Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/20/18 -- Vol. 37, No. 3, Whole Number 2024

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Someone in South Africa Is Reading Isaac Asimov (comments

                by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Happy Birthday, Mr. Mosca (Part 3) (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE GENERAL (1926) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)
        3:10 TO YUMA (1957) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)
        LIFEFORCE (letters of comment by Daniel M. Kimmel
                and John Sloan)
        HISTORY'S WORST DECISIONS and Martian Invasions (letter
                of comment by George Phillies)
                and THE APARTMENT (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky)
                DECISIONS (letter of comment by John Purcell)
        This Week's Reading (MAKING MOVIES) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Someone in South Africa Is Reading Isaac Asimov (comments by
Evelyn C. Leeper)

"There's a crazy plan to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to fix Cape
Town's water crisis

An improbable idea is being floated to solve Cape Town's water
crisis: towing an iceberg from Antarctica over 2,000 kilometers to
the South African city.

[To prevent the city from running out of water], Nick Sloane, a
marine salvage expert says towing an iceberg from Antarctica could
solve the problem.  The ideal iceberg would need to be one
kilometer in length, 500 meters across and 250 meters deep with a
flat surface. If successfully towed, melted water from the iceberg
can potentially provide 150 million liters of freshwater every day
for a year.  While it won't solve all of Cape Town's water
problems, it could make a huge dent and supply up to 30% of the
city's annual needs, Sloane estimates."  [-Yomi Kazeem]

Shades of "The Martian Way", anyone?  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Happy Birthday, Mr. Mosca (Part 3) (comments by Mark
R. Leeper

Continuing on my discussion of THE FLY...

The only actors really familiar in the film at the time were
Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall.  Both thought the film
hilarious, particularly the scene of the fly in the web, and
luckily they were relegated to what were actually very secondary
parts.  Patricia Owens is really the main character and deserved
top billing with secondary credit going to Al "David" Hedison.
Ironically and luckily both give better performances than Price
gave.  David Hedison went on in films to co-star in THE LOST WORLD
and then to have a long run on television in "Voyage to the Bottom
of the Sea," all for Irwin Allen productions for 20th Century Fox.

James Clavell adapted the George Langelaan story into the
screenplay.  Clavell is, of course, known best for a series of
best-selling novels set in the Far East, including SHOGUN.  Clavell
also wrote the screenplay for THE SATAN BUG, taking some liberties
with the original story.  In this case, however, he maintained the
original story very accurately.  In so many other films, even the
remake, the transformed human is dangerous and kills.  While Andre
is transformed, he never becomes a monster, in spite of being a
horrifying sight.  Andre loses his features and toward the end he
loses control of himself, but he never loses his humanity.  Kurt
Neumann seems to have risen to match his script with high
production values.  The film has the very good look of a careful
and high-quality production.  It was shot in wide-screen and

Sadly even with its classical story this film also has its moments
that are all too easily mocked.  Conservation of matter would
indicate that the fly's head on Andre's should be the size of a
fly's head.  Similarly with the human head on the fly's body, you
should barely see the fly parts.  The concept of the projection is
different from the concept in the remake.  The 1958 version has
essentially a projector that moves atom for atom.  It may distort
the image at the far end such as reversing it.  But it should not
just switch selected parts.  The remake has the device analyzing
DNA and essentially cloning it.  I would say that this is a more
absurd approach to matter transmission.  The simple fact is that
humans play host to many small life forms from eyelash mites to a
variety of organisms internally.  There are many forms of DNA the
machine could pick to reproduce.  Adding a fly just adds one more.
And why does it reproduce things like fingernails?  That is non-
living matter and cannot be reproduced from DNA.  It has been
mentioned that Helene disposes of her husband in the time-honored
tradition of disposing of flies; she squashes it in what is
essentially a big swatter.  Not all of Neumann's touches work.
When the night watchman sees the dead body his mouth drops open in
an exaggerated scream, but instead we hear the ringing of a phone.
Hitchcock could have made the scene work, but it really does not
here.  Neumann overuses the sound of a fly's buzzing in the
background.  It becomes tiresome.  For the sound of the electronic
equipment, a rhythmic cello-string is used, borrowing an effect
from THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.  The one unfortunate aspect of the
script is that nobody asks the really interesting questions.  What
happens when you can transmit people across borders?  Is the
transmitted human really the same person or just a replica?  For at
least some serious questions you must see THE CURSE OF THE FLY and
David Cronenberg' s semi-remake.  The fly's head on Andre is quite
well done and not made huge like in the sequel The Return of the
Fly.  There was no good way to give a fly a human head and little
daub of white paint on the head is not convincing.  It is
surprising in the scene where Helene and Philippe are trying to
capture what really is the right fly; they were not saying the
fly's head was white?  This is an important detail and one the
hunter would look for.

Best Touch of the film: Patricia Owens gives an excellent and
unrecognized performance.

Worst Touch of the film: The yowling of the cat after it has been

This is for me one of the milestones of the Fifties science fiction
film, and I give it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: THE GENERAL (1926) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Buster Keaton joined with Clyde Bruckman to write and
direct a comic account of a true incident, the Great Locomotive
Chase.  Keaton plays his usual nebbish character, in this case
Southerner Johnny Gray whose girl will not marry him if he does not
enlist as a soldier and the Confederacy will not draft him because
he is too valuable where he is as a locomotive engineer.  Then

Union agents steal Gray's beloved train engine in a plot against
the Southern troops.  Keaton has great sight gags and goes to
amazing ends to get the thrills he wants.  Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or

[It is not really clear if one can evaluate and rate a silent film
on the same scale one would use to evaluate a current film.  If it
could be done, this would be the silent film to use.  This is a
film that has many of the current virtues of films.  It has comedy,
drama, romance, and historical spectacle.  Instead of car chases it
has one long locomotive chase.  It uses only minimal special
effects.  If it needs an image from the Civil War it just re-staged
the event and filmed it.  As the most spectacular of its images it
has a locomotive ride over a railroad trestle over a river.  The
trestle buckles under the weight of the train and dumps a whole
train into the river.  And how did Keaton stage this spectacle?  He
obtained a full-sized locomotive.  He got himself a trestle
somehow, and he had the trestle collapse for his camera.  Try doing
that, George Lucas or Steven Spielberg.

I have to recommend THE GENERAL, a silent comedy that takes place
during the Civil War.  It was underwhelming at the box-office and
was almost completely forgotten until the 1950s when it fell into
public domain and it started to be seen by a generation who did not
have bad memories of the Civil War.  The film is a beautiful re-
creation of the same civil war that Matthew Brady photographed.  In
spite of all the humor--and Buster Keaton was a comic genius and an
amazing acrobat--you can learn a lot about what that war looked
like.  The film is a dramatization of the Great Locomotive Chase,
an actual event of the war.  Chattanooga, Tennessee, was a
strategic railhead for the South that the Union desperately wanted
to put out of action.  On April 12, 1862, Union soldiers and Union
scouts crept into Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) Georgia and stole a
train intending to use it as a moving platform to destroy bridges,
telegraph lines, track, and it was hoped make it to Chattanooga and
points north to do to the South all the damage they could manage.

Buster Keaton plays the engineer whose train was seized and who has
to chase his own train to get it back.  THE GENERAL works as an
exciting action film and as a comedy at the same time, not an easy
balance to strike.  Keaton always had a way with props and sets,
using them in unexpected ways.  The climax has a train crossing the
Rock River Bridge, which collapses under its weight.  As I said it
is no special effect--they actually intentionally collapsed the
bridge and wrecked a train for the spectacle of it.

Today THE GENERAL is considered one of a handful of the greatest
films this country has ever made.  If you have never seen THE
GENERAL, even if you do not like silent films, this film is a prize
and a great film experience.

By the way, if the situation of the stolen train seems familiar,
Walt Disney used the same incident as the basis for his studio's
THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE (1956).  Disney tells the story from the
UNION point of view; Keaton tells it from the Confederate point of

Initially a financial failure, THE GENERAL has been reevaluated as
being one of the greatest silent films ever made
I rate THE GENERAL high +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.  Portions
of this review have appeared previously in the MT VOID.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: 3:10 TO YUMA (1957) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: A dirt-farmer rancher is just about ready to give up on
his drought-stricken farm.  The local officials, however, will give
him the money he needs to keep his farm alive, if, in turn, he will
escort a dangerous killer to the train to Yuma prison.  The catch
is that the killer's gang is all over the streets of town, and they
are willing to kill to rescue their leader.  Delmer Daves directs
Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in a film based on a strong suspenseful
story by Elmore Leonard.  Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

Dan Evans (played by Van Heflin) is currently a rancher whose
ranch has been hit by disastrous droughts year after year.  The
ranch is failing.  If he had just a little cash for water he
probably could save his farm, but the sun just keeps beating down
as the sun kills his farm.

Dan happens onto a stagecoach robbery and he sees a notorious
killer kill two men.  The killer is mild-mannered Ben Wade (Glenn
Ford).  Wade is shortly thereafter captured, but the authorities
have a problem.  Wade has to be taken to the authorities in Yuma.
His gang is riding to rescue him and they will kill anyone trying
to take Wade to jail.  They want to hire someone to take the risk
and Evans would find that reward money very useful if he lives long
enough.  Evans is willing to get himself killed to get the reward
money for his family.  Wade's gang want to rescue Ben before the
train carries him away to prison.  Evans decides to take the job.

Evans wants no part of the notorious killer, but then the rancher
finds the outlaw totally unlike what he expected.  Ben Wade is
amiable, friendly, and clearly planning an escape.  Evans must
figure out the Wade's game before not knowing gets him killed. Let
the games begin.

Dan Evans has chosen to limit himself to a simple life.  He would
not have to get involved in violent conflicts as long as he could
dig his living out of the ground.  Now he has found that a quiet
farmer's life is not necessarily peaceful; it can lead a man just
as well to life-and-death conflict.

Delmer Davies directed 3:10 TO YUMA.  Van Heflin plays the killer
Ben Wade is played by Glenn Ford and the rancher, Dan Evans.  The
film is originally derived from a story published in 1953 authored
by Elmore Leonard.  Aspects of the story seem to borrow from HIGH
NOON.  Rating +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.

The film 3:10 TO YUMA was re-made in 2007.  The remake was larger-
scale and louder and though it was not bad as a Western it had lost
its personal touch.  It is hard to imagine a better Ben Wade than
Glenn Ford.  Ford has a quiet personal feel to his characters.

I have always been a little amused by the lyrics of the title song.
The last nine lines seem to imply that the train has some sort of
supernatural hypnotic come hither power:

There is a lonely train
Called 3:10 to Yuma
The pounding of the wheels
Is more like a mournful sigh.

There's a legend and there's a rumor
When you take 3:10 to Yuma
You can see the ghosts
Of outlaws go riding by, (riding by)
In the sky (in the sky).

'Way up high
The buzzards keep circling the train
While below the cattle are thirsting for rain.

It's also true they say
On 3:10 to Yuma
A man can meet his faith
For faith travels everywhere.

'Though you've got no reason to go there
And there ain't a soul that you know there
When 3:10 to Yuma whistles its sad refrain
Take that train (take that train)
Take that train.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: LIFEFORCE (letters of comment by Daniel M. Kimmel         and John

In response to Mark's review of LIFEFORCE in the 07/13/18 issue of
the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

I can still quote a line from my 1985 review of LIFEFORCE: "Those
wanting to see more of Mathilde May will find that difficult."

John Sloan writes:

I like LIFEFORCE.  I see the nudity as a feature, not a flaw.  I
like Mancini's theme.  But most of all, I like it because its plot
coincides with my thinking about the Fermi Paradox.  I've done a
lot of reading over the years about the Fermi Paradox: popular
science articles, scholarly papers, and non-fiction books on the
topic.  My favorite rationales for the lack of any detectable
evidence of other extraterrestrial intelligent life tend to revolve
around economics.  One of those is based on a sort of game theory
argument that incentivizes civilizations to wipe out competitors
before they themselves are wiped out.  The most efficient mechanism
I can come up with to wipe out other civilizations is weaponized
self-replicating von Neumann machines: automatons that consume all
the resources of a planet to build copies of themselves to launch
out into space in search of other planets, spreading in an
exponential fashion.  I like to think of the vampires of LIFEFORCE
as a kind of biological weapon cast in this mold: destroying an
intelligent civilization, then using its resources to build copies
of the spaceship to send to neighboring planetary systems.  The
bat-like creatures on the spacecraft may have been the originators
of the weapon--maybe they lost control of their own creation and
were destroyed by it--or they may have just been earlier victims of
it, trapped on board the spaceship that earlier visited their star
system.  Like you, I see a lot of interesting science fictional
ideas on LIFEFORCE.  We could do with more films with interesting
ideas, instead of yet another reboot, superhero movie, or sequel of
an old franchise.  [-js]


TOPIC: HISTORY'S WORST DECISIONS and Martian Invasions (letter of
comment by George Phillies)

In response to Evelyn's comments on HISTORY'S WORST DECISIONS in
the 07/13/18 issue of the MT VOID, George Phillies writes:

More lifeboats on the Titanic:  This was actually a well-known ship
design issue at the time.  The issue is that the weight of the
lifeboats is less weight for other things, such as other safety
measures.  The lifeboats are only useful if the ship goes down far
from shore under conditions where it founders slowly enough that
they can all be launched.  If you are on-shore, the boats make
several trips.  If you sink quickly, they are useless.  If weather
conditions are unfavorable so the ship is sinking in a storm, a
common outcome, they are useless.  There was a historical record as
to how ships sank; the Titanic was by historical standards a freak.
There was the loss of the Arctic, a half-century earlier, but the
introduction of collision bulkheads made that loss non-repeatable,
well, until the Andrea Doria.

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE MARTIAN WAR in the same
issue, George writes:

With respect to "War of the Worlds" novels, [Scott] Washburn's
"Martian War" series is much better than what you describe.  [-gp]


THE APARTMENT (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky)

In response to Mark's comments on THE FLY (1958) in the 07/13/18
issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

Terrific account of THE FLY (1958).  My own inclination is to
prefer it over the 80s remake--and I felt that way even before I
learned it was written by James Clavell.  [-tw]

Mark replies:

Thank you.  I think we are in complete agreement.  [-mrl]

In response to Mark's comments on LIFEFORCE in the same issue,
Taras writes:

Mark's review of LIFEFORCE (1985) suggests to me the idea that
nudity in a film (especially jaw-dropping nudity) is too powerful a
distraction to permit the rest of the film to be properly
appreciated and understood.  The audience shifts from watching to
ogling, as if the film were soft-core porn.  [-tw]

Mark replies:

The amount of nudity is perhaps regrettable.  It is a pity since the
film is full of interesting ideas.  It is interesting that decades
after the film's release I am at last finding there are a lot more
fans than there used to be.  I think people are looking past the
nudity to the story beneath.  It may be because GAME OF THRONES and
other films have had both nudity and a story worth telling.  [-mrl]

In response to Evelyn's comments on HISTORY'S WORST DECISIONS in
the same issue, Taras writes:

"The argument that there were no Y2K disasters might mean that the
preparations were unnecessary, or it might mean the preparations
helped prevent problems, or it might mean the preparations might
have been a reasonable insurance 'just in case'."

As a member of the vast army of programmers involved in this,
almost 20 years ago now, I can assure you that the correct answer
is "B".  Many Friday evenings in 1998 and 1999, we would copy our
system onto hundreds of data cartridges, truck them over to an IBM
DR (Disaster Recovery) site in Sterling Forest, and spend the
weekend bringing up our system, informing it that it is now
December 31, 1999, 11:45 PM.  At fake midnight, things would start
to break, and we would fix them, and other things would break.

On Real New Year's Eve 1999, the company had some of us stay at a
hotel near the data center, so we could get in fast if something
went seriously wrong.  And, in fact, even after all the cycles of
testing and remediation, there were still some remaining problems
on New Year's Day 2000 (and for days and weeks afterward); but the
people on site were able to handle them, and I slept undisturbed.

In response to Mark's comments on THE APARTMENT in the 06/29/18
issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

Review of THE APARTMENT (1960):  "Then [Jack Lemmon's character]
discovers that the woman the execs are handing around is the
elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine) whom he cares for."  That
makes her sound like a slut!  Actually, she was just having an
affair with Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), the executive who had
seduced her with false promises of leaving his wife for her.  The
other executives are fooling around with party girls who know the
score, it would appear.  [-tw]

Mark replies:

I concede.  My review was factually incorrect.  I will try to
correct that.  [-mrl]


DECISIONS (letter of comment by John Purcell)

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE MARTIAN WAR in the 07/13/18
issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

I have one word to share here: Cavorite.  [-jp]

In response to Mark's comments on THE FLY (1958) in the same issue,
John writes:

Other than that, I don't have much to add to Mark's ongoing
comments on THE FLY, at least not yet; I believe I shall wait until
this coming Friday's MT VOID arrived to see what else Mark has to
say about the movie.  It has definitely been interesting reading so
far, that I will say.  [-jp]

In response to Evelyn's comments on HISTORY'S WORST DECISIONS in
the same issue, John writes:

Evelyn continues to find fun books to review.  HISTORY'S WORST
DECISIONS, etc., sounds like something that I would enjoy reading,
but as things stand right now, I have way too many titles lined up
into my afterlife.  What's another book, right?  [-jp]


TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

MAKING MOVIES by Sidney Lumet (ISBN 978-0-679-75660-4) is the
perfect book if you want to know just how a movie is made.  Lumet
traces the production from the "where do you get your ideas" state
through the director, the writer, the style, the actors, and so on,
up to the answer print and the studio.  Along the way, he explains
how different camera techniques give different looks, how to read a
daily call sheet, and why he is not keen on the teamsters.  He
illustrates the various stages, choices, etc., with anecdotes about
his own films.  For example, he explains how he managed to shoot 12
ANGRY MEN on a truly shoestring budget by shooting it totally out
of order: first everything with one wall as a background, then
rotate the camera 90 degrees for everything against wall two, and
so on.  Arguments that took place across the table had their
covering shots done one day, participant one's close-ups another
day, and participant two's close-ups yet a third day.  Amazing!

Needless to say, some familiarity with at least some of Lumet's
films is helpful.  Luckily, people who are interested in all this
detail probably have seen most of the ones he references.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           The great appeal of the doctrine that the mind is a blank
           slate is the simple mathematical fact that zero equals
                                           --Steven Pinker