Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Not Bahstun; Bawstin!

Well, we laid Jack Warden to rest yesterday. And it got me to thinking. One of the movies I mentioned, The Verdict, is a very “Boston” sort of a movie. There aren’t that many of those.

You know the places that end up in movies. Los Angeles and New York and Chicago and Miami and did I mention New York and Los Angeles? Hell, nowadays it’s Toronto more often than not because it’s cheaper to film there. The Farrelly Brothers have a sort of Providence, Rhode Island franchise going now, but that’s just a cool icy rock orbiting around Boston.

Let’s have a list, shall we? VERY BOSTON MOVIES.

The rules:

“Rules? In a knife fight?”

Sorry, wrong area, wrong movie. The only rules are that the movie encapsulate the local vibe here, with bonus points for local sights and extra special bonus points for successfully attempting a local patois; or more likely to be efficacious: avoiding attempting a local patois without drawing attention to yourself. John Ratzenburger need not apply.

Let’s make it an even ten:
10. The Thomas Crown Affair– It’s a lousy movie, really. But it absolutely looks like Boston and environs in the sixties. It’s mostly of places the vast majority of working class people in Boston never dreamed they’d be allowed to sweep, never mind mingle at, but what the hell. Faye Dunaway eventually married local favorite and J Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf. Steve McQueen wisely avoided attempting a cultivated Boston accent. His face would have broken.
9. The Boston Strangler – When I’m done with you, you’re going to figure Boston is the most depressing place in the world. Let’s get the mass murderers out of the way, right away. Albert DeSalvo sums up the crime in Boston forty years ago: There’s plenty of it, and we have no idea what to do about it. My friends and I always do imitations of Tony Curtis in Spartacus and The Vikings, talking like, well, Tony Curtis the whole time. Yondah is da cassool ov my faddah. He makes a surprisingly believable weirdo murderer, which might tell you something. All kind of Boston area in there.
8. Tie
7. Tie
Paper Chase
Love Story –
You know, before Al Gore invented the internet for me to make fun of him on, he went to Harvard where the Socratic Method is used and had the greatest love story ever told about Ryan O’Neal based on Al’s life. Some persons who are of a more skeptical bent than I doubt the likelihood of these happenings. I don’t. Al Gore is just as big a self-absorbed and shallow jerk as the people portrayed in these movies. Enjoy.
6. Jaws- Boston’s no where near Martha’s Vineyard, where they filmed this thing, but who cares? Everyone in Boston goes down Route 3 every Friday in the summah and goes to the crummy cold beaches on Cape Cod. Who cares? They don’t go anywhere near Martha’s Vineyard, which is just a pile of rocks and t-shirt stores out in the Atlantic. Who cares? No one has a Massachusetts accent of any kind in this movie. Who cares? They caught that tiger shark, the one they hang up on the dock and do an impromptu autopsy on, off Montauk — and that’s Long Island! Who cares? It’s a good movie. The only part that strains credulity is where they get all those people in the water at the beach. On Memorial Day. Try it. There’ll be some shrinkage.
5. The Last Hurrah –Not much Boston to look at in it, and they changed everybody’s name, of course; but you’re never going to understand Boston until you understand James Michael Curley. Curley the mayor used to get kickbacks from contractors for public works projects. Once, a highway overpass collapsed, and his “partners” were in trouble. Asked about the calamity, hizzoner calmly remarked that it appeared to be “an injudicious mixture of sand and cement.” Anyone surprised that the Big Dig tunnel fell in on some poor woman and crushed her to death a few weeks ago must be new around here.
4. Charly – Made that street in South Boston famous. It didn’t help. The trajectory of every poor Boston schlub: Born dumb, get a little education, lift your eyes up from the mud to gaze for a moment at the bright horizon, and then land face-first back in the mud again. They blame it on mental retardation in the movie, but I think it’s the Guinness, myself. Triple points for the scenes in the Kasanof’s bakery.
3. Good Will Hunting -There is manifest affection for the whole of Boston and Cambridge in this movie. It’s silly, but who cares? They understand the local zeitgeist. Around here every airhead thinks they’re a genius, so why not run with it? I punched my fists right through the drop ceiling in my basement room when Fisk hit that home run. A sterling moment in an ultimately losing effort (The Reds beat us the next day to finish it.) — yeah, that’s Boston. Lose proud. I’ve heard rumors that Robin Williams is a skilled mimic. Where did he find a mentally challenged Vermonter to imitate for this one? One of life’s great mysteries. Gives Cliff Clavin a run for his money for crash and burn attempts at Bawstin Tawk. And Will is always on the wrong train. No wonder he doesn’t show up on time for work very often.
2. The Verdict –Sidney Lumet made this movie, and you could see he hates Boston. He even drags the characters to New York City for no discernible purpose; maybe he wants to get decent deli or something, which is impossible in Boston. David Mamet’s screenplay has people saying very Boston things. The seedy bar where Newman hangs out across from the common is perfect. Pre-Cheers Boston was just like that, trust me. Newman doesn’t even attempt an accent, thank god, but Milo O’Shea, the judge, is the ne plus ultra of the successful rogueish Irish twang. The whole mess of a proud city gone to seed is in there; the scene of trying to pull a grip and grin at a funeral is very Boston — it’s usually a politician, though, not a lawyer. They even got the dry cleaning bag hanging behind Newman while he slurs his words into his apartment phone right.
1. The Friends of Eddie Coyle –Everything about Boston is small-time, except our egos. Small time crooks with small-time concerns and small-time dreams drift around a bunch of small-time Boston area haunts. Robert Mitchum tries a mild local accent, and doesn’t sound like he’s from Nebraska. The bowladrome’s still there; the Garden’s gone.

Honorable Mentions:
Moby Dick – We’re all that crazy in New Bedford.
Malcolm X – I was born in Dorchester, but I’m keeping my last name, thank you.
The Last Detail – They’re all drunk in Boston, for a while.
The Brinks Job – Looks like old Boston, sounds like old Peter Falk.
State and Main – Supposed to be New Hampshire, I think; screams Manchester-By-The-Sea to me.
Outside Providence – That’s where Massachusetts kids go to meet girls with big hair, when Saugus is too far to drive.

7 Responses

  1. Sippican –
    Isn’t that photo a shot of old, pre-gentrified Mass. Ave. with the Dover St. station on the elevated Orange Line looming in the background?

    Whatever it is, it’s making me homesick.

  2. tjl-The only information I have on it is it’s Boston in 1938.

    I think you may be right though. I’m old enough to remember the trolley tracks in the road and the overhead electrification for the trams. They were still around in the sixties.

    I stood on those T platforms and froze my ass off more than once, when Johnson was president.

  3. How long will it be before they make a Cheers movie, starring Ben Affleck as Sam, Linsay Lohan as Dianne, and Nick Nolte as Coach?

    PS. Say good-bye to two of my bands on my blog.

  4. You know, Cheers never seemed to have much of anything to do with Boston, to Bostonians. Never registered with us that way.

    We’d all been drunk in the Bull and Finch, and knew it didn’t look like that inside. I had to be toldthat Cliff Clavin supposedly had a boston accent. I had no idea from seeing the show the first time.

  5. Sippican, you can get great deli at Rubin’s on Harvard St. near Comm Ave. Technically, it’s Brookline, but it’s like 20 feet from the town line. In a previous life, I lived across the street in one of the walk-ups. I wonder if it’s still there.

    Other than that, you’ve nailed it. I grew up in Dorchester and so far, the only authentic Boston accents I’ve heard on screen were from Damon and Affleck. I could barely tolerate that movie for its weird portrayal of MIT, but I did like to listen to the boys talk. Not Robin Williams, though. He was ghastly, no matter how much everyone who wasn’t a Bostonian seemed to like his performance.

  6. Now, Joan. Cleveland circle ain’t South Boston. Heh.

    The only good deli in Boston back in the seventies was the Deli Haus in Kenmore square. They used to have a catering sandwich that consisted of eight half sandwiches. They’d give you a t-shirt if you could eat the whole thing at one sitting.

    They discontinued the t-shirt offer because of me.

    Roast beef with cole slaw and Russian dressing! Oh yeah.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. I remember so much of this stuff I don’t have time to comment on all of it. A couple of things though, that definitely looks like the Washington St. elevated at the end of the street. Maybe the Dover stop. Many times, I too froze my ass off there, [not literally :)].

    And, the worst thing about all the Boston based movies these days is the phony local accents. Talk about grating and overdone!!!!

    On Deli I disagree. Good Russians, knishes, and other stuff could be found on Washington St. not too far from the old BU Medical School. We used to walk up there for lunch in the mid 70’s. Mattapan Square and up Blue Hill Ave was good too during the 60’s & 70’s. And Beacon St. near Williston Rd. was good in the 80’s when I worked in that area.

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