Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't Miss One of Bogart's Best

I've been a Humphrey Bogart fan for a long time, and Turner Classic Movies will be showing one of his best tonight.

I guess, if you asked other Bogart fans of long–standing to name his best movie, they might say "Casablanca" or "The Maltese Falcon." Maybe they would mention the movie he won his Oscar for, "African Queen," or maybe they would select "The Caine Mutiny" or even "Sabrina." Maybe something else.

Those are all good films, but the very best Bogart movie, in my opinion, is "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and TCM will show it at 8:45 p.m. (Central).

Bogart, by the way, is TCM's star of the month (Christmas will be his 110th birthday), and you can see his movies on Wednesdays in December. In fact, if you miss "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" tonight, you can catch it again in a couple of weeks. TCM plans to show it again on Dec. 16 at 11 p.m. (Central).

His career was built on a tough guy persona, and he didn't disappoint his audiences in his later films. His character certainly was central to this morality play about greed among gold prospectors. And, given today's economic meltdown that appears to have been brought on by excessive greed among lenders, it's a theme that is well worth visiting again.

Need some other reasons to watch? Well, you can see a young Robert Blake. It wasn't his first movie, but you can see what he looked like when he was about 14 or 15.

Here's another reason. Ever heard the line "We don't need no stinkin' badges?" Well, that line originated in this movie. Except it is frequently misquoted. The actual line was "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

Still need more? Well, it's a chance to see a movie that occupies a unique slot in filmmaking history. Only one family in motion picture history has had Oscar winners in three different generations. That family is the Huston family, and two of those three family members, Walter and his son John, won Oscars for this movie. Walter was recognized for best supporting actor, John was recognized for directing and writing an adapted screenplay.

(Incidentally, although the three never worked in a film together, they were connected professionally — the third member of the family to win an Oscar, John's daughter Anjelica, received Best Supporting Actress for her work in a film that was also directed by her father, "Prizzi's Honor.")

Whatever your reason for watching may be, just watch it. You will find the experience rewarding.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Faustian Vision of Dorian Gray

"In every first novel the hero is the author as Christ or Faust."

Oscar Wilde

Recently, an old school chum and I were chatting on Facebook. And we agreed that no graduating class at our high school ever had as many beautiful women as ours did.

He still lives in my hometown (which is much larger today than it was when I lived there) and he attended our most recent class reunion. Apparently, so did many of our still–beautiful classmates, prompting him to speculate that many of them had grotesque paintings of themselves in their attics — an allusion, in case you don't know it, to "The Picture of Dorian Gray."

Before long, you'll be up to your eyeballs in happy, cheery holiday movies. Everywhere you turn, you will be assaulted by the music of the season. There will be endless stories about angels and Christmas miracles. It will be — as it always is — enough to bring out one's inner Scrooge.

But before you're buried under Christmas cheer, I just want to alert you to tonight's showing of the 1945 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic horror tale, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." It's going to be shown on Turner Classic Movies at 11 p.m. (Central), and I highly recommend it.

At this time of the year, I think of it as the anti–"It's a Wonderful Life." Not that there is anything wrong with "It's a Wonderful Life," but rest assured there is absolutely no resemblance between George Bailey and Dorian Gray.

(Although, it should be noted, Donna Reed is in both movies.)

The main character of the story is a young man (clearly, Dorian Gray) who believes physical perfection is the only objective in life. He commissions an artist to paint his portrait, and then he proceeds to commit virtually every sin known to man. With each decadent act, the man in the portrait shows a new physical flaw or evidence of aging, but Dorian retains his youthful looks, even as years pass and his friends and acquaintances all age around him.

To modern viewers, I'm sure that doesn't sound like much of a horror movie — more of a fantasy, probably. Maybe, although it does combine black–and–white photography with color photography, which was kind of unusual in those days. The color is used to draw one's attention to the changes in the face in the portrait, but the other camera tricks accomplish much the same thing.

I don't want to say too much more about the plot, but I think the cast deserves to be singled out. Not everyone. Hurd Hatfield, for example, leaves a lot to be desired in the role of Dorian Gray, in my opinion, but his mentor, played by George Sanders, is splendidly cast. So, too, is a young Angela Lansbury, who plays Dorian's love interest and received the second of her three Best Supporting Actress nominations for her work.

And Peter Lawford is young in this film, but that is deceiving. While in his early 20s when he appeared in this movie, Lawford already was a veteran of more than a dozen motion pictures.

As with any really good horror movie, though, the thing that really stands out in this movie is the camera work. And cinematographer Harry Stradling Sr. won an Oscar (deservedly) for "The Picture of Dorian Gray."

For a student of motion pictures, though, I think "The Picture of Dorian Gray" should be intriguing because it shows how the definition of horror changes over the years. Camera work, as I say, is always an important element, but there have been distinct differences over the years. In the 1930s, horror movies featured the golden–age monsters, like "Frankenstein" and "Dracula." Then the emphasis shifted to eerie themes.

Sometimes, as I implied, there has been a supernatural twist, and "Dorian Gray" certainly suggests a Faustian bargain has been struck.

It has only been in recent decades that horror has come to be regarded as synonymous with blood and gore, which is certainly evil and horrifying (although I guess whether it is supernaturally inspired is a subject for a different kind of discussion).

So anyone who tunes in tonight expecting to see a slasher flick is in for a major disappointment.

But if you aren't expecting that, there are many rewards to derive from "The Picture of Dorian Gray."

And, as a seasonal benefit, while I probably would have urged that it be shown around Halloween, it may fortify you for all the sugary sweet movies that are in your path in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Holiday Treat With Grace Kelly

On Thanksgiving night, Turner Classic Movies will conclude its "Star of the Month" tribute to Grace Kelly with the last three movies she made and a 32–minute short film of her 1956 marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

It's always a treat to see Grace Kelly in a movie, but one of the movies scheduled to be shown on Thursday night clearly stands out above the other two. It is the last film she made for Alfred Hitchcock, "To Catch a Thief," and there are so many things to recommend about it that I hardly know where to begin.

I guess we could start with the sterling cast that Hitchcock assembled — Cary Grant, John Williams, Jessie Royce Landis (her name may not be familiar to many viewers, but her face probably is — she and Grant were reunited in Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" a few years later and she co–starred with Kelly again in TCM's third Grace Kelly film of the evening, "The Swan").

Another reason to watch the film is the gorgeous scenery. It was filmed on the French Riviera. In fact, there was a persistent rumor, after Kelly suffered a stroke in 1982 and died the next day from injuries she sustained when the car she was driving went out of control and crashed, that she had been driving on the same mountainside highway that she had driven so recklessly with Grant sitting next to her in "To Catch a Thief." Her son repeatedly denied that there was any truth to the rumor.

Unlike most Hitchcock movies, it isn't about a murder. It's about a jewel thief who is at large. Grant plays a retired jewel thief who is assumed to be guilty by just about everyone, although he insists he is innocent.

It was a groundbreaking film for Hitchcock, too. It was his first film in the widescreen process VistaVision.

Some people dismiss it as one of Hitchcock's lesser films. I have two things to say in response:
  1. Most movie directors can only hope to match the quality of Hitchcock's "lesser" films.

  2. The movie was made years before I was born so I have no idea what audience reactions were like in 1955. But with its cast, the cinematography and the snappy dialogue, "To Catch a Thief" must have been a real pleasure to watch, thoroughly entertaining and engrossing.

    It still is.
TCM will show it at 7 p.m. (Central) on Thursday.

My birthday happens to fall on Thanksgiving this year. And I can think of few gifts that I will enjoy more than an evening of Grace Kelly movies.

The short film of the wedding comes on at 1 a.m. (Central). I've never seen it, but, if you're expecting something lengthy and grand, like the 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana, prepare yourself. Grace and Rainier were married in a 40–minute civil ceremony in the Palace Throne Room. There was a church ceremony the next day.

Apparently, everything was televised in Europe. But it doesn't seem to have been as ornate as Charles and Diana's wedding. Anyway, as I say, I've never seen it. Judge for yourself.

The Origin

Bert Cates: "For our science lesson for today, we will continue our discussion of Darwin's theory of the descent of man. Now, as I told you yesterday, Darwin's theory tells us that man evolved from a lower order of animals. From the first wiggly protozoa here in the sea to the ape and finally to man. Now, some of you fellahs out there are probably going to say that's why some of us act like monkeys."

Inherit the Wind (1960)

Back in February, on the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, I observed that it was also the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth. In the history of mankind, rarely have two such influential individuals been brought into the world on the same day.

I am reminded of that because today is the sesquicentennial of the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," which is regarded as the foremost scientific work on evolutionary biology.

I am not a scientist, but one does not have to be a scientist to understand the profound influence Darwin's work has had. Certain evolutionary theories already existed before Darwin's book was published, and Darwin's writing served to put many of those theories into context for people like me.

Unfortunately, it also drove a wedge between those who accepted the Bible's account of the beginning of human life on earth and those who found answers in Darwin that supported recent biological discoveries.

That conflict between biblical literalists and those who believed Darwin had solved some of the riddles of existence has continued for 150 years.

It could be seen in the famed "Scopes monkey trial" of the 1920s, in which John T. Scopes was convicted of "teaching evolution" in public school — in violation of Tennessee state law. That trial was the inspiration for one of my favorite movies, "Inherit the Wind."

It could be seen in the conflict produced by laws that were passed (and then struck down in court) in recent decades that required balanced teaching of "creation science" and evolution in public schools.

And it has been seen recently in the "intelligent design movement."

Well, it's all theoretical, I suppose. What bothers me is how people so often feel they must support one side or the other. Those who take Genesis' account of creation literally probably cannot be persuaded to accept Darwin's theories, and vice versa.

As for myself, I have never believed that Darwin's writings were, in any way, irreconcilable with religious faith. In fact, it seems to me that the theory of evolution supports the belief that life is a long, ongoing miracle.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Literary Inspiration

Playwright Neil Simon has written many funny plays in his life with many memorable characters and many memorable lines.

It would be hard to pinpoint which play — or which character or which line — would be his best (it's a matter of taste, I suppose), but there is one line from one of his plays that always makes me smile. It's from "The Odd Couple," Simon's play about a pair of divorced, mismatched roommates. At one point, they are entertaining a couple of British siblings, Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon.

One of the sisters (I forget which one) asks Felix, who is a newswriter in the play (and the movie version as well), "Where do you get your ideas from?"

With a bewildered look on his face, Felix replies, "From ... the news."

In Felix's defense, it does seem like a rather obvious thing. Especially to me, because I worked for newspapers for many years.

But I've been writing since I was a child, and inspiration is an important topic for me. Like Ms. Pigeon, I am curious about what inspires other writers.

And today provides an answer — in one case, anyway. It was an event that inspired Herman Melville to write his classic "Moby–Dick."

On this day in 1820, a whaling ship, the Essex, was attacked and sunk by an 80–ton sperm whale in the south Pacific Ocean. The sailors on board the ship got into lifeboats and managed to get to an uninhabited island in the modern British territory of the Pitcairn Islands, where they found food and water, but, after a week, they had just about consumed the island's resources and decided it could no longer support their needs.

Once again, most of the sailors boarded the lifeboats and left the island, although three of the crew members chose to remain.

From that point, the story of the sailors who left the island resembles the Donner Party of the American West a quarter of a century later. Some of the sailors did survive until they were rescued by another whaling ship about three months after the Essex was sunk — but only after they resorted to cannibalism.

Eventually, the sailors who had stayed on the island were rescued as well, but they were almost dead when they were picked up.

The first mate of the Essex wrote an account of the sinking, which, in turn, inspired Melville.

It's worth noting that Melville was born a little more than a year before the Essex was sunk, and he didn't publish "Moby–Dick" until 1851.

Happy 70th Birthday, Dick Smothers

If you're old enough to remember the late 1960s, you probably remember "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."

It was a variety show that was decidedly left–leaning in its politics. It was on the air in the era of the "Generation Gap," and the gap was never as easy to see as it was in generational viewing choices. On Sunday nights, older viewers gravitated to more traditional programming, like "Bonanza" on NBC, or more neutral fare, like the ABC "Sunday Night Movie," while younger viewers were drawn to the Smothers Brothers with their hipper, edgier comedy and popular musical guests.

The comedy seems pretty tame when you look at it today, but I guess anything does after 40 years. And when you realize exactly how tame the comedy on the show really was, it makes it all the more difficult to understand the constant struggle between the show's writers and the network's censors. The Smothers Brothers couldn't resist satire, and they were always running into trouble over something that they said or planned to say about race, the president or the war in Vietnam.

The comedy seemed outrageous to me when I was 7 years old, but when I look at it today, I think to myself that I've seen things that were more risqué on "Saturday Night Live."

Tommy was a few years older, and one of the running gags on the show was his protest that "Mom always liked you best!" Tommy was the slow one, and some of the viewers related to that. Dick, meanwhile, came across as more intelligent, more knowledgeable — which also made him seem less approachable somehow.

Well, Mom may have liked Dick best, but Tommy got most of the punch lines.

Anyway, today, Dick is celebrating his 70th birthday. Tommy reached that milestone nearly three years ago. They still perform together after more than 50 years — the longest–lived comedy team in history.

Happy birthday, Dick. Glad you're still here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Premiere of Ben-Hur

On this day 50 years ago, the movie "Ben–Hur" premiered at Loew's State Theatre in New York.

A few months later, it won 11 Oscars, more than any film had ever won before. It is an achievement that has never been surpassed, and it has been matched only twice — by "Titanic" in 1998 and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" in 2004.

Considering what the film accomplished, I figured that today would have been a good day for someone to show it. But I have checked my usual sources for classic movies, and no one seems to be showing it today. Perhaps they are waiting for a more significant anniversary — the 50th anniversary of the movie's release in England is next month, although why that would be considered more important than the New York premiere is beyond me.

Well, anyway, 2009 is clearly an appropriate time to watch the film. And it's important, I think, to view it in context. Bruce Eder observes, for, that it was "the culmination of a cycle of religious epics that dated back slightly more than a decade and closed out the genre as a viable Hollywood phenomenon."

I find his reasoning for the popularity of religious films in the 1950s — "the advent of the Cold War and the threat of thermonuclear annihilation likely made filmgoers start thinking about God, heaven, and the hereafter more than usual" — difficult to dispute.

Whether one is motivated by religious beliefs or a genuine affection for movies, "Ben–Hur" is worth seeing at least once. Be forewarned, though — it is lengthy (more than 3½ hours), and, if one is a devotee to the writings of Lew Wallace (a former Civil War general), there are some differences between his novel and the film adaptation.

But, even after 50 years, the chariot race is enough reason to see it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Farewell to a Great Writer

Tuesday, the world lost one of the best writers you probably never heard of.

His name was David Lloyd, and I didn't know much about him. But he wrote the episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust" for The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1975 — and won an Emmy Award for it.

The episode was a true classic. If you've never seen it, you should watch the whole thing sometime, although it would be a good idea to be familiar with all the characters in the show before you do.

Chuckles the Clown was rarely seen on the show. He was more often mentioned as one of the personalities on WJM–TV, and he wasn't seen at all in this episode. But that was understandable because he had died.

To briefly summarize the story, pompous anchorman Ted Baxter was upset because news director Lou Grant forbade him from being the grand marshal at the circus parade. Instead, the circus hired Chuckles to be the grand marshal, and Chuckles went to the parade dressed as one of his trademark characters, "Peter Peanut." During the parade, a "rogue" elephant tried to shell him, causing Chuckles' death.

The bizarre circumstances surrounding Chuckles' death led to many jokes in the newsroom, many coming from news writer Murray Slaughter, who observed, at one point, "It could have been worse. He could have gone as Billy Banana — and had a gorilla peel him to death!"

Everyone seemed to see the humor in the situation except for Mary, who was shocked by her co–workers' insensitivity.

But, by the time of the funeral, everyone was appropriately composed and somber — except for Mary, who was unable to restrain herself during the eulogy, especially when the minister quoted the "Credo of a Clown:"
"A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants."

Finally, the minister told Mary that nothing would have pleased Chuckles more than for people to laugh at their memories of him, and he encouraged her to "laugh for Chuckles." At that point, Mary dissolved into tears.

I know very little about Lloyd, actually. I know he was 75, and I know, from the limited research I have done, that he wrote for several great sitcoms from the 1970s and 1980s, including The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi, Cheers and Frasier.

Apparently, he worked with his son, Christopher, on the Frasier series. In addition to being a screenwriter for the show, Christopher Lloyd was a co–executive producer in the first couple of seasons and then was an executive producer for most of the rest of the series' run.

And a beautiful tribute to him can be found at a blog written by one of Lloyd's former colleagues, Ken Levine.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lloyd. Thanks for the memories.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Grace Kelly's Birthday Is Coming Up

Grace Kelly always reminded me of a line that was spoken by Andy Griffith on the old Andy Griffith Show.

In an early episode, Barbara Eden played a manicurist who came to Mayberry and began working at Floyd's barber shop. Her presence in town was welcomed by the men and resented by the women, but she seemed to be oblivious to all the attention that was paid to her physical charms.

So, finally, Andy took her aside and said to her, "I don't know whether you know this or not, but, uh ... well, uh ... nature's been good to you. I mean real, real, REAL good. I can't remember when I've seen nature spend so much time on any one person."

I don't think Grace Kelly was unaware that she was beautiful. And I don't think she was unaware of her talents as an actress. But sometimes I did think she was unaware of just how stunning she was.

And she was stunning all her life. When she suffered a stroke while driving down a mountainside road in 1982 and died from the injuries she sustained when the vehicle went out of control and crashed, she was still beautiful at the age of 52. If you are skeptical, just take a look at the picture at right that was taken of her a little over a year before her death.

Her career was brief. She made 11 films in five years, often co–starring with some of the top leading men of her era (Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Cary Grant, William Holden, Alec Guinness and Bing Crosby) and performing for some of the great directors of all time (including Alfred Hitchcock three times).

She really did seem to have every gift. But, as things turned out, Ted Kennedy could have been talking about her when he eulogized John F. Kennedy Jr. when he was killed in a plane crash 10 years ago — she had every gift but the gift of years.

And this month, Turner Classic Movies is showing Kelly's movies on Thursday nights, giving viewers a weekly opportunity to appreciate those gifts.

This Thursday is particularly special because it would have been her 80th birthday (and, one suspects, she still would have been beautiful upon entering her ninth decade). For the occasion, TCM is showing three of her best movies, all of which were made when she was 24 years old.

Two of her Hitchcock movies will get things started — first up is "Dial M For Murder" at 7 p.m. (Central), which tends to emphasize dialogue a little more than most Hitchcock films. And it may be one of the most predictable films she made, although that may have been inevitable, given that it started as a stage play.

That one will be followed by "Rear Window" at 9 p.m. (Central).

With the exception of "High Noon," which was shown on TCM last week, it may be the best movie she ever made.

I will always remember the first time I saw it. It was a couple of years after Kelly's death, and "Rear Window" was re–released at theaters to mark the 30th anniversary of its theatrical debut. It is the only Hitchcock movie I have ever seen on the big screen, and, for my money, that is the best way to experience a Hitchcock movie.

But even if you only see it on TV, it is well worth watching, particularly if you have never seen it before.

The final Grace Kelly film of the evening certainly deserves to be shown on her birthday. Her role in "The Country Girl," which will be shown at 11 p.m. (Central), was something of a stretch for her, but she handled it well and was rewarded with the Oscar for Best Actress.

I don't remember how old I was when I first saw a Grace Kelly film. But, from that moment on, she was my definition of true beauty. I vividly remember grieving when I heard she had died.

But I'm grateful that, thanks to films, she lives on for future movie fans to appreciate.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

It's High Time You Saw 'High Noon'

It's been 57 years since "High Noon" was released. The Western existed as a film genre long before director Fred Zinnemann and producer Stanley Kramer joined forces to make it, but, in many ways, "High Noon" redefined the phrase "Western classic."

If you consider yourself a fan of classic movies and you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to watch it when Turner Classic Movies shows it tonight at 9 p.m. (Central).

It's part of a three–film salute to Grace Kelly. Actually, they're the first three films that featured Kelly (in chronological order), but, for my money, "High Noon" is the best of the three. The first film in the salute on TCM tonight was Kelly's debut, "Fourteen Hours," so she wasn't the star. Since it was her debut, Kelly's role was modest. But, for film historians, it is a rare opportunity to see how Kelly's brief film career began.

Then, after TCM shows "High Noon," you can watch a movie — "Mogambo" — that is probably a little better known than "Fourteen Hours," perhaps because Kelly's co–stars are more familiar to contemporary viewers.

But "High Noon," Kelly's second film, was stunning. The film's writer, Carl Foreman, said the story was meant as an allegory of the unimpeded rise of McCarthyism at the time. And, unlike nearly all the Westerns that came before, there was virtually no gunplay until the last 10 minutes or so.

In "High Noon," Kelly plays the Quaker bride of a Western marshal (played by Gary Cooper) whose wedding day is ruined by the anticipated arrival of a gang of killers. The ever–present clocks tick off the minutes of the story in real time, building the tension as Cooper resolves not to leave town as planned but remains to face the outlaws alone. It wasn't what he had in mind, but the citizens of the town refuse to stand with him and his pacifist bride leaves without him when she realizes he feels obligated to defend the town.

"High Noon" remains a controversial film. It lost Best Picture in a still disputed decision that awarded the Oscar to "The Greatest Show on Earth," and the image of a Western marshal begging for help so offended legendary Western star John Wayne that it led to the blacklisting of Foreman (who later wrote the screenplays for "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "The Guns of Navarone").

But it was a groundbreaking film, and it remains a thought–provoking one. A true film fan cannot say that his or her movie viewing is complete until it has been seen at least once.

The film is ranked 27th on the American Film Institute's Top 100 movies of all time.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Lynching Revisited

About 10 years ago, I was thumbing through the TV listings and I came across a film that was going to be shown called "The Murder of Mary Phagan."

I had never heard of the movie before — turned out it was made for TV and had been broadcast on NBC more than 10 years earlier — but it had quite a cast (Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Richard Jordan, Cynthia Nixon) and it was based on a true story. I never can resist a movie about an historical event, whether it is an event I have heard of or not, so I decided to watch it.

I was rewarded with one of the most incredible movie experiences — as well as one of the most disturbing stories — of my life.

Mary Phagan was a 13–year–old girl who was raped and murdered in Atlanta in 1913. Her body was found in the pencil factory where she worked, and the authorities charged the manager of the factory, Leo Frank, with the crime.

It was a sensational case, the O.J. Simpson case of its day. Like the Simpson case, it was used by many people for their own purposes. The media magnates of the time used it to sell newspapers. A Georgia politician/publisher built his political power base on it, along with popular support for the Ku Klux Klan. The prosecutor parlayed his fame into two terms as governor of Georgia.

Frank was a Jew, and Jews were particularly resented in the South of that time. So, even though the available evidence pointed to a black man, janitor Jim Conley, as the guilty party, Frank was the one who stood trial. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death, but he sought clemency from the outgoing governor, John Slaton, who reviewed the case, concluded that Frank was innocent and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment, hoping that, at some point, he would be set free.

"Two thousand years ago another governor washed his hands and turned over a Jew to a mob," Slaton wrote. "For two thousand years that governor's name has been accursed. If today another Jew were lying in his grave because I had failed to do my duty, I would all through life find his blood on my hands and would consider myself an assassin through cowardice."

In spite of Slaton's efforts, a mob made up of more than two dozen "respectable" citizens — the son of a U.S. senator, a former governor, a sheriff (who provided the rope and table), lawyers, a doctor, politicians — kidnapped Frank from the state prison farm where he was incarcerated and lynched him in August of 1915.

Frank's execution was very organized. The conspirators planned to carry out the lynching in Marietta, more than 200 miles away. The lynching site was ready for them when they arrived. Frank asked to be allowed to write a letter to his wife. He also asked that his wedding ring be returned to her and that the lower half of his body be covered since he was wearing only a nightshirt when he was abducted.

There's a lot more to the story, and I presume it will be told when PBS airs a program about the case, "The People v. Leo Frank," which makes its debut in some markets tonight. Keep an eye on your local PBS listings to see when it will be shown in your area.