Author Archives: Lord Jim

Harper

Classic Movie Watch — Harper (1966)

1966’s Harper is not only one of the great Paul Newman’s best and most enjoyable films. It’s also by this late date a bit of an under looked classic with a remarkable creative pedigree. Based on the great Ross MacDonald’s first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, and capturing the bubbling striking and strangeness of burgeoning, fast moving California in the post war era, Harper is an excellent crime thriller with a first-rate cast. Not only is there the always terrific Newman as the title character at his most wry, nimble and reluctantly heroic.  The film is also packed with other standout actors like the screen legends Lauren Bacall, Shelly Winters, Julie Harris, Janet Leigh and Robert Wagner. Great character actors also play their parts notably the always indelible Strother Martin, Robert Webber and Harold Gould. The movie was also legendary screenwriter William Goldman‘s big breakthrough, establishing him as a major Hollywood writer and adaptor of work and essentially launching his long successful career in the movies. It was capably directed by Jack Smight with a nice light touch, who also went on a pretty good run later in the 60s and 70s helming films like No Way to Treat a Lady (from a novel by Goldman), The Illustrated Man, Airport 1975 and Midway. Finally Harper was shot by the great Conrad Hall and the film has a terrifically bright and colorful California feel even though it is essentially a noir in content.

Without giving too much away, down on his luck private investigator Lew Harper is hired by an old friend, an ex- Assistant DA and now private attorney Alfred Graves (Arthur Hill) to investigate the disappearance of his client, millionaire grower and developer, Ralph Sampson. The unlikeable Sampson has disappeared en route to LA while flying back from Vegas and his wife, the beautiful but ice cold and disabled Elaine Sampson (Bacall) wants to find out what happened if only to catch him stepping out on her. Harper also meets Sampson’s daughter from another marriage, Miranda (played by a very kittenish Pamela Tiffin) and her boyfriend and Sampson’s private pilot, Alan Taggert (Wagner), who also happens to be the last person to see Sampson before he went missing at the LA airport after ordering a limo. By searching Sampson’s private bungalow Harper finds a picture of faded starlet Fay Estabrook (Winters), whom he tracks down and finds to be overweight and alcoholic. Harper gets her drunk to pump her for info and from Fay’s web of strange connections he’s led to even more unseemly characters such as the nightclub singer and junkie Betty Fraley (Harris), Fay’s vicious husband Troy (Webber) and the bogus holy man Claude (the one-of-a-kind Martin). Deeper crimes are uncovered including kidnapping, human trafficking and even murder and no one is entirely what they seem.

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If that all sounds complicated it is. True to the Ross MacDonald style there are a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of plot twists to follow and throw the audience off balance. Harper uses his wits more than his fists to move the case forward, though he is more than capable in either hand-to-hand combat or with a gun. He’s a step above the local police and he doesn’t mind letting them know it to their face. He takes more than a few beatings and serious risks to his life but, like all great detectives, is compelled to stay on the case and see it through no matter were it may lead. As personified by Paul Newman, Harper is never grim but always wise-cracking, quick witted, effortlessly masculine with a appropriately sardonic take on his gray-shaded word and the people in it. It’s one of Newman’s subtly great performances in that it comes across so effortlessly, as though Harper were just a second skin he was slipping on, and ranks right up there with Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (another Goldman screenplay) and The Sting for moving Newman away from the “angry young man” stereotype of his earlier career — a sort of alternative Brando — and into the persona of the affably cynical, world wise, wise-cracking and sometimes reluctant hero that served him and us as theater-goers so well. The direction is crisp and manages to fit in all its twists and turns in a highly enjoyable and never draggy 2 hours. And of course the brilliant screenplay does justice to MacDonald’s original novel even elevating the humor somewhat to keep the dialogue fast and clever, rife with sharp ripostes and cutting lines. It’s tough and violent enough without being exploitative and it’s one of those movies where everything just seems to hum along like a well-oiled machine with just enough oddness and ingenuity to prevent it from being an exercise in formula or slickness. In short, if you’re a Paul Newman fan and crime thriller fan and you haven’t  seen Harper yet what are you waiting for? It’s a mid-60s knockout and you are going to love it.

Just a couple of quick asides: Legend has it that the character was changed from the original Archer to Harper because Newman liked H names and thought they were lucky (see Hud, Hombre, The Hustler, etc). Other sources say that because the producers only has the rights to The Moving Target and no other MacDonald works at that time they didn’t want to use Archer. In fact another Harper/Archer movie was made nearly 10 years later with Newman reprising his role and playing alongside his wife Joanne Woodward in The Drowning Pool (1975). The location was shifted from MacDonald’s beloved coastal California to New Orleans and while the plot was equally byzantine if not more so and the cast of characters just as compelling the film plays a lot more seriously and almost has a grim feel to it. Not a bad thriller by any means but definitely not the nimble, witty masterpiece that the original Harper is. It’s also worth mentioning that the original Archer books themselves are definitely worthy of a read. They are a major cut above most detective fiction and MacDonald earns his high praise as the natural successor to Raymond Chandler as a superlative writer of hard-boiled crime fiction with his Lew Archer grabbing the baton from Chandler’s iconic Philip Marlowe and ably running with it.

bleu_chanel

Men’s Cologne — Bleu de Chanel by Chanel

Bleu de Chanel is something of the elephant in the room when it comes to today’s men’s fragrances. Since its release in 2010 by the illustrious House of Chanel, Bleu has been equal part praised and vilified, enormously successful and pilloried for that very mass market appeal, not to mention much imitated by competitors envious of its market share. As the newest in a long line of legendary Chanel offerings for men that includes Pour Monsieur, Allure, Egoiste and my personal favorite, Antaeus, Bleu marked a break from such utterly unique compositions and an attempt at a more modern, mainstream “youthful” juice with wide appeal. Based on its commercial success, there can be no doubt that Chanel succeeded. If Bleu is a little on the dull and boring side it is also made of the highest quality ingredients, as one would expect, and blended beautifully. It’s a very good daily driver for those of us who don’t have the stones to wear Antaeus as a daytime office scent or on a first date. And let’s be honest, that’s probably most of us and with very good reason.

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Characterized as a Woody Aromatic, Bleu Eau de Toilete opens instead with its signature high note of clean grapefruit with a hint of fresh ginger adding a little complexity. This is handled well and comes across as nicely crisp and bracing, a very good way to start the day after a shower. The laundry musk of so many other “fresh” scents is thankfully absent and despite the name this is not really an aquatic scent either, unlike its rather bad competitor from Dior, Sauvage. While I’ve never been able to detect any patchouli, as listed in the notes, and only a bare minimum of vetiver, there is a subtle development away from the somewhat generic citrus beginning as those promised woody notes of mellow sandalwood and crisp cedar begin to assert themselves. This is complemented by peppery accords — pink they say — and a harmonious mint that brings to mind a toned down, more elegant version of Burberry Men. The woods remain deep into the dry down and while still staying very fresh, Bleu EDT softens with its trademark light incense base giving the fragrance a little warmth where before there was mainly a cool, attention-getting crispness to the whole experience.

I say attention-getting because even though Bleu shares aspects of other “modern” compositions favored by younger guys these days it is distinctive enough, as well as definitely a well crafted juice and not a synthetic mess, that it always seems to stand out and get compliments from the fairer sex. It’s taken me a long time to warm up to Bleu de Chanel — at first I was decidedly unimpressed — and my preference for this sort of daytime fragrance still leans more towards old school green classics like Lauder for Men and Tsar. But Bleu has grown on me and the response it gets makes me think that it somehow makes more of an impression on those around me than on my own nose, perhaps due to olfactory fatigue. So yes, its safe, a little less than exciting or bold and somewhat annoyingly au courant in its lack of a forceful personality.

But sometimes safe is a positive quality in a cologne when you’re not trying to make a given experience all about you or what scent you’re wearing. It’s certainly very good in warm weather, a definite daytime stalwart and fine for a casual evening out when you just want to smell good, clean and effortlessly manly. The nearly opaque deep blue flacon (bottle) is handsome, solid and simple and the vaporizer delivers a consistent dose without dripping or leakage. So Bleu is quality all the way and an all around versatile performer with solid but not overpowering sillage and good longevity at around 6 hours until it is a skin scent (more on clothing, of course). You’ll smell good, you’ll smell masculine despite the modern interpretation and no one will ever be offended by what your wearing. The only downside is its popularity, which might mean the guy next to you at the bar or the gym might also be rocking Bleu. But then you don’t really wear Bleu to stand out. It’s a solid addition to any man’s wardrobe precisely because it is so user-friendly and versatile. I can honestly say that the experience of wearing it gets better over time, as the quality of the composition becomes more apparent (and perhaps in-bottle maceration also contributes to this improvement). And when you feel like you simply can’t play it this safe anymore and you’ve got to embrace your ballsy side Chanel still thankfully offers its full throated masculines like Antaeus. So kudos for the great fashion house for keeping its classics in circulation as well as moving forward with the very solid, very reliable Bleu. In this here today, gone tomorrow world of modern perfumery Chanel’s pride and traditionalism amidst undeniable innovation deserves praise. It’s a tribute to their sophistication that they acknowledge that there are many moods to a man and while Bleu might suit some of them, and suit them in style, it certainly shouldn’t be the only one.

Bleu de Chanel is available directly from Chanel.com as an EDT and a Eau de Parfum and in a variety of sizes and affiliated beauty products. Chanel keeps tight control of their distribution and it ain’t cheap but you’ll always know you’re getting genuine Chanel quality.

Roger Moore

RIP Roger Moore, 1927 – 2017

The heroes of our youth continue to fade away. So it is with the passing of Sir Roger Moore Tuesday, May 23 at the age of 89 after a life very well spent. The Guardian’s obituary is here.

Moore was “our” James Bond for those of us growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, an impossibly suave and arch version of Ian Fleming’s iconic super spy. Taking over the role at 45 from the great Sean Connery and Aussie George Lazenby, who flamed out after one very good outing (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Moore slowly moved the portrayal of Bond away from the super macho style that Connery personified and into a more self-aware, almost ironic approach. With his first two outings as Bond, the very good blacksploitation hybrid Live And Let Die and the rather less effective The Man With the Golden Gun, Moore seemed to be trying to split the diferrence between his own mischievous personality and the hardness of the Connery era, including slapping women around nonchalantly. But as two-time Bond movie alum Maude Adams famously remarked that was simply not Roger. And as the movies became more gadget driven and wilder in concept, culminating in the very wacky Moonraker that tried to capitalize on the Star Wars craze by putting Bond into space, Moore’s self-aware bemusement served the ever more hyperbolic franchise well. Even if today’s pundits are quick to dismiss the Moore era as lightweight and his portrayal of Bond as lacking in gravitas this misses the zeitgeist of when his films were made. The 70s were not a time of gravitas but rather The Me Decade, a time of partying down and sexual abandon, of thinking less and doing more. And so Moore’s Bond was simply suitable to the times. He seemed to recognize that his perfect features constituted the most important weapon in Bond’s ultimate pursuit, the conquest of women while in the service of the Queen. It’s certainly no accident that he essayed the role 7 times over 12 years, even if by his last outing in 1985’s A View To A Kill his knees seemed to be showing their 57 years more than that well-tanned face. Yet he still managed to take on the Amazonian Grace Jones and a very nasty Christopher Walken, as well as bed Tanya Roberts in the process, so you could say Moore’s Bond retained the good stuff even in his swan song.

Moore had been a major international TV star before being cast in Live And Let Die in 1973. His big break came when he took over from James Garner as his British cousin on Maverick in the early 1960s after working regularly in other action roles on American television. Most importantly, he played Simon Templar in The Saint from 1962 to 1969, a cultured thief who only steals from other criminals. The series was a huge hit both in England and in the US and probably put Moore on Albert Broccoli’s radar as a potential future Bond. He was also immensely enjoyable as one half of the wealthy oil-and-water crime fighting duo in The Persuaders! alongside a manic Tony Curtis, bickering and galavanting their way through jet set Europe and generally having a ball. While the series was not the big hit in the States that the producers hoped it remains a very enjoyable cult classic and peak super suave Moore (check out his very early-70s self-designed wardrobe as Lord Brett Sinclair). After his time as Bond, Sir Roger became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador due to the example and influence of his friend, Audrey Hepburn. He was knighted by the British Empire in 2003 for his years of service doing that worthwhile charitable work and his special focus on helping children in the developing world.

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Roger Moore liked beautiful women, finely tailored clothes, good cigars and good drink and most of all pleasant company. He loved playing  James Bond and never struggled with being strongly identified with the role, as so many of the other actors have (with the notable exception of Pierce Brosnan). For him, Bond and his ever wilder and more humorous adventures were all great fun to be approached with a raised eyebrow and a good quip but not too much perspiration. There was never any doubt he was going to accomplish his mission, kill the villain and sleep with the girl. He made the James Bond movie a terrifically enjoyable experience during a time when the films were real blockbuster summer events. His was an angst-free Bond for a hedonistic era, helping perfect an over-the-top formula that simply worked like a charm nearly every time. If tastes have changed and authenticity is now the new fetish that is no fault of Moore’s. He had the light touch at the right moment and his films remain the most consistently and purely fun of the franchise’s epic run. So godspeed to Sir Roger Moore and may he rest in peace. He brought the world a lot of joy and entertainment and did a lot of good work in his long time on this earth. He is the first cinema Bond to pass on and certainly one of the most loved. But even with that towering cinematic accomplishment he’ll be even more fondly remembered as Roger Moore the kind, funny and very generous human being. Just read this great anecdote from a fan who met him as a child and then again as an adult for proof of that.

Dunhill-Edition

Men’s Cologne — Dunhill Edition by Dunhill

Dunhill Edition is another older but still excellent Aromatic Fougerie, that ultimate gentlemen’s genre of fragrance that seems to have gone largely out of fashion in recent years. Created in 1984, 50 years after the original Dunhill for Men debuted, Edition is completely different then its legendary forebear. Unlike that pre-War masterpiece, Edition doesn’t emphasize floral notes like iris and jasmine but rather warm spices, wood and the fougere staples oakmoss and vetiver. Dunhill Edition is also a quality fragrance that actually develops as you wear it, unlike so many that promise to do so with an elaborate note pyramids but remain essentially linear, smelling not that much different hours later from when you first sprayed it on. No, Dunhill Edition is a many-layered fragrance in the best traditions of English perfumery, opening with a strong soapy vibe redolent of bergamot, a dry lemon, lavender and oakmoss. The soapiness is definitely less green that that of Van Cleef’s classic Tsar but the two share a similar potent barbershop vibe that can come across as a little heavy on first application. But also like Tsar, Edition begins to soften after the first half hour with a very nice spicey clove note as well as some nutmeg coming to the fore and balanced by refined clary sage, which I always seem to enjoy in my colognes. But Antaeus this is not — the sage is noewhere near as sharp and there are no funky animalic notes in Edition’s composition. Instead, it remains polite and refined, as one might expect from this classy house famed for its fine cigars, with some subtle masculine flowers like carnation and geranium in the mix, as well as tonka bean to sweeten things as it begins to dry down (ironically you’ll find no tobacco in either Dunhill for Men or Edition). In the late stages the vetiver and oakmoss continue to radiate from the base, mingling with a very pleasant fir note that plays off the tonka beautifully.

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Although often rumored to be discontinued, Dunhill Edition seems readily available and at extremely reasonable prices considering the apparent quality of the ingredients. It can be had for around $30 for 3.4 ounces, a pretty good deal in my book. Along with the original Dunhill for Men, Edition makes a solid addition to any man’s cologne cabinet, particularly those who enjoy timeless classicism rather than chasing trends. Projection is moderate except for that opening blast and sillage is solid but pleasantly diffuse, creating the impression of a well-groomed man not trying too hard to be noticed but nonetheless smelling effortlessly good. You definitely wear this Eau de Toilette-strength juice, it doesn’t wear you. Longevity is a good 6-7 hours depending upon heaviness of application and personally I think the late dry down where you can really smell the woods mingling with the sage and cloves is the best part, which makes Edition a pleasure to wear from beginning to end. I’d say this is more of a daytime wearer, ideal for office or semi-formal social occasions where restraint is appreciated. But if you wore this for an evening out it would’t be the worst thing in the world by a long shot. I also feel like Edition is one of those uncommon true all-year colognes, where the lavender and citrus elements work well in warm weather and the clove and oakmoss shine in colder temps. So if you like the more old school styles of masculine perfumery where there’s not an aquatic, melon or fake ambergris note in sight but you’re not quite in the mood for the knockout 1980s leather power of de la Renta’s Pour Lui or Maxim’s Pour Homme I’d say Dunhill Edition is well worth sampling and perhaps including in your collection. Along with a Saville Row suit and a well-crafted pair of Loake shoes the understated and classy Edition fits right in with any well turned out gentleman’s wardrobe.

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Men’s Cologne — Vintage by John Varvatos

Vintage by Varvatos is forever linked in my mind with Burberry for Men because of when I purchased the two just as I began exploring new colognes again after years of only wearing Armani Eau Pour Homme. It’s not that they’re overly similar to each other although they are both solid masculines — there’s no mint in Vintage, which is the dominant note in Burberry for Men, and the lavender accord is also much more pronounced in the latter. The Burberry is a mid-90s creation while Vintage is from 2006. But they both represent an excellent “beginners” men’s cologne. If that sounds like I’m damning them with faint praise or being condescending I can see how it could. But it also reflects my personal evolution and how my tastes have evolved and deepened, to be honest, as I’ve tried dozens of scents since dipping a toe in the water with these two readily available offerings. That Varvatos Vintage, like Burberry Men, smells very good is without question. It’s just that I’ve come to reach for the more imposing and uncompromising men’s fragrances like Antaeus, Balenciaga Pour Homme and De La Renta’s Pour Lui for nighttime use and Dunhill, Gucci Nobile and Lauder for Men in the day. So for me that now leaves Burberry Men and Varvatos Vintage kind of the odd men out.

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But if Vintage is not quite up to the level of those aforementioned classics in my opinion (and obviously my old school sensibilities are showing), it is nonetheless more than a solid modern offering and versatile enough for day or evening wear. The flacon itself, a typical design from the house of Varvatos, looks like a rum smuggler’s personal flask with it’s dark brown glass, wide oblong form and textured leather wrap. Mine is a big one at 4.2 ounces (they also make it in 2.5 ozs) and although they’re certainly not giving it away, it still represents very good value for money when taking into account the obviously high quality of the juice itself. Much like the mint in Burberry Men gives that cologne it’s signature note, in Vintage it’s the opening note of quince that grabs your attention upon first spritz. There’s also sweet-spicey rhubarb and herbal basil in that opening and if the those all sound like a strange mix the effect is actually pleasantly boozy. Probably the hint of artemisia/wormwood contributes to that liqueur-like effect, as does the requisite juniper and initially low key cinnamon of this categorized woody chypre. Those unusual but very pleasant top notes are never loud or overpowering but instead swaddle the wearer in a very pleasant cloud of soft leathery sweetness, like new suede jacket.

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The brighter top notes tend to dissipate after about an hour, though generally the heart remains consistent with the opening despite promises of jasmine and lavender in the note pyramid that I don’t really detect. I do get those green leafy accords but as for claims of balsam fir and patchouli in the base I don’t really get any of those either. Polo Green or Givenchy Gentleman this ain’t. What this does evolve into in the dry down is a nice tobacco scent, not green and bitter like Quorum, but rich and refined like Cavendish pipe tobacco. For me, that heady, boozy open gently transforms into sweet unlit moist pipe tobacco just like opening a tin of the stuff, with more than a touch of that cinnamon coming back around to spice up the mix.

Sillage is moderate making this an OK choice for work if a bit on the sexy side for an office setting. Better yet is nighttime when this warm fragrance shines or in casual day situations where a leather jacket is more appropriate than a blazer like a weekend motorcycle ride or a cigar and some aged rum on the porch. Longevity, despite a lot of griping on the forums, is decent at around 6-7 hours, although very late in the dry down the whole fragrance seems to lose cohesion (much like the modern Burberry for Men actually). It’s then possible to detect some of the chemical alchemy that was used to construct such a traditionally manly fragrance in the age of IFRA restrictions on natural elements like real oakmoss. Nevertheless, this is an unmistakably manly cologne and never fails to get a positive response from my wife even if she can no longer keep up with what I’m wearing on any given day due to my now-extensive collection. She will invariably say “Ooh, what’s that one again? I really like it!” So for that kind of fairly rare compliment factor I’ll probably always keep Vintage in my rotation even as I’ve become ever more enamored of ballsy retro-powerhouses. And really some of those I wear only for my own pleasure, as they are so strong and strange that they go completely against the modern grain (I’m looking at you Lapidus, you beautiful beast). So yes, Varvatos Vintage is a safe pick but also very good and thankfully not boring. It’s effortlessly manly, a people pleaser and also very enjoyable for the wearer. If I now prefer true vintage formulas to this titular Vintage that’s more a reflection on my own idiosyncratic and evolving tastes rather than a judgement on the fragrance itself. Because Varvatos Vintage is more than a merely acceptable scent. It’s a solid modern offering with a distinct masculine persona and I highly recommend it for any man who wants to smell good but not generic, whether they’re a newcomer to men’s colognes or otherwise.

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The James Bond Books by Ian Fleming — Live And Let Die

Live And Let Die is the second of Ian Fleming’s legendary James Bond novels. It is also frankly the most problematic. Written in 1954 about a Caribbean crime boss wreaking havoc from his lair in Harlem and obviously penned by the most English of mid-century Englishman this side of Churchill, the writing often invokes cringe-worthy instances of political incorrectness for the modern reader. For example, while the dangerous and supremely intelligent super villain Mr. Big is erudite and possesses a genius level intellect, there are many bits of dialogue spoken by his African American underlings in rather unfortunate “Yassuh, Boss” dialect. This may reflect Fleming’s efforts at portraying colloquial English accurately but 60 years on it does not exactly hold up as the author’s best moment, not to mention Bond calling those henchmen “clumsy black apes” or the use of rude British seaman’s slang as the name for shallow coral reefs once the action shifts to Jamaica (hint: rhymes with “biggerhead”). At best the offending language is terribly dated and at worst it is extremely condescending and racially insulting.

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But if we can forgive Fleming for being a man of his time and for his very English mid-20th Century views on race relations and insensitive language (which is probably much easier to do if you’re not a person of color, to be fair) then what we get when putting aside those jarring racialisms is a massive improvement in Fleming’s writing style over Bond’s debut in Casino Royale, though the latter was published just a year prior. Bond’s character has much more depth, humor and élan than in the first book and the action and adventure is crisper and more sustained, not mention the book seems much better edited so that Fleming’s more repetitive ticks have been largely jettisoned. While Casino Royale was already a very good effort, especially as a debut, Live And Let Die proves that Bond has real staying power as an iconic super spy through his character’s increased toughness and ingenuity. And certainly one doesn’t go into a Bond novel — or most of the films, for that matter — looking for a treatise on racial or feminist enlightenment. As the more modern movies would come to acknowledge, Bond is a dinosaur, a man of thoroughly 1950s outlook on women and minorities. If you can’t get over that — and it’s fine if you can’t, of course — essentially none of the original Bond novels is going to work for you. They are a guilty pleasure best enjoyed as old action books and not viewed through a modern prism any more than you would, say, a Sam Spade, Mike Hammer or Philip Marlowe adventure.

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After recovering from injuries both physical and emotional sustained during the course of the brutal Casino Royale affair, Bond is summoned by M., head of MI6, to investigate the flooding of gold coins dating from the notorious privateer Henry Morgan’s era onto the black market. With the spymaster’s typical well-reasoned logic, M. theorizes that a Russian agent of Haitian descent, Buonapart Ignace Gallia, a voodoo practitioner who keeps a criminal empire running on fear and murder, aka “Mr. Big,” is pulling the strings on the elaborate plot to launder the old pirate’s treasure for nefarious ends. For Bond, who has sworn personal revenge on the Soviet assassin’s group SMERSH for their evil deeds in the Royale caper, the chance to take on Mr. Big, their key man in America, is too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Quickly, Bond finds himself in New York City, where Fleming’s love of all things American (except for the lousy coffee and fast food of the era) is ever apparent in his evocative descriptions of the fast-paced big city. Staying at the luxury St. Regis hotel in Midtown, Bond is quickly reunited with his pal from the CIA, Felix Leiter, who is to team with Bond on the Mr. Big case. (Never mind that the CIA is ostensibly prohibited from operating within US borders…) The two secret agents make the journey up to Harlem and unsurprisingly, as two extremely square, extremely white gentlemen they are quickly spotted by Mr. Big’s pervasive underground network. This leads to Bond and Leiter being captured while looking for clues at Mr. Big’s lurid exotic club, “The Boneyard.” The men are separated and Bond finds himself alone and face-to-face with the fearsome Mr. Big.

As with nearly all of Fleming’s villains, Mr. Big is something of a physical monstrosity: 6’6″ tall and 280 pounds with an enormous, oversized bald head, gray skin and bulging yellow eyes. Bond concocts a story of coming to America to aide the US Treasury in tracking the mysterious inflow of ancient gold coins but Mr. Big, as a key member of SMERSH, already has intelligence hinting at Bond’s broader plans and his Double-0 status. Mr. Big asks his kept woman, the beautiful Creole psychic Solitaire, to corroborate Bond’s cover story by reading the Tarot cards. To Bond’s surprise she does so, while also sending him unmistakable signals of alliance. As a parting warning, Mr. Big directs his henchman, the fearsomely gleeful Tee-Hee, to snap Bond’s pinky finger. Coming to after blacking out from that pain, Bond is warned by Mr. Big to go back to England and stay away from his affairs. The next time they meet, the theatrical and megalomaniacal SMERSH agent will have Bond killed in as artistically satisfying way as he, the great Mr. Big, can devise.

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So begins the first third of Live And Let Die and it only picks up steam from there, with a furtive train journey down the East Coast to Mr. Big’s secretive operations in St. Petersburg, Florida; a deepening relationship between Bond and the now-fugitive Solitaire; and mortal danger for Bond, Leiter and the beautiful Creole telepath at every turn. Culminating with a masterfully tense and brutal showdown at Mr. Big’s aka Baron Samedi’s secret island hideout in Jamaica, Live And Let Die ratchets up the considerable thrills of Casino Royale with an even more sensational plot, graphic violence and detailed attention to the intricacies and dangers of spycraft by Fleming. The characters are sharper, the villain bigger and better and the second novel also introduces the globe-trotting change of locales that would come to be a hallmark of the series, both literary and filmed. If the 1973 movie Live And Let Die, Roger Moore’s debut in the iconic role, cleverly incorporated elements of the pulpy and then-popular Blaxsplotation genre, as well as inaugurating the more high-concept, sometimes wacky action era of Bond in cinema (see that speedboat chase in the bayou as well as the redneck sheriff and army of crashing police cars), the original book is more focused on finely honed observations about the power and history of voodoo, how a huge criminal enterprise might successfully operate in the United States under cover of small time crime and the ingenious and ruthless methods deployed by the criminal mastermind involved. In short, it’s a ripping yarn full of dynamic changes of pace, hard-nosed detective work, camaraderie in the face of danger and memorable bursts of ultra-violence. Fleming’s gift for the sudden shock and the unexpected upping of stakes continues to evolve nicely, leaving one primed and ready for the apocalyptic possibilities of his third Bond adventure, Moonraker. Tune in next time to see how that one stacks up.

rockwellchristmas

Merry Christmas from MFL!

Merry Christmas to all our loyal regular readers and casual visitors. Wishing you and your families the very best this Holiday Season and a joyous, prosperous & healthy New Year!

Today we’re going (very) old school with this clip from 1954’s White Christmas. This Holiday classic featuring the inimitable Bing Crosby singing Irving Berlin’s songs ably assisted by the very funny Danny Kaye, the charming songstress Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) and the amazing dancer Vera-Ellen. Helmed by the great Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, White Christmas is a very funny musical and dance extravaganza with enough sentimentality to warm the heart of even the Grinchiest viewer. If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit of the season, this slice of 1950s post-War Americana will do the trick like the visual equivalent of turkey with all the trimmings and a cup of egg nog. Merry, merry!

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Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Krysten Ritter

Once in a while an actress finds a role so perfect that it lets her punch through to another level entirely. Such is the case with the fascinating and unconventionally beautiful Krysten Ritter and her wonderful work as the title character in Netflix’s original series,  Jessica Jones. Netflix and Marvel have cleverly reimagined some of the more obscure protagonists in the Marvel Universe for TV, with Luke Cage and Iron Fist also getting their own series, and the compelling Jessica Jones shows just how satisfying it can be when relatively unknown superheroes get modernized and fleshed out in a morally complex world that is anything but black & white.

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And it is Ritter who enables Jessica Jones to reach it’s very fine full potential. At turns fragile and combative, cynical and idealistic, Ritter lets Jones’ damage show beneath the surface of her gamine good looks and her tough private eye facade. With it’s claustrophobic urban setting and her ominously dangerous nemesis, Jessica Jones inhabits a truly adult superhero demimonde, portraying sexual and mental subjugation in ways the big ticket franchises could never be bold enough to tackle. Add to that barely remarked upon interracial sex scenes between Jones and Cage, Jones’ use of her wits over her own seldom-deployed super strength and surprising eruptions of deadly, sanguineous violence, and Jessica Jones is a sophisticated vehicle that Ms. Ritter is wringing the very most out of.

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The 34-year old actress was born in rural Pennsylvania and was spotted by a modeling scout as gangly teenager in a local mall. With her throwback Coco Chanel looks, Ritter found herself in New York City in no time flat, where she was signed by the big agencies for print and runway work. With her lively and outgoing personality she made an easy transition into acting for commercials and television. She also made a concerted effort to act in theater, honing her acting chops even further.

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She had her first sustained TV work with a nice multi-episode role on the WB’s very popular hit, Gilmore Girls. That propelled her to supporting roles in features in the romantic comedies What Happens in Vegas with Cameron Diaz and Aston Kutcher, 27 Dresses with Katherine Heigl and She’s Out of My League with Jay Baruchel (all 2008) and again as the lead’s gal pal in 2009’s Confessions of a Shopaholic alongside Isla Fisher.

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But Ms. Ritter’s real breakthrough came with her remarkable portrayal of Jane Margolis during the second season of AMC’s legendary Breaking Bad. Effortlessly conveying the trademark tough-vulnerable qualities that would serve her so well in Jessica Jones, Ritter’s sexy tattoo artist and heroin-addict is a wonderful femme fatal and irresistible to the love-starved Jesse. So perfect was the role and the casting that one wishes Ritter’s Jane and Aaron Paul’s Jesse could have escaped Walt’s clutches and made their getaway to New Zealand. Instead the character’s death served to propel several profound plot twists going forward, and Ritter’s short-lived Jane Margolis was very much a vital deus ex machina. More than that, though, her performance was pitch perfect and indelible.

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An actor never likes to see a project get canceled but it was almost certainly a blessing when Krysten’s ABC sitcom Don’t Trust the B—- In Apt. 23 got the axe after two seasons. Yes the show was reasonably funny and Ms. Ritter was perfectly cast as the titular B—-. But the show’s demise created the opening for her to take her role of a lifetime in Jessica Jones. Now not only is her show one of Netflix’s top properties and a critical success but she will be featured in the multi-hero spinoff, The Defenders, slated to debut in 2017.  Alongside Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Jessica Jones will be keeping good company as these heroes team up to fight crime and injustice. And Krysten Ritter is sure to keep doing attention-grabbing work as one of the more interesting actresses out there.

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Men’s Cologne — Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior

Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior is one of the grandaddies of men’s cologne, right up there with other classic masculines like Rochas’ Moustache, Chanel’s Pour Monsieur and Guerlain’s Habit Rouge. Created way back in 1966, Eau Sauvage has probably aged better than those others and smells as modern today as when it was created. Like any other perfectly classic architectural or fashion execution it’s timeless. It opens with a refreshing hit of citrus — a very limey bergamot and waves of sweet lemon to be exact — that some people characterize as “fruity.” It’s the ideal way to start the day after a shower and shave but even if you’re growing a beard it’ll still get you going on the right foot. Eau Sauvage is definitely one of the great eye-openers in cologne and an ideal everyday scent. It’s my second favorite daily wearer just behind the great Lauder for Men. But if I’m honest Eau Sauvage is just a little sweeter and user-friendly, a little more smoothly blended, as well, even if I personally prefer the slightly sharper, greener character of the Lauder by just a scosh.

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Jumping off from that wonderful fresh citrus opening, classic fougere notes emerge in the heart phase as the scent develops: a wonderfully well balanced melange of rosemary, basil and a subtle but pervasive jasmine in the background (Hedione?). In the current formulation I don’t really get the patchouli or caraway listed in the notes but I don’t miss them at all. If I want real patchouli I’ll reach for Givenchy’s Gentleman and if I feel for spicy caraway there’s always Azzaro. Eau Sauvage is what I reach for when I want to smell impeccably clean and fresh. There are still undertones of good quality sandalwood, coriander, amber and masculine flowers like rose and carnation in the dry down, all held together by gentle orris root. (Orris root is the root of the iris flower and key component in perfumery — it is used as fixative but also brings that distinctive violet-like “powdery” or even waxy “lipstick” accord that is so common in well-made fragrances.) I don’t get a ton of oakmoss in the modern version though I presume it was more pronounced back in the pre-IFRA reformulation days. Again, I don’t really miss that either.

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Smell Eau Sauvage once and you will remember it forever and you’ll also swear you’ve always known what it smells like. That’s how unique and plugged in to the olfactory synapses it is. Through its masterful blend of bright fresh citrus and warm herbal-floral notes it evokes an aura of unforced masculinity, pure class in a bottle and very European in the best, most restrained sort of way. It was created by the great Edmond Roudnitska, one of the legendary noses in the perfume business, and was one of the first fragrances to make use of the synthetic fragrance booster Hedione, which purportedly also has pheromone-like powers. Normally I don’t give glassware too much import but the beautifully faceted flaçon (bottle) with magnetic cap is also a minor work of art and will look great on any man’s shelf or medicine cabinet. It too was created by a perfume legend, the great designer Pierre Dinand, which only ads to the sense of holistic excellence surrounding this Eau de Toilette’s execution.

Eau Sauvage is one of the very best of the classic male scents and as good or better than anything made today 50+ years on. It’s certainly one that every man should own and use regularly. There are a lot of complaints that it lacks longevity but I get a good 6 hours out of it and certainly longer on clothing, although it is never going to be mistaken for a powerhouse. It sits close to the skin in a dignified and alluring way with always moderate sillage, inviting others in and never pushing them away with any sort of brashness or aggression. Not to be confused with its more recently released flanker, the gorgeous myrrh bomb that is Eau Sauvage Parfum, or the brand new Sauvage, Dior’s attempt to match the mass-market success of Chanel’s Bleu, I can’t think of an environment where the original Eau Sauvage wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s great for work, family functions and first dates when you just want to smell like a classy guy and not a horndog on the make, which you would if you wore something like Aramis. It’s especially good in warm weather and is so good and flawlessly appealing I’d say that if you’re getting married Eau Sauvage should be a serious contender for the big day. It won’t upstage you but always enhances your better qualities. Simply put, if you had to choose only one cologne, Eau Sauvage would be all you’d need. It might be a bit conservative for the true frag head but it never puts a foot wrong and it’s really all a man needs to smell good, confident and, well, manly. Eau Sauvage is essentially the perfect cologne and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even though I often enjoy stronger, ballsier scents, I’ll still never be without a bottle of this Dior masterpiece. And neither should you.

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Men’s Cologne — Antaeus Pour Homme by Chanel

It’s rather funny that the great house of Chanel feels the need to label Antaeus, one of their foremost masculine fragrances, “Pour Homme.” There is no female version of Antaeus and never has been as far as I can tell. One sniff tells you that you are dealing with some serious vintage man juice, not a modern unisex concoction.

Created by the great Jacques Polge way back in 1981, the dawn of the powerhouse era, Antaeus is one of the key colognes in that period of “more is more” in fragrance construction. Auspiciously named after a Greek demigod who fought Hercules, this powerful potion is so beautiful it could well be something an immortal deity might choose to wear. A classic woody chypre, Antaeus opens with an unmistakable blast of castoreum (aka beaver musk), pleasantly sharp and stimulating but never Anchorman-like. Coming forward to join that heady, animalic vibe are healthy doses of labdanum, slightly fermented citrus and a very deep rose, as well as some spicy notes of coriander and precious myrrh. The overall effect is intoxicating like the smell of a church in the Mediterranean when it s very hot, the flowers, orange and lemon groves are ripening and incense is burning on the dais. The dry down is just as lovely as the sharper notes recede but don’t disappear and warm oakmoss, deep green sage and basil and a subtle but insistent jasmine begin to play their parts. And throughout there is the most elegant and opulent patchouli note running through the whole thing, much lusher and less dry than the one that is the centerpiece of Givenchy Gentleman. One of the true masterpieces of masculine perfumery, the first time you try Antaeus you will know its transformative and devastating power. If you’ve got the stones to pull it off, you’ll be a changed man going forward.

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If that sounds a bit like a religious experience that’s because Anateus is just that sort of trip for the uninitiated. It is totally old school and unlike anything that has been created in the last 15 years or so. And yet it is still being produced, thankfully, which must mean there is a market for it above and beyond aging Gen Xers. As with many classics, I’ve heard a lot of complaining that it’s not as good as it used to be, that it’s been watered down and is thin. Especially a few years back there was a despairing chorus that under strict new regulations issued by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA, the controlling body for perfumery worldwide), which banned certain previously widely used organic and chemical ingredients due to conservation and allergy & health concerns, Antaeus had been completely neutered along with some of its other contemporaries like Kouros and Bel Ami. But I honestly feel that perfumers have now come to grips with these limitations and after an undoubted rough patch and are now recreating their classics as well or better than ever. Continue reading