28 March 2014

The Bullet Trains of the Montreal Metro

Just got into Montreal thanks to my friends at The Word bookstore who kindly offered a ride from my door to theirs. A distance of 694 kilometres, it was punctuated by a stop at Brockville's From Here to Infinity, at which I scored the above.

More on those another day.

For now, a few print on demand covers I've been sitting on. All are products of VDM Publishing, the very worst of the print on demand vultures.

Imagine, Victoria Square to Times Square in just 80 minutes.

My great wish, of course, is that they one day extend the Blue Line west to my current home in St Marys, Ontario.

A bonus:

Related posts:

24 March 2014

Of Montreal, Notes and Queries

Spring arrives, bringing a new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries. Number 89 – for those keeping count – this one is devoted to Montreal, the very finest city in all the Dominion.

There, I've said it. Again.

My column this time around is a modest introduction to the city's post-war pulp novels, ten in total, published between August 1949 and December 1953.* A remarkable, all too brief period, it saw the first two books by Brian Moore, the second by Ted Allan, and the debut, wet decline and soaked disappearance of Russell Teed, Montreal's greatest private dick. Regular readers will recognize the titles, all of which have been featured here these past five years:

The House on Craig Street
Ronald J. Cooke
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1949 

Love is a Long Shot
Alice K. Doherty [pseud. Ted Allan]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street
Al Palmer
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

The Mayor of Côte St. Paul
Ronald J. Cooke
Toronto: Harlequin, 1950

Wreath for a Redhead
Brian Moore
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1951

The Crime on Cote des Neiges
David Montrose
     [pseud. Charles Ross Graham]
Toronto: Collins White Circle, 1951

The Executioners
Brian Moore
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1951

Flee the Night in Anger
Dan Keller [pseud. Louis Kaufman]
Toronto: Studio Publications, 1952

Murder Over Dorval
David Montrose
     [pseud. Charles Ross Graham]
Toronto: Collins White Circle, 1952

The Body on Mount Royal
David Montrose
     [pseud. Charles Ross Graham]
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1953

Other contributors to CNQ #89 include: Meaghan Acosta, Asa Boxer, Kate Beaton, Michel Carbert, Bill Coyle, Jesse Eckerlin, Trevor Ferguson, Elizabeth Gill, Mary Harman, Kasper Hartman, David Homel, Cory Lavender, David Mason, Donald McGrath, Leopold Plotek, Eliza Romano, Robin Sarah, Mark Sampson, Norn Sibum, Marko Sijan, JC Sutcliffe, Zachariah Wells, Kathleen Winter, and Caroline Zapata.

The country's very best magazine vendors are selling CNQ #89 for $7.95, but what you really want to do is take out a one-year subscription – available here – at twenty dollars. In so doing you will not only ensure that the magazine is brought directly to your door or post office box, but will also receive a subscriber-only collectable. This issue it's "Mountain Leaf" by Peter Van Toorn. Friends will be envious.
* I'm following the OED here: "popular or sensational writing that is regarded as being of poor quality". Letters of complaint should be sent to oed.uk [at] oup.com.

20 March 2014

Alberta Gothic

Winnifred Eaton
New York: A.L. Burt, [1925?]

There's an award-winning book waiting to be written about Montreal's Eatons. Sixteen in all, headed by artist father Edward and his Chinese wife Lotus Blossom, they were anything but the typical Victorian Canadian family. The children were raised in poverty – again, Edward was an artist  – but managed to do fairly well for themselves. Sara performed on the stage, Grace practiced law and Edith, a journalist, holds the distinction of being the first Asian-North American writer of fiction.

It was the eighth Eaton child, Winnifred, who had the greatest public profile. Casting herself as Nagaskai-born Onoto Watanna, she exploited the public's fascination with things Japanese in a series of romances with titles like The Wooing of Wisteria (1902), The Heart of the Hyacinth (1903) and Daughters of Nijo (1907).

A late career novel, in a great many ways "Cattle" marked a departure for Eaton. Here her fragrant, falling cherry blossoms are replaced by grain and the harsh, hardscrabble reality of prairie life. The first of her novels to be set in Canada – Alberta to be precise – it is populated by an odd assortment of Americans, Scots, Chinese and English remittance men. Ontarians, too.
Alberta is, in a way, a land of sanctuary, and upon its rough bosom the derelicts of the world, the fugitives, the hunters, the sick and the dying have sought asylum and cure.
Its heroine, Nettie Day, is one of a very few characters to have actually been born in the province. A "slow-moving, slow-thinking girl, simple-mind and totally ignorant of the world", she cares for nine siblings on her widowed father's failing ranch. When dad dies, all but Nettie are dealt to neighbouring farms and orphanages. She has no other choice but to work for Bull Langdon – "I'm willing' to take her along with her dad's old truck." – who's looking for a girl to help his sickly wife with housework.

A former schoolteacher, Mrs Langdon is perhaps the most positive figure in all of Canadian literature:
She had an ingenious faith, imbedded from tracts and books that drifted into her hands in her teaching days; she denied the existence of evil, pain or illness in the world, and when it pushed its ugly fist into her face, or wracked her frail body, she had a little formula that she bravely reciterd over and over again, like an incantation, in which she asserted that it was an error: that she was in the best of health, and the everything in the world was beautiful and in the image of God.
After a few months, Bull sends his frail wife off to rest in Banff. No sooner is she gone than he rapes fifteen year-old Nettie; the next day he informs her that she will be the next mistress of his ranch.

"Cattle" is remarkable in that it is far more brutal and disturbing than any other Canadian novel of its time; that it is by a woman who had made a career writing romances makes it all the more so. Amongst its characters we find a self-loathing, androgynous "man-woman" and a "half-breed" bastard boy whose father's beatings have rendered "half-witted". That father being Bull Langdon.

There are many deaths, including that of another of Bull's illegitimate children, an infant he kidnaps and all but tosses to his hired hands:  "… there was a great swelling on the forehead, where he had fallen off the seat of the car to the floor. Its whole body, in fact, was bruised from the cruel bumping of that long mad ride".

I haven't mentioned the Spanish Flu Pandemic or that a character is gored, thrown and rent into pieces by a prize Hereford bull.

While Eaton's dark story is in no way a roman à clef – thank goodness – it draws on knowledge gained through her second marriage to Alberta rancher Francis Reeve. She published just one more novel, His Royal Nibs (1925), also set in Alberta's cattle country, before heading off to Hollywood.

Yes, Hollywood.

Now, who's going to write that book on the Eatons? Why hasn't it been written already?

Title and Author: "Cattle" or Cattle? The quotation marks used on the cover and spine of my copy disappear on the title page. Going through contemporary advertisements, I see a similar lack of consistency.

There also seems to have been indecision regarding the marketing the book, with American editions giving credit to both Winnifred Eaton and her nom de plume (in parentheses).

Curiously, advertisements for Musson's Canadian edition give "Winnifred Reeve (Otono Watanna)" as the author, though only the latter is credited on book itself.

The Canadian Bookman, December 1923
Dedication: "To my old friend Frank Putnam", American editions state. The Canadian is more interesting:

An American journalist and occasional poet, Putnam dedicated Love Lyrics (Chicago: Blakely, 1898), a slim volume of verse, to "Otono Watanna". Eaton provided the Introduction.

A bonus:

Stephen Leacock, The GoblinFebruary 1924
Object: A cheap reprint from bargain book publisher A.L. Burt, bound in red cloth with gold gilt lettering, with frontispiece by George W. Gage. The last leaf features a partial list of the publisher's most recent offerings. Titles by Canadians Arthur Stringer, L.M. Montgomery, Frank L. Packard and Bertrand W. Sinclair figure.

Access: First published in 1923 by Hutchinson, in the UK, and Musson, in Canada. The Canadian first has a jacket, I've never seen. An Ottawa bookseller is offering a copy for US$115. Well worth it.

The American first was published in 1924 by W.J. Watt. A Minnesota bookseller is offering a Near Fine copy in Very Good dust jacket (right) at US$175.

We of limited means can read the Musson edition online here.

Fifteen of our academic libraries have copies, but only two of our public libraries, Calgary and Toronto, serve. Montreal? Forget it.

14 March 2014

Selling Intent to KillTueurs à gages, really

A few final words about Jack Cardiff's Intent to Kill. Blame 20th Century Fox; its poster for the French release fairly demands comment.

Let's begin with the title, which is nearly identical to Tueur à gages, that given the French release of This Gun for Hire. I won't blame the powers at the time; Tueurs à gages is not only appropriate, but a more exciting title than Intention de tuer.

But what to make of "La lutte sans merci de 'SCOTLAND YARD' contra les TUEURES A GAGES"?

Scotland Yard doesn't figure in the film. Why would it? Not one scene takes place off the Island of Montreal. "La lutte sans merci" is limited to one man, Det Sgt O'Brien of the RCMP, played by Montrealer Paul Carpenter. He doesn't even appear until the second half of the film, when he's assigned to guard the intended target. O'Brien spends most of his time making smalltalk at the nurses' station.

"Do the Mounties always get their man, like they say?"
"Well, they got me."
This is not to say that O'Brien isn't effective. Screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster, may have been British, but he has the Mountie apprehend the hired killer in typically Canadian fashion.

"I'm Detective O'Brien, sir… RCMP."
O'Brien does indeed get his man, in the shoulder, just as the other assassins move in.

Not one of them carries a rifle, as they do in the French poster. They don't wear hats, either, which leads me to wonder if it was O'Brien's suit that had the French recast him as a member of Scotland Yard.

"You don't look like a Mountie."
"I left my horse outside."
That's it. You'll hear no more from me about Intent to Kill. Promise.

Tueurs à gages, on the other hand…

Related posts:

10 March 2014

Brian Moore's Forgotten First Feature: Montreal and Scattered Thoughts on a Film I've Now Seen

It sure been a hard, hard winter, my feet been draggin' 'cross the ground. And so I hibernate, sleepily absorbing what I can of the world outside. Last weekend it was Intent to Kill, the screen adaptation of Brian Moore's disowned thriller of the same title, sent my way by Noah Stewart of Noah's Archives.

In January, I wrote a bit about the film, the first of six features based on Brian Moore novels, suggesting that screenwriter Jimmy Sangster had been quite faithful to the original. Back then I had nothing to go on but the trailer.

Turns out I was right, though the opening sequence is incongruous. We begin with an ambulance racing along what was then Dorchester Boulevard. Destination: Dorval Airport.

Once there it picks up Juan Menda (Herbert Lom), president of an unnamed South American country, who hopes that Montreal brain surgeons will save his life. The shots that follow – which have nothing whatsoever to do with the book – capture a good deal of a city that is more than half a century gone.

At one point the camera swings past one of my old student apartments, but I won't trouble you with things sentimental. Look! There on the left! Those are McGill's Roddick Gates!

As in Jésus de Montréal – The Greatest Canadian Story Ever Told – the ambulance takes a false route. In this film it ends up at the Montreal General Hospital, which serves as a stand in for the fictitious Canadian Neurological Institute.

Three men intend to kill in Intent to Kill, but they aren't the only villains. In book and film selfish wives betray spouses. Margaret McLaurin (Catherine Boyle), pressures her doctor husband Robert (Richard Todd) to abandon his practice for a position in London working for one of her many paramours.

"I can't stand it here. I loath it. I hate Canada!"
Femme fatale Carla Menda (Lisa Gastoni), the president's beautiful wife, sees the desperate attempt to save her husband as an opportunity to sleep with an old flame who is now ambassador to Canada. Though they never meet, Carla and Margaret have something more than their adulterous ways in common:

"I hate this country. It's so cold."
The cheating wives can't stand the winter and hate Montreal. Margaret refers to the city as a "Siberian wasteland", as her haunted husband Robert McLaurin walks the streets trying to clear his thoughts.

The man even walks to work.

Here young Dr Robert passes the Windsor, the very hotel at which the assassins are staying.

The first of all the grand Canadian hotels, the Windsor closed its doors when I was a teenager. I have my doubts that its bar was as depicted in the film.

That's a young Jackie Collins at right in one of her few screen roles.

Most of the interiors were shot in London, and the exteriors in Montreal. I'm left wondering about this scene in which Finch (Warren Stevens), one of the hired killers, stops to make a phone call.

It's beautifully filmed – as you'd expect in a movie directed by Jack Cardiff – but is something not a bit off? Montreal's Strand was on St. Catherine Street, which seems awfully narrow here. I don't remember the theatre at all, probably because by the time I was old enough to go to the movies it had been transformed into a porn cinema called Pigalle. The building was torn down in 1973 to make way for the Centre Capitol.

I like to think that Intent to Kill showed there – sometime between Rodan and Use the Back Door.

A warning: Jack Cardiff's Intent to Kill is not to be confused with the straight-to-video 1992 Traci Lords vehicle of the same name.