for Meir Ribalow
Dino or Mitchum—who’s the better drunk?
“Let’s see,” says Meir. He plays Rio Bravo,
And we watch Dino’s Dude, all sweat and funk,
A souse whose life ain’t worth a plugged centavo
Till he lifts himself up out of the stews,
A feat which truly merits our acclaim:
The scene where Dude pours back his shot of booze
Is right there in the Cowboy Hall Of Fame.
It’s Ricky Nelson who’s the weak link here.
Saddled with him, Hawks did the best he could,
But every time he shows up, we can hear
The film deflate from excellent to good.
As for the Duke? This role is, in the main,
What people think of when they think “John Wayne.”
He just needs another bar of soap.
Right off the bat, James Caan trumps Ricky Nelson.
Plus John Wayne suffers the indignity
Of a back wound. Is there anything else in
Wayne’s films where he’s slowed down by injury?
(Meir says: “Wings of Eagles.”) So we watch
As Mitchum tramps down Cheap Drunk Avenue.
We see the height from which whiskey and scotch
Will make him fall—and get him wounded too.
“Think baseball,” Meir says. “Here’s what you get:
Dean Martin hits a home run—thus acquitting
Himself well—but! Mitchum’s the greater threat.
He is to acting what Ruth is to hitting—
He’s so good, Koufax wouldn’t want to pitch him.
Mitchum’s the better drunk because it’s Mitchum.”
And then we speculate about the girl—
The unnamed girl who comes in on a stage—
And with a look and the coquettish twirl
Of a lace parasol, can run rampage
Over the hearts of men with hearts of stone.
A girl whose mouth fires kisses like a trigger—
Whose touch can give you wings—and when she’s flown,
You drown the loss with jigger after jigger
Of rotgut and regret and deep self-loathing.
“She’s Death,” says Meir. “That’s why you don't see her.
To give in to her is a dark betrothing.
She steals your godhood when you deity her.
And all those who drink deep of her seduction
Thirst not for endless love, but self-destruction.”
OUT OF THE PAST
Build my gallows high, baby.
One night you take a swim in a dark pool
And the whole course of your sad fate is set:
The future—life, with a sweet fresh-faced girl;
The past—death, with a lush rotten brunette.
You wake up smitten with the Queen Of Bad
Who says you’re King now, so of course you love it.
You’re smart enough to know you’re being had
And dumb enough to want both barrels of it.
And when she shows her stripes, you’re out the door.
You make a new life that will never last
Because she’s got your number, knows the score,
And comes alive when you talk of the past:
A dame who sees your need and strips it bare
And makes you murmur: “Baby, I don’t care.”
Meir and I agree that there’s no doom
That can compare to Jane Greer and her lies.
At which the woman in the living room
Looks at the two of us and rolls her eyes
And says: “A guy would have to be a dunce
To fall for bad girls. That’s just lousy writing.”
“Are you kidding me?” we both say at once.
“The bad is what makes bad girls so exciting!
Why would you fall under a safe girl’s spell
When you can have the wild dangerous bitch?”
The woman says: “—Who drags you down to hell.”
And Meir says: “Yeah; but that’s not a hitch.
We all drive to an end no one deserves.
It’s not the ride; it’s how you take the curves.”
Paul Kelly as "The Man"
Ah, Meir. “You can't leave,” you said. “Watch this.”
Then you put Crossfire on, at the scene where
The young GI whose marriage is amiss
Wakes up in Gloria Grahame’s pied-à-terre
And listens to the story of a guy
(Paul Kelly) who remarks, when he is through,
“That story I just told you? It’s a lie;”
Then tells one more and says: “That’s a lie too.”
“This guy,” you said, “is noir personified.
There’s always something in him you can’t see.”
I’ve watched that movie six times since you died,
And bleed each time Kelly says casually—
A lifetime in one sentence; sad but true—
“We had a lot of plans; they all fell through.”
Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells