broadsword, calling danny boy

Turner Classic Movies runs a Memorial Day marathon of war movies – but, given the somber nature of the holiday, they run a sort-of-surprising variety of movies within that genre. Yesterday, the emphasis was on service comedies, including both Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello, as well as “No Time For Sergeants.” I wonder if they ever get any complaints.

Tonight in prime time, they’re running “Where Eagles Dare,” one of my all-time favorite movies, but it’s a slam-bang, over-the-top spy thriller.

I am sure most of you have seen it, and I’ve blogged about it before, but in case you’ve somehow missed it, it stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Burton, of course, is known for heavier dramatic fare, but his son challenged him to do an action movie as a change of pace, and to prove his versatility. “The Guns of Navarone” (which will also be on TCM today) had been a big hit, and so Burton wanted to adapt another Alistair MacLean spy novel. But all of MacLean’s novels were spoken for, and so MacLean agreed to write a new, original screenplay, which he then turned into a novel. Eastwood, who was riding high as the star of Sergio Leone westerns, wasn’t sure about taking second billing, but agreed to it anyway, and the two of them make a fantastic team – the bombastic Brit and the cool, laconic American.

This is one of those movies that you don’t want to spoil, but I can give you the basic setup. An American general, with knowledge of the D-Day plans, has been shot down and captured by the Germans and is being held prisoner in a remote mountain castle. A British commando team, headed by Burton, with Eastwood as a token American member, is dispatched to rescue him.  But events soon make it clear that the situation isn’t what it seems and that no one can be trusted.

Supposedly, Spielberg is a fan of this – when he was asked about it by an interviewer, he immediately started parroting Burton’s radio call sign, “Broadsword calling Danny Boy.” Once it gets going, the last two-thirds of it have the same sort of slam-bang action-serial pace as Spielberg’s “Raiders Of The Lost Ark.” There’s a fight on top of a skylift car.

Anyway, I love it. I have it set to record (I also have the DVD around here somewhere), but I’ll probably watch it live if I’m here tonight.

To prompt or not to prompt

I posted last week about a new version of “Match Game” which will air this summer, and in passing I mentioned, and included a YouTube clip of, the mid-1980s “Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour,” one of the most notorious flops in game show history.
I actually liked both “Match Game” and “Hollywood Squares,” but despite sharing lots-of-celebrities gimmick they’re actually quite different shows, and I think that’s one reason the attempt to put them together did not work.
One thing that differentiated the original 1970s shows from each other was the matter of whether the celebrities got any advance preparation. On “Match Game,” for better or worse, they did not. Any answers given by the panelists were their own, and any tomfoolery was their own. As I mentioned last week, five shows were taped in a day — that’s the norm for half-hour game shows — and the celebrities had access to Adult Beverages during the lunch break, which is why the Thursday and Friday shows tended to be more, um, free-spirited than the Monday and Tuesday shows.
“Hollywood Squares” was a different matter. If you’ve seen any version of the show (except the “Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour”) you know that the normal pattern was that the host (Peter Marshall, John Davidson, Tom Bergeron, and Peter Rosenberg from MTV’s “Hip Hop Squares”) would ask the celebrity a question, and the celebrity’s first answer would normally be some sort of joke, but then the celebrity would give his or her “real” answer. Whether the celebrity’s answer was right or wrong was not the determining factor, of course, because the contestant would then get the chance to either agree or disagree with the celebrity’s answer, and that would determine the outcome of the question. In some ways, the contestant was helped by a too-obviously-wrong answer from the celebrity, and so the producers had an interest in prepping the celebrities to the extent that they could at least give a credible wrong, or “bluff,” answer. In any of the versions, the host would usually read a disclaimer at the top of the show that “the stars were briefed before the show to help them with their bluffs.”
According to most sources, virtually all the joke answers were written in advance, even from some of the stars who have been complimented over the years for their quick wits on the program. In the Tom Bergeron / Whoopi Goldberg version, head writer Bruce Vilanch — who had not really been known as a performer up to that point – was made one of the squares. Vilanch had worked for years with center square Whoopi Goldberg. His placement on the tic-tac-toe board put him right next to Whoopi. Vilanch, who’s written for at least a dozen Oscar ceremonies and numerous other awards shows, has been known for writing jokes on the fly backstage, so that the host could refer to and build on some blooper or running gag from earlier in the show. I’m guessing he probably wrote some on-the-fly jokes for Whoopi on “Hollywood Squares” as well.
I’m not saying there was anything at all wrong with this; it’s entertainment, after all, and some of those scripted “ad libs” were pretty funny, no matter who actually came up with them or when. But it was a different type of humor than “Match Game,” and therein lied one problem with trying to mash the two shows together.
The “Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour” was one of the game shows run by Mark Goodson, the creator of “Match Game,” who simply licensed the “Hollywood Squares” name and format from its original creators or whoever owned it at the time. Goodson had taken pride in the fact that the celebrities on “Match Game” were unscripted and wanted the new show to be unscripted as well.
In order to facilitate this, without all the celebrities looking like idiots in an SNL “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketch, the trivia questions on the Hollywood Squares portion of the “Hour” were largely limited to true-false or multiple-choice formats, which limited the chances for the celebrities to look stupid. There were also, of course, no scripted joke answers.
This meant that the “Hollywood Squares” part of the show wasn’t very much like the “Hollywood Squares” people had come to know and love in the late 60s and through the 70s. To make matters worse, it was hosted by Jon Bauman of Sha Na Na, who lacked the kind of polish that Gene Rayburn brought to “Match Game” or Peter Marshall brought to the original “Hollywood Squares.”

great moments in the theatre

We had a good rehearsal for “The Foreigner” tonight, except that our lead, Aaron Gaines, wasn’t there. He had a good excuse: tonight was opening night for “Once Upon A Mattress” at Motlow College, in which he’s a cast member.

We started the evening working on one scene and finished it working on a different scene. In between, while we were taking a break, our director, Tony Davis, had us sit and tell our favorite non-musical play, our favorite musical, and our favorite moment from any play. In some cases, what we were remembering fondly were film versions of the plays in question, but in other cases they were plays that we’d seen, performed in, or dreamed of performing in.

Anyway, here were my answers, which are subject to change without notice:

Favorite non-musical play: “The Man Who Came To Dinner,” by George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart

I remember this from two sources: the movie version starring Monty Wooley, which is one of my all-time favorite film comedies, but also the video of a Broadway revival version which starred Nathan Lane. The late Julio Francesconi, when he had stopped by the Times-Gazette to drop off one of the wonderful short stories he wrote for us at Christmas, Halloween or Easter, once told me he thought I’d be perfect for the starring role in the play. I’d love to do that someday. It’s too large a cast for The Fly, but maybe they’ll do it one day in Tullahoma.

I’ve blogged about this before, so I probably don’t need to ramble on too much about it, but it’s a comedy about a pompous, sharp-tongued and self-centered radio comentator and columnist, Sheridan Whiteside (a thinly-veiled parody of Algonquin Round Table member Alexander Woolcott, a friend of the playwrights). Whiteside, with his harried secretary in tow, storms into a small Ohio town for a speaking engagement, but breaks his hip and is forced to stay a while, taking over the house of the hapless family that had only planned to serve him a pre-lecture meal. When his secretary starts to fall for the local newspaperman, Whiteside fears losing her and schemes to break up the romance.

Here, you can see a little bit of Monty Wooley followed by a little bit of Nathan Lane. Coincidentally, I think the Lane clip takes place immediately after the Wooley clip:

Favorite musical play: “Guys And Dolls,” music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based on short stories by Damon Runyon

I have long said that if I had any vocal talent at all, my dream role would be Nicely Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls.” He’s a supporting player, but gets to sing my two favorite songs in the score, “Fugue For Tinhorns” and “Sit Down (You’re Rocking The Boat).”

I know this one only from the movie version, but I think it’s supposed to be relatively faithful to the play.

The movie is set in Runyon’s world of lovable and relatively-harmless gangsters and gamblers. Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra, in the movie version) runs “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” but he’s running out of places to hold it and needs some cash to put down as a deposit on a possible location. In hopes of a windfall, he bets high roller Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that Masterson can’t seduce strait-laced Salvation Army* missionary Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons).

Technically, Sky Masterson is the lead role – and Sinatra was furious when he had to settle for the part of scrappy Nathan Detroit instead of the ladies’ man Masterson. But a good Nathan Detroit can actually steal the show, as Nathan Lane did in the 1992 Broadway revival that launched his career.

*They don’t actually call it “The Salvation Army,” choosing the movie-generic “Save-A-Soul Mission” instead, but the intent is clear.

Favorite moment from a play:

You will find it at the very end of this clip, after the song. George Hearn, playing the title role in “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” is obsessed with revenge. When Mrs. Lovett (Angela Lansbury) gives him back his old barber tools, he sings to them, holding aloft the straight razor with which he hopes to strike down the man who ruined him. He then says, in a growl-like scream, “at last my arm is complete again.” Chills ran down my spine the first time I saw this, on public television in 1985. Johnny Depp was not even in the same ballpark.

buona sera

Watching TCM just now while waiting to go in to work, I saw a promo for their annual film festival (a bucket list item for me, but not this year). One thing they mentioned was that Gina Lollobrigida would be there for a screening of “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” (1968).

Sometimes, the films they show at the festival get screened on TCM before or after the festival takes place. If “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” pops up on the schedule, I will try to let you know – but it would also be worth setting a DVR search for it if you commonly do such things. I’ve only seen it a couple of times, but it’s a hilarious comedy.

The movie takes place in a small Italian village. Years before the movie takes place, during the American occupation of Italy following World War II, a young Italian woman has flings with three different American soldiers. After they leave, she has a daughter – and she writes each of the soldiers, without telling the other two. All three have been supporting her in the years since, which has allowed her and the daughter to live quite well compared to the other villagers. She has told the other villagers that she is the widow of a (fictitious) American pilot named Campbell, the name inspired by a soup can.

Now, though, there’s a complication. The military unit in which the soldiers served has decided to have a reunion – in Italy. Naturally, each of the three soldiers (Telly Savalas, Phil Silvers and Peter Lawford) wants to meet the girl he believes to be his teenage daughter. So the mother (Lollobrigida) is in a panic.

A terrific comedy with a terrific cast. Watch it if you get the chance.

A study in contrasts

In between working on my lines Monday night, I was watching two movies on TCM — one I’d seen before, the other I hadn’t. Both were part of a month-long TCM focus on art in the movies.

The movies were about as different as you can imagine. “The Art of Love” was a wacky comedy starring Dick Van Dyke, James Garner, Elke Sommer and Angie Dickinson, and it was a lot of fun (although I missed more of this one while working on my lines than the other one). Van Dyke and Garner are Americans living in Paris. Van Dyke is a struggling artist on the verge of giving up. Garner tries to talk him out of it.

Van Dyke, through a weird coincidence, is seen by Garner jumping off a bridge and is presumed to have committed suicide — the tragic story of which sends his existing artwork skyrocketing in value. When Garner discovers that his friend is still very much alive, they hatch a plan — Garner sells Van Dyke’s artwork and gives Van Dyke the money while Van Dyke remains in hiding, letting everyone believe he is dead while he cranks out new paintings for Garner to sell. But then Garner starts moving in on Van Dyke’s fiancee (who doesn’t know about the ruse), and so when the police start to think Van Dyke’s death was murder instead of suicide, and blame Garner for it, Dick lets his friend sweat for a while as punishment. He even plants some incriminating evidence. I wasn’t familiar with this movie at all, but I would watch it again. It’s an over-the-top farce, so don’t think about it too hard. Ethel Merman and Carl Reiner are in it too, and Reiner was one of the co-writers.

The other movie, which I have seen before, was the fascinating documentary “F is for Fake,” directed and hosted by Orson Welles. In the early 70s, a Spanish TV producer was working on a documentary about the world’s greatest art forger, Elmyr de Hory, and brought Welles in as a consultant. At the same time, a writer named Clifford Irving was working on a book on Elmyr. The two projects were separate but on good terms with each other; the documentarian shot some footage of Irving interviewing Elmyr and also some talking-head footage of Irving speaking as an expert on the subject.

Then, Irving sold a magazine article in which he claimed to be an acquaintance of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Eventually, the story was debunked and Irving was exposed as a fraud, in one of the biggest news stories of its era.

Welles was fascinated by this — the man who, just a few months earlier, had been dispassionately reporting on the topic of art forgery turned out to be a faker himself. Welles, working with the Spanish TV producer, took the footage shot for the documentary, shot new footage featuring himself, his girlfriend at the time, and others, and created an ingenious look at art, deception, and the relationship between the two, referencing Welles’ own experience with the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. A couple of Welles’ former Mercury Theater colleagues make an appearance, and there are also some “Citizen Kane” references.

The documentary comes complete with a clever surprise ending. (The next time TCM airs this, pay close attention to Welles’ opening narration and see if you can figure it out in advance.)

Each of the movies is fun, but they couldn’t have possibly been more different.

risen

risenA week or two ago, the youth of First UMC Shelbyville asked our youth director, Alden Procopio, about the movie “Risen.” Alden thought – correctly – that she ought to see the movie before recommending it, so she and Rev. Lanita Monroe went earlier in the week. They liked it so much that Lanita sent out an e-mail blast inviting all ages, not just the youth, to attend the 4:15 Sunday matinee.

So I joined the group today, walking from the church to the theater and back again. The short review, which I’ll expand on below, is that I really enjoyed it – I thought it walked a fine line between an innovative approach and reverence to the source material.

I get frustrated with some of the ham-fisted attempts to put faith on film. Not surprisingly, three of the four coming attractions before tonight’s movie were faith-based. One of them, a fictional story about a teacher suspended for using a Bible verse in her classroom, seemed like a perfect example of what I normally don’t like in this genre. The movie (judging only from the trailer, which can be inaccurate) is really black-and-white, portraying the chief opponent as a one-dimensional villain and the teacher and her supporters as a persecuted minority. Any non-Christian would find it laughable and unconvincing, but non-Christians wouldn’t go see it in the first place. The movie is aimed at Christians – but its primary purpose (again, judging from the trailer) seems to be reinforcing how great we are and how nasty and evil anyone who disagrees with us is. The question of how and when faith can be expressed in taxpayer-funded public schools is a complicated one, and not always a matter of black and white, heroes and villains. But a more-nuanced treatment probably wouldn’t sell group tickets to churches.

Sorry; excuse me for getting off on a rant there. I only bring it up to contrast it with “Risen.”

Now, to be fair, any Biblical epic is going to suffer from a little bit of the same preaching-to-the-choir effect I described above. Few non-Christians are going to be interested, so any claims of evangelistic value are going to be wildly overstated. But I think a well-done Bible movie at least has some value in terms of inspiration. It certainly served that purpose from a couple of our youth, who said during the post-movie discussion back at the church that the movie had helped them imagine the crucifixion story.

By way of confession, about 10 years ago I tried to write a novel which was not unlike “Risen” in intent – it was supposed to tell the story of what happened to the disciples in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. I still have the incomplete manuscript; I gave it up because I decided I didn’t have the Bible scholarship to do it justice, and my original excuse that it was going to be “more like a parable than Bible history” was just that, an excuse.

“Risen” brings the story to life in a way which I found creative and reverent.

The story is told through the eyes of Clavius, a Roman tribune, played by Joseph Fiennes. Pilate (Peter Firth) sends a war-weary Clavius, who seems to be Pilate’s protégé, to the crucifixion site to break the legs of the three convicts and hasten their deaths. (If you remember the Bible story, you know that Jesus was already dead by that point and was pierced in the side instead.) Then, the next day, when the Judaean religious authorities complain to Pilate, Clavius is sent out to put Pilate’s personal seal on the tomb and post a couple of guards there.

Minor quibble: It’s sort of a Hollywood cliché that in movies, ancient Romans speak with upper-class British accents. But when working-class Roman soldiers are given working-class British accents (not Cockney, but something like that), it just sticks out like a sore thumb.

On the next day, the tomb is discovered to be empty – and Pilate commands Clavius to investigate, and to locate Jesus’ body in order to refute the rumor that he has somehow been resurrected.

This leads to what seems like a first-century police procedural, as Clavius and his newly-assigned deputy, Lucius (Tom Felton), track down rumors, dig up newly-buried bodies and try to intimidate everyone.

Clavius keeps telling people that he’s after the truth, and that he’ll allow them to go free if they’ll give him the truth. Eventually, of course, Clavius comes face-to-face with a truth he did not expect.

From that point forward, the movie changes in tone a little bit, bending the rules to depict Clavius as being present (albeit in the background) for several Bible scenes involving Jesus and the disciples. As long as you accept this as a work of inspirational fiction, and don’t take it too seriously, I’m fine with that. After all, as previously admitted, I tried to do the same thing. Think of it as “Ben-Hur” for the 21st Century.

The filmmakers do get several little details right. Jesus actually looks (gasp!) Middle Eastern, rather than like that blankety-blank Warner Sallman painting. The crucifixion wounds are in Jesus’ wrists, rather than his palms. If you tried to crucify someone by putting nails through their palms, the nails would tear through the flesh. Only by nailing just above the wrist – which still would have been considered the hand by the gospel writers – do you have the proper bone structure to hold someone on the cross for several days (which is how long crucifixions normally took). Clavius gives the disciple Bartholomew an accurate description of how crucifixion actually kills a victim – by suffocation. The victim must keep pushing his body up to breathe, and eventually, after days of agony, he gives up, exhausted, and is strangled by his own weight.

Rev. Lanita, in talking about the movie to the youth, lamented that they fell into the common trap of portraying Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, when the gospels don’t refer to her as such. (The idea that she was a prostitute comes from someone in church history speculating that she was the same woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, even though the Bible does not give us any specific reason to make that connection.)

It all seemed to work, at least for me. Fiennes is absolutely great as Clavius. You can feel his weariness, but then he shifts it aside and becomes an intimidating interrogator, and he makes his conversion – which, by the conventions of this type of movie, has to be somewhat sudden – believable. He still seems like the same person. With a lesser actor, this movie could have easily descended into camp.

Firth and Felton are also great on the Roman side, while Stuart Scudamore (running a close second to Cumberbatch in the silly name rankings) is quite good as Simon Peter (IMDb lists him as “Peter,” but he seems to be referred to mainly as “Simon” by the other characters). Stephen Hagan is just a tiny bit too giddy as Bartholomew, but I’ll let it slide – especially since the more-common mistake in Bible epics is to be universally-gloomy. This movie actually had a few moments of welcome and appropriate humor, such as one where one of the Romans makes a disparaging remark about the Jewish high priests just as we, the audience, see them approaching him from behind. There’s also a scene between Simon and Clavius late in the movie which incorporates some funny byplay.

I just really found the movie inspirational. I doubt many people who aren’t already believers will be converted by it, because I doubt they’ll go see it in the first place. But we probably shouldn’t expect movies to proselytize anyway. I think this is fine as a creative expression of faith, one which someone like me (and the teens from church) can simply enjoy on its own terms.

I highly recommend it.

Executive Suite

When I got home from work today, “Executive Suite” was on, and I watched I guess the last hour or so of it. I’d watched the whole thing once before.

It’s a 1954 movie, directed by Robert Wise and the debut of legendary screenwriter Ernest Lehman. I find it interesting because it is, or winds up being, a movie about capitalism, which is not a common topic for popular entertainment.

The movie was pitched as an all-star drama, and for most of the movie, it manages to be that. The long-time chairman of a major furniture manufacturer has died, and various parties are jockeying to take his place. At first, McDonald Walling (William Holden) is watching this from the sidelines, trying to figure out how changes at the company might affect him. He’s more interested in design and research than in the operatic backroom bargaining, and his wife (June Allyson, who seemingly always played the supportive wife) wants to encourage him to follow his passion as a designer, even if it means leaving Treadway Corp.

But Walling becomes dead-set against Loren Shaw (Frederic March) taking over the company. He sees Shaw as one of the forces that has led the company to cut back on research and innovation and to put out a shoddy product line in hope of short-term profit. The conflict between the two men turns into a climactic scene in the boardroom as the board gathers to vote on a new chairman.

Shaw believes that a company’s overwhelming responsibility is to its stockholders, period, and that means cutting out anything wasteful that might cut into the profit margin here and now. Walling argues, passionately, that the company has to take a longer-term approach. He argues that Shaw’s approach demoralizes the employees and ultimately destroys the company and harms the stockholders. He argues that there may be a place for a value-priced furniture line, but it should be based on innovation rather than simply on cutting corners and turning out a second-rate product. He invokes the company’s responsibility to its own employees and says that they need to produce a product of which they can be proud.

It’s a surprisingly academic discussion to be the climactic standoff of a Major Motion Picture, but it’s played with surprising passion. And the basic arguments are, if anything, even more relevant in 2016 than they were in 1954.

At the height of the Red Scare, a critique of American corporate culture apparently raised some eyebrows, so much so that, according to Ben Mankiewicz’s outro to the film, producer John Houseman (Professor Kingsfield from “The Paper Chase”) was asked to sign a loyalty oath. But this film is virtually a celebration of capitalism – it simply holds that there’s a good kind of capitalism, one which serves the customers (and values intangibles like pride of workmanship) because that’s in the long-term interest of the stockholders, and a bad kind of capitalism, one which puts too much emphasis on maximizing short-term profit without considering the long-term consequences.

Logan’s Run

I see that I already have a blog post tag for “Logan’s Run,” so I must have blogged about it at some point in the past. But I don’t feel like going back and looking.

The 1976 movie “Logan’s Run” is airing right now, as I type this, on Turner Classic Movies. I remember it from my adolescence, although I only saw it edited on network TV, not in the theaters. It was followed in September of 1977 by a TV series, a relatively short turnaround for that sort of thing. It was right in the wake of “Star Wars,” which had come out that summer, and studios and TV networks were snatching up anything science fiction-related.

The original novel by by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, which I’ve never read, was a Vietnam allegory, published in 1967. By 1976, Americans were trying to forget the war – well, except for “M*A*S*H,” which was as much about Vietnam as Korea. So the politics were played down, although the central allegory – young people sent off to die because that’s what the system demands — remains.

The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic domed city – a seeming paradise, in which you work only a few hours a week and there are a lot of leisure options. There’s just one catch, and it’s a doozy. When you are born, a crystal is implanted in your hand. As you approach your 30th birthday, the crystal changes color and you are summoned to “carousel,” a ceremony in which participants float up into the air and explode. (The TV series substituted the explosions with a less-disturbing effect that looked like the transporter on “Star Trek.”)

The public is told that carousel is simply a first step to reincarnation, but there are some, called “runners,” who doubt the official theology and try to evade their pre-ordained fate. There’s virtually no other type of crime, so there’s no regular police force, but there’s a special squad called the “sandmen” who track down such runners.

Our central character, Logan 5, starts the movie as a sandman and is sent undercover to infiltrate a sort of Underground Railroad for runners. He, too, begins to doubt the line about reincarnation, ultimately pitting him against his former partner, who considers him a cop-gone-bad and is obsessed with tracking him down, even outside the protection of the dome.

Logan was played by British Michael York in the movie, and then by all-American Gregory Harrison (of “Trapper John, M.D.”) in the TV series. Jenny Agutter was the female lead — a runner who befriends Logan — in the movie, followed by Heather Menzies in the TV show.

The movie features a very brief cameo by Farrah Fawcett, but by the time it was released she was starting to explode from “Charlie’s Angels” and that poster, and so some theaters even advertised “Farrah Fawcett-Majors in ‘Logan’s Run'” or what have you.

IMDb still lists a remake as being bounced around. At one time, it was supposed to star Ryan Gosling; now, it seems to be limbo.

another jet flight

When I first blogged about the online shopping site Jet back in August, it was being touted as a membership-based shopping site, a cross between Amazon and Costco or Sam’s Club. Few if anyone had actually bought a membership at that time, because the site – which had some heavy-hitting investors and the money to launch with a bang — was offering free trial memberships of three or six months. The stated premise was that the company would sell its goods more or less at cost and would make its money solely on the annual membership fees.

Soon after my blog post, the company announced that it was changing its concept a bit and would not be membership-based after all.

I placed a couple of orders with the company early on, about the time of my blog post, but then in the last quarter of the year I was busy with Christmas shopping and my personal shopping was sort of on a day-to-day basis.

But since the first of the year, I’ve ordered from them a couple of times under the new model. I don’t think the discounts are quite as deep as they were under the old model – although it’s hard to compare, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment – but they’re still good, and if you have never used the site and have any interest in making routine household purchases online it’s worth checking out.

I did have one glitch with my most recent order – and I’ll explain that in a moment, too – and it’s a cautionary tale but not a deal-breaker.

The way Jet works is that they try to have low, competitive basic prices on household goods – some in bulk quantities, others in individual quantities – but on top of those competitive prices, there’s a discount formula that rewards you for putting more and more items in your shopping cart during a given order. The first item you decide to buy goes into your cart at its basic price, then the second item goes in at its regular price less a small discount, then the next item gets a slightly larger discount, and so on.

This rolling discount plan can save you money – but it also makes it harder for you as a shopper (or for Jet’s competitors) to comparison shop for one specific item.

Any purchase over $35 gets free shipping (and it’s fast shipping, except as explained below), and I believe that threshold is measured before the discounts are applied, which is good news for the buyer. (I know that was the case last fall, but I haven’t tested it recently.) You also get a discount for using a debit card (which I would do anyway) or by waiving the free-return policy for certain low-cost household items that you probably wouldn’t try to send back anyway.

But here’s the thing. Jet has a seamless ordering process, but (sort of like Amazon), some of its products are being sold directly by Jet, others are being sold by other partner sites. Some of the items from partner sites may have slower shipping and use different carriers. Your order may arrive in several different pieces – some directly from Jet, some from its partner merchants.

The glitch I wrote about earlier had to do with one of those partner sites. On my most recent order, I found what was clearly described as a new, original-manufacturer Canon ink cartridge for my printer, and the photo which accompanied the item was of the authentic Canon packaging. The price was good, so I ordered the cartridge. But when it arrived today, it turned out to be a remanufactured cartridge from a third party. I’ve bought remanufactured cartridges before – in fact, I have two in the printer right now – but that’s not what I ordered this time, and I could probably have gotten a remanufactured cartridge just as cheaply, or for even less, from any number of other sources.

Fortunately, Jet has good customer service. I had not waived my free-return rights on this item, and so within seconds I had printed out a pre-paid FedEx label for returning the cartridge. They will refund the money to my debit card once it arrives. That process was automated, but I also sent an e-mail to the company complaining about what I considered a deliberately-deceptive listing by one of Jet’s partner sites. I received a quick response promising that they would look into the matter, but that’s easy to say.

But that’s a glitch. All in all, I’ve been happy with my purchases from Jet and will continue to do business with them in the future. I suggest you check them out.

DISCLOSURE: For years, this site – like a lot of others on the web – has been part of the Amazon affiliates program. When I include an Amazon link for a product, and someone clicks on it and buys something from Amazon, I get a very small commission. I don’t make any significant amount from this – at times, it’s been years before I’ve gotten to the $10 threshold at which they deposit accumulated commissions into your checking account. My participation in this program does not affect the views I express or the topics I cover here, as evidenced by this post about one of Amazon’s competitors.

a blessing in song

I am one of three people with administrative access to our church’s Facebook page. A few weeks ago, while my pastor, the Rev. Lanita Monroe, was on a mission trip to Louisiana, I was checking that page and there was a message from a man named John Lemonis.

Crosby LaneJohn is a member of a vocal trio called Crosby Lane, named for famed hymn writer Fanny Crosby. Their specialty is new, Americana-style or country-style arrangements of classic hymns, and they also tell the stories behind those hymns as they perform them in concert. They also have some original songs, one of which – “Crucified” – is right at this moment being played by not only Christian radio stations but country stations, and is about to premiere on the cable channel GAC.

Crosby Lane had a radio interview scheduled in Scottsboro, Alabama, early in the day on January  20, and then after that they would be driving back to their home base in the Nashville area. They had decided to message some churches along their route home to see if any of them might be interested in a Wednesday night performance.

I messaged John back telling them that our pastor was in Louisiana. I gave him her e-mail address. I had no idea whether he’d end up e-mailing her (after all, one of the other Facebook contacts might come through first), or how often Lanita was checking her e-mail while on the mission trip.

After the return of the mission team, I was delighted to discover that John had, in fact, gotten in touch with Lanita, who had agreed to have the group perform tonight. I tried to help get the word out through social media and on the church news page of the Times-Gazette, so that we’d have a decent crowd.

Then, of course, weather happened. I worried that Lanita might have to call off the church’s normal Wednesday night activities, or that we might have a poor crowd. When I stopped by the church while on my daily walk today, it looked like our Wednesday activities were good to go, but the person I spoke to at the church wasn’t sure whether the band was still coming. If they came, they would be driving down from Nashville rather than up from Alabama, since their appearance in Scottsboro – the whole initial reason for their visit here – had been cancelled.

They came, and I’m so glad they did. It was a wonderful performance, melodic and inspiring. John and Michaela Lemonis and Tonja Rose blessed all of us with their music, with the stories behind the hymns, and with their joy in performing, even for a crowd of 35-40 people on a cold, wet Wednesday night. As it happened, I ended up sitting at the same table as the three of them during dinner, and they couldn’t have been nicer or more enthusiastic.

Everyone who was there for the performance loved it, and many of us bought CDs afterwards. “We want you to come back!” someone called out.

I hope they do too, on a night when we can give them a bigger crowd  — even though they may have bigger and better things ahead.