral pieces by such composers as Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and Glazunov strung together one after another and having absolutely no relationship whatsoever to what is happening on the screen.  I may as well have been listening to the damned radio.  After a while, I hit the mute button out of pure, distracted frustration, but of course that creates its own problems:  Not only is a completely silent film  jarring in and of itself, one is also left listening to all those ambient background noises that one started watching the film to escape in the first place:  skirmishing cats; the dog barking at her own shadow; Youngest Gel on the phone in her room two floors above, yacking with her friends at the top of her very considerable voice.  Grrr…..

The film’s mismatched soundtrack also reminded me of an experience I had with an airing of “Nosferatu” on PBS a few years ago.  Friends of the decanter of a certain age may remember an electronics toy of some years back.  It consisted of a battery-powered board on which were embedded various circuits, transistors, diodes, and other do-hickeys.  With the provided wires, you linked them up by various schematic diagrams in the book accompanying the toy, thereby creating a variety of audio and visual devices.  Well, this “Nosferatu” was accompanied by a score which sounded like nothing so much as a kid messing about with this toy – a random series of pings, grunts, clicks, and wah-wahs that again had absolutely nothing to do with the picture. Infuriating.

(By the bye, Eldest watched “Nosferatu” for the first time recently as part of an English class she’s taking on literary monsters.  She simply couldn’t believe it when I told her that there were numerous instances, among its original audiences, of viewers fainting and having hysterics because they were so frightened.)

Anyway, there you are.  Next time, I might just hit the mute button again, steal Middle Gel’s electronic keyboard, and accompany the damned thing myself.

And speaking of silent, next up on Robbo’s movie list is the 1925 version of “Ben Hur”, which I’ve never seen before.  The blurb on the Netflix envelope says that it is accompanied by a score from Hollywood composer Carl Davis, so hopefully this time there will be a little more sympathy between audio and visual.  I’ll let you know.

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