Annotation by Kevin Cryan

You've gotta help me, doc, I see things in the night
The tatters of my brain are bleached with flashing light

Just the way Orion's sword is pumping stars in flight

[Not a movie, but Richard Bleksley explains the reference] : The central star in the line of three that makes up Orion's sword in the constellation of that name is not a star at all, but a nebula, a cloud of gas and dust. The Orion nebula (known to astronomers as M42 or NGC1976) is a "stellar nursery" in which massive, bright new stars are condensing out of the gas and dust under the effects of gravity and lighting up the nebula. It is the nearest such "stellar nursery" to Earth and study of it has taught astronomers much about the processes of star formation.

My mind's eye's skies are glittering and white

The Lady in the Dark has shot the Lady from Shanghai

The Lady in the Dark (1944) is a Ginger Rogers musical based on a Moss Hart play which had music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Interesting, if only because you get to see what Ginger could do when parted from Fred Astaire.

The Lady from Shanghai (1948) is a somewhat bizarre film noir directed by Orson Welles. The film, which starred himself, his then wife, Rita Hayworth, and Everett Sloane, is now remembered for the magnificently executed hall of mirrors sequence with which it ends.

The Thin Man and the Quiet Man are Comin' Thro' the Rye

The Thin Man was a series of films, inspired by Dashiell Hammett's Thin Man stories, which starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as high-living, martini-loving amateur sleuths Nick and Nora Charles – think Hart to Hart made with class and style.

The Quiet Man (1952), John Ford's hymn to his Irish roots, is a very broad comedy – Ford could only do comedy broad – in which a boxer (John Wayne) returns to a picturesque Ireland and woos headstrong local colleen (Maureen O'Hara). It's a really rough and ready, but not altogether unsatisfactory, reworking of The Taming of the Shrew.

At Red Line Seven Thousand there's No Highway In The Sky

Red Line 7000 (1965) is a rather undistinguished Howard Hawks directed car-racing movie starring James Caan. (Incidentally there are two other references to Hawks-directed films. Could this be purely accidental?)

No Highway in the Sky (No Highway in the UK) (1951) is a thriller based on a Nevil Shute novel of the same name in which James Stewart plays an engineer working in England who predicts metal stress in a new British aircraft.

The villains are the deepest but they plum refuse to die

This may be a general reference to the fact that many films of the fifties (films which Clive and I would have seen) had rather colourless and very dull heroes but very interestingly-played villains.

Dance, Ginger, dance

Ginger is, of course, Ginger Rogers who is mentioned elsewhere in the song.

The caftan of the caliph turns to powder at your glance

During the forties and fifties many of the big Hollywood studios produced films set in exotic locations, films in which contract players could dress up (or down, in leading ladies' cases). On the other hand, it may be an oblique reference to the memorable Arabian Nights (1942) in which dull dull actor called Jon Hall (who he, I hear you say) does indeed play a caliph battling Leif Erickson (Big John Cannon in the TV series High Chaparral (1967-1971)) for the hand of Maria Montez. There are times when you watch the film and hope Hall's caftan would catch fire, if only to inject a bit of life into him.

The Ambersons have spiked the punch and livened up the ball

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), based on Booth Tarkington’s novel of the same name, was Orson Welles' follow-up to Citizen Kane, and it tells the story of a family's decline in the face of industrialisation.

Cagney's getting big and Sidney Greenstreet's getting small

James Cagney, although he often played rugged two-fisted types, was actually rather short of stature. Sydney Greenstreet, on the other hand, was a real heavyweight who filled the screen whenever he was on it.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon left puddles in the hall

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), directed by cult director Jack Arnold, has the creature – half-man, half fish – fall for the heroine (Julie Adams). King Kong it is not, but then it was not quite as bad as it sounds.

And Wee Willie Winkie is the most evil of them all

Wee Willie Winkie (1937), directed by John Ford and starring the nine-year-old Shirley Temple, was a cheesy reworking of Kipling’s story of military life during the Raj.

Strangers on a Wagon Train have crashed the China Gate

Strangers on a Train (1951) is Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of the Patricia Highsmith story about a tennis player and playboy who agree to swap murders.

Wagon Train was a western TV series that ran from 1957 to 1965.

China Gate (1957), produced, written and directed by cult director Samuel Fuller and starring Gene Barry, Angie Dickinson and Nat King Cole, was an 'Americans against the Reds' story set in Vietnam when it was still under French occupation.

The Portrait of Jennie has decided not to wait

The Portrait of Jennie (1948), seen by some as David O. Selznick's hymn to the beauty of his wife Jennifer Jones, is in fact a well-crafted fantasy in which struggling artist (Joseph Cotten) falls in love with the mystical Jennie (Jones).

The Flying Leathernecks arrived a half a reel too late

The Flying Leathernecks (1951), directed by Nicholas Ray, is a fairly undistinguished Second World War action movie starring John Wayne and Robert Ryan.

The Broadcast wasn't big enough and Ziegfeld wasn't great

The Big Broadcast series of films, which began in 1932 and ended in 1938, was designed to bring big radio stars of the day – radio still made stars in the mid thirties – to the silver screen. Big radio stars, such as Jack Oakie, George Burns and Gracie Allen, W C Fields and Bing Crosby, all made appearances in one or other of of the series.

The Great Ziegfeld (1936) is a musical biography of Florenz Ziegfeld (here played by William Powell), the flamboyant showman whose Follies dominated the Broadway musical theatre in the early part of the 20th century.

Dance, Ginger, dance
The caftan of the caliph turns to powder at your glance

This one for Funny Face and Fancy Pants

Funny Face (1957), directed by Stanley Donen, is a musical comedy starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn which gently satirises the world of fashion and fashion magazines.

Fancy Pants (1950) was a vehicle in which Bob Hope more or less reprised the 'tenderfoot in the West' role he'd played in the very successful The Paleface (1948).

The love of Martha Ivers caused the death of Jesse James

In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), directed by Lewis (All Quiet on the Western Front) Milestone, a scene-stealing (not to say scenery-chomping) Barbara Stanwyck plays a woman who persuades weak-willed DA husband (a film-debuting Kirk Douglas) to convict a man of a murder she committed but then meets her nemesis in the form of a face from the past (Van Heflin).

Jesse James, the American outlaw, was portrayed on the screen many times, and in many ways. The most famous and probably best-remembered film in which he features is the Henry King directed Jesse James (1939), in which the outlaw is played by handsome Tyrone Power as something of a Robin Hood figure who is forced into outlawry by circumstances.

Kitty Foyle guessed it though she didn't link their names

Kitty Foyle (1940) had Ginger Rogers, in a straight role for which she won an Oscar, playing a rather vulgar shop-girl who has some difficulty making up her mind which of two men she wants to marry.

I've seen the plywood cities meet their doom because of dames

During the forties and fifties there were dozens of features - westerns especially - in which plywood cities went up in flames.

Dames (1934) was a rather good Depression-era musical starring Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell.

Atlantis down in bubbles and Atlanta up in flames

The Atlantis down in bubbles has rather foxed me, but it may may be a reference to a scene in the Walt Disney version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) in which, if my memory serves me, there is a scene in which Captain Nemo (James Mason) and the crew of the Nautilus spot a buried city which they think may be Atlantis.

Atlanta up in flames is a reference to the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind (1939).

And I've seen the Maltese Falcon falling moulting to the street

The Maltese Falcon, (1941), third and best version of the Dashiell Hammett story, has Humphrey Bogart, under the direction of John Huston, playing Sam Spade in pursuit of murderers, the legendary falcon, and being crossed and double crossed almost everyone, including the femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor).

He was caught by Queen Christina who was Following the Fleet

In Queen Christina (1933), Greta Garbo, at her most ravishingly beautiful, plays the 17th century Swedish Queen who fell in love with the Spanish ambassador (John Gilbert) sent to deliver a marriage proposal from the King of Spain.

Follow the Fleet (1936) is a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film in which Fred and Randolph Scott, on shore leave, fall for sisters played by Ginger and Harriet Hilliard (later to be Harriet Nelson, mother of Ricky). The Irving Berlin songs which feature in the film are not among his very best, but Fred and Ginger performing Let’s Face the Music and Dance remains a joy to behold.

And Scarface found the Sleep was even Bigger than the Heat

Scarface (1932), produced by Howard Hughes and directed with real brio by Howard Hawks, is a thinly disguised biography of the the gangster Al Capone in which Paul Muni gives a real barn-stormer of a performance.

The Big Sleep, (1946) again directed by Howard Hawks, has Humphrey Bogart playing Raymond Chandler's world-weary private eye Philip Marlowe in this thriller to end all thrillers. The plot still confuses the hell out of me, but the incidental delights have lost none of their sheen and reward repeated viewings.

In The Big Heat, (1953) a taut thriller directed by Fritz Lang, Glenn Ford plays a cop intent on exposing corruption, even after his wife (Jocelyn Brando) has been murdered. The scene in which a hoodlum (Lee Marvin) scalds moll (Gloria Grahame) with hot coffee is justifiably famous.

When he hit the Yellow Brick Road to where the Grapes of Wrath are sweet

The Yellow Brick Road, as everybody will tell you, is out of The Wizard of Oz (1939).

The Grapes of Wrath (1940), directed by John Ford, is a fine, if slightly toned-down, adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel about a depression-era family, the Joads, moving from the dustbowl of Oklahoma to California. It is not nearly as angry as the book it's based on, but it's still worth seeing.

Dance, Ginger, dance
The caftan of the caliph turns to powder at your glance
This one for Funny Face and Fancy Pants

A buck and wing might fix the Broken Lance

A buck-and-wing is a solo tap dance with many leg flings and leaps. Naturally, Ginger would know all about that.

Broken Lance (1954), directed by Edward Dmytryk, is a sprawling story about the rise and fall of ruthless cattle baron Matt Devereaux (Spencer Tracy). It's a bit like King Lear set in the wild West.

And break my trance

Pete Atkin icon

back to Pete Atkin Discography