Friday, June 24, 2022

Firearms Friday and the 2,222nd Post

This is the 2,222 post here at Shades of Gray. It also happens to be a Friday, so we're making it a Very Special Firearms Friday with two pictures of two different women using two pistols at the same time.

Two-Gun Cowgirl
Charlene Holt as a two-gun toting Saloon Girl


Thursday, June 23, 2022

'Edge of Doom' is a fascinating look at the psychological effects of poverty

Edge of Doom (1950)
Starring: Farley Granger, Dana Andrews, Paul Stewart, Robert Keith, Joan Evans, Mala Powers, Howard Vermilyea, Houseley Stevenson, and Adele Jergens
Director: Mark Robson
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When his devoutly religious, beloved mother dies, Martin (Granger) snaps under the pressure of living life in poverty and murders an elderly priest (Vermilyea) he blames for much of his misery. As he spirals deeper into despair and madness, Martin becomes obsessed with getting enough money to provide his mother with the elaborate funeral he feels she deserves.

Farley Granger in "Edge of Doom"

"Edge of Doom" had the potential to be one of the bleakest, most depressing, and emotionally impactful films ever made. It takes place almost entirely at night, which is an embodiment of the everpresent gloom in the impoverished inner-city neighborhood in which the story unfolds. The central character is one of the working poor who, despite living an honest life and working hard can't get ahead. There is no way to not feel empathy for him, because circumstances have literally been against him his whole life. The film gets even darker, because those in his life who could possibly stop his downward spiral are either self-interested criminals, trying to keep their own heads above water, or so distracted and/or burned out by the unending cycle misery and social and economic struggles of the neighborhood that they are blind to Martin's meltdown and that they have the ability to stop it.

The villains in this picture aren't any of the characters (although Paul Stewart, in an excellently performed supporting role, comes close to filling that slot)... no, the villains here are Fate, Luck, and perhaps Society. It's rare that a film that a film successfully manages to have ephemeral concepts as the primarily antagonists in a story, but "Edge of Doom" pulls it off. Mostly. Some terrible decisions are made, which I get into below.

The set design, camerawork, and lighting are excellent and all work together to emphasize the unescapable gloom that permeates the neighborhood and infects everybody. Most of the performances are likewise fitting for the characters and situations, with the way the characters are written and how the actors portray them . Even the main police detectives who initially seem to be one-dimensional, dimwitted bully-boys that populated many films of the 1930s and 1940s, end up being portrayed with some nuance, both due to the story and to actors portraying them. 

Although Farley Granger does not get top billing, he is the undisputed star of the film. His character is central to almost everything that happens in the picture, and he has more screen time than any other actor. He also delivers a star-caliber performance, even if he goes a little over the top on a couple of occasions. He's not as good here as he is in "Strangers on a Train" (which he would star in the following year), but it's close.

With all the praise I'm heaping on "Edge of Doom", why is it only getting a Six-Star rating? Well, because someone, somewhere, made the absolutely awful decision to tell the story in flashback, bookending the main story with a sequence featuring Dana Andrews trying to convince a young priest to not quit the parish, because, despite the harsh nature of life there, he has a chance to make a difference if he just sticks with it. This sappy framing sequence not only undermines the dark tone of the story, but it removes any tension that surrounds Andrews' character as the main story unfolds, since we already know how his part in it ends. 

Dana Andrews and Farley Granger in "Edge of Doom" (1950)

The cheesy narration that the flashback structure provides an excuse for, further undermines the tone of the film and brings to the fore what might otherwise have been a preachy under-current. The message that poverty breaks those trapped in in and those who try to get them out of it is delivered clearly enough through the story without the narrator beating us over the head with it. It also undermines Andrews character, since he does seem like a devout, humble and empathetic priest and not a holier-than-thou, preachy one--which is what the voice-over narration borders on. And this is a real shame, because Andrews does a good job with the character otherwise.My dislike of the framing sequence and related narration can't be overstated, and it caused me to knock at least a Star off my rating.

Despite the terrible decision to tell the dark and tragic story of "Edge of Doom" in a flashback sandwiched by a hokey priestly pep talk, I think this is a film that's well worth watching. Farley Granger and Dana Andrews are both very good, and their performances are enhanced by equally remarkable performances from the supporting cast. As mentioned above, Paul Stewart is particularly impressive as Martin's sleazy neighbor. Adele Jergens, as Stewart's wife play a much smaller part, but she is equally remarkable. Both these characters are obviously bad people, but they are portrayed with deftness and nuance by the actors to the point where the viewers can actually find them somewhat sympathetic.

If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, "Edge of Doom" is, as of this writing, one of the films you can watch for free. Click here to check it out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

In memory of Tim Sale

Seattle-based comic book artist Tim Sale passed away on June 16, 2022. Here are some of the great drawings he created.

The Punisher by Tim Sale
Femme Fatale by Tim Sale

The World's Finest by Tim Sale

Pen-and-Ink drawing by Tim Sale
Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) by Tim Sale
Black Widow by Tim Sale

A Spider-Man in Paris by Tim Sale
Moon Knight by Tim Sale

Femme Fatale by Tim Sale
Superman and Lois Lane by Time Sale
Deadly Woman by Tim Sale
Superman by Tim Sale

James Bond by Tim Sale
Femme Fatale by Tim Sale

Batman vs Joker by Tim Sale

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Yvonne Craig welcomes you to Summer!

Actress and Dancer Yvonne Craig at 19

Summer is officially here! We're celebrating it's arrival with some pictures of Yvonne Craig in a bikini!

Craig was a dancer turned actress and model. She is a favorite here at Shades of Gray who is perhaps best remembered for her turn as Batgirl on television in the late 1960s. The featured photos are all from a shoot early in her career.

Yvonne Craig bikini photo shoot

Yvonne Craig bikini photo shoot

Yvonne Craig bikini photo shoot

Monday, June 20, 2022

Musical Monday with My Gal Sal

Are you unhappy because you're working on a Monday? Did you come here, hoping your friends at Shades of Gray would have something to life your spirits? Well, you're in luck, old pal! We have a really fun cartoon that you can sing along with!

At the dawn of the talkies, Max Fleischer produced a series of animated shorts based around popular songs and/or folk tunes. Each would, at some point, put the lyrics to the song up on the screen and would encourage the audience to sing along. And, by all accounts, they did and had a great time doing it!

On this very special Musical Monday, we bring you Fleischer's take on "My Gal Sal", a barbershop quartet standard. This short film contains not just one sequence of funny animal characters singing, but three different ones. These vignettes cross over with one another and get progressively weirder as they go. The cartoon can even be held up as having some social relevance as one of the segments carries a suicide prevention message. And, last but not least, it is also one of the very best the series has to offer.

So... gather coworkers around your computer! Lift your spirits by singing along with a classic cartoon, just like they did in 1930!

My Gal Sal (1930)
Starring: Anonymous Singers
Director: Dave Fleischer
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Coffee Beanery's Butterscotch Toffee

I wrote some notes on the most recent way I've found pleasure in my caffeine addiction! 

There's a subtitle on this medium-roast, all-Arabica blend that describes it as "candy-coated coffee". That certainly sounded promising. But did this blend deliver on that promise?

As the coffee brewed, there was no detectable aroma other than coffee, which is often the case with flavored coffees. There was also no detectable scent as I poured the first cup--other than, of course, coffee.

The taste is what matters, though. While I wouldn't describe this blend as tasting like it was "candy-coated", it did taste like a piece of hard candy had been dissolved in the pot. The Butterscotch Toffee blend is a mild-flavored coffee that tastes as if it's very slightly sweetened. It was so mild that even a pathetic wretch like me--who hardly ever drinks any coffee without adding some form of milk, creamer, booze, or some combination of all of the above--would be able to drink it black if called upon.

This blend was okay when mixed with Unsweetened Almond Milk; in fact, it paradoxically seemed to gain a little more of a bite when the milk was added. This might have been a drawback with other blends, but it worked extremely well here since it's so mellow to begin with.

This blend, however, was excellent when mixed with the sugar-free Italian Sweet Cream creamer. The butterscotch flavor was drawn out and moved to the center of the flavor profile, and here the coffee did indeed seem candy-coated. It was very sweet, but not cloyingly so.

James Stewart and Kim Novak in "Vertigo"
Jimmy soon learned Kim was serious when she said, "Touch my coffee, and I'll end you."

The flavors remained stable as the coffee cooled to room temperature, regardless of what it was mixed with. The mildness of this blend works really well when the coffee has cooled. Drinking the Butterscotch Toffee blend at room temperature with Unsweetened Almond Milk was my favorite out of the ways I tried it.

With that said, though, the Butterscotch Toffee blend is also pretty good iced. The flavor is almost a little too mild when consumed black, but once either Unsweetened Almond Milk or the sugar-free Italian Sweet Creamer has been added, the sweetness of the toffee reemerges. For those who like their iced coffee sweet (but who would like to avoid sugar), I think this could be a good choice.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Fantastic Friday

On Thursday, June 16, 2022, artist Tim Sale (perhaps best known for his work on "The Long Halloween" and "Dark Victory" from DC Comics) passed away after being briefly hospitalized. We're dedicating this Fantastic Friday to the memory of Mr. Sale by presenting a trio of portraits that arose from direct commissions from Dr. Victor Von Doom, King of Latveria.

Doctor Doom by Tim Sale
Doctor Doom by Tim Sale

Outside Castle Doom by Tim Sale

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Big Cheese has a visit from the Mouse

Big Cheese (1930)
Starring: Anonymous Voice Actors (but there are no important spoken lines)
Directors: John Foster and Manny Davis
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A boxer from the rough side of town trains for the big prize fight while bullying all who crosses his path.

"Big Cheese" is one of the lesser efforts from the Van Beuren animators--there's excessive looping, gags that get dragged out past the point of being funny, and sloppy animation that leads to character's changing appearances for no reason. Oftentimes, such weak efforts are saved by excellent music and/or songs, but that's not even the case here. There are just enough gags that work to hold a viewer's, and there's also a healthy dose of bizarre, surreal, and out-of-left-field cartoon character transformations to keep the "what the hell am I watching" quotient at an acceptable and entertaining level. And the prize match is mostly hilarious--even if they don't quite pull off the ending.

Despite its overall weakness, this COULD have been a Five-Star rated cartoon, or perhaps even a Low Six if someone, at some point during the production process, had said, "Hey... this story-thread that starts when our Mickey Mouse look-alike character shows up? We just sort of drop it when it really should come back around in the big finale! In fact, we set it up perfectly to do so--so why don't we do it?!" (Basically, Mickey Mouse gets bullied by the boxer, gains super-strength, and then wanders around a bit punching things. If someone who worked on "Big Cheese" had even the slightest notion of how to tell a story, he would have been present for the chaotic brawl at the end of the cartoon, and he would have kicked everyone's butt.)

I have perhaps given a mild spoiler above, but I don't think so. At most, I've given you what you need to not waste your time with this one, if you're a Van Beuren fan. (On the other hand, if you enjoy a good boxing spoof, you'll like boxing match during the second half... and if you're on a quest to watch all the appearances of the Van Beuren Mickey Mouse knock-off [like me], then you'll want to check this out by clicking below.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Bessie Love and the Crown of Eternal Mastery

We once again provide a glimpse of a time when Bessie Love (as part of her secret battle against supernatural evil) perhaps saved the world... but at the very least took a powerful magic item out of malicious hands. As per usual, we translate the item into roleplaying game terms via the d20 System.

Bessie Love

On Halloween, 1928, Bessie Love had her first of many encounters with evil-doers trying to harness magic and enchanted artifacts left behind after the fall of ancient Atlantis. She prevented a necromancer from harnessing the powers of the Gourdians, and, in doing so, came into possession of the Crown of Eternal Mastery. She even wore it to a Halloween Party that night--where she accidentally gained some insight into its powers. (Bessie found herself to be a better dancer than she had ever been before, as well as feeling more limber and dexterous while waring the Crown. She took this to mean that it enhanced a person's agility and dexterity. She failed to imagine the full power of the item, and she put it away in her collection of magical artifacts without ever realizing the truth.)

This is a large, elaborate headdress that consists of a caul that's covered with a complex and tangled arrangement of gemstones and pearls on strings or set into delicate platinum frames.  It represents the pinnacle of magical craftsmanship based in a fusion of the now-mostly forgotten Atlantean magical disciplines of Biomancy and Technomancy. It absorbs all knowledge and skills possessed by someone who dies while wearing it, allowing others to later access and use it as if it was their own. Each pearl contains the sum total of experience and knowledge possessed by a person who has passed on. Each gem houses not only a person's knowledge and experience but their personality as well.
   If it is subjected to methods that reveal magical auras, the Crown of Eternal Mastery is revealed to be imbued with powerful magics of an undeterminable variety. If the character attempting to analyze the item's magical aura is a skilled at creating enchanted items, he or she can make an Arcane Lore or Spellcraft skill check (DC18) to determine that there are faint undercurrents of abjuration and necromantic magic in the otherwise alien emanations.

Using the Crown of Eternal Mastery
When worn, the Crown of Eternal Mastery provides the wearer with a +2 bonus to Will saves. Additionally, the character can gain bonuses to skill checks and attack rolls for a limited time.
   Unless the character somehow gains access to ancient Atlantean means of determining the functions of magical items, the Crown of Eternal Mastery will initially seem to function at random. Whenever the character wearing the Crown makes an attack roll or skill check, the GM should roll against the following table. The character gains the indicated bonuses for the duration of the encounter; until another skill check is made; until the character falls unconscious or goes to sleep; or for six hours. The GM decides which of the three options makes the most sense in the context of when the item is triggered.
   The bonuses provided by the Crown stack with all other bonuses. The bonuses do not count for purposes of damage resistance against non-magical weapons.

d20 Roll    Result
1                +4 bonus to all Strength-based skill checks.
2                +2 bonus to all Strength-based skill checks,
                  +2 bonus to all melee attack rolls/melee damage rolls.
3                +4 bonus to all Dexterity-based skill checks
4                +2 bonus to all Dexterity-based skill checks,
                  +2 bonus to all ranged attack rolls.
5                +4 bonus to all Constitution-based skill checks.
6                +4 bonus to all Intelligence-based skill checks.
7                +6 bonus to all Craft skill checks.
8                +4 bonus to all Wisdom-based skill checks.
9                +4 bonus to all Charisma-based skill checks.   
10              +6 bonus to all Perform skill checks.
11              +4 bonus to attack/damage with bladed melee weapons.
12              +4 bonus to attack/damage with blunt melee weapons.
13              +4 bonus to attack/damage with thrown weapons.
14              +4 bonus to ranged attack rolls.
15              +8 bonus to all Knowledge skill checks.
16              +8 bonus to all Perform skill checks with instruments.
17              +8 bonus to Acrobatics and Perform (Dance) skill checks.
18              +8 bonus to Hide and Move Silently skill checks.
19              Roll twice on this table, ignoring and re-rolling additional
                  results of 19. Gain both benefits.
20              Gain instant knowledge of the purpose of the Crown
                  and how to properly use it.

Whenever the character is under one of the benefits of the Crown, he or she feels like some unseen presence is there, watching. The GM should also secretly roll 1d6. On a "6", the character hears a faint voice, a barely audible whisper that is so faint the character can't hear what is being said. The third time the character hears the voice, he or she is finally able to discern the words: The voice is explaining how to use the Crown of Eternal Mastery.

Using the Crown of Eternal Mastery Properly
The character wearing the Crown of Eternal Mastery may attempt to invoke its powers once per round. To do so, the character takes a standard action, and the player rolls a Willpower saving throw (DC11). If the roll is successful, the player declares which of the following benefits the character gains:  
   * +4 bonus to all attack rolls, and a +4 bonus to all skill checks under the physical attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution).
   * +4 bonus to all attack rolls, and a +4 bonus to all skill checks under mental attributes (Intelligence, Wisdom).
   * +4 bonus to all attack rolls, and a +6 bonus to all skill checks under the Charisma attribute.
   * +6 bonus to all Demotions, Disable Device, Hide, and Move Silently skill checks.
   * +8 bonus to all Knowledge skill checks.

The bonuses lasts for six hours, or until the character chooses another set of bonuses. The bonuses also end if the character falls unconscious or goes to sleep while wearing the crown. (See "Drawbacks of the Crown of Eternal Mastery", below, for more.)
   If the Will saving throw to properly activate the Crown's benefits fails, the GM rolls on the table of random bonuses.

Drawbacks of the Crown of Eternal Mastery
If the character falls unconscious or goes to sleep while wearing the crown, one of the personalities in housed in the gems takes control of the character's body. The character retains all physical attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution), but the Charisma attribute is temporarily reduced by 2 points. Mental attributes (Intelligence and Wisdom) are replaced by those of the controlling spirit. The possessing spirit has access to all of the player character's memories and skills, as well as well as its own. The spirit is motivated primarily by a desire to keep the player character safe and help him or her to succeed. (Whether the GM plays the character while it is inhabited by a different spirit is up to the GM.)
   If the player character dies while wearing the Crown of Eternal Mastery, his or her spirit is instantly absorbed into one of the Crown's gems and is added to the preserved knowledge and skill mastery preserved within it.

Destroying the Crown of Eternal Mastery
Any method that will destroy a normal magic item will destroy the Crown of Eternal Mastery. However, 1d6+2 angry ghosts emerge from the Crown and attack those who are attempting to destroy it. 

All text in this post is presented under the Open Game License and may be reproduced in accordance with its terms. Copyright 2022 by Steve Miller. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

A high-flying early action/comedy!

A Dash Through the Clouds (1912)
Starring: Mabel Normand, Fred Mace, Phillip Orin Parmelee, Jack Pickford, and Sylvia Ashton
Director: Mack Sennett
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Josephine (Normand) is more fascinated by airplanes and pilots than she is by her would-be boyfriend (Mace). After he jealously acts out and ends up being pursued by an angry, blood-thirsty mob, he comes to appreciate Josephine's love of aviation, as she and a pilot (Parmelee) come from the sky to rescue him.

"A Dash Through the Clouds" is a fun little action comedy where Mabel Normand screen presence and more natural acting style than her fellow cast members combine with a sense of excitement and wonder over the still-new technology of flight to almost make up for the thin and somewhat poorly structured storyline of the film.

While watching this film for its entertainment value might be reason enough to check it out, an added bonus is to watch it for the scenes featuring the rickety, early airplane where pilot and passenger sat on the wings, in front of the engine, with nothing between them and the sky. It's even more remarkable to see that it's actually actress Mabel Normand who's taking to the sky onboard the plane. because she glances over her shoulder toward the camera as it is lifting off. 

All the bits with the plane, whether it's landing or taking off, or being shown in flight are fascinating lots of fun to watch--and I imagine viewers who are aviation buffs like our heroine will find it doubly so. While this wasn't the first film to feature the then-new technology of planes, I think it may be the first where a plane and a pilot is a central and indispensable part of the plot.

Click below and join Mabel Normand on a dash through the clouds!  

Trivia: "A Dash Through the Clouds" was Parmelee's first and only film appearance. He was a real-life aviation pioneer--exactly the sort of dashing daredevil he portrays in this film. He died at the age of 25 as his plane crashed on June 1, 1912, just days after completing his scenes for the film. (The film first appeared in theatres on June 26, 1912, almost 110 years to the day of this post appearing.)