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Friday, December 30, 2011

Precious Court Moments

Occassionly, I or another attorney will do or say something in court that makes me think, "We're really not very smart sometimes." Fortunately, the great unwashed are much more dependable and a great deal more humorous when it comes to providing courtroom cheer.

Case in point: Defense counsel's client has already entered a guilty plea to driving while under the influence of alcohol and has now returned to court for his sentencing. This gentleman with dark locks that consort not with either shampoo or conditioner, spotty beard and spotted jeans has obviously not spoken with his attorney about appropriate attire for a serioius matter like his sentencing; the t-shirt of his choice featured a palm tree, a large bottle, and lettering in super-large font: CAPTAIN MORGAN.

Sometimes words aren't even necessary.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A visit to Lex Communis

http://peterseanesq.blogspot.com/ is a place I haven't visited in a while. I can only say the pleasure was all mine in a recent visit. Few things ring the lame meter louder than posting directly from another blog -- clang, clang, clang... Anyway I found gems like this:
"Roger Simon reports on a talk given by Victor Davis Hanson on the dysfunctions of California: Victor counted the ways: We had the highest paid teachers in the country but one of the worst public educational systems. We spent more on prison inmates than we did on students K-12. 40% of the country’s illegal aliens (5-7 million people) lived in our state, stressing our social programs to the limit while sending billions home to their countries of origin, lost to our economy forever. What was once the world’s premiere highway system has gone rotting while billions are spent on high-speed railroads no one wants or needs. California was near bankrupt. Fiscal and moral insolvency were everywhere. We destroyed ourselves in a “therapeutic society,” which cared more for the delta smelt than it did for the survival of its own people — or their employment."

and: I also learned about the Dunning-Kruger effect which confirms my suspicion that I am not an expert at anything.

Although I would argue that I at least recognized the fact and that puts me ahead of many "experts."

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

1962 Directed by John Ford
Written by James Warner Bellah, Screen play by Willis Golbeck
Starring James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin
With Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, and John Carradine

The film is in black and white; it is all the more effective for that reason. We first see Senator Rans Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles). They are well dressed in black and white. Everyone else appears in shades of gray in the opening scenes. The Senator and his wife carry a burden, a sadness, more melancholy than gloom, as they arrive by train at the town of Shinbone. The Senator agrees to meet with the press while Hallie goes to see the cactus blossoms and an old burned, abandoned farm. The senator reveals that he has come for the funeral of his old friend, Tom Doniphan.
A pine box shields our view of this old friend. When the senator opens the coffin, he demands to know the whereabouts of the deceased's boots; he also orders that the boots, gunbelt and spurs be put on his friend for the burial. The trappings of the rough and lawless West are being buried with its soul in the form of Tom Doniphan, courtesy of civilization brought by the railroad and Rans Stoddard. The transition from the old to the new, between the rule of might and the rule of law, happened because of Tom Doniphan. The senator begins to tell the story of the change and the parts played in its construction by Doniphan and himself.
The story begins with the robbery and brutal beating of Rans Stoddard. He is a young attorney, coming west with law and order carried in a bag of books. Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), embodiment of the coarse rule of force and violence where everyman does as he pleases, robs the stage and beats Rans with a heavy quirt. He scatters and tears the prized books. Tom Doniphan (John Wayne) enters on horseback with chaps, spurs and guns. He takes the battered Rans to his girlfriend Hallie for looking after. Although we don't realize it yet, the planets are now set in their courses for the eventual defeat of Valance as well as the inevitable heartbreak of Doniphan.
Doniphan has Rans eat on his credit. He also offers Rans a gun. Rans refuses the gun on the grounds that it would make him the same as Valance. Rans goes to work washing dishes and serving tables to pay for his keep at the eatery run by Hallie and her parents. Hallie is unable to read and when Rans offers to teach her, she responds, "What good has readin' and writin' done you?" But she finally agrees to learn. When Rans plans to put up his law shingle, Doniphan prophetically tells him, "You put that thing up, you'll have to defend it with a gun."
Early on, Doniphan tries to call out Valance over a steak that he has made Rans drop, but Rans defuses the situation by picking up the steak. Valance pays for the steak and then proceeds to shoot-up the town. Rans admits, "It was the gun that scared him off." He is also informed by Peabody, the newspaperman, that he "can't shoot back with a law book, Mr. Stoddard." Doniphan tells him, "Votes won't stand up against guns." At the school that he teaches, Rans erases from the chalk board, "Education is the basis of law and order" and goes out to learn to shoot. In the shooting lesseon he is humiliated by Doniphan who has pegged him as a rival for Hallie.
In the fight for statehood, Rans nominates Doniphan as a representative to the convention. Doniphan refuses and Rans in nominated instead. That night, Valance, a gun for the interests opposed to law and order, calls out Rans. He destroys the printing press, beats Peabody, and shoots Rans' sign. Rans goes out in his apron with his pistol. He takes down the broken remnants of his shingle. In the face off with Valance, Rans is wounded but appears to shoot Valance as Valance is about to shoot him between the eyes. Liberty is dead.
Hallie didn't want Rans to run from Valance, she wanted him to stay. Doniphan pretends that he got there too late. There is rejoicing at the cantina as Liberty is loaded onto a wagon and taken away. Doniphan realizes that he has lost Hallie to Rans. In a drunken stupor, he burns the little home he had been fixing for the two of them.
At the convention, the railroad and people stand against the law of the hired gun, anf for progress and statehood to protect rights. Doniphan shows up as Rans trys to walk out of the convention under opposition claims that his only qualification is the blood of Valance on his hands. Doniphan informs Rans that he killed Valance, shot him from the shadows. Rans is convinced to go back and take the nomination. Doniphan walks off and the story is done, except for learning that Rans went on to be governor, senator, ambassador, and a senator who could be the vice-president is he so chose.
The press hears the story and elects not to print it. Up to that time, no one else knew that it wasn't Rans who had killed Liberty Valance. The editor exclaims, "This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Cactus roses are placed on Doniphan's coffin and Rans decides that they will come back to Shinbone, like Hallie has dreamed; her roots are there. As they leave, a railroad man mentions to them, "Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance."

What is to say? This is one of my favorite movies. Jimmy Steward, Vera Miles, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, just to name to the major stars. Each of them gives an excellent performance. This movie is just excellent. The imagery and the script truly emphasize the difficulty in obtaining law and order; and the necessity of having guns on their side to prevail. This movie should be required viewing.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dark City

Dark City
Paramount Pictures 1950
Directed by William Dieterle

Danny Haley (Charleton Heston)
Fran (Lizabeth Scott)
Victoria Winant (Viveca Lindfors)
Captain Garvey (Dean Jagger)
Arthur Winant (Don DeFore)
Augie (Jack Webb)
Barney (Ed Begley)
Soldier (Harry Morgan)
Swede (Walten Sande)
Billy Winant (Mark Keuning)
Sidney Winant (Mike Mazurki)

The Story:
Cynical Danny Haley has his bookie joint raided (again). The shut down results in lean times. When he goes to see his girlfriend Fran who works as a lounge singer, he meets Arthur Winant at the bar. He sees a cashier's check for $5,000.00 in Winant's wallet and invites him to come and play poker with him and the boys. The boys include Augie and Barney. They allow Winant to win but invite him back again to get even the next night. Winant soon loses his money and signs over the cashier's check. Unfortunately, the money didn't belong to Winant. He hangs himself and is found by his psychotic brother Sidney. The police find Winant but not his brother. The other poker players soon begin to turn up at room temperature with ropes about their necks. Danny poses as an insurance adjuster to obtain a picture of Sidney from the dead Winant's wife Victoria. He romances her but never can get the picture because she has burned all the pictures of the murderous Sidney to protect her son. Danny reveals his true identity to Victoria and she kicks him down the road. He does leave her the cashier's check. Danny goes to Vegas and wins $5,000.00 at the craps table to send to Victoria and her son Billy. Fran shows up and passes on a warning phone call from Victoria to Danny that Sidney has learned from Billy that Danny is in Vegas. Danny waits with his pistol in his room for Sidney who already lurks in the room; Danny is saved from strangulation by the arrival of Captain Garvey and cops who have used Danny for bait. Sidney Winant takes some lead, goes out a window, and catches some more bullets for good measure. Danny decides he is over his commitment problem and it looks like he and Fran will get married.

About The Movie:
This movie reminded of one of my favorite movies, Five Card Stud (Paramount Pictures 1968, directed by Henry Hathaway), which starred Dean Martin, Inger Stevens, Robert Mitchum, and Roddy McDowell. Five Card Stud was a simpler and better movie; it also benefitted from a western setting and a bouncy, haunting little piece of theme music; even the revenge-killer had charisma.
One of the lounge songs, Letters from a Lady in Love, stands as the only memorable music from Dark City. I understand that Trudy Stevens sang for Lizabeth Scott for the soundtrack. Although the vocalization for the song is outstanding (every "L" in the title of the song receives a sensuous caress of the tongue), the visuals for the performance are distracting. In the black and white contrasts, The strapless dress coupled with Scott's arm motions give the impression of a hovering octopus. Actually, Scott's character doesn't do much that is memorable in the film. Scott herself brings to mind Lauren Bacall but the role never provides her a chance to make an adequate comparison.
Had the movie not been Heston's debut in a starring role it might easily have been forgotten. The role bears little resemblance to his roles in The Greatest Show on Earth, Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments. His portrayal of Danny does foreshadow his performances of cynical heroes in Soylent Green and Planet of The Apes. If Heston hadn't been in the picture, I would have had any reason to like Dark City - apart from the resemblance to Five Card Stud.
Harry Morgan's small role in the film is nice but unremarkable. It is interesting to see him with Jack Webb outside of the Dragnet series. Jack Webb is credible as one of the poker players. I just kept expecting him to ask for the facts or to launch into a monologue about the evils of drink or gambling. Ed Begley gives a convincing performance as a loathsome character. Viveca Lindfors beauty shines through her character. It's unfortunate that her role in the film was not more prominent. Mike Mazurki had a rather one dimensional role as Sidney Winant; he has few lines and his face is never visible until the end of the film. Of couse, the psycopathic-revenge-killer tends to push the story along, evoking emotion and motivation from the potential victims rather than providing a great role for the actor who gets to tag the others for their death scenes. All or nearly all of the deaths take place off camera so Mazurki only gets a minute or two of screen time.
The best scene comes early in the film when Arthur Winant has reached the bottom and has to endorse the cashier's check over to the poker players. The camera shot moves around the table to take in the expressions of each poker player as the broken Winant submits to the collective will. Ed Begley's hungry-wolf attitude contrasts nicely with the cowardly call his character makes to Heston's character after one of the players has been found dead and he fears that he is next.

Memorable Lines
Danny: "Playing cards with you is like washing your feet with your socks on."

Fran: "Don't you want to know what's going on in the world?"
Danny: "What's going on in the world stinks."

Fran: "Danny, was the game on the level?"
Danny: "A guy like that defeats himself by just sitting down."

Soldier to Danny: You're worse than the rest of them. They don't know better."

Fran: "Why didn't you answer the phone?"
Danny: "There was no body I wanted to talk to."

Friday, October 08, 2010

No Intent to Speed - To Much Hassle - No Weapon

Lots of folks in traffic court want to stipulate to the facts which would require the court to find them guilty, but still believe that the court should not find them guilty. Two of my recent favorites have been
(1)The speeder whose argument was that yes, she did speed up to 53 in the 35 mph zone, but she thought that was where the limit increased. So she had no intent to break the law, and she slowed right down when she realized the speed limit had not changed (which curiously coincided with the moment that she saw the cop car). Because she thought she was obeying the law and slowed down quickly the court should not give her a ticket. She was disappointed - but I'm sure the court had no intent to disappoint.
(2) The man with no current motor vehicle insurance whose claim was that the insurance carrier had canceled coverage for the entire state and he had never received a notification letter. He was informed by the court that it was his duty to make sure he was insured. But he still wanted to explain the long story and how unfair it would be for him to have to have the ticket. His sad story did get the ticket amended to a different charge (but only because my witness didn't show up; his previous record persuaded me that he had not been as conscientious about hsi driving in the past as he claimed so I wouldn't just dismiss it).

Another puzzling phenomenon involves the violators from out of state who don't want to come back to contest the ticket. They just want to tell me about it and have me dismiss the thing because it would be too much of a hassle or expense for them to come back and contest it. Often it's after a default has already been entered and they expect me to credit their version of events rather than the report by the officer or citizen witnesses.

More unique is the guy (whose faithful worship at the Church of THC has withered any grey cells he might have had) who thinks that his son should not be charged for ambushing another kid and punching him in the face and kicking him while he was down. Mr. Barely Thinking's argument: He didn't use a weapon, so he shouldn't be charged. At least his argument has the merit of offering a bright line rule for both criminals and prosecutors... but not much assurance for would-be victims.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Is The Tea Party Just Good Medicine?

Thomas Jefferson on government by the people:

The mass of mankind under that enjoys a precious degree of liberty and happiness. It has its evils, too; the principal of which is the turbulence to which it is subject. But weigh this against the oppressions of monarchy, and it becomes nothing. Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietam servitutem (Better hazardous liberty than peaceful servitude). Even this evil is productive of good. It prevents the degeneracy of government, nourishes a general attention to the public affairs. I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical... It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government...
From Jefferson's letter to James Madison of January 30, 1787

Sunday, August 08, 2010

I Fought for You

I Fought for You

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