1936 Dodge Touring Sedan
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Darkest Hour ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
British actor Gary Oldman has played Beethoven and Dracula on the screen and now he plays Winston Churchill in the new movie, Darkest Hour. Winston Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain in May of 1940, almost by default, when the country and its politicians were unhappy with the way the elderly Neville Chamberlain was managing the war with Germany.
As the new British Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill had an almost impossible job on his hands. He had a brusque, bullying manner, and a lot of people, even people in his own political party, didn’t like him. As King George V says to him, “You scare people. You scare me.” Personality problems were the least of his worries, though. Germany had assembled the largest fighting force in the history of the world, they were superior in tanks, air power and weaponry, and they were winning the war against the Allies. They were conquering all of Western Europe and were invading France, only forty miles across the English Channel from Britain’s shores. German invasion seemed inevitable. It seemed the war was already lost. American forces were not able to help at this point because, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells Churchill, “my hands are tied” by the Neutrality Act. The U.S. wouldn’t enter the war until the stakes became higher.
Britain could fight it out and almost certainly be crushed. Germany would very likely annihilate the entire country and its culture and then step in and make it its own. The other alternative was a “negotiated peace” with Germany, which “Hitler’s puppet,” that delightful fellow, Benito Mussolini of Italy, would help to facilitate in Venice between Britain and Germany. This amounted to a surrender, which a lot of powerful politicians (including former Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain) advocated. They were unable to understand why Churchill would not even entertain the idea of “peace talks” with Germany.
The best scene in Darkest Hour (or, anyway, my favorite scene) is when Churchill, who has almost decided that capitulation to Germany is the only way to keep Britain from being crushed, goes off on his own and rides the “Underground” (London’s subway). While on the train, he meets and engages in conversation with some of the “common people,” bricklayers and housewives. He asks them what they think about negotiating an end to the war with Germany, mostly on German terms. Would these common people like for their country to become a puppet state of Nazi Germany? Would they like to see a swastika flying from Buckingham Palace? Their answer is clear: We will never surrender! Churchill then gives his famous speech to Parliament, in which he states irreconcilably: We will go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to rescue and the liberation of the old.
If you, like me, are fascinated by the high drama of World War II, where truth is truly stranger than fiction, you will love Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman dominates the screen every second as Winston Churchill. If those dumbbells in Hollywood don’t award him an Oscar, they might as well fold their tents and go home.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp
Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts by Carolyn Chute is set in Maine. Big Lucien Letourneau is the patriarch of a large family of uneducated miscreants and malcontents. Big Lucien has had many wives and many children. Whatever else these characters may be lacking in life, they always have plenty of children. Big Lucien has a “heart of gold.” He has lots of cats and he will give a place to stay to just anybody who needs it, family or otherwise.
Big Lucien owns a salvage yard containing rows and rows of wrecked cars. He barely makes enough money to keep going, but he employs several earthy men. As one of Big Lucien’s employees says, the salvage yard is the “goddamndest hellhole I’ve ever worked in.” I’ve felt that way about some of the jobs I’ve had, so I know exactly what he’s talking about.
Blackstone Babbidge (“Gene”) is one of Big Lucien’s employees at the salvage yard. He lives in a trailer park called Miracle City. His wife, Lillian Greenlaw, is one of Big Lucien’s former wives. Lillian’s freewheeling daughter, Junie Greenlaw, is one of Big Lucien’s many children. Gene Babbidge is Junie’s stepfather. Junie has been “messing around” with her stepfather (these people don’t bother with social conventions), so she is pregnant by him. Her mother doesn’t know who the father of Junie’s baby is, only that she is pregnant with a pregnancy that makes her sick a lot of the time.
Crude, foul-mouthed Maxine Letourneau is also one of Big Lucien’s former wives. Her children by Big Lucien include Norman, who marries a hippie woman, and Little Lucien, a sullen fifteen-year-old bodybuilder.
Severin Letourneau is Big Lucien’s half-Indian nephew. When he is sixteen, he impregnates Gussie Crocker, also sixteen, and they get married. Severin is also one of Big Lucien’s employees at the salvage yard. Severin and Gussie don’t have the money to pay their rent and are evicted. Big Lucien sets them and their two small children up in a thrown-together house in the woods that doesn’t pass code. That’s another of Big Lucien’s problems: the “code man” is after him for his various code violations.
Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts is a funny and engaging exploration of the lives of people living at the bottom of the socioeconomic heap. I read this book once before and fondly remembered it enough through the years to go back and read it again. We wouldn’t want the feckless Letourneaus living in our neighborhood, but we can wallow in their lives on the printed page and come away unscathed. That’s the magic of books.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp