Covid-19 and the Spanish Influenza

As a distraction from the current Covid-19 unpleasantness, readers may be interested in casting their mind back to a hundred years ago, when another respiratory disease swept the world. The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 famously killed more people than the First World War, reaching parts of the globe barely touched by that conflict. It acquired its name because in neutral Spain the press was more free to report on the disease’s ravages than in the countries at war, leading people to think that it was exacting a particularly heavy toll there. In fact it was no worse in Spain than anywhere else. The disease certainly did not originate in there, though its exact origins are mysterious, with some suggesting a US army camp in Kansas, others the British training base of Étaples on the French coast, with others again naming China.

The Spanish Influenza has certain similarities with Covid-19. Both seem to largely spare children from their attentions (the director of New York’s Board of Health deliberately kept schools open to as a vehicle for transmitting public health information to children’s families, causing some disquiet on the social media of the day). Advice on how to avoid the two diseases is similar: shunning crowds and adherence to basic hygiene. And both pandemics saw reliable information battle with rumour, hearsay and outright nonsense. But the diseases are different. The Spanish Influenza disproportionately struck down young adults and left the old relatively untouched, while Covid-19 appears to have a particular fondness for the old. My pessimistic suspicion is also that mortality rates and the lasting effect of Covid-19 will dwarf the Spanish Influenza’s, but I would be happy to be proved wrong.

Should readers want to look back on how the Spanish Influenza influenced and was influenced by the First World War, then I refer them to relevant posts on my now concluded live blog of the Great War.

image sources:

Influenza patients from Fort Riley, Kansas, being treated at Camp Funston, 1918

Save Yourself From Influenza (The Crozet Gazette: 1918: War and Influenza—Battling on the Home Front)

Finding material eligible for the 1945 Retro Hugos

The deadline for nomination to this year’s Hugo Awards is fast approaching. As well as works from 2019, people can also nominate works from 1944 for the 1945 Retro Hugos.

Much of the short fiction eligible for the Retro Hugos is available on the Internet Archive, where scans of the 1944 magazines can be read online or downloaded as PDFs. On his SF Magazines blog, Paul Fraser has posted links to a vast number of 1944 works eligible for the 1945 Retros. Cora Buhlert has been posting reviews of Retro eligible material on her Retro Science Fiction Reviews blog and has also compiled a monster spreadsheet of eligible material, with some links to where the items can be read.

One approach to nomination, if you have the time, is to browse through Internet Archive scans of magazines such as Amazing Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Weird Tales and see if anything takes your fancy. Aside from the stories themselves, that will also expose you to the bizarre products advertised to 1940s fans.

It can be difficult to see the wood for the trees when there is so much fiction eligible for the Retro Hugos. I have below posted links to material that has been frequently reprinted and anthologised, as this means people are more likely to have read it and be in a position to nominate. However, the items below are not necessarily the best science fiction and fantasy items of 1944. Trawling through the lists linked to above or through the Internet Speculative Fiction Database may well yield other undiscovered gems.

One anthology that has shaped opinion regarding the key stories of 1944 is Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 6 (1944), edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg. Items appearing in this collection are flagged below.

1944 Short Stories

For Hugo Award purposes a short story must be less than 7,500 pages in length. Here are a selection of 1944 science fiction and fantasy short stories, with links to scans of the magazines they appeared in where these are available.

A. E. van Vogt produced a lot of fiction in 1944. His short story “Far Centaurus” (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1944) appeared in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology and has been extensively reprinted. Other 1944 short stories of his include “The Rulers” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1944), “The Harmonizer” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1944), “A Can of Paint” (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1944), and “Juggernaut” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1944).

Fritz Leiber is particularly known for his horror and fantasy work. His short story “Sanity” (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1944) appeared in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology and has been extensively reprinted. In 1944 he also published the following short stories: “Ervool” (The Acolyte, Fall 1944), “Taboo” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1944), “Thought” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1944), and “Business of Killing” (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1944).

John R. Pierce appears to have published just one short story in 1944, this being “Invariant” (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1944). It appears in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology.

Clifford D. Simak has two of his 1944 short stories in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology: “Huddling Place” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1944) and “Desertion” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1944). Both of these would subsequently be incorporated into his City novel. In the same year he also published the standalone short story “Lobby” (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1944).

Lester del Rey‘s short story “Kindness” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1944) is another widely reprinted story that subsequently made its way into the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology.

Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore were a married couple who sometimes wrote together and sometimes separately. Completely disentangling who wrote which work is not always easy, as Moore sometimes published works under her husband’s name (he commanded better page rates). They also both used an array of pseudonyms. Writing together in 1944 they published “Housing Problem” (Charm, October 1944 (online source not found)) under Kuttner’s name. Writing as Scott Morgan, Kuttner himself published “Trophy” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Winter 1944) and, as Kelvin Kent, “Swing Your Lady” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Winter 1944). Under his own name he also published “The Eyes of Thar” (Planet Stories, Fall 1944).

There are no stories by Isaac Asimov himself in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology, perhaps due to modesty on his part. Nevertheless, 1944 saw him publish the short story “The Wedge” (Astounding Science Fiction October 1944), which as “The Traders” found its way into his novel Foundation. Meanwhile the robot story “Catch That Rabbit” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1944) was subsequently included in the anthologies I, Robot and The Complete Robot.

Ray Bradbury also did not make it into Asimov & Greenberg’s anthology, perhaps because his 1944 short stories are more weird than science fiction; weird is nevertheless still eligible for the Retro Hugos. He wrote a lot in 1944. His short stories “The Sea Shell” (Weird Tales, January 1944), “The Lake” (Weird Tales May 1944), “I, Rocket” (Amazing Stories, May 1944), “There Was an Old Woman” (Weird Tales, July 1944), “Bang! You’re Dead!” (Weird Tales, September 1944), “The Jar” (Weird Tales, November 1944), and “Undersea Guardians” (Amazing Stories, December 1944) have all been extensively reprinted. Less reprinted are his stories “The Monster Maker” (Planet Stories, Spring 1944), “Morgue Ship” (Planet Stories, Summer 1944), “Lazarus Come Forth” (Planet Stories, Winter 1944), “And Then—the Silence” (Super Science Stories, October 1944), and “Reunion” (Weird Tales, March 1944).

Robert Bloch is another writer of weird fiction, known today for his much later novel Psycho and his association with H.P. Lovecraft. In 1944 he had two short stories published in Weird Tales, both of which have reappeared in a good few anthologies:
“The Devil’s Ticket” (Weird Tales, September 1944) and “The Bat Is My Brother” (Weird Tales, November 1944).

Another associate of H.P. Lovecraft active in 1944 was August Derleth. His short stories “A Gentleman from Prague” (Weird Tales, November 1944) and “Pacific 421” (Weird Tales, September 1944), have also found their way into a number of anthologies.

Malcolm Jameson‘s science fiction writing drew on his experience in the US Navy. His short story “Tricky Tonnage” (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1944) has been extensively reprinted in both collections of the author’s work and in anthologies of vintage science fiction. The “Hobo God” (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1944) has also been picked up by other anthologists.

Fredric Brown had a novelette included in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology, of which more later. In 1944 he also published the three short stories “The Yehudi Principle” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1944), “Nothing Sirius” (Captain Future, Spring 1944), and “And the Gods Laughed” (Planet Stories, Spring 1944), all of which have been reprinted through mostly in anthologies of Brown’s work.

Like many science fiction writers Frederik Pohl started out as a fan, one of the New York Futurians. By 1944 he was writing his own fiction. His short story “Double-Cross” (Planet Stories, Winter 1944), published under the pen name James MacCreigh, has not been widely reprinted, but it does have its admirers. The year also say his story “Darkside Destiny” printed in the June issue of the Canadian version of Super Science Stories. That issue is not available online, but the story was reprinted in the April 1949 issue of Super Science Stories.

Other pieces of 1944 short fiction that did not appear in magazines but which people may previously have encountered include Lord Dunsany‘s short stories “A Cricket Problem” & “By Command of Pharaoh” (which both appeared in the London Evening News in 1944 before later making their way into anthologies of Dunsany’s work). Elizabeth Bowen meanwhile wrote the short stories “Mysterious Kôr”, “The Inherited Clock”, “The Happy Autumn Fields”, & “Green Holly”, which appeared in various locations in 1944 before being collected in the anthology The Demon Lover and Other Stories and other collections of her work.

1944 Novelettes

For Hugo Award purposes a novelette is a science fiction or fantasy story between 7,500 and seventeen 17,500 words. 1944 was something of a bumper year for novelettes: readers should not struggle to find material worth nominating here.

Cleve Cartmill‘s novelette “Deadline” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1944) appeared in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology. It is famous as the story that caused the FBI to raid the offices of Astounding and investigate Cartmill and some of his associates, because the details of a city-destroying bomb were a bit too similar to what was then being developed in Los Alamos. Cartmill was however not a nuclear spy, his technical information sourced from unclassified scientific journals.

Fredric Brown‘s “Arena” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1944) inspired the Star Trek episode of the same name, so much so that Brown was given a writing credit.

Leigh Brackett is now perhaps most famous for her work on the script of The Empire Strikes Back. In 1944 she was more of a crime than a science fiction author, but 1944 saw her publish the novelette “The Veil of Astellar” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Spring 1944), which was subsequently included in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology. She also published the novelette “Terror Out of Space” (Planet Stories, Summer 1944).

Clifford D. Simak‘s novelette “City” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1944) subsequently became the first full chapter in his novel City and is another story compiled by Asimov & Greenberg in their anthology. In 1944 as part of the City series he also published the novelette “Census” (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1944).

Lester del Rey‘s novelette “Though Dreamers Die” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1944) was not blessed by inclusion in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology but has seen extensive reprinting, particularly in anthologies dealing with robots and thinking machines.

Lewis Padgett was a pseudonym used by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Their novelette “When the Bough Breaks” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1944) appears somewhat reminiscent of their 1943 classic “Mimsy Were The Borogoves”, with its account of parents increasingly baffled as their child develops in untoward ways. Moore also wrote the novelette “No Woman Born” (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1944), an early exploration of how someone holds onto their humanity when their brain has been transferred into a robot body. Both of these were included in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology. Henry Kuttner’s novelette “The Black Sun Rises” (Super Science Stories (Canadian version), June 1944 (reprinted in Super Science Stories, January 1949)) and their jointly written (as Lawrence O’Donnell) “The Children’s Hour” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1944) are less widely reprinted.

Isaac Asimov‘s novelette “The Big and the Little” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1944) subsequently became “The Merchant Princes”, closing chapter of his novel Foundation.

Robert Bloch produced a swathe of novelettes in 1944, of which the most reprinted are “Iron Mask” (Weird Tales, May 1944) and “The Beasts of Barsac” (Weird Tales, July 1944). Less reprinted are “It’s a Small World” (Amazing Stories, March 1944) and the two 1944 novelettes Bloch published in his more lighthearted Lefty Feep series, “Lefty Feep’s Arabian Nightmare” (Fantastic Adventures, February 1944) and “Lefty Feep Does Time” (Fantastic Adventures, April 1944).

August Derleth‘s two Cthulhu Mythos themed novelettes “The Trail of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales, March 1944) and “The Dweller in Darkness” (Weird Tales, November 1944) have been extensively reprinted, with the former lending its title to several collections of Derleth’s work (and more recently a roleplaying game).

Malcolm Jameson‘s novelettes “Alien Envoy” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1944), “Blind Man’s Buff” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1944), and “The Bureaucrat” (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1944) have all enjoyed a degree of anthologisation.

Writing as Dick Wylie, Frederik Pohl gave us the novelette “Highwayman of the Void” (Planet Stories, Fall 1944), which, like his 1944 short stories, has not seen much reprinting but has nevertheless received its share of praise.

Olaf Stapledon is best known for his brainy SF novels, but in 1944 he published the novelette “Old Man in New World”. It can be found in collections of Stapledon’s writing.

1944 Novellas

A Hugo eligible novella is a science fiction or fantasy story of between 17,500 and 40,000 words.

Theodore Sturgeon‘s novella “Killdozer!” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1944) tells of a bulldozer possessed by a murderous alien intelligence. It is the penultimate story in the Isaac Asimov Presents anthology.

A.E. van Vogt‘s novella “The Changeling” (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1944) appears to be another of his books about people with amazing powers. It was subsquently published as a short standalone novel.

Leigh Brackett‘s novella “The Jewel of Bas” (Planet Stories, Spring 1944) has appeared in many collections of her work.

Henry Kuttner‘s 1944 novella “A God Named Kroo” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Winter 1944) has not been as widely reprinted as some of the other works by him or C.L. Moore.

The children’s writer Enid Blyton produced the novella Tales of Toyland. This story of living toys is not available online in its entirety but the Enid Blyton Society website has a summary and some illustrations. As with much of Blyton’s work, it appears to be a curious mixture of charming and magical elements combined with aspects that are extremely problematic to a modern reader.

Murray Leinster (the pen name of William Fitzgerald Jenkins) was a prolific author who wrote science fiction but also literature in other genres. In 1944 he published the novella “Trog” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1944).

Ross Rocklynne was another prolific author of science fiction’s Golden Age, who many years later made a post-retirement foray into New Wave SF for one of Harlan Ellison’s anthologies. In 1944 he published two novellas, “The Giant Runt” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Summer 1944) and “Intruders from the Stars” (Amazing Stories, January 1944).

1944 Novels

Hugo-eligible novels must be at least 40,000 words. Here are just some of the science fiction and fantasy novels published in 1944.

Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord, by Olaf Stapledon, deals with a dog who has had his intelligence raised to the level of people and his interactions with his human friends and enemies, a considerably more domestic tale than the author’s other cosmic novels.

Dorothy B. Hughes is primarily known as a crime writer, with several of her novels adapted into film noirs. Her novel The Delicate Ape strays into science fictional territory, dealing as it does with an imagined post-war future, with a sudden murder threaten to disrupt the international force overseeing the occupation of Germany.

Land of Terror is the thrill-powered title of the penultimate novel in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar series. The novel is out of copyright in Australia and can be read on that country’s Project Gutenberg.

Writing as Kenneth Robeson, the author Lester Dent continued to produce a prodigious number of Doc Savage novels: According to Plan of a One-Eyed Mystic, Death Had Yellow Eyes, The Derelict of Skull Shoal, The Whisker of Hercules, The Three Devils, The Pharaoh’s Ghost, The Man Who Was Scared, The Shape of Terror, Weird Valley, Jiu San, Satan Black, and The Lost Giant. The summary of these stories on Wikipedia suggests they are tales of unparalleled thrill power, but perhaps also displaying some of the more problematic attitudes prevalent in the 1940s.

René Barjavel’s Le voyageur imprudent was much later translated into English as
Future Times Three. It has been claimed as the first story in which someone travels back in time to become their own ancestor.

Robert Graves is perhaps most famous as the author of I, Claudius, but in 1944 he published The Golden Fleece (subsequently reprinted as Hercules, My Shipmate), a comic retelling of the story of Jason and the Argonauts.

Aldous Huxley is most famous to science fiction fans as the author of Brave New World. 1944 saw his novel Time Must Have a Stop roll of the printing presses. It has a ghost in it so might tenuously count as fantasy literature.

David V. Reed wrote for Batman in the 1950s and 1970s. In 1944 he brought out two novels with science fiction and fantasy themes. Murder in Space deals with a murder, in space, and can be read in the pages of Amazing Stories, May 1944. The Metal Monster Murders (subsequently reprinted as I Thought I’d Die and The Thing That Made Love) deals with a strange bay dwelling monster that may or may not be preying on local women; Dan Stumpf reports that the book is curious in its use of meta-narrative devices and far less lurid than its covers suggest.

In 1944 E. Mayne Hull and A. E. van Vogt were married to each other and together they wrote The Winged Man, which was serialised in the May and June issues of Astounding Science Fiction. The novel concerns the crew of a submarine who travel 23,000 years into the future and find themselves caught up in a war between bird people and fish people.

As well as her short fiction Leigh Brackett also found time to write her first novel, Shadow Over Mars, which first saw print in Startling Stories, Fall 1944. Dealing with a Martian revolt against human agents of “the Company”, the book appears to have an anti-colonial theme and to echo the anti-corporate themes of later SF.

Renaissance, by Raymond F. Jones, has been reprinted (sometimes as Man of Two Worlds) and translated into many foreign languages. In 1944 it was published in serial form in the July, August, September, and October issues of Astounding. Opening in a computer-organised utopian society, the reader soon discovers that things are somewhat more dystopian than they initially appear.

Days of Creation appeared first in the pages of Captain Future, Spring 1944, before subsequently appearing as The Tenth Planet. Published as by Brett Sterling, it was actually written by Joseph Samachson, who usually wrote as William Morrison. This is a pulpy tale of space travel, detective work, memory loss and mistaken identity.

Eric Linklater’s The Wind on the Moon is a British children’s novel about two girls getting up to magical and fantastical scrapes while their father is away at the war. The book won the Carnegie Medal in its year of publication.

William Croft Dickinson’s Borrobil is a children’s book about some youngsters who stumble into a magical world. While it has barely been reprinted and is long out of print, it appears to have had an effect on at least some of its readers.

And that’s it. Good luck and have fun nominating! Nominations close on 13 March 2020 at 23:59 Pacific Daylight Time (02:59 Eastern Daylight Time, 06:59 UTC/Irish Time, and 19:59 14 March 2020 New Zealand Daylight Time). To nominate you need to either have been a member of last year’s Worldcon in Dublin or have been a member of the CoNZealand prior to the start of this year. Eligible nominees should already have received instructions on how to go about nominating.

image source:

Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 6 (1944), cover illustration by Oliviero Berni: Wikipedia

v/a “Three Day Week: When the Lights Went Out 1972-1975” (2019)

And this is another Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs compilation for Ace Records. Ostensibly similar to State of the Union, this one looks at Britain in the early 1970s, when the wheels were coming off the post-war economic model that had delivered a long period of unprecedented growth. Britain now found itself gripped by strikes, inflation, slowing growth, power cuts and emerging political extremists on the right and left. And in one corner of the United Kingdom British soldiers were killing and dying in a messy conflict (whose bloodiest year was 1972, with 497 people losing their lives).

And yet, these songs largely ignore the contemporary situation, with a couple of exceptions. The lyrics of Hawkwind’s ‘Urban Guerrilla’ evoke the activities of the Angry Brigade or pub bombing IRA units; unsurprisingly it was banned by the BBC. ‘Part of the Union’ by The Brothers (later a hit for The Strawbs, essentially the same band) refers to the union power that to some was bringing the country to ruin and to others empowering the country’s workers. The lyrics are ambiguous, sung from the point of view of a proud union activist but seen often as satirical with their depiction of a union man who is always keen to down tools and go out on strike. Nevertheless, the rousing nature of the chorus and lines like “And I always get my way / If I strike for higher pay” make the song seem like a clear advertisement for industrial organisation.
Much of the rest of the album consists of glam-inflected stompers. I particularly like ‘The Hertfordshire Rock’ by Ricky Wilde, Marty Wilde’s son and Kim Wilde’s brother. He was only teeny tiny when this was recorded and here in Panda Mansions the track has been described as bearing the taint of Little Jimmy Osmond, but such thoughts smack of right-deviationism. This track is an objectively great disco stomper with hand claps, fuzzy guitar, and, yes I admit, squeaky vocals. It is made all the more enjoyable by Hertfordshire being one of England’s lamer counties and it being hard to imagine anyone getting excited about Hertfordshire Rock.
Anyway there are loads of good tunes on this compilation and you owe it to yourself to track down a copy.

image sources:

British paratroopers arrest civil rights demonstrators (Guardian: How a protest about internment in Northern Ireland led to Bloody Sunday)

Three Day Week (Ace Records)

v/a “State Of The Union – The American Dream In Crisis 1967-1973” (2018)

This is one of those compilations put together for Ace Records by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of St. Etienne. As the title implies, the songs suggests an America losing faith in its own manifest destiny, with disturbing social change and failure in Vietnam undermining national self-confidence. These aren’t songs from a counterculture that wants to bring down the establishment, but rather from a middle America no longer at ease with itself.

I think it is notable that so many of the songs deal with marriage breakup, showing that social change is reaching directly into the previously settled homes of Joe Normal, notable also that these songs all seem to be about husbands whose wives have left them. Typically these are sadface tunes about fathers estranged from their children, but there is the curiously upbeat ‘Take a letter, Maria’ (by Mel Tormé), in which a businessman discovers that his neglected wife has been jazzing some other guy. Despite the jaunty vocals the song still feels a bit sad to me, because the businessman still doesn’t get it, as he is now taking for granted that he can transfer his affections to his hardworking secretary, without any thought that maybe she might have her own life to lead.

The most poignant tune is I think ‘Welfare Hero’ by Johnny Tillotson. This is sung from the point of view of a man who has suffered a disabling wound in Vietnam. He is unable to work but remains so wedded to the get-up-and-go narrative of America that he now hates himself for having to subsist on welfare.

image source (Ace Records)

“Suspiria” (1977) – A Short Film Review

A new version of Suspiria came out in 2018, but I have not seen that. Instead, early last year, I saw the 1977 original when it was blessed with a limited cinematic re-release. The plot of this Dario Argento directed classic is simple enough (young American dancer (appealingly played by Jessica Harper) takes up place at German advanced ballet school, at which point spooky and lethal things start to happen). However it is not the plot that makes this film so remarkable but rather the art direction (in particular the lurid colour palette) and the integration of the soundtrack by Goblin (credited as The Goblins). The latter is so integrated into the film’s sound design that with it conjures forth a great sense of unease, with its whispers and disconcerting synth sounds feeling like they are happening within the film rather than an accompaniment to it. The film is so perfect in these regards that seeing this put me right off wasting my time with the recent remake, whose existence feels like another example of an intellectually bankrupt cinema industry looting the films of the past because it cannot come up with new ideas.

One other thing is maybe worth noting. Before seeing Suspiria I had the vague sense that it was some class of high class exploitation schlock, with the setting in what is basically a finishing school for buff young ladies providing an opportunity for lots of scenes in which said young ladies help each other in an out of their outfits. Yet despite being made in the 1970s, that sleaziest of decades, there is a notable lack of female skin on display in the film (misogynist readers will however be pleased to hear that a number of women characters in the film are murdered in manners both bizarre and gruesome).

image source (Michael Murphy Home Furnishing: The Red World of Suspiria (1977))

Trust No One: “Three Days of the Condor” (1975)

For me this was the final film in the IFI’s paranoia season. It begins with Robert Redford playing some kind of researcher who nips out to pick up lunch for the people in his office only to return and find that they have all been murdered – dream or nightmare, you decide. Of course he is actually working for a CIA front company and he now finds himself on the run from his erstwhile employers, unsure as to who is friend or foe etc.. Also his codename is Condor.There is a general air of hokum about proceedings but it is largely enjoyable hokum, enlivened by an appealing funk soundrack.

But the film has one terrible Achilles heel: its super-dodgo sexual politics, made all the worse for the film thinking of itself as kind of right on. The Condor is dating one of his lady colleagues but this is pure woman-in-refrigerator stuff, there for him to get all emo about it but to then forget about later when he finds himself face-to-face with her killer. Also in order to lie low for a while he kidnaps a woman (played by Faye Dunaway) at gunpoint and hides out at her place; naturally she falls for him and the soundtrack goes all saxophone for obligatory sex scene. Before that the dialogue between them is antediluvian, with one exchange occurring when she accuses him of roughing her up. “Rough you up?” says the Condor, “hey it’s not like I raped you” to which she replies “The night is yet young”, whereupon he ties her up and gags her while he nips off to do some important spy stuff. All this was annoying because Dunaway is nevertheless brilliant in this film; I wish she had a script worthy of her talents. Still, maybe all films were like that back then. Maybe the problem with New Hollywood was that it was actually New Blokey Hollywood.

And on that bombshell I must end my discussion of 1970s paranoia films. I think the best ones were The Day of the Jackal and Z, but they all had something to recommend them, even cheesy old Parallax View.


image source (Guardian: Robert Redford’s greatest screen roles – ranked!)

Trust No One: “The Lost Honour of Katherina Blum” (1975)

The next film I saw in the IFI’s paranoia season was this German film, directed by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta, which dealt with the paranoia in that country arising from the terrorist campaign of the Red Army Faction and related groups. The eponymous Ms Blum meets a guy at a party, they fall for each other, she brings him home… and you can guess the rest (you’ll have to just imagine it, as the film does not treat viewers to a titillating shagfest). But then the following morning a load of heavily armed cops burst into her apartment demanding to know where the guy is, who it turns out is apparently some kind of dangerous radical, with the cops now suspecting that Blum is also in league with these ne’er-do-wells. She is subjected to somewhat intense interrogation while the chief cop enlists the aid of a sleazy journalist from fictional newspaper The Paper (in German Die Zeitung, clearly an analogue of tabloid shitesheet Bild) to poke around in her past and dredge up some dirt. While the film starts off as being about the scary cops, the sleazy journalist and the evils of the gutter press become the main antagonists. The sleazy journalist (played by Dieter Laser, who more recently appeared in The Human Centipede) is actually such a great villain with his mullety hairstyle and preening self-regard that it is a pity that he was not the starring character in a comedy; even as is he provides some great chortlesome moments, like when he breaks off from phoning in a story to shout at some departing ladies to wait for him. Angela Winkler is also great as Blum, showing her unravelling as she is battered by events beyond her control or even imagining. That she looks like an escapee from Belle & Sebastian did not hamper my enjoyment.

One final thing I should mention about the film is that it is set over Carnival, when the normally staid burgers of Cologne dress up in funny clothes and charge around the streets boozing and dancing raucously (with the season also providing a degree of licence for acts that would normally be considered sexual harassment). That sense of the normal rules of society temporarily breaking down plays well against Blum’s disorientation at the strange turn her life has taken. The film has its moments of odd humour, like Blum’s initial non-plussed reaction to armed cops storming her flat suggesting that this was not a particularly outlandish occurrence in 1970s Germany. There is also a funny scene where Blum’s employers and their friends are complaining about being dragged through the mud in The Paper only for one to cheerfully say “Well they’re not saying anything bad about me, but then I am a former Nazi!”.

It shows my instinctive bourgeois conformity that as I was watching the film I initially thought it ridiculously far-fetched – the very idea that the cops would form a false opinion about an innocent person and then subject them to aggressive interrogation! Then I remembered the likes of the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4 in the UK, or indeed the darkly farcical case of Nicky Kelly and Osgur Breatnach here in Ireland, and thought that maybe Ms Blum got off pretty lightly with the cops. She does not do so well with the journalist and the film is ultimately far more about the malign power of the gutter press than about abuse of power by the state’s agents. It felt a bit domestic compared to the big picture stories of the other films in the season but I think would still be enjoyed by those interested in film depictions of a troubled time in German history.


image source (Wikipedia)