A Devine Bit o’ Blarney

A woman leans backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone.

A woman leans backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone.

By Judy Berman

On the train from Dublin to Blarney, I begin to wonder just what I’d gotten myself into. The signs posted were in Gaelic. The folks around us were speaking in a beautiful brogue – and we didn’t understand a word.

But we arrived without a hitch and basked in the village folks’ warm welcome.

The old castle, built in 1446, beckons. It’s the third structure built on this site, and it’s a long climb. This trek, taken years ago, meant that I’d have to lean over an empty space in the wall while lying on my back to kiss the Blarney Stone. Well, I had some second and third thoughts about that before finally giving in.

I was convinced that I didn’t need to do this to acquire the gift of eloquence. Being part-Irish, I always assumed that was in my DNA. But my husband and I did just that. (Our youngest daughter, who already has the gift o’ gab, declined.)

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

After kissing the stone, you are supposed to be bestowed with the gift of blarney – or “clever, flattering” talk. Smooth-talking charm aside, I doubt that I could have pulled off what townspeople in the tiny Irish village of 52 people in Tullymore (Tulaigh Mhór) accomplished.

One of their own won the National Lottery. But no one knew who. I’d lived in a community like this. The livestock outnumber the residents and everyone knows everyone else’s business. The world almanac of misinformation, the owner at the local grocery store, filled in whatever information was missing.

The townspeople hold a chicken supper, hoping that the winner will at last be revealed. No dice. But they notice that one of the townsfolk is missing: Ned Devine. Quite odd.

Two friends, Ian Bannen (as Jackie O’Shea) and David Kelly (as Michael O’Sullivan) rush to Devine’s cottage to confront him. But Ned is dead, and in his hand is the winning lottery ticket. The shock of winning killed him.

Honest folks would have alerted authorities. When 7 million pounds is involved, however, scheming Irish eyes are smiling about what they could do with the prize money.

In “Waking Ned Devine” (1998), Jackie is convinced by a dream that Ned wants the town to share his wealth. So Jackie and Michael plot with the townspeople to deceive the claim inspector from Dublin. They are all to pretend that Ned is alive and well. Then they can all be rich.

In the scam to defraud the lottery officials, Michael poses as Ned. This becomes a bit awkward when the claim inspector stumbles into the church where Ned’s funeral is being held. The villagers pretend the service is for Michael.

As Jackie rides with the claim inspector to Ned’s cottage, Michael drives at breakneck speed, naked, on a motorcycle to beat them there.

Everyone’s on board with this conspiracy – except one who has designs of her own on the money. Aye, and that’s the rub … in this fine tale filled with blarney, deception, twists and laughter.

“Erin go Bragh” … Long live Ireland. 


Video – movie trailer: “Waking Ned Devine” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osmPlQXzXXA

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or
earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original

Photo: BlarneyCastle – BlarneyCastle and adjacent east tower View is to west from walkway. To kiss the Blarney Stone, you must climb the steps to the top of castle, go to the arch shown in the photo, lay on your back, and arch your head backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone at the base of the arch shown in the photo. Photo taken April 2001 by Joseph Mischyshyn. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2e/Blarney_Castle_and_adjacent_east_tower_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1625431.jpg/400px-Blarney_Castle_and_adjacent_east_tower_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1625431.jpg

Photo: Blarney Stone – woman kissing the Blarney Stone (Blarney   Castle, Ireland) – August 2002 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7f/Blarney_stone.png/454px-Blarney_stone.png

Blarney Castle – the home of the Blarney Stone http://www.blarneycastle.ie/

Stay Gold, Ponyboy

By Judy Berman

Living life on the fringes. Always feeling like you’re on the outside looking in.

That’s the theme of the novel, “The Outsiders,” by S.E. Hinton. It’s one I can relate to, and I’ve been out of school for a few decades. The book and the movie still resonate with readers today.

Elvis, The Beatles, leather jackets, D.A.’s greased-back haircuts and madras shirts. They evoke a different time – the early-‘60s. That was when America worried about a nuclear attack and building bomb shelters. We had not yet gotten involved in Vietnam and the flower children of the mid-1960s were still a few years away.

Many look at those times as being more innocent. But it had its share of troubles, too. Like the author, I had friends who were rich, as well as those who were poor and lived “on the other side of the tracks.” A few were “hoods” and, around me, they were great guys. I knew that neither life was problem-free.

S. E. Hinton wrote about the clash of those two groups. She was 15 and still in high school when she began writing her novel. It was published in 1967,  when she was a freshman in college. She has said that the characters were not based on any one person she knew. Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally’s characters each had their own universal appeal, she said.

The movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is one I’ve shown to my students the past several years. They see the PG version, although I prefer the PG-13 version because the story thread is much closer to the book.

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” That’s Ponyboy Curtis’ opening line in the novel.

A few blocks later, Ponyboy is jumped by members of the Socs (or Socials, the rich kids). When he yells for help, his brothers and gang members of the Greasers, the hoods, rush to his defense.

Their next encounter is deadly. It forces Ponyboy and his friend, Johnny, to run away to avoid arrest. At one point, they’re focused on the countryside’s beauty and wish that scene could remain forever.

I recall a similar experience when I lived in the country. As I looked out our kitchen window, the whole countryside was awash in gold. Then, sadly, as the sun rose higher, the golden hues began to yield to nature’s green coloring. Ponyboy, in repeating lines from Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay:”

“Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day, Nothing gold can stay.”

When Johnny asks what it means, Ponyboy tells him that things cannot remain as they are.

Like the scene they witnessed, their innocence will slip away. What they’ve gone thru will transform them forever. Near the end of the book, Johnny told Ponyboy to “stay gold.”

Little has changed since the book was published in 1967. There are still cliques and those who are on the outside. Hopefully, as teens read this book and see the movie, they will see the harm that comes from stereotyping, from forming cliques, and how they view others who are not part of their group.

Ponyboy realized that just because he was poor didn’t mean he’d be stuck in that life. He was going to make something of himself. That’s an excellent observation. One that I hope my students take away from the story that Hinton crafted when she was a teen herself.


* Main photo of cast in “The Outsiders”   http://www.listal.com/viewimage/1402794h

* Photo of Ponyboy and Johnny from the movie  http://www.fanpop.com/spots/the-outsiders/images/29368683/title/johnny-cade-ponyboy-curtis-photo

* Photo clips from the movie, “The Outsiders,” and Stevie Wonder singing “Stay Gold.”   http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=the+outsiders+movie+music+video&mid=BEBF8C699E909E8E2096BEBF8C699E909E8E2096&view=detail&FORM=VIRE1

* Video of Ponyboy and Johnny. Scene where Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwJ-ppxCGPk

* Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”  http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19977

* S.E. Hinton’s website: http://www.sehinton.com/

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Catching the ‘Fever’ with Travolta and The Bee Gees

By Judy Berman


That swagger. Those dance moves. John Travolta, as Tony Manero, turned heads and captivated an audience from the opening scene of “Saturday Night Fever” (1977).

The film brings back memories of the disco era and the music of The Bee Gees. Even today, 35 years later, any of their hit songs from the soundtrack – “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” – make me yearn for a return of mirror balls, strobe lights and bad suits made of polyester.

I’m not even a disco fan. But I loved the dance music in that movie. There’s no way I could hit the high notes that Barry Gibb did in his falsetto voice. In my mind, I came a little closer to imitating his brother Robin’s vibrato.

Their music and the movie spoke to a time many can relate to. Many guys like Tony worked dead-end jobs during the week. But, on the weekend, Tony owned the dance floor. Others would step aside just to watch his skillful, stylish moves.

Movie critic Gene Siskel praised Travolta’s energetic performance: “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.”

Tony lives for the moment. He’s on top of his game when he’s dancing. Outside the Brooklyn disco, life is less satisfying. He bickers constantly with his parents, and he becomes disenchanted with his job and his friends.

Tony decides to enter a dance competition. He ditches his partner, Annette (played by Donna Pescow), when he sees Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney) dance. She’s not interested in a relationship with him, only in being his partner in the competition – something Tony hasn’t experienced before.

Tony begins to question his views on life thru his talks with Stephanie, who is wiser but not much older, and with his brother, a disillusioned priest. He begins to see that there is more to life than his appearances at the local nightclub, 2001 Odyssey.

Stephanie and Tony win the dance contest. But Tony feels the outcome was rigged. He believes the Puerto Rican couple performed better and suspects the judges rejected them out of racial bias. Tony hands them the prize. Outside, he and Stephanie fight. She runs away from him, and he gets in more skirmishes with his friends.

When the “Night Fever” had passed, Tony recognized that Stephanie was “More Than a Woman.” She wasn’t just another conquest. She could occupy a spot that no other girl had filled: She could be his friend.

After spending the night on the subway, Tony went to Stephanie’s apartment and apologized. She agreed to be friends with him.

It’s a bittersweet moment.

This movie and the creators of the soundtrack make me feel like I’ve got the moves like Travolta. I wish the dancing would never end, but, like Tony, we all had to move on.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

* Photo: The Bee Gees performing in 1968 (from left to right: Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Bee_Gees.png

* Photo: John Travolta (as Tony Manero) dancing with Karen Gorney (Stephanie) in “Saturday Night Fever” http://www.starpulse.com/Movies/Saturday_Night_Fever/gallery/Saturday-Night-Fever-02/

* music video: The Bee Gees performing “Night Fever” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ihs-vT9T3Q

* music video: John Travolta’s ritual preparing for dance, then dancing http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=saturday+night+fever&mid=E3A0F26506B707A8AB65E3A0F26506B707A8AB65&view=detail&FORM=VIRE7

* music video: John Travolta (as Tony Manero) dancing with Karen Lynn Gorney (as Stephanie) to “More Than a Woman” http://movieclips.com/rExg-saturday-night-fever-movie-disco-dancing/


Charade in Paris

By Judy Berman

A train races down the tracks in a desolate country scene. Before the opening credits roll, one of its passengers tumbles out in his pajamas. Dead.

The widow – although she doesn’t it know it yet – also appears to be about to meet a violent end at a ski resort. As Reggie Lampert (played by Audrey Hepburn) sips a cup of coffee, a gun is aimed directly at her. Fortunately, it’s a water gun, and the shooter is her young nephew, Jean-Louis (Thomas Chelimsky).

His next water-soaked victim is Peter Joshua (Cary Grant). This Stanley Donen film, “Charade” (1963), is being re-released this year on DVD. It also can be seen online, and is well worth the view.

Most of the action in this romantic comedy/suspense thriller takes place in The City of Lights.  Several years ago, this movie inspired my husband, Dave, our daughters, and me, (all of us “Charade” aficionados) to check into the Hotel St. Jacques, stroll along the Seine River, dine on a riverboat, tour a market off the Champs-Elysees and take in other sites featured in the movie.

When Hepburn returns to Paris, she discovers her husband, Charles, had emptied out their place. She frantically runs from room to room, and is startled when Inspector Edouard Grandpierre (Jacques Marin) emerges. He asks her to come with him.

At the morgue, she identifies her husband’s body. The Inspector reveals her husband had multiple identities, planned to leave the country, and gives her Charles’ small duffle bag.

It contained an agenda listing his last appointment – Thursday at The Gardens, 4,000 francs, a letter to her – stamped and unsealed, keys to their apartment, a comb, a fountain pen, a toothbrush and tooth powder.

Not much to go on. When she returns to the apartment, the door creaks, and she hears steps across the floor. It’s Peter Joshua (Grant), and he suggests she go to a hotel where she’ll have a safe place to stay.

Hotel St. Jacques actually is a great place to stay. Some of the film’s interior shots were filmed here. But this turns out to be a bad choice for Hepburn. She no sooner opens the door to her room than she is confronted by George Kennedy (as Herman Scobie) – one of three men she wishes to avoid.

Kennedy threatens her. He and two others – James Coburn as “Tex” and Ned Glass as “Gideon” – are convinced Hepburn knows the whereabouts of the $250,000 that her husband stole from them.

Hepburn runs toward a winding antique staircase and screams for Grant. Grant rushes inside. You hear a scuffle and then silence. Hepburn tentatively opens the door and finds Grant on the floor. Kennedy is nowhere in sight. He escaped out the window. Grant follows.

When you step outside the hotel at night, you can almost visualize Grant leaping from one balcony to another in pursuit of Kennedy.

A fourth man, Hamilton Bartholemew (Walter Matthau), tells her that he’s with the CIA, and the money her husband stole really belongs to the U.S.government. Matthau tells her the government wants the money back. He warns Hepburn: “Now that he’s (Charles) dead, you’re their only lead.”

Grant and Hepburn also find time for romance over dinner aboard a riverboat along the Seine River. We took a similar cruise. In the dark, the Eiffel Tower looked golden and the view of the Notre Dame Cathedral from the river also is impressive.

Despite this idyllic setting, the body count and tension mount in the film.

The movie is a classic game of who do you trust. Donen keeps us guessing, even after Hepburn discovers where her husband hid the money.

If you can’t make it to Paris, check out this movie. Viewer discretion is advised. Shortly after you watch it, you’ll want to see the real thing.

** Post a comment below if you’d like to share what film from past decades is most memorable to you?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

* Photos of Audrey Hepburn, Jacques Marin, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, George Kennedy, and Walter Matthau and Audrey Hepburn in the movie, “Charade” (1963)


* “Charade” – movie trailer – about 3 minutes


* “Charade” – movie summary, cast on IMDb (Internet Movie Database)


And Justice For None

By Judy Berman

Courtroom dramas. Noble attorneys, jurors who stick to their convictions despite the opposition of their peers, courtrooms that are just out of control, and justice as an elusive end product.

As a reporter, I covered quite a few trials. Some of the verdicts took me by surprise, as did some of the tactics used to sway a jury. Few of them, however, quite measured up to Hollywood’s portrayals of the legal system.

So, I began to wonder what would be the odds for me if my fate rested on a Hollywood lawyer or jury? Here are a few possibilities:

  • This year marks the 50th anniversary of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. He’s an honest man assigned to a case he’s doomed to lose – even though his client is innocent.

Several characters, who are innocents, take a hit in this drama. They were destroyed or injured by evil: Tom Robinson (played by Brock Peters), a black fieldhand, accused of raping a white woman, is unable to get a fair trial. Boo Radley (Robert Duval), a recluse who lives near Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother, Jem’s, home, was the victim of emotional abuse by his father. Jem’s (Philip Alford) innocence also is shattered by what he witnesses at Robinson’s trial.

Chances of winning at trial: 2 (Slim and None)

  • 12 Angry Men, (1957), starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley and E. G. Marshall.

In a line from the movie trailer, “On the point of that knife, a man’s life is at stake.”

When the jury began its deliberations, it looked like an open-and-shut case of murder. Then, the baggage that many people carry around with them – prejudice and preconceived notions – begins to shape the outcome.

Chances of winning: Excellent, if Henry Fonda is on the deliberating panel.

  • Runaway Jury (2003), starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.

“Trials are too important to be left up to juries,” said Gene Hackman (as Rankin Fitch, a jury consultant), as he schemes to rig the trial’s outcome through bribes and blackmail.

A failed day trader guns down former co-workers at a stock brokerage firm. Attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) takes the weapon’s manufacturer to court on the grounds of gross negligence.

Thru blackmail and bribery, Fitch tries to handpick a jury that will appeal to the gun lobby. On the inside, however, juror Nicholas Easter (played by John Cusack) is working with his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz), who is on the outside, to score a win.

Chances of winning: Well, to be bribed or blackmailed, you have to have a life. As I have neither, the outcome is up in the air.

  • And Justice For All, (1979), starring Al Pacino, Jack Warden and John Forsythe.

An ethical lawyer (Al Pacino as Arthur Kirkland) is forced to defend a corrupt judge (John Forsythe as Judge Henry T. Fleming) in a rape trial. This same judge wrongly sentenced Pacino’s client, who was innocent, on a technicality. Pacino had thrown a punch at the judge, and might be disbarred unless he takes on this case, even though he knows the judge is guilty.

Chances of winning: I’d throw myself on the mercy of the court, rather than get involved in this quagmire.

I rest my case. Hollywood ending: 4. Justice: None.

What was your favorite courtroom drama on film?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo of Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) and Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) in To Kill A Mockingbird


Movie trailer for To Kill A Mockingbird


Movie trailer for 12 Angry Men


Movie trailer for Runaway Jury


Movie trailer for And Justice For All