"The rising of the sun had made everything look so different- all colours and shadows were changed-that for a moment they didn't see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan." - C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)
"Space Seed" is a very good episode from Star Trek: T.O.S. season one. I personally don't think it's one of the best episodes, but it is an above average one, and one which became very important. This was mainly thanks to Harve Bennett, brought in to save the franchise after the "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" debacle. He found in "Space Seed" a worthy opponent for Kirk and his crew, resulting in the fabulous "Wrath of Khan" (R.I.P. Mr. Bennett; he passed away the same week as Leonard Nimoy, with little notice). It also resulted in the controversial re-imagining of the tale in last year's "Star Trek: Into Darkness". More about both of those films at a later date.
In "Space Seed" Khan and his followers are products of a eugenics program designed to produce "superior" human beings. The term "eugenics" comes from a Greek word which means "well born". It's a complicated topic, because so much is encompassed in it- everything from consanguinity laws to gene therapy to sterilization- but essentially it boils down to encouraging higher rates of reproduction in those with "desirable" genetic traits, while discouraging the reproduction of those with "undesirable" traits. These two components are referred to as "positive" and "negative" eugenics. I don't intend to debate the ethics of the entire philosophy here, but will say that I have grave reservations about some parts of it, and am totally opposed to other parts. There are some things which I don't believe that humans will ever have the wisdom to deal with, and some things which are just plain unethical and evil. Those considering the merits of eugenics should be given pause by some of the creepy, creepy people who have been enthusiastic practitioners: Nazi Germany and their desire for a "master race", Communist China and their one-child policy, to name a couple of examples. Then there's the question of what constitutes an "undesirable trait", and who gets to decide that question? It's always the people with power and position, while it's generally the powerless and most vulnerable who are on the receiving end of eugenics policies. For example, among their many heinous crimes against humanity, the Nazis euthanized people with Down Syndrome... now, in our "inclusive" western societies, 90% of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted. Is there a difference? Why? And who has the right to decide a life is "undesirable"? Frankly, I believe that there are some things which should just be left in the hands of God. I recommend reading G.K. Chesterton's "Eugenics and Other Evils"... he was an early opponent of this type of thing, at a time when "progressive" thinkers were enthusiastically jumping on the eugenics bandwagon.
I've strayed somewhat from "Space Seed", as the episode doesn't actually address this issue. It focuses more on a couple of Trek staples- the evils of runaway ambition, and the corruption of absolute power. Spock comments on this when analyzing the causes of the Eugenics War, saying that the scientists failed to consider that superior ability breeds superior ambition. This is certainly true of Khan, and he would be the first to admit it- or brag about it. In the 1990's, Khan and the other genetically advanced "supermen" attempted to take over the world, stopped only by a costly war. Their belief seemed to be that, as superior beings, they were the natural rulers of the world. Khan in particular seems to have ambitions which are limited only by his horizons... and with his seizure of the Enterprise, those horizons have expanded considerably. As he says to one of his revived men, before they had a world to conquer, but now the universe. It is not just territory which Khan wishes to acquire; as he tells the Enterprise crew, he also wants to search out men "willing to be led", or as McCoy acerbically points out, willing to be conquered.
Speaking of being conquered, what the dickens is the matter with Marla McGivers? The woman is an idiot. I know that T.O.S. often didn't do well writing women characters, but she takes the cake. Khan treats her like a doormat and she appears to like it, getting all dewy-eyed and wet-lipped when he's abusing and humiliating her. She's an historian... she knows what he and his people did. Yet McGivers- a Star Fleet officer- goes along with his plans, betraying her shipmates, only belatedly realizing that the former war criminal and tyrant is still capable of war crimes and tyranny. And after all of his mistreatment and villainy, she can't wait to throw herself into his power, on a planet where there'll be no escape from him no matter what he gets up to. Sheer lunacy... reminds me of those western girls who have been heading for the Middle East to become brides for Isis fighters- evil, women-abusing madmen.
Thank goodness for Lt. Uhura, who mercifully gives us a female character we can admire. Always competent at her job, she stays at her post as the bridge is slowly deprived of air until she lapses into unconsciousness. Later, as Khan towers over her, demanding that she do his bidding, she looks the "superman" straight in the eye and refuses. Then as one of his men hauls her across the room, throws her into a chair, and slaps her across the face, she still will not comply. She straightens herself up, turns and glares at him, defiant.
The best things about "Space Seed" are the the conversations between Kirk and Spock, and the interplay between Khan and Kirk. With the former, it is obvious how much Kirk relies on his first officer/ science officer, not only for information and advice, but as a sounding board, bouncing his ideas and concerns off of him. Also, at the dinner we see them working together to get Khan to betray himself to them. Spock takes the lead, asking pointed and somewhat provoking questions, while Kirk quietly sits back listening to what Khan says- and doesn't say-and watching his reaction to being challenged. Kirk is at his best in this episode- not blustering or speechifying- but observing, evaluating, and judging Khan's motives and intentions. During the first part of the episode, Kirk and Khan circle warily around each other, each seeking chinks in the other's armour. Khan is- at first- trying to keep his militant intentions (and massive ego) in check and hidden, while he tests Kirk's strength and resolve. Kirk, for his part, is controlled and wary, sensing the kind of man Khan is, but unable to act without evidence. He seeks to obtain this proof by prodding Khan, goading him, assuming that the man's need to dominate and control will sooner or later betray him. Which it does.
Having obtained evidence of Khan's actual identity, Kirk confronts him. The gloves now off, Khan is revoltingly smug and condescending in this scene, remarking on how little man has improved in 200 years. He says that Kirk couldn't possibly understand his motivations, because Kirk is physically and mentally inferior. He implies that he and his followers will easily conquer and rule over the people of this time period, and have the right to do so, as they are superior beings. This is not just naked ambition; I think it also is a philosophy which is rooted in Khan's past as a eugenicist. The whole idea of eugenics is that the propagation of superior people is to be encouraged, while that of "inferiors" is to be discouraged. To follow through with that idea to it's perhaps inevitable conclusion, the rights of the less advanced must be subordinate to those of the more advanced.
What makes Khan such a good foil for Kirk is that they actually share many of the same characteristics. Both are charismatic leaders, men of action, and intelligent, wily adversaries. And while not taken to the same extremes as Khan, Kirk obviously has his ambitions- and a healthy ego. What separates them is morality- specifically, Khan has none. He assumes that his intellectual and physical superiority gives him the right to dominate and subjugate others. Now, on many of the planets the Enterprise visits, Kirk and his crew have superior knowledge and technology, but Kirk would never dream of using it to conquer these less advanced races. This isn't to say that Kirk doesn't have his faults or make mistakes, but even when he errs, it's generally on the side of life and liberty.
Speaking of errors, I think it probably was one for Kirk to decide to drop the charges against Khan and his minions and exile them to a remote planet. We know that Kirk, while deploring Khan as a person, admires his abilities, and thinks it would be a "waste" to have such a man spend the rest of his life in lock up. Um, maybe, but so what? If Osama bin Laden had been a great sculptor or musician, shooting him would certainly be a waste of that talent, but it still would have been the right thing to do. I suspect that Kirk is acting on the very Star Trekkian notion that, given the opportunity, most people will choose to lead "good" lives. No doubt some people would choose to do so, but I personally don't think that an immoral megalomaniac who never expresses remorse for his criminal actions is likely to change very much. Perhaps Kirk was also thought dumping them on a planet in a far corner of the galaxy was a good way to avoid the worry about how to safely keep 85 super people contained, but this,too, is a flawed notion. What would happen if, for example, some unsuspecting freighter experiencing engine trouble decided to land there to effect repairs? Or- worse- what if a Klingon or Romulan vessel stumbled upon Khan and co., and decided to arm them and unleash them on the Federation? Or what if, years later, a Federation ship arrived there, not realizing what planet it was and- oh, wait....
In the end, Khan is done in by his hubris and his disdain for those he considers beneath him. Knowing himself and his people to be physically and mentally superior, Khan underestimates Kirk and his crew. He fails to realize the power which courage of conviction can give... whether it's the crew refusing to capitulate when threatened with death, or Kirk fighting him physically despite the odds. Speaking of this fight, Khan's ego is directly responsible for his loss. He had beaten Kirk- gotten the jump on him and disarmed him. But instead of shooting him, an overconfident Khan chooses to display his contempt for Kirk by destroying the phaser. Well, we know how that turned out: Kirk, in the engine room, with the lead pipe.
The episode drives home the point about Khan's downfall being due to his hubris by comparing him to Lucifer, the angel who attempted to overthrow God and was cast out. An unrepentant Khan refers to the words from Milton's Paradise Lost: "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven." It would have been equally appropriate for them to use Shakespeare's words from "Henry VIII": "Cromwell, I charge thee: fling away ambition:/ By that sin fell the angels: how can man, then/ the image of his Maker, hope to win by it?"
"Space Seed" is a first season episode of Star Trek: T.O.S. It begins with the crew of the Enterprise making a surprising find: an old earth space ship from the 1990's, adrift and broadcasting an automated signal in Morse Code. As they scan the ship, Dr McCoy reports that he can read heartbeats on board, but that they are too slow to be human. Spock reports that there is functioning equipment on board. He also can make out a name on the battered hull: the S.S. Botany Bay. He checks the historical records of the time period, but can find no listing of a ship with that name. However,as he reminds Kirk, the 1990's was the era of earth's last World War- surely you remember it- and records from the period are fragmented. As Spock, Kirk, and McCoy discuss it, we find that it is also referred to as the Eugenics War, sparked when a group of scientists tried to improve the human race through a selective breeding program.
Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty beam down to the Botany Bay, taking Lt. Marla McGivers- the Enterprise's resident historian- with them. They find a bunch of people in stasis chambers, which McGivers says was common for the time period due to the length of time space travel took. Scotty reactivates the power on the ship, and suddenly one of the chambers starts powering up as well. Kirk asks McGivers for her professional assessment of the situation, but has to speak to her several times, as she seems mesmerized by the man behind the glass. Snapping out of it, she says that often the leader's chamber would be programmed to open first, so that he could decide if it was safe to revive the others. As the man regains consciousness, he goes into medical distress, and McCoy beams with him to sickbay to save his life.
As Dr McCoy works to save the man in sickbay, Scotty and his engineering crew go over the Botany Bay. He tells Kirk that twelve of the stasis chambers malfunctioned over the course of the 200 years of their voyage, leaving 72 still functioning ones. Kirk has the vessel put in a tractor beam and towed, setting course for Star Base 12. He then goes to check on the patient. McCoy tells him the man will recover, thanks mostly to his amazing recuperative powers. He says that the man's heart and lung capacity, as well as his strength, is twice that of an average person. Kirk muses that this may be the result of the eugenics project of the 1990's, and McCoy wonders if this superiority extends to the mind as well as the body. Just then, Lt. McGivers wanders in, still looking gaga over the 200 year old guy. Kirk takes the opportunity to reprimand her for her lack of focus while on the away team, pointing out that one must stay alert when in unknown circumstances. McGivers apologizes, saying that it's just that she finds the man so fascinating... from a professional standpoint, of course. Uh huh.
When the patient eventually wakes up, he expresses his gratitude by holding a knife to McCoy's throat. When McCoy merely offers him professional advice on how to dispatch him efficiently, he lets go of the knife, impressed by the doctor's courage. He then arrogantly demands to see the captain. When Kirk arrives at sickbay, he introduces himself and asks the man for his name, which he declines to give. He does, however, demand to know where they're headed, and Kirk amiably tells him Star Base 12, knowing it won't mean anything to him. Their guest then demands that they revive his crew, but if he thinks Kirk is going to be intimidated, he's mistaken. Still amiable, but unmovable, Kirk states that they'll be resuscitated when they reach Star Base 12, and presses him for his name. This time, the man tells him that it's "Khan." Sceptical, Kirk starts to ask him a series of questions about his ship, its mission, etc. But Khan fakes a sudden weakness, and Dr McCoy tell Kirk that his questions will have to wait. Then Kirk makes an error: Khan asks for use of the computer to read up on the ship, etc., and Kirk allows it, which will have grave consequences.
Troubled by his talk with Khan, Kirk asks Spock if he thinks their guest is one of the genetically enhanced men from the 1990's eugenics project. Spock thinks it's likely, reminding Kirk that in 1993, a group of these "super" people rose up in over forty countries and seized power. He says that what the scientists didn't realize was that superior ability breeds superior ambition. He also says that he's been compiling a list of these genetically advanced warriors, and that some 80 or 90 of them were unaccounted for when they were finally defeated in the war. Let's see... 72 functioning stasis chambers and 12 malfunctioned ones makes 84... hmm.
Meanwhile, Marla McGivers has arrived to visit Khan- interested in further "historical research" no doubt. She does attempt to ask a few questions, but he deflects her with personal comments about her appearance, and gets all handsy. Instead of telling him to move 'em or lose 'em, she puts up with his obnoxious ways, appearing to be both nervous of, and excited by, him. No accounting for taste, I guess.
McGivers arranges a fancy dinner party to welcome Khan to their time period. Khan walks- without knocking- into her quarters. Looking about, he sees all the paintings she's done of strong men of the past, and the one she's working on now: his portrait.Khan tells McGivers that such men take what they want, then grabs her and starts kissing her. She doesn't object.
At the dinner, it becomes clear that Kirk has humoured McGivers for purposes of his own. He remains fairly quiet, while Spock asks Khan confrontational questions about the Eugenics War. His reactions and responses are very telling... when Spock says the genetically altered people became a cadre of petty dictators, Khan says that eventually one man would have ruled- as if this was desirable. He stops himself when he realizes what Kirk is doing; he compliments Kirk on his tactics- having his second in command attack while he sits back and watches for weakness. Kirk smiles coolly, not denying it, and then goes on the attack himself. He questions the courage of Khan and his men, leaving earth at its most troubled time, goading him until Khan snaps: "We offered the world order!" Kirk asks quietly, "We?" Khan regains control and then feigns weariness, leaving the dinner.
McGivers goes to Khan's quarters and apologizes to him for the behaviour of Kirk and Spock, in her most stomach- turning scene. Khan plays her like a fiddle... he demands her compliance and obedience, telling her she must ask his permission to stay in his presence. Staggeringly, instead of telling him to go pound sand, she obeys, even when he forces her to he knees in front of him. Khan tells her that he intends to take over the ship, demanding that she help him. She demurs at first, but then tearfully gives in, agreeing to help.
Meanwhile, the senior officers are meeting, having discovered exactly who their guest is: Khan Noonien Singh, the most powerful of the genetically advanced overlords who, for a three year period in the '90's, ruled over a quarter of the world's population. Spock is surprised when the other men admit to a certain respect for the man. He points out that Khan was- is- a ruthless tyrant who denied freedom to millions. Kirk laughs and tells Spock that they can be totally against someone, yet still admire his abilities. Spock finds this highly illogical.
There is no hint of this admiration, though, when Kirk goes to confront Khan. Khan takes umbrage at the fact that Kirk has had him locked in his quarters with a guard posted outside. Dropping all pretense of affability, Kirk tells Khan that he knows who and what he is. He demands to know the purpose of the S.S. Botany Bay, and Khan says it was for them to start a new life on a new world, for a variety of reasons Kirk couldn't possibly understand. Kirk says why- because he's not a genetically engineered human? Khan bluntly tells him that he is inferior both mentally and physically, and says that humans have changed very little over two centuries, concluding ominously that it appears "we" will do very well in this time period.
After Kirk leaves, Khan puts his plan into action, using his great strength to force open the door, and hitting the guard, sending him flying through the air. Meanwhile, McGivers has taken control of the transporter room, and she and Khan beam down to the Botany Bay, revive Khan's men, and beam themselves into the Enterprise's engine room before anyone realizes what is going on. From there, they override control, trapping Kirk and his officers on the bridge and cutting off their life support. Khan demands that Kirk surrender the ship or be suffocated.Well, it's obvious how that's going to turn out... Kirk surrenders his ship to no one. Eventually the entire bridge crew lapses into unconsciousness from oxygen deprivation.
Khan gathers all the senior officers in the briefing room, and tries to convince them to join him, telling them that opposing him is futile. The crew, however, will not cooperate, even when Khan turns on a view screen to show them Kirk in the decompression chamber, being slowly suffocated. Increasingly frustrated, Khan tells them that the same thing will be done to each of them, but still no one will comply. As Khan threatens everyone with violent death, it is slowly dawning on McGivers just what she's become party to. She excuses herself, manages to turn off the view screens, and makes her way to the decompression chamber where she knocks out Khan's man with a hypo and frees Kirk.
Spock has been chosen as the next candidate for execution, and as they enter the room, Kirk leaps out from hiding and he and Spock overpower his guard. Kirk tell Spock to flood all the decks except the one they're on with a knock-out gas while McGivers pleads with them not to kill Khan. They ignore her. Khan is increasingly agitated because he's lost contact with his people in other sectors of the ship, and then as gas begins flooding through the vents in the room, he swiftly runs out the door. The rest of his men and the Enterprise crew are incapacitated. Spock reports to Kirk that someone has entered the engine room and closed all the vents, so Kirk heads there immediately.
Having overheard Scotty's communication to Spock that Kirk was headed for engineering, Khan is waiting for him and overpowers him, demonstrating his great strength by squashing up Kirk's phaser. Then, as an alarm starts to sound, he tells Kirk that he has started an overload which will cause the ship to explode in a matter of minutes. This is the wrong thing to say to Kirk if you want him to submit. He attacks Khan despite the man's great strength, and gets thrown around the room painfully. Eventually, though, he manages to grab some sort of metal pipe which he drives into Khan's solar plexus and then pummels him repeatedly over the back of the head with it until he collapses. Kirk then races to the console, shutting down the overload and saving the ship.
Khan and his people incarcerated, Kirk convenes a hearing to decide what to do with them all. He decides to drop them off on a remote, uninhabited planet called Ceti Alpha V. The climate there is harsh but habitable, and Kirk asks Khan if he's up to the challenge. Khan responds by asking Kirk if he's ever read Milton, and Kirk says he understands. He then offers Marla McGivers the option of going with Khan or facing court martial. She chooses to go with him... no accounting for taste. After they leave the hearing, Scotty asks Kirk what Khan was referring to, in Milton. Kirk tells him that, in 'Paradise Lost', when Lucifer fell into the pit, he said that it was better to rule in hell than serve in Heaven. Spock remarks that it would be interesting to return to the planet in a hundred years and see what crop had sprung from the seed that Kirk had planted that day. Fateful words, indeed.
I first read "To Catch A Thief" when I was in high school. A family for whom I frequently babysat owned a number of those old Readers Digest Condensed Books which I would often peruse once the kids were in bed. One of these contained T.C.A.F., which I thoroughly enjoyed. Later I tried to purchase the novel, but it was out of print. Whenever I was in a used book store, I would keep my eyes open for a copy, but never found one. It had rather slipped my mind for a few years until recently when I was reading an article about Alfred Hitchcock which mentioned his film version of the novel... I checked online, and to my delight found that it was available as an e book, which I lost no time in purchasing. It was just as enjoyable to re-read as it had been the first time around.
"To Catch A Thief" was written by David Dodge in 1952. Dodge came to writing a bit late... he went through a number of jobs, eventually becoming an accountant. He wrote his first novel when he bet his wife that he could write a better mystery than the one they were reading at that time. He continued writing novels over the next few years, even during W.W.II while he was in the navy. After the war, he and his wife and young daughter embarked upon world travel, and he began writing travel books in between novels. One thing which is remarkable in T.C.A.T. is the rich and realistic detail. It's not just the scenery of 1950's France: it's also the atmosphere, the people... they are written by someone who was there at that time, and who is writing what he knows.
The character of John Robie is a very interesting one. He is the hero of the novel, but a flawed one. Most obviously, he was a thief who was eventually jailed for his crimes. Released during the war, he and other criminals who fought in the Maquis (the French Resistance) are considered- unofficially- to have paid their debt to society. Grateful to be free and determined to stay that way, Robie now lives a crime-free life until a copy-cat thief threatens that existence. John Robie's first inclination is to cut his losses and run. He changes his mind after talking with Bellini... his loyalty to his former Maquis comrades makes him act against his own interests. They, too, are threatened by this new thief, and while it would be personally safer for Robie- an American citizen- to escape back to the States, he stays and risks being sent back to prison to try to expose the thief.
The title of the novel "To Catch A Thief" is taken from the expression "set a thief to catch a thief" which means that, in order to catch a thief, you have to think like one. John Robie must do this- reach back into his past and take on the thought patterns of Le Chat, his former self. In doing so, he realizes something about himself: although he has eschewed a life of crime, he is still in his heart of hearts a thief. He has retired, not reformed. This is why he trusts Bellini and his other former comrades to help him, while he rejects aid from his newer friends like Paul or Francie. It's also why John can tell Bellini straight out that he is not responsible for the new thefts, while he can't bring himself to say that to Oriol, who is a social acquaintance and teammate as well as a police officer. In his mind, John has constructed a wall between his old life and his new... Bellini and the others will understand and accept him because they, like him, are dishonest. Paul, Oriol, and the others are honest citizens and therefore- he thinks- unable to trust or accept him as he truly is. The suspense in "To Catch A Thief" is not merely found in the search for the thief, but in wondering if John will be able to adjust his thinking enough to accept help from his new friends as well as his old, and succeed in unmasking the copycat and saving himself.
"To Catch A Thief" is an extremely well written novel. As I mentioned, David Dodge does atmosphere and location really well. He also skillfully writes dialogue- it's crisp, realistic, and to the point. The same could be said for the plot... it moves along briskly and always holds your interest. His characters are also interesting, and complicated. Each of them-John, Francie, Paul, Bellini, Danielle, and the rest- all have multiple facets to their personalities. Even Mr. Paige the insurance agent has a fully developed character. This is important, because it makes us care not only about Robie, but about the others as well. It makes us sympathize with his torn feelings and loyalties as he tries to do what is in his own best interests, while aiding his new friends without betraying his old comrades. It's also suspenseful- as well as a bit amusing- to see the motley crew of ex-cons surreptitiously working on the side of the law, if only to avoid legal scrutiny themselves. All in all, a good novel which lingers in the memory.
It's hard to talk about "To Catch A Thief" without mentioning Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 adaptation of the novel. It starred Cary Grant as John Robie and Grace Kelly as Francie Stevens. I watched it not long after reading the book for the first time, and I remember being really disappointed, for a variety of reasons. I hadn't watched it since then, until this week when I decided to give it another chance. I appreciated it a bit more this time around, but it still suffered from the same problems that I remembered from my first viewing. I'm not a purist... I expect movies to be different from the books they're based on, and generally judge them on their own merits. But with T.C.A.T., the changes pretty much sucked all the suspense and interest out of the plot, and out of the characters as well. To start with, their ages were all wrong. Now, I'm second to none in my admiration for Cary Grant... he stars in some of my favourite movies- "His Girl Friday" and "Arsenic and Old Lace" for example. But the fact is, he was too old for this role. John Robie was supposed to be 32, making it believable that he was still able to scale walls and leap with agility between roofs. Grant was over 50 when they made this movie, and while he cuts a debonair figure at the roulette tables, he's less convincing as a cat burglar, which is no doubt why the tense and suspenseful game of cat and mouse Robie and the thief play over the rooftops in the book is reduced to a short, awkward- and noisy- scramble in the movie. There's also the point that Robie is supposed to be in disguise as a pudgy, balding middle aged man, but no one was going to do that to Cary Grant, so he- the ex con hiding from the police- just swanks around looking like his normal suave self.
Also, in the movie, the character Danielle is said to be in her late teens, but the actress playing her is 27 and looks it. This makes the scene where she's snarkily teasing Grace Kelly's character, Francie, about being old singularly unconvincing, because she is actually a year older than Kelly. Speaking of these two characters, their personalities are completely changed, and not for the better. Danielle is catty and obnoxious, and Francie is just as annoying in a different way. They seem to be in a competition to see who can be more unlikable. In the film, they have also cut out the character of Paul completely, as well as that of Oriol, the police officer who John knows personally. In addition, the movie eliminates all feelings of loyalty between Robie and his former Maquis comrades, who, in this version, are intent on deceiving and betraying him. All of this is, in my opinion, a mistake, as it leaves John without motivation... if not for his compulsion to aid his fellow Maquisards, what reason does he have for not escaping to the States? And without Paul- and to a lesser extent, Oriol- there are no conflicting feelings or divided loyalties. This eliminates a lot of the dramatic elements. What is left is a movie with a good central idea, but a generic plot with one-note characters and an obvious outcome. It's not that the film is bad- it'sHitchcock, after all- it's just that it dispensed with most of what made the book so great, resulting in a pale and inferior imitation. I'll stick with the novel.
"To Catch A Thief" is a novel written by David Dodge, who was quite a prolific writer back in the day- mostly from the 1940's to the 1960's. He wrote plays and travel books as well as mystery novels, but is best known for one book in particular: "To Catch A Thief". Since I haven't read any of his other works- yet- I'm not sure if this is because it's his best work, or if it's just because this is the one that was made into a movie starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. "To Catch A Thief" jumps right into the middle of the action at the beginning of the novel. It is August 1951, and the police are coming to arrest John Robie, an American living on the Cote d'Azure. He escapes from his villa by making an amazing leap over his garden wall and goes on the run. We then get explanation for these events, which takes us back before W.W. II. John Robie was a notorious jewel thief called "Le Chat". Over the course of several years, he pulled off many jewel heists along the French Riviera in daring burglaries utilizing his amazing agility, climbing, and jumping abilities. Le Chat is so successful- and his feats so seemingly impossible- that he becomes famous, but is caught in 1939 when one of his fences betrays him. Put on trial, he is convicted and sent to prison, where he remains for about a year until the Nazis invade France in 1940.
The Germans, hoping to destabilize the French government even more, release all the prisoners- thieves, career criminals, murderers- assuming that they'll cause any number of headaches for the French. What they fail to recognize is that the convicts are Frenchmen first and, once free, most of them join the Maquis (French Resistance fighters) and use their particular skill sets against the Nazis.
After the war, there is a sort of unofficial amnesty for convicts who had been in the Maquis. They aren't pardoned, but it's understood that as long as they refrain from further offences, the authorities will leave them alone. Some do, of course, return to lives of crime, but John Robie has had enough. He had managed to save the money from his prior thefts and has enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life. He buys a villa and becomes respectable. None of his neighbours know that he was once "Le Chat"; he refused to give his name when arrested, and in all the turmoil of the war, all that remains of photo evidence is a very blurry newspaper picture from his trial. The only exception is the local police official, Commissaire Oriol, who drops by the villa soon after Robie moves in, and manages to let John know without actually saying so, that he knows who he is. Also without actually saying it, John conveys to Oriel that he is no longer a thief. That settled, Oriol invites Robie to join a local group of men who play boules (bocce) on the village green. Robie does, and becomes part of the community, finding to his surprise that he likes an honest life- gardening, playing boules, etc., and not having to be looking over his shoulder constantly.
While playing boules, John meets another local man, Paul Du Pre, who is such a nice, normal guy that Robie is surprised to later learn that he is actually Comte Du Pre. He and John become good friends, spending a lot of time together. Paul's wife Lisa encourages this, asking John to keep Paul busy. She is slowly dying of tuberculosis, and doesn't want Paul always with her, torturing himself. Paul enjoys rock climbing, so John takes it up with him... Paul is astonished at Robie's natural climbing ability. Eventually Lisa dies and Paul, devastated, goes away, travelling to escape his heartbreak.
This brings us to 1951, and there have been a rash of jewel thefts in casinos and resorts along the Riviera. Following the reports of these crimes in the papers, John uneasily notes that the thief is using his techniques and hitting his style of mark... the similarities are so striking that it has to be a deliberate copying of his methods. The papers pick up on this, suggesting that "Le Chat" has returned. Inevitably, Oriol shows up at the villa, suspicious that Robie has returned to his old habits. Unable to come right out and say that he's not pulling the jobs, John tells Oriol that "Le Chat" died during the war, which is true enough. Accepting this, Oriol goes away, though he has John's villa watched for a while. John goes about his life as usual, and things seem to be settling down, when there is another big jewel theft in which the methods from one of Le Chat's most famous crimes are mimicked exactly. John knows that Oriol will be coming for him, and he escapes just ahead of the police with the previously mentioned leap over his garden wall.
Determined not to go back to prison, John Robie goes to Cannes and contacts Bellini, a former comrade from the Maquis who is now a businessman- some of the business legitimate, a lot of it a bit shady. Robie asks him to provide him with a fake passport so that he can escape to the United States. Bellini, however, asks him to remain in France. In their efforts to find Le Chat, the police are tracking down the convicts from the Maquis and threatening to send them back to prison. Bellini appeals to Robie's loyalty to the former Maquisards, asking him to help find the actual thief and expose him, so that the police will stop harassing them. John reluctantly agrees, and he and Bellini make plans to entrap the thief.
John disguises himself by cutting and shaving his hair to give himself a receding hairline and applying grey to his temples. He also has a harness to wear which gives him a pot belly. Bellini provides him with forged I.D.: he is now Jack Burns, an overweight, middle aged American businessman on vacation. As such, he can visit the resorts, casinos, and nightclubs to identify potential victims for the thief. He eventually narrows down the probable marks to three: Mrs. Stevens (a wealthy American widow), and two couples, the Souzas and the Sanfords. The married couples both have local residences, but Mrs. Stevens is staying at a resort with her daughter Francie, so John checks in to keep an eye on her. He means to keep his distance, but unfortunately, the over-friendly Mrs. Stevens latches onto him as a gambling partner and refuses to be dislodged. Afraid of the attention she's drawing to him, Robie asks Bellini to provide him with a girl to accompany him about in the evenings to the casinos and nightclubs, providing a buffer for him. Bellini sends Danielle, an employee at one of his legitimate operations: a concession stand at the beach. She knows nothing of what's going on, assuming that "Mr. Burns" is exactly who he appears to be, and that she's being paid to provide companionship.
Unfortunately, while John is getting all of this worked out, the thief strikes again elsewhere. With the newspapers trumpeting the return of Le Chat and accusing the police of incompetence, Detective Lepic and several officers are sent from Paris to head up the investigation. As well, a Mr. Paige arrives, who is an agent for the British company which had insured a lot of the now-stolen jewels. He is offering 20% of the cost of the jewels as a reward for their return, no questions asked. Meanwhile, using his expert knowledge, John has planned out how to rob Mrs. Stevens, the Sanfords, and the Souzas. On site, he can keep an eye on Mrs.Stevens, and he and Bellini recruit six other former Maquisards to watch the residences of the two couples, with John telling them exactly what to watch for. They agree to help for two reasons: they, too, are threatened by the activities of the thief, and John promises that, if they catch him, they can have the reward promised by Mr.Paige to split among themselves.
To complicate matters even further, while out one night with Danielle keeping an eye on the marks, John runs into Paul who recognizes him. He doesn't give him away, but comes to see him the next day, for two reasons. He assumes that John is planning a robbery and wants to warn him off, but he also wants to meet Danielle. She looks quite a bit like Lisa, and Paul feels compelled to meet her, and talk to her. Torn between wanting to help his grieving friend and fear that Paul is going to expose him, John introduces him to Danielle, then bluntly tells him not to contact him again. Also, Mrs. Stevens' daughter, Francie, who has a full time job trying to keep her guileless- and clueless- mother from being preyed on by hangers-on and con artists, decides that John is Le Chat, mostly on the grounds that the innocuous Mr. Burns is the most unlikely suspect. Verbally sparring with her, John treats her suspicions as a joke, but can't afford to dismiss her and risk her telling her theories to the police. Added to all this is the presence of Danielle's jealous -and possibly violent- boyfriend wannabe, Claude, and a vengeful and angry Oriol who thinks John betrayed his trust... John must try to keep all these balls in the air while attempting to find the real thief. Inevitably, he finds that he must not only think like a thief again, but must act like one as well, taking to the rooftops once more in pursuit of his quarry.
This isn't a review of the book... it's just that it came to mind this morning when I opened my bedroom curtains. Specifically, the passage where Laura describes looking out her bedroom window to see horses' hooves going by at eye level. No, it's not that bad here- Laura's bedroom was on the second floor of her house, while mine is on the first. Still, the snow- undrifted- is up past the sills of my windows, which are four feet from the ground. Meanwhile, I can just barely see over the drift on my deck, and the path to my door- which was just shoveled clear of snow yesterday- is up over my knees again. And it's still snowing. Fortunately, I don't have to go out... ye olde place of employment is closed for the day. The whole city is actually closed down because the roads are virtually impassable, between the snow and the high winds blowing it around. Sigh. Oh, well... I have corn chowder cooking on the stove, knitting to do, and a good book to read. Might as well put on another pot of coffee, hunker down and enjoy my free day. ** This gave me a laugh today, if a somewhat ironic one:
Well, it's St. Patrick's Day, and though I'm not Irish, as a descendant of the Scots, I am a relative- the early inhabitants of Ireland having settled Scotland... or vice versa, depending on which historians you want to believe. In any case, in honour of the day, I thought I'd pay homage to some of my favourite on-screen Irishmen and women. Before I get started, yes, I know these depictions are stereotypes which in no way reflect all the Irish or their culture, etc, etc... but they're characters I enjoy. Anyway, there have been so many stereotypical portrayals of Scots that I'm giving myself a pass. Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy the Scottish characters as well... it's all good fun. So, here we go:
Barry Fitzgerald He's probably my absolute favourite... I'd watch him in anything. I've reviewed two of his movies on this site: "Going My Way" and "The Naked City". In G.M.W. he's an Irish American priest, and in T.N.C., a police detective. He's also well known for his portrayal of a lovable Irish rogue in John Ford's "The Quiet Man".
Bing Crosby You can't have one without the other... Bing plays opposite Barry in "Going My Way" as the unorthodox Father "Chuck" O'Malley. Probably his best role, which he would later reprise in "The Bells of St Mary's" with Ingrid Bergman. It's a good movie too, but would have been improved if Fitzgerald had been in it as well. Frankly, Crosby had better chemistry with him than with Bergman.
Victor McLaglen McLaglen was, in fact, Scottish not Irish... and seems to have remained one in his role as Sgt. MacChesney in the very excellent "Gunga Din". He gained fame, however, playing a series of hard-drinking, hard-fighting Irishmen in John Ford's trilogy: "Fort Apache", "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon", and "Rio Grande", as well as in his "The Quiet Man."
Maureen O'Hara Maureen O'Hara had a prolific film career spanning many decades. She, too, is in "Rio Grande", as John Wayne's estranged wife, though in that film (which is the best of the trilogy) she's supposed to be a former Southern belle.To see her as a fiery red-haired Irish colleen, you have to watch "The Quiet Man" in which she also stars with John Wayne. And with Fitzgerald and McLaglen, for that matter.
Tommy Steele O.K., this might be a bit more obscure, but there's this really wacky Disney musical called "The Happiest Millionaire," the oddest thing about it being that it's based on a true story, and the most unlikely things in it are the true bits. While this is by no means a masterpiece, it has a peculiar- and I do mean peculiar- charm about it, mostly because of Mr. Biddle- played by Fred MacMurray- a character who fascinates me. But Tommy Steele is also quite good as John Lawless, an Irish immigrant who gets a job as a butler with the eccentric Biddle family. The music was done by the Sherman brothers, who provided Steele with a few songs to showcase his singing ability: "Fortuosity", "I'll Always Be Irish", and "Let's Have A Drink On It". Apparently Tommy Steele is also in the Ireland-set movie, "Finian's Rainbow" with Fred Astaire. I've never watched it. I'm afraid to.
Fox Speaking of Disney and the Sherman brothers, in "Mary Poppins", there is a charming Irish fox whom Burt helps escape from the "red coats" during the chalk drawing scene. If nothing else, his Irish brogue is more convincing than Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent... which isn't to say that I don't love Van Dyke in the movie- in both his roles.
Colm Meaney Leaping over to the world of television for a moment, let's give some appreciation to Meaney for gifting us with Chief Miles O'Brien, a breath of fresh air in the stale and stifling atmosphere of Star Trek: T.N.G. He gave us some hope that the future wasn't going to be completely populated by sanctimonious prigs who would so often bore us with their self-righteous pontificating. O'Brien was Everyman, who reacted like a human being to situations and circumstances, and it was no surprise when he moved over to the much superior- and far more interesting- Star Trek: D.S.9. Well, that's about all I've got for now... I know that I've no doubt left off any number of stellar performances which I'll remember later on. If you have any favourites, feel free to list them in the comments and, Irish or not, have a great, great day.
This week's Quote of the Week by Rudyard Kipling, which essentially said that people would remember history if it was told to them in the form of stories, brought some Canadian T.V. from my childhood to mind. I love history... I enjoy reading history books, and biographies of historical figures, as well as personal accounts of people living during a particular time period- Samuel Pepys, Josephus... one of the most interesting books I ever read was simply criminal court records from Medieval London, which gave a fascinating view of life at the time- sometimes grim, sometimes tragic, and sometimes just plain funny. Hmm...maybe I like history so much because I'm nosy.
Of course, I also love reading novels- or watching movies- which have a historical setting: "A Tale of Two Cities" or "The Scarlet Pimpernel" for example, both set during the French Revolution, or any of Jane Austen's works occurring in the Regency period. I'm currently reading "Quo Vadis" by Henryk Sienkiewicz, which takes place in Rome during the reign of Nero. Sienkiewicz includes an amazing amount of detail about life at that time, which I'm finding both fascinating and repellent- but more on that at a later date. This brings me back- in a very roundabout way- to my original point, which is that I think Kipling was right: human beings love stories, and will remember things in them better than they will just a dry repetition of facts, if only because they'll pay more attention to a well-told tale. This was an idea that the National Film Board of Canada ran with, in hopes of imparting some knowledge to Canadian kids parked in front of T.V. screens. They made a series of vignettes about events in Canadian history, mostly animated, and often humorous, which were a couple of minutes long, and would play between shows like commercials. I'm not sure they impelled any kids to further historical scholarship, but they were memorable... Lady Francis Simpson and her piano... Bill Miner and his failed train robbery... they stick in the memory. Later these animated shorts gave way to Canadian Heritage Minutes, live action dramatizations of pieces of history that serve the same purpose, but tend to be more earnest than the tongue-in-cheek shorts were... which isn't always a bad thing. I'm going to post two YouTube videos below: one of my favourite vignettes, and one of the Canadian Heritage Moments. Enjoy.