What About Bob? [1991)

We all need a little therapy.

Laughter ūüôā

And sometimes we need a story that hits real close to home.

For me, this one does the trick.

Multiple phobias would be an understatement.

And I can relate.

You know, it’s sometimes these types of movies which make me the most weepy-eyed.

But only temporarily.

Bill Murray really knocks it out of the park on this one.

But Richard Dreyfuss is equally essential to the “trading places” dynamic at work here.

And not least, Frank Oz directed a sort of masterpiece with this film.

Bob, the protagonist, would make an excellent spy (in some regards).

His stalking skills are world-class (bar none).

But Bob has no malice in his heart.

He just needs help.

But woe unto the genius who becomes the apple of Bob’s eye.

Yes folks, Richard Dreyfuss’ patience is tested as much as Herbert Lom’s (as Chief Inspector Dreyfus…one “s”) ever was by Peter Sellers as Clouseau.

That is very much the dynamic which is at work in our film.

Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss…”ss”) is a very bright psychiatrist.

He prominently displays his bust of Freud in his office and, while on vacation, at his lakeside home.

His son is named Sigmund.

His daughter, Anna.

And his wife looks much Jung-er than in her picture.

[I couldn’t resist]

But Bob is the kind of guy for whom the “block caller” function on your iPhone was invented.

As I said, however, Bob would make an excellent member of the intelligence community if he were not a practically-paralyzed nutbag.

Bob has problems “moving”.

But, to be frank, Bob has problems with everything.

Each and every activity which most people take for granted presents a unique hurdle for the perpetually-nervous Bob.

And I can relate.

Boy, can I!

Yet, what Bob lacks in conventional “people skills”, he makes up for with an endearing, warmhearted ease that he imparts to everyone he meets.

People love this guy.

If they take a second to get to know him.

And so we start with a patient (Bob) and a doctor (Leo).

But the lines blur early and often.

And so what director Frank Oz seems to be pointing out is something which Harvard professor Clay Christensen pointed out in his book How Will You Measure Your Life? not so long ago.

While Dr. Christensen makes clear that his former classmates at the Harvard Business School all seem to share a certain dissatisfaction with their lives (regardless of their tony jobs at McKinsey & Co., etc.), his thoughts on “disruptive innovation” occasioned an invitation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to speak on this latter phenomenon.

So what I mean to say is this: ¬†yes, this is self-help, but it’s serious, serious stuff!

Funny enough, that seems to describe Bob quite well.

Operation Nifty Package could have been shortened by nine days (and spared the royalties to ASCAP and BMI) had a Bob Wiley merely been sent in to chat with Manuel Noriega 1989/1990.

Which is to say, Bob Wiley represents that person we all think we know:  the most annoying person in the world.

They don’t come along often.

But when they do (and we are their captive audience), it makes psychological warfare look like child’s play.

So indeed, from the perspective of Dr. Leo Marvin, Bob Wiley must have seemed like a human weapon intent on wrecking his life.

The problem was that Dr. Marvin had become more focused on accolades (Good Morning America) and money than on the excellence of his caregiving.

Dr. Leo’s kids see this quite clearly.

Kathryn Erbe is excellent as Anna.  She shows true generosity to Bob and an open heart.

Charlie Korsmo is wonderful as Sigmund.  He does the same.  He treats Bob as a person, not a patient.

But this film is therapeutic for me in that it shows (albeit in caricature) some of the very problems I go through on a daily basis.

Fear of the edge. ¬†Ok, let’s just make this the edge. ¬†No no, I can’t see what you’re doing from back there.

Bob has a certain bit of Forrest Gump in him.

Dumb luck.  Or serendipity.

But really, Bob is an expert on psychological problems…because he has lived them.

Mind as battlefield.  You might see it on the endcap of your local book store.

But for Bob, that’s not just a catchy title.

It’s life.

You’re in a lake…for the first time ever…because someone has just pushed you in…and you are kicking your legs, trying to get back to the pier…but you swim under the pier, because you’re nervous…and all you can say is, “Am I gonna die?”

It’s funny. ¬†Unless you’ve lived a situation which maps neatly onto that microcosmic display.

So slowly we see Dr. Leo deteriorate. ¬†It’s partly because Bob is so bonkers, but it’s also because Bob is succeeding where Leo is failing.

Saying a kind word.

A compliment.

A smile.

A joke.

Laughter.

Fun!

We don’t any of us hold all of the cards.

You might be beautiful, but you might be a moron.

You might be rather homely, but simultaneously brilliant.

Human talents and intelligence(s) operate on an infinite number of intersecting planes.

For each of our talents or attributes, we are weighed by the “market” of human opinion.

Illustrating that great scientific query: ¬†“In relation to what?”

One human in the lonely crowd.

And one attribute in a body and mind full of vast potential.

Bob looks pathetic in a rain slicker at 1 a.m.

With his knee-jerk reactions to thunderclaps.

And Bob looks thoroughly bizarre with his goldfish in a jar around his neck.

But these are the humans we need.

These are the spice of life.

Some would condescend and venture “salt of the earth”.

But I am sticking with spice of life.

What really gets it is when Bob pulls a sort of witless Al Kooper and ends up on live national television via Joan Lunden.

And so we return to patience.

That virtue.

It’s a test.

And patience is its own reward.

You will find the value society places on this most essential human attribute.

Yet, this patience must be tested.  Stress tested.  Like a bank.

Over years of potentially infuriating situations.

If you make it through, relatively unscathed, there’s a good chance you picked up the tools necessary for significant patience.

But we cultivate our own patience when we recognize its priceless effect upon our own lives.

How many times would you have been up shit creek had there not been a patient person there to pull you in to shore?

If we are smart (and lovers of humanity), we emulate this patience we’ve seen in action.

We make it part of our persona.

But it will be tested!

As in a crucible!!

And so what about Bob?

Bob is the oddity which places us in just the right perspective.

A bit like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

Yes friends, Dr. Leo has some issues which he is not working through.

He never saw a Bob coming.

He had no contingency for this sort of personage.

And so he is off-guard.  Mean.  Ugly.  Nasty.  Snotty.  Vile.

Dark humor doesn’t have to be that dark.

How do you deal with your fear of death?

Consider developing a fear of Tourette’s syndrome.

Et voil√°!

The great Paul Laurence Dunbar understood this concept…that in helping others, we magically forget about our own pain.

One more possibility about Bob as an intel employee.  If he found a superior whom he highly respected, there would be a bond of trust which would be invaluable.

This has been Death Therapy, with your host: ¬†Pauly Deathwish. ūüôā

-PD

Secret Agent [1936)

If this is propaganda, it is among the most artful of all time.  For it seems to emanate from the mind of an individualist and patriot.  Alfred Hitchcock.

We get our subject material from Somerset Maugham.  Ashenden.

“The wrong man!¬† Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”¬† Thus laughs “the General” Peter Lorre…a sort of lovable psychopath (if such a thing is possible).¬† Yes, the wrong man.¬† It is to Hitchcock’s oeuvre what prostitution is to Jean-Luc Godard’s.¬† But it is a grotesque moment.¬† The wrong man.¬† In this case, it went all the way:¬† they killed the wrong man.¬† Just an innocent old man with a wife and a dog.¬† All in a day’s work for a covert operative…Lorre’s laughter seems to tell us.

No.¬† Lorre is no typical agent.¬† He’s a hitman.¬† He doesn’t mind killing.¬† In fact, he kind-of enjoys it.¬† Takes pride in his craft (as it were).¬† Very clean, he says…strangling, a knife…no guns…too noisy.

But let’s back up to John Gielgud.¬† To make a spy, you kill the man.¬† It is quasi-Christian.¬† The old is gone.¬† Behold, the new has come.

The perfect spy has no past.  This sort of agent wakes up to read his own obituary.  Before long, he has a new identity.

Though this film predates WWII, its subject matter of WWI is certainly infused with the building tension of a second continent-wide conflagration.

And again we witness James Bond far before Ian Fleming birthed him.¬† The milieu is the same.¬† Gielgud reports to “R”…like the “M” we would all come to know and love.¬† And of course Lorre…himself an M of another type (see Fritz Lang).

Trouble in the Middle East.¬† Why can’t it be Tahiti?¬† Where’s Leonard Bernstein when you need him???

“The Hairless Mexican” a.k.a. “The General” Peter Lorre…kinda like the Federal Reserve:¬† not Federal and no reserves.¬† Yes, Lorre is quite hirsute.¬† As for his rank, it is as dubious as his other winning personality traits.

Gielgud’s not very careful…right from the start.¬† I suppose they should have trained the chap in the dark arts before sending him out into the field.¬† At least the field is Switzerland (Allen Dulles’ future stomping grounds).

Back to our Bond parallels…the gorgeous Madeleine Carroll, like Eva Green in Casino Royale, stipulates a separate-bed rule as part of her cover (Gielgud’s “wife”).¬† We wonder whether her character, like Hitchcock and Green’s Vesper Lynd,¬†is of Catholic upbringing.

But for the main course…we get some rather convincing ethics from Hitchcock–a morality which we would scarcely see again in the future of film through to the 21st century.¬† To wit, espionage is the dirtiest of jobs.¬† Never mind the old trick of digging though a rubbish bin:¬† the whole operation is filthy and loused up with sickening concessions.¬† Hitchcock gets right to the point quite forthright:¬† murder.¬† Many of the darkest jobs are just that!¬† One can spin it anyway one wants, but it is still cold-blooded.

It’s not all fun and games, Gielgud tries to convey to Madeleine.¬† If you’re here for a thrill, you’d best recalibrate your perspective:¬† things are about to get real ugly!

It is some scary shit.¬† Imagine Olivier Messiaen and Giacinto Scelsi collaborating with Morton Feldman for a 45 second piece.¬† It’s called Sonata for Corpse and Organ.¬† Their contact has been murdered.¬† The assassin pulled out all the stops.¬† Just after the prelude, a fugue of struggle ensued which left a button from the killer’s garments clutched in the dead organist’s hand.¬† We get a rich, chromatic chord until Gielgud and Lorre realize there’s far too little harmonic rhythm to this chorale.¬† The bloke’s been whacked (slumped upon the keys).

This button, a single-use MacGuffin, leads them to offing the wrong man.¬† Poor old Percy Marmont…

At this, Gielgud is ready to quit…sickened by the thought of having innocent blood on his hands.¬† Credit Madeleine Carroll with a nice performance…especially when she plays the straight (horrified) woman to Lorre’s laughter.

And so, again like Casino Royale, Gielgud and Carroll (madly in love) decide to dispense with the whole mission and pack it in (complete with a resignation letter to “R” from Gielgud).

I won’t give away too much.¬† Lorre is fantastic:¬† both ridiculously awkward in his humor and deft in his acting.

Unfortunately, the artfulness of the film which Hitchcock had lovingly built up is marred by a somewhat daft, abrupt ending.

Like this.

-PD

The 39 Steps [1935)

Oh, to be a spy.¬† At once the dream of the adventurous and the curse of the actualized.¬† Why?¬† Why does Robert Donat let Annabella Smith come home with him from the music hall???¬† Perhaps it is her allure…¬† Her strange foreign accent.¬† Once you take the first step, the case collapses to become a chute…a slide.

Perhaps Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) was simply curious.¬† We know how the cat ended behaving thusly…

Perhaps Hannay was horny?¬† It was, after all, 1935…things were lightening up a bit.¬† No Tinder, but still…one might luck out at the music hall.

Well, Hannay has the misfortune of true cloak and dagger.¬† Annabella Smith…Hannay asks if she’s ever heard of persecution mania?¬† Yes, a good question until she comes stumbling from the kitchen with a knife in her back.

And so Hannay sees her fears materialize before his very eyes.¬† Sure, she could have stabbed herself in the back, but it’s not bloody likely!¬† And what’s this?

Her last words…cryptic…and a map of Scotland clutched in her hand.

Hanney has become a believer.¬† It is that moment when hypothetical (suppose she’s right?) becomes, to a certain extent, proven.

No time to split hairs quibbling…she makes it clear with her last breath:¬† they killed me and you’re next.

Why trust?¬† Perhaps the spy becomes tired.¬† She is, after all, a mercenary in a foreign country.¬† Yes, she is protecting the Kingdom, but for a price…¬† Her homeland is elsewhere.

And so an act of transference occurs.¬† Robert Donat now bears the burden of a secret…a hint of a secret…a trail.

He has a couple of choices.  The decision he makes ends up saving his life, yet it is completely counterintuitive.

He decides to get the hell out of there.  Annabella Smith is dead on the bed.  Hanney makes a deal with the milkman (1935) and creeps off towards the train station.

To Scotland.

Things begin to go very hard for Mr. Hanney.¬† He is pursued relentlessly.¬† A daring escape from a train stopped on a bridge brings him eventually to the Scottish moors and the village circled on Annabella’s map.

On the way he must¬†overnight with a farm couple…¬† The man of the house is an overbearing null…the woman, an angel trapped in an unhappy provincial cage.

This is really the beginning of the James Bond idea.  In 1935, they shared but a kiss.

Now, if you have made it this far you will be spared further spoilers…because that is not the purpose of my site.¬† This isn’t Cliff’s Notes.

We must talk of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.¬† Perhaps you have noticed the news element of my homepage?¬† It is really not fair to criticize our CIA…it is too easy.¬† There can be no doubt as to the difficulty of their work.

As a citizen of the USA I have dreamed of being a secret agent…just as many people do.¬† It would be a treasonous dream for me to wish employment by the MI6.¬† I am not British.¬† So my thoughts have turned now and again to my own country’s external intelligence organization.

Oh, I am too old to be a covert agent…too out of shape to have a fistfight with a Daniel Craig type.

But we remember certain things from our readings.¬† Wall Street = CIA.¬† This was Michael Ruppert’s assertion in his excellent book Crossing the Rubicon.¬† May Mr. Ruppert rest in peace.¬† No doubt he tried to do the right things during his time on this earth.¬† It was not until recently that I learned of his death.

Perhaps I began studying business as a roundabout way to court adventure.¬† There is no doubt that my future is not on Wall Street.¬† In fact, I don’t see much future at all.

Why?¬† Because I am like Robert Donat’s character in this film.¬† I can’t leave well-enough alone.¬† Killing in self-defense or in the defense of others can be honorable, but stretched to its limits by tenuous connection it eventually becomes murder.¬† When I read about the leading intelligence agencies of the world, I get the whiff of murder.¬† I get the scent of those who are “just following orders”…just like those good little Nazi soldiers.

It is this thirst for justice which makes me unemployable.  I know it.

And so I soldier on.  I do my cardio.  I lift my weights.  I study my texts.  I enrich my mind.

I am just a loner with my films.¬† I would like to contribute, but I was born of no prestigious family.¬† I don’t speak Dari or Pashto.

There are two camps of which I wish to be part of neither.  Camp one holds that everything America does is just and good. Camp two holds that nothing America does is just nor good.

I do not wish for a clean slate.  It is not possible.  Those who wish for the collapse of society are fools.  They are wishing for their own death and are far too optimistic about the practicality of starting over.

Now, dear film lover…you must be asking what this has to do with The 39 Steps.

Mr. Memory.

Office of Strategic Services.

Office of the Coordinator of Information.

Robert Sherwood.  movie critic.  Vanity Fair.  Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.  Algonquin Round Table. Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent.  Hitchcock.  Yes, it is a tenuous link.

Continuing…

Admiral John Godfrey.¬† “M”

Centre for Spastic Children, Chelsea.

…and finally

William Stephenson (c’est-√†-dire) James Bond

the Icelandic orphan

alluded to in Casino Royale (2006)

to wit

British Security Coordination

Camp X (Whitby, Ontario) [the original Farm]

Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl

Rockefeller Center (35th and 36th floors of the International Building)

under the cover of British Passport Control Office

For better or worse, CIA is MI6.  Where does one stop and the other begin?  To what extent is this a private army for the corporate members of the Council on Foreign Relations (Royal Institute of International Affairs)?

Surely we’re all playing by the Chatham House rules here, aren’t we, gents?

-PD