THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Unheralded Heroes In a League of Their Own

(This post was originally submitted to my Baltimore library work blog.)

Major League Baseball finally began its long-delayed, shortened season on July 23, when Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the first pitch at Nationals Park for the opening day game between the defending champion Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees. Fauci’s wild pitch may not have “flattened the curve,” but it got the ball rolling again for America’s much-missed great national pastime. As the “Boys of Summer” once again take to the field to play ball, there are innumerable books available from the library to read about them and the game they play. But while we all know the celebrated legends of baseball lore from Babe Ruth to Mike Trout, there were countless unheralded heroes of the game, including stars of the Negro Leagues, barnstorming teams, semipro clubs and foreign teams. Thankfully, acclaimed artist Gary Cieradkowski (whose resume includes creating the graphics for Oriole Park at Camden Yards!) tells the story of these colorful characters in The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes (2015), which can be checked out from Pratt using our Sidewalk Service or Books By Mail services.

Alongside his trademark vintage baseball card-style illustrations, Cieradkowski sheds light on the lesser known stories of the unsung heroes and ordinary lovers of the game in chapters devoted to  “Bush Leaguers” (everyone starts somewhere: George Herman “Babe” Ruth for the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys and minor league Baltimore Orioles; Walter Johnson for the semipro Anaheim Oil Wells; Willie Mays for the Trenton, NJ Giants, and so on); “Could-Have-Beens” (like the Brooklyn Dodgers’ injury-prone wall-crashing outfielder “Pistol Pete” Reiser, or the Orioles’ legendary minor league pitching prospect Steve Dalkowski, the original “Wild Thing” model for Bull Durham’s Nuke LaLoosh; he could throw 110-mph but walked as many as he struck out and never stepped foot on a major league mound); “International Game” (highlighting foreign stars like Japan’s Eija Sawamura, who once struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in succession in a 1934 All-Star exhibition game, only to die in naval action during WWII); “Bad Guys” (so many! Like St. Louis Browns pitcher Ralph “Blackie” Schwamb, who became an enforcer for gangster Mickey Cohen and later served time for murder at San Quentin; and Martinsville Athletics shortstop John “Jackrabbit” Dillinger, who went from stealing bases to robbing banks and risked capture to attend home games of his beloved Chicago Cubs; and 1920s Baltimore Black Sox stars Frank “The Weasel” Warfield and Oliver “The Ghost” Marcelle, whose fight over a crap game ended with Weasel biting off The Ghost’s nose - long before anyone had ever heard the name Mike Tyson!); “People’s Game” (featuring famous people that most never knew played the game, like Pittsbugh Plymouths manager Jack Kerouac; Frank "Swoonatra" Sinatra, who played second base for his 1940s Hollywood team, The Swooners; future US Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George H.R. Bush; and, Fidel Castro, who in 1959 pitched a mere two innings in an exhibition game pitting his Los Barbudos against a military police squad); and “Race Game,” the longest (and arguably best) chapter, which highlights the many stars of the Negro Leagues.

Here one finds the “Black Babe Ruth” Josh Gibson; Baltimore native Leon Day; Cyclone Joe Williams (considered, along with Satchel Paige, the finest blackball pitcher of all time); fleet-footed Pittsburgh Crawfords outfielder “Cool Papa” Bell (whom Jesse Owens refused to race against); Baltimore Black Sox star “Jud” Wilson; Oakland Oaks pitcher Jimmie Claxton (the first Black player to appear on a baseball card!); Charlie Hippo (a two-sport Canadian athlete who was the first Black to play pro hockey and the last to play organized baseball before Jackie Robinson in 1946); and second baseman Charlie Grant, whom manager John McGraw attempted to get onto his major league Baltimore Orioles team by disguising him as a Native American called “Chief Tokohama”! (As Cieradkowski comments, “Native Americans were reluctantly allowed to play professional baseball alongside whites, though virtually every one who did was saddled with the nickname of “Chief.”)

In a League of Her Own: Nightclub singer Kitty Burke faced Cardinals pitcher Daffy Dean in 1935
A final chapter is called “Odd Balls” and there is no shortage of them in baseball. There’s the “small ball” story of Eddie Gaedel, who at 3 ½ feet-tall was  the smallest player in Major League history; Gaedel made one pinch-hitting appearance in a 1951 game as a publicity stunt for Bill Veeck’s St. Louis Browns (he walked!). Another Browns player, outfielder Pete Gray, played 77 games for St. Louis in 1945 despite having only one arm. Then there’s the Stanzaks: an entire team made up of brothers! Polish immigrant Martin Stanczak fielded 10 of his boys, aged 15 to 33, on a Midwest semipro team that in 1929 was crowned “World Brothers Champions” after defeating all comers in an all-siblings team competition! And finally, there’s the oddball story of Kitty Burke, a nightclub singer who was the only woman to appear in a major league game. On July 31, 1935, during a game between her hometown Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals, Burke came out of the stands to approach Reds outfielder Babe Herman and asked to borrow his bat.  Standing in against star Cardinals pitcher Paul “Daffy” Dean, she tried to rattle him by shouting, “Hey you big hick, why don’t you go home and milk the cows!” But Daffy Dean just grinned and lobbed an underhanded ball to the plate, which Burke hit back to him before she was tossed out at first base.

You can’t make stuff like this up because it’s the lore of which baseball is made. And baseball continues to provide “oddball” stories, like today’s stars playing their games in empty stadiums in a virus-shortened season. But that’s a tale for a future accounting; there’s more than enough great and unusual stories between the pages of The League of Outsider Baseball to fill readers with delight this summer!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Get Nicked by The Sweeney!

"Get your trousers on, you're nicked!" The Sweeney's John Thaw and Dennis Waterman

My wife and I just finished binge-watching all 53 episodes of The Sweeney on Britbox and loved its dated, politically incorrect (but clearly reflective of its time) vibe and colorful Cockney rhyming slang. In fact, the program title itself derives from Cockney rhyming slang, in which the expression “Sweeney Todd” rhymes with (and stands for) “Flying Squad” - the elite branch of the Metropolitan Police Service specializing in combating armed robbery and violent crime within metropolitan London. The Sweeney originally aired on ITV between 1975 and 1978 and starred future Inspector Morse icon John Thaw as Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Dennis Waterman (Up the Junction, New Tricks) as Detective Sergeant George Carter (hmm...Regan and Carter: a wink at our future Presidents?). Such was its popularity in the UK that it got name-checked by a number of UK pop stars of the time, most notably by Squeeze in "Cool For Cats" ("The Sweeney's doing 90/'Cos they've got the word to go/They get a gang of villains/In a shed up at Heathrow"). It also spawned two theatrically-released feature film spin-offs, Sweeney! (1977) and Sweeney 2 (1978), both of which are available for insatiable Sweeney fans  - and newbie converts alike - to stream through Kanopy using their Pratt library card. (In 2012, a movie reboot of The Sweeney starring Ray Winstone as Regan and rapper Plan B (Ben Drew) as Carter was released; the less said about that iteration, the better.)

In Sweeney! (1977), Detective Inspector Regan and Detective Sergeant Carter accidentally get involved in a gigantic top-level plot against the British government when the mistress of a cabinet minister is found dead of an apparent overdose. As the bodies start to pile up in London’s streets, Regan and Carter find themselves embroiled in a murderous international conspiracy involving call girls, multinational oil companies and cold-blooded bureaucrats. Barry Foster (famous for his role as grim killer Roger Rusk in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy) and Ian Banne (The Offense) co-star in this hard-hitting big screen adaptation of the television series. Watch the Sweeney! trailer here.

In Sweeney 2, Regan and Carter are back on the trail of a particularly tough and ruthless gang of bank robbers who always use a gold-plated sawn-off shotgun during their raids. Following a trail of dead bodies, wrecked cars, a mad bomber and bundles of banknotes all the way from London to the isle of Malta, the two detectives ruthlessly pursue their quarry, culminating in a final raid that becomes a desperate shotgun massacre. Veteran character actor Denholm Elliott (A Room With a View, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Ken Hutchison (Ladyhawke) co-star. Watch the Sweeney 2 trailer here.

Influenced by the action-packed American TV programs of the time, The Sweeney represented a cultural shift in British crime series. Just as the hard-boiled pulp fiction of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett liberated the classic “cozy mystery” from well-groomed detectives solving locked-room murders over tea and biscuits, The Sweeney gave crime back to its rightful owners: nasty villains hard enough to roller-skate on and the equally rough-and-tough coppers out to nick them. It was everything Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot weren’t: rude, crude and brutally realistic. And its protagonists weren’t the heroic good guys in white hats; they were flawed human beings, with the same insecurities and problems we all have. Indeed, Regan and Carter are shown inhabiting the same sleazy world as the criminals they chase, mixing with low-life “snouts” to obtain their leads, and speaking the same vernacular. In that sense, it laid the groundwork for future crime series like Prime Suspect and Luther, with a direct line from John Thaw’s inspector Regan to Philip Glenister’s DCI Gene Hunt on Life On Mars. And the action - car chases with screaming tires, explosive crashes and bare-fisted hand-to-hand fighting - only added to the sense that this wasn’t your dad’s quaint police procedural.

On a sociological level, it’s fun to observe the hideous clothes (wide collars and ties, bell-bottom flared trousers) and dated hairstyles of the series, not to mention the American-styled muscle cars of the “Flying Squad.” Star John Thaw looks like he's 50, even though he's only in his early 30s, and his violent, boozing Regan is as far from the opera-loving Inspector Morse (not to mention sensitive young Endeavor Morse) as conceivable; and Dennis Waterman’s sideburns make him look like a Slade glam music fan, while his Cockney-accented repartee with Thaw (“If Freud had met her, he’d a ditched his couch and become a tattoo artist!”) was a highlight of the series. Indeed, dialogue was as important to The Sweeney as action and many of Regan's best lines have become famous, none more so than “Get your trousers on, you’re nicked!”

Looked at today, with widespread law enforcement abuses headlining the daily news, the insensitive language and extreme violence depicted in The Sweeney clearly dates it. But though Regan and Carter sometimes bent the rules in their pursuit of justice, they were basically honest cops who abhorred corruption and hypocrisy. And The Sweeney’s historical significance as a catalyst for change across the entire police drama genre (an effect we take for granted in virtually every contemporary crime series) makes these films, taken in perspective, well worth a look. 

As a DVD Savant critic described the series: "Some points of reference for those who still haven't a clue what the series was about? If you could imagine teaming Bobby Crocker [Kojak detective] with Ken 'Hutch' Hutchinson [the rough-hewn Scots character actor of The Bill and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs fame], giving them both a couple of extra lessons in Harry Callahan-style insubordination/attitude and a spoonful of the kind of political incorrectness that featured in most ‘70s cop/action features, before flying them out to investigate the events that unfolded in Mike Hodges's Get Carter....you'd be almost on the right track."

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Agatha Raisin

Nosey Cozies in the Cotswolds

[This review originally appeared in the Enoch Pratt Free Library's "Pratt Chat" blog.]

Emmy-nominated actress Ashley Jensen stars as the titular snarky publicist-turned-amateur detective in what Acorn TV calls a “quintessentially British village mystery” series based on the bestselling books by M.C. Beaton, and the pilot episode movie and all three seasons of Agatha Raisin are now available to download or stream through Hoopla using your library card. Author M.C. Beaton (the pseudonym of Marion Chesney Gibbons) died in January 2020, so it seems fitting to take a look back at the adventures of her most popular fictional sleuth in the picturesque Cotswolds village of Carsely during these glorious summer days.

Now “Quintessentially British village mystery” means that this is your textbook “Cozy Mystery,” a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence occur offstage, the detective is an amateur sleuth, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. Agatha Raisin is guilty as charged on all these counts, but while M.C. Beaton’s mystery book “cozies” strike me as forgettable, cookie-cutter trifles, the television adaptations of her creations breath new life into timeworn cozy conventions. (Beaton’s other long-running mystery series, featuring Scottish constable Hamish Macbeth, was also turned into a BBC television series, starring Robert Carlyle, in 1995.)  That’s due both to the screenwriters who adapted Ms. Beaton’s original stories (Stuart Harcourt, Chris Murray, Chris Neil and Julia Gilbert) as well as the impeccable ensemble cast, whose ranks include not only Ashley Jensen (whose previous credits include Extras, Catastrophe, Ugly Betty and Love, Lies & Records), but: Mathew Horne (Gavin  & Stacey) as Agatha’s flamboyant personal assistant Roy Silver; Matt McCooey as easy-going DC Bill Wong;  Jason Barnett as Agatha’s bumbling nemesis DCI Wilkes; Jamie Glover as Agatha’s handsome neighbor and love-interest James Lacey;  Jason Merrells as womanizing aristocrat Sir Charles Fraith; Rhashan Stone as village vicar Jez Bloxby (a reimagining of Alf Bloxby in the books, here played by a black actor);  Lucy Liemen as the vicar’s wife Sarah Bloxby; Katy Wix as Agatha’s housekeeper and sleuthing pal Gemma Simpson  (called Doris Simpson in the novels) ; and Jodi Tyack as Toni Gilmour, who takes over from Gemma as Agatha’s housekeeper-sleuthing assistant in Season 3.

Agatha Raisin's first case was "The Quiche of Death"
The 2014 pilot episode of Agatha Raisin was an adaptation of the first book in M.C. Beaton’s series, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (1992). Having just retired from a high-powered career in London, Agatha decides to settle down in Carsely after hearing about a quiche competition. Used to the competitive business world of the big city, she of course cheats - buying a spinach quiche from a famous London quiche shop and entering it as her own. But when the judge dies from poisoning after tasting her quiche, Agatha sets out to find the poisoner and clear her own name; in the process, she decides she likes her newfound job of sleuthing. Agatha's character in the TV series is notably different from her depiction in the novels, and that’s a testament to Ashley Jensen’s innate charm and comic timing. Jensen’s Agatha is more complex than Beaton’s print version, with the actress adding a depth and vulnerability to the character. And while she’s from Birmingham in Beaton’s books, here she is from Scotland because, well, there’s no explaining away Jensen’s native Scottish accent. Other characters from the novels and some of the relationships between them are also notably different (Alf and Sarah are a much older white couple in the novels) in the TV series, as the actors enrich these characters with their own unique personalities, especially DCI Wilkes. Wilkes is not black in the books, but after seeing Jason Barnett’s charming portrayal it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing him.

And then, of course, there’s the real star of the series: its setting. Like Doc Martin and Downtown Abbey, it’s the beautiful landscape that is just as important as the characters moving through it. Carsely may be a fictional town, but it is set in and filmed around the Cotswolds; this rural area of rolling hills, grassy meadows, thatched medieval houses, churches and stately homes built of local yellow limestone covers six counties in south central England and is considered the “honey-tinged heart of England.” And it’s just the kind of place a well-heeled (and Agatha is always well-heeled, no matter how inappropriately!) London publicist would retire to, though it takes some time for the brash big city outlier and the snooty, conservative villagers to get used to one another. And that’s part of the fun!

Agatha Raisin is also available on DVD

Murder, mayhem and mystery may abound around Carsely, but it’s always light-hearted and is never as dark or as bountiful as in the equally quaint neighboring villages of Oxfordshire, home to all those Midsomer Murders. If streaming is not your cup of tea, you can also check out Seasons 1 and 2 of Agatha Raisin on DVD and pick up them up via Sidewalk Service or Books-by-Mail.  

Watch Season 1 of "Love, Lies & Records"

And if (like me) you fall in love with Ashley Jensen, be sure to check out the savvy Scot in her series Love, Lies & Records, which is also available to download or stream on Hoopla or check out in DVD format from Pratt.

See You 'Round Downtown!

Kembrew McLeod's "The Downtown Pop Underground"

[The following review originally appeared in the Enoch Pratt Free Library's "Pratt Chat" blog.]

“When you're alone and life is making you lonely/You can always go downtown
When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry/Seems to help, I know, downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?” - Petula Clark, “Downtown” (1965)

Until the recent Black Lives Matter protests brought the masses to the streets, followed by the phased reopening of businesses and institutions as states eased up on lockdown restrictions, the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying home-quarantine pretty much turned most American cities’ downtowns into ghost towns. Not so in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s, when downtown Manhattan was the hub for revolutionary cultural shifts in music, theater, art and filmmaking. In Kembrew McLeod’s The Downtown Pop Underground (2018) - now available for you to read in Hoopla ebook format or reserve for curbside pickup using your library card -  the author takes readers on a detailed tour of Manhattan during this era and shows “how deeply interconnected all the alternative worlds and personalities were that flourished in the basement theaters, dive bars, concert halls, and dingy tenements within one square mile of each other.”

The Downtown Pop Underground focuses on eight people who were central to the “downtown arts scene” between 1958 and 1976. While now-familiar names like Andy Warhol, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry went on to become icons,  there were others - like Caffe Cino/La MaMa experimental theatre director-playwright Harry Koutoukas; poet-author-activist-publisher Ed Sanders (founder of The Fugs musical group); Off-Off-Off Broadway theatre impressario Ellen Stewart; experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke (The Connection, The Cool World); and psychedelic flower-power performance artist Hibiscus (founder of San Francisco’s gender-bending musical theater troupe The Cockettes, whose ranks once included our own John Waters movie star Divine and who are the subject of Bill Weber and David Weissman’s acclaimed documentary The Cockettes, which you can stream for free through Kanopy using your library card) - who also helped to reshape popular culture in significant ways.

Yes, those were the artistic Eight of Weight, but McLeod’s broad scope covers many more personalities whose lives thrived along the fringes of the downtown scene, if only tangentially. People like Fluxus art movement pioneers Yoko Ono and Al Hansen (pop musician Beck’s avante-garde artist dad); underground filmmaker Jack Smith and Jonas Mekas; experimental filmmaker and American folk music archivist Harry Smith; urban activist Jane Jacobs (The Life and Death of Great American Cities); poets Allen Ginsburg and Andrei Codrescu (the Romanian immigrant who later became a fixture of Baltimore’s 1990s poetry scene as a staff writer at the City Paper before moving to the West Coast, where he lived in a commune with Cockettes founder Hibiscus); underground diva Divine and Warhol protege Edie Sedgwick; performance artist Carolee Schneemann (Meatjoy); avant-garde composer John Cage; fashion designer Betsey Johnson (she made the Velvet Underground’s stage outfits and later married John Cage); television and music personality Lance Loud (An American Family); off-off-off Broadway playwright Tom Eyen (Women Behind Bars, Dreamgirls), avant-garde jazz musician Ornette Coleman; influential music mag publishers John Homstrom (Punk magazine) and Alan Betrock (New York Rocker); and, of course, all the punk rockers - Iggy Pop, David Johanson, Johnny Thunders, DeeDee Ramone, Jayne County, Blondie and Alan Vega. Even Jackson Browne gets a mention. Yes, before this laidback Southern California singer-songwriter rode a wave of popularity in the 1970s, he passed through Max’s Kansas City, where he hooked up with the Velvet Underground’s Nico, who recorded three of his songs on her solo debut.

It’s a lot of ground to cover, not only of people but of landmarks (the Caffe Cino, Cafè La MaMa, the Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, Warhol’s Factory ) and cultural shifts (the birth of punk and its spiritual cousin hip-hop, the avant-garde film movement, off-off-Broadway, and the rise of indie publishing that would eventually lead to the Zine revolution of the 1990s).

The great achievement of The Downtown Pop Underground is the way McLeod weaves all these disparate personalities and institutions together and shows how they not only created a collective “scene” but spawned future ones, if only in spirit. Baby Boomers like myself can enjoy the book for its nostalgia, while today’s generation can hopefully have their interest sparked enough to be a part of something similar. After all, the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, and everyone involved in the downtown pop underground played an important part. As Petula Clark in her 1965 hit, “Things’ll be great when you’re downtown, no finer place for sure. Downtown, everything’s waiting for you.” Hopefully, the wait will soon be over and we can get back to enjoying our vibrant downtown scenes.

"Love Goes To Buildings On Fire" by Will Hermes

If you find your interest piqued by the subject of McLeod’s book, you might also want to check out Will Hermes’ Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, which looks at New York City in the 1970s, when cheap rents and a burgeoning artistic community spawned a music revolution that created thriving punk, experimental, hip-hop, disco and salsa scenes.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Remembering film pioneer Earl Cameron

(August 8, 1917-July 3, 2020)

Earl Cameron receiving his 2009 Commander of British Empire medal

Earl Cameron, the Bermuda-born British actor who broke through the “color barrier” to become one of the first significant black performers in British cinema, died Friday, July 3, aged 102 (just a month shy of 103!). Cameron made his acting debut in director Basil Dearden’s Pool of London, a 1951 film about a diamond robbery set in a post-war London of racial prejudice that you can stream for free through Kanopy using your Enoch Pratt library card.

Cameron won critical acclaim for his performance in Pool of London as a sailor who unwittingly becomes involved with a smuggling plot. It was considered the first major role for a black actor in mainstream British cinema and was also the first British film to depict an interracial romantic relationship: Cameron’s West Indian seaman Johnny Lambert meets and falls in love with white theater ticket taker Pat (Susan Shaw of It Always Rains On Sunday, also available to stream through Kanopy), and the two share an instant chemistry and mutual affection as they have dinner and spend a tender, innocent day walking the streets of London.

Susan Shaw and Earl Cameron in “Pool of London” (1951)

But while Pat’s carefree attitude to their relationship shows a naivety about the miscegenation taboos of the times, Johnny can see clearly that their “friendship” cannot survive contemporary society’s racial divide.  In a key scene in the film, Johnny and Pat have the following conversation that sums up their plight:

Johnny: “When you’re at the wheel of a ship at night, you think about a lot of things you don’t understand. You wonder why one man’s born white and another isn’t. And how about God himself; what color is he? And the stars seem so close and the world so small in comparison with all the other worlds above you, it doesn’t seem to matter so much how we were born.”
Pat: “It doesn’t matter.”
Johnny: “It does, you know.”

Ealing Studios, the film’s producers, also made sure Pat and Johnny’s romance was doomed: no physical intimacy such as kissing or embracing transpired between the lovestruck couple, though the film’s narrative seems to cry out for it. Such were the social mores of the day and Cameron knew them well. Fortunately for him, life didn’t imitate art, for in real life both his wives, Audrey and Barbara, were white. But British cinema wasn’t quite ready for its first black star. It would take another five years before he landed another major role in Terence Young’s Safari (1956), followed up by an acclaimed performance in Roy Ward Baker’s Flame in the Streets (1961).

“I would still say it’s the best part I’ve had in films,” Cameron told historians Stephen Bourne and Richard Dacre, reflecting on Pool  of London in 1997. “The amount of fan mail I received was amazing. People felt sorry for me. They thought I really was that lonely Jamaican guy wandering around London looking for friends!”

But like the characters he played, Cameron had a remarkable tenacity and would go on to make many more films over the course of his long career, for which he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009. His major big screen credits include Flame in the Streets (1961), Thunderball (1965), The Interpreter (2005) and Inception (2010); on television he was one of the first black actors to appear on Doctor Who (his performance as Williams in 1966’s “The Tenth Planet" serial also made him the first black actor to play an astronaut onscreen) and appeared in a number of 1960s Patrick McGoohan series (Danger Man, Secret Agent Man, The Prisoner), as well as the 1996 TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. As critic Ashley Clark wrote during a 2017 British Film Institute “Black Star” retrospective of Cameron’s career:
“ ...to watch a young Cameron in Pool of London and Flame in the Streets is to see an actor who possesses a dramatic force comparable to Cameron’s friend, fellow Caribbean, and co-star (in the 1973 film A Warm December) Sidney Poitier: a handsome, composed, and commanding screen presence possessed of palpable intensity, dignity, and intelligence. It is also to imagine a poignant alternative history — one where that brilliance was fully recognized, amplified, and celebrated.” 

Despite the studio limitations imposed on Pool of London, director Basil Dearden never shied away from the taboo issues of race and sexuality, treating the subjects with a dignity unusual for the times. 1959’s Sapphire, made in the wake of the 1958 Notting Hill riots and once again featuring Cameron (this time as Dr. Robbins, a dignified black professional well aware of the burden of his color) addressed “racial passing” as well as the prejudice against Commonwealth immigrants in 1950s London. And 1961’s Victim sympathetically tackled homosexuality, which until 1967 was illegal in the UK and caused its practicioners to live in fear of being imprisoned, blackmailed or blacklisted. These latter two titles are part of  Basil Dearden’s London Underground, a four-film DVD box set that you can check out from Pratt using our Sidewalk Service pickup or Books-by-Mail services.

Earl Cameron’s final scene as Dr. Robbins in Sapphire offers perhaps the best summation of his long career as a black actor overcoming racial prejudice in his life and chosen profession. “I see all kinds of sickness in my practice...I’ve never yet seen the kind you can cure in a day.”  

Earl Cameron with Nigel Patrick in "Sapphire" (1959)

Related links:

Earl Cameron discusses his career in this YouTube interview.