Revisiting A Passage to India (1984)
on Turner Classics the other night, I was struck in a way that I had never been
before by how incredibly beautiful and powerful Judy Davis’s performance is in
this movie. The plot of the film, based loosely on a 1924 novel by English
writer E.M. Forster, revolves around the adventures of two Victorian English
women in early 20th century India. The younger woman, Adela Quested, played by Davis, has come to that
country with the likely intention of marrying a local British magistrate named
Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers). She is accompanied on her sea voyage by Heaslop’s
mother, known in the film simply as Mrs. Moore, played exquisitely by Peggy
Ashcroft. The two women become good friends during the trip and share a disdain
for the kind of English class snobbery they encounter upon their arrival. One
hot afternoon they decide to take a day trip from the city, known as
Chandrapore in the novel, where they have lodgings to visit the fictional Marabar
Caves, a site reportedly based on the Barabar Caves in the Makhdumpur region of Jehanabad
district, Bihar. Note: David Lean, the film’s director and writer, decided against
shooting these scenes at Barabar because he felt the location lacked the scenic
grandeur he so loved to showcase in his pictures.
During the outing, Mrs.
Moore has an attack of severe claustrophobia while visiting the first cave -- a
foreshadowing of her own death within a few short days. She insists that Adela
and Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee), a young Indian physician whose idea it was to
visit the caverns, continue their sightseeing without her. Shortly after this an incident occurs (or does it?)
involving the couple. We see a frantic Adela running down a steep
ravine in a state of great agitation, as if being chased by someone. (In an
important earlier linking scene we saw her riding her bicycle alone on the
outskirts of town where she encountered a number of highly erotic Indian
statues abandoned in the tall grass; an experience which clearly left her
emotionally shaken.)Upon returning to Chandrapore, Aziz is shocked to find himself accused of
attempted rape. He is immediately arrested and jailed to await trial. All this
is prelude to the moment when Adela takes the witness stand for the prosecution
Among my favorite classic American film is Alice Adams (1935), the early Katherine Hepburn
vehicle. There is a moment in that movie when director George Stevens puts the
young actress’s face fully in frame (just as David Lean does in Passage with
Davis, but with less tenderness) holding it there as she muses on small-town
social snobbery. “People do talk about you, oh yes they do…,” Alice says in her
silly, heartbreaking manner. There is something of this same unsparing,
introspective quality in the climatic courtroom scene with Adela: there is much
more, too. Two lives hang in the balance here, the life of the accused and that
of his accuser. What Adela says or doesn’t say at that moment will forever
determine not only Aziz’s fate, but hers as well. She can either choose to save face by
remaining silent on the matter, or risk destroying everything by speaking up. Everything hinges on her decision. I am reminded
of those famous lines from T.S. Eliot: Do I dare/ Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For
decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse… So how should I presume?
Published for the first time anywhere, in
celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane's birth, come two short
novels in the same book. "The Last Stand" (Spillane's final novel) is
preceded by "A Bullet for Satisfaction," an unfinished manuscript
that was finalized by Spillane's long-time collaborator Max Allan Collins. Both
stories are satisfying reads. The book has been published by the Hard Case Crime imprint from Titan Books.
Mickey Spillane is best known for his
character Mike Hammer, the fictional P.I. that redefined the "action
hero" and spawned countless imitators. Unlike private investigators before
him, Mike Hammer was a merciless executor of villains who slept with countless
beautiful, willing women. Sound like anyone we know? The first Mike Hammer
novel, "I, The Jury," was published in 1947, six years prior to Ian
Fleming's James Bond debut, "Casino Royale." It may be argued that if
Fleming was indeed James Bond's literary father, Spillane and Mike Hammer could
be considered, if not grandfathers, then influences. Fleming admitted to that
but he also had an influence on Spillane. The mid-1960s saw Spillane introduce
a new character, Tiger Mann, an agent for a private organization dedicated to
wiping out Communism. Tiger Mann lasted four novels.
If there is such a thing as a
"Tough-Guy-Renaissance-Man," Mickey Spillane was it. After a brief
stint in college he worked summers as a lifeguard and for a period of time was
a trapeze artist for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.Through a friendship with
fellow Gimbels department store employee Joe Gill, he began his career
as a comic book writer in 1940, eventually writing an eight-page story a day on
a diverse number of characters from different publishing companies, including
Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America. He enlisted in the United
States Army Air Corps on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor and
became a fighter pilot and flight instructor.
"I, The Jury" was written in just
19 days and sent off to publisher E. P. Dutton. Between the hardcover released
in 1947 and the subsequent paperback a year later, the novel sold more than 6
1/2 million copies in the US alone. A new career began, along with a
reinvention of the genre.
Mickey Spillane was also an actor. His first
leading role was given to him by John Wayne, who hired him in 1954 to appear
with Pat O'Brien and lion-tamer Clyde Beatty in the Wayne-produced film
"Ring of Fear," which Spillane, without credit, also co-wrote, although,
he did receive a white Jaguar as a gift from producer Wayne. He also starred as
his most famous creation, Mike Hammer, in the 1963 British produced film
"The Girl Hunters" for which he received favorable notices acting
alongside such veterans as Lloyd Nolan and future “Goldfinger” actress Shirley
Eaton. But perhaps for many of us of a particular age, he was most well known
for his appearances in the Miller Lite commercials as his alter-ego of Hammer
along with "Doll," Lee Meredith of "The Producers" fame.
First up in the book is "A Bullet for
Satisfaction”, which presents a very Hammeresque character in a Hammeresque
story. Told in Spillane's traditional first-person style, Detective Capt. Rod
Dexter is both the hero (anti-hero?) and narrator. The book opens with Dexter
investigating the murder of the politically connected Mayes Rogers. But no one
seems to be talking. In an argument with the D.A, he loses his temper; "Then
I'll just continue my investigation of the Rogers’ murder and go anywhere and
everywhere it leads me. And before I'm through with you, you'll be doing plenty
of talking". Not
surprisingly, he loses his job. He takes it on his own to continue the
investigation unofficially. The web spins, the clock turns and he finds himself
getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he comes closer to unraveling a
conspiracy. Of course he finds time for a dalliance, this time with the sister
of Rogers’ widow.
Much like Mike Hammer, Det. Dexter is a man
driven by vengeance. And much like Hammer, Dexter has a lot of luck with dames.
When he, along with one of the women he seduces are kidnapped, Dexter diagnoses
the situation thusly: "The other one grabbed Jean. She tried to break
away and he slapped her until she was still. He was dead - he just didn't know
it yet." A short time later: "Behind the wheel now, Bacon smiled
and let a low, rumbling laugh come deep from his throat. 'What have you got
against a little joy ride, Dexter?' He laughed again. So did the guy in the
back. Killing them would be a pleasure."
Yes, Mickey Spillane's work can be a guilty
pleasure but he never fails to satisfy. I guess that's why sales of his books
have now topped 225 million.
The lead story here, "The Last
Stand", is an entirely different type of book. First of all, it's told in
the third-person, not Spillane's typical style. There are no shoot outs.
There's no sex. There's a hell of a terrific story, though.
Joe Gillian is a pilot who, when his vintage
BT 13A airplane loses power, lands "in the middle of a desert that was
someplace in the United States where nobody would ever look to find him and, so
far, not even a vulture was eyeing him for supper."
Drinking a beer (Miller Lite, natch -
Spillane got a plug in) to pass the time, he meets Sequoia Pete, an Indian from
a local reservation who's "fossil hunting" but who has lost his horse.
They share a "Tastes great, less filling, right?"beer and try to find their way back to
Pete's hogan. The buddy movie begins.
The love interest shows up soon after in the
form of Pete's sister who is as brilliant as she is sexy and Joe finds himself
pulled into a whirlwind of trouble that involves criminals, G-men, the tribe
and a secret that could lead to incredible wealth and power.
Then there's Many Thunders, aka Big Arms. "They
call him Big Arms for a reason," Running Fox said softly. "He picks
up train wheels. He plays with tree trunks. Sometimes he lifts cars right off
the ground." He also considers Running Fox to be his woman and has
hurt many other men who he thought were a threat to his claim. And he's going
to fight Joe on Feast Day.
"The Last Stand" is a terrific romp
through the western desert of the US with colorful, well-fleshed characters and
a fine story. It's written cinematically. You can almost picture the people and
the world they inhabit.
I thoroughly enjoyed both these stories both
times I read them. I can't say this about too many books, but when I turned the
last page of "The Last Stand" I turned the book over, turned to the
first page and started to read it again.