Book World: Michael Dirda reviews ‘Phantom Lady,’ a classic noir thriller

Phantom Lady” is hardly a new book, having been first published in 1942. But it is one of the most highly regarded of Cornell Woolrich’s many classic noir thrillers. Given that those thrillers include “The Bride Wore Black” — its plot lifted by Quentin Tarantino for “Kill Bill” — and the story behind the Hitchcock masterpiece “Rear Window,” that’s saying something. While Raymond Chandler writes like a street-smart angel and David Goodis (recently given the Library of America treatment) is the chronicler of existential angst, Woolrich (1903-1968) almost always focuses on the creation of relentless, unforgiving tension and suspense.

Mainly, he accomplishes this through his plotting. Sometimes, this takes the form of an ingeniously cruel idea. In one story, for instance, a group of men are given a sumptuous dinner and then told by the host that he has poisoned one of them — the murderer of his son. An antidote is placed on the table; whoever drinks it immediately reveals his guilt to all. In “Rendezvous in Black” — perhaps the finest of Woolrich’s six novels using “black” in the title — a young woman has been killed, thoughtlessly, absurdly. Her devastated fiance seeks “justice” — not by murdering the people who caused his beloved’s death, for that would be too kind, but by destroying, one by one, the person dearest to each of them. In my favorite Woolrich novel, “Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (written under the pen name George Hopley), all the combined forces of law, reason and money attempt to thwart a mystic’s bizarre prediction that a New York millionaire will “at the stroke of midnight, on the seam between the fourteenth and fifteenth of June, meet death at the jaws of a lion.”

As this suggests, Woolrich’s favorite technique for creating tension is the race against time. This is clearly underscored in the very chapter titles of “Phantom Lady”: The first is “The Hundred and Fiftieth Day Before the Execution: Six P.M.” Gradually, inexorably, the clock ticks down to Chapter 22: “The Hour of the Execution.” What makes the anxiety all the more unbearable is that the reader knows that Scott Henderson is innocent of his wife’s murder.

Or is he? The book opens: “The night was young, and so was he. But the night was sweet, and he was sour.” We don’t know why 32-year-old Henderson is in such a sullen mood, but only that he drops into a bar named Anselmo’s at 6:10 — the time is important — and strikes up a conversation with an otherwise nondescript young woman in a dramatic pumpkin-orange hat. He tells her that he’s got two tickets to the casino, and it would be a shame to waste them. Wary of each other, they agree that this will be just dinner and a show, nothing more. They won’t even exchange names or talk about anything personal.

Over the next six hours the two dine, sit in the front row at the theater and are seemingly noticed by a slew of people, including a taxi driver, two waiters and the singing sensation Estela Mendoza. At midnight, they return to Anselmo’s, and, at her wish, Henderson leaves the woman there and goes home.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com


Menendez’s office denies prostitution allegations


Ted Cruz’s delicate balancing act

How the NRA spent $32 million on politics in 2012

Why the assault weapons ban is going nowhere, Part 2

How immigration reform failed, over and over

Why Hillary can’t wait forever to make up her mind on 2016

Who is Mo Cowan?

Why the Judiciary Committee is the center of the (congressional) universe

New Jersey is a Democratic state. Why can’t Democrats find someone to run against Chris Christie?

Jay Leno on Michael Bloomberg’s big donation to Johns Hopkins (video)


* The office of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) denied allegations that a major donor supplied him with free trips to the Dominican Republic where he engaged with underage prostitutes, adding that the allegations “are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog.” The accusations, which were reported on conservative Web sites in the lead up to 2012 election, have resurfaced due to an FBI raid on the home of the Menendez donor.

* Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to act to curb gun violence. In addition to Giffords, who nearly lost her life in a 2011 assassination attempt, the committee’s Democrats invited her husband, Mark Kelly, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre, and Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson to appear on Wednesday. Republicans invited Independent Women’s Forum senior fellow Gayle Trotter and Denver University Professor David Kopel, a prominent opponent of gun control.

* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) called a GOP proposal to allocate Wisconsin’s electoral votes by congressional district a “double-edged sword.” He added: “What may look appealing right now depending on who your candidate was might, four or eight years from now, look like just the reverse. And the most important thing to me long term as a governor is what makes your voters be in play.

* Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) took a swipe at Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on the issue of immigration, calling him “amazingly naive” on the subject. “I love and respect Marco,” Vitter (R-La.) said in an interview, before adding: “I think he’s just amazingly naïve on this issue. This is the same formula we’ve seen before. … Promises of enforcement never materialize, and the amnesty happens immediately.”

* A Chicago teenager who reportedly performed with her school’s marching band at several events for President Obama’s inauguration last week was shot and killed  Tuesday afternoon, police said.


* Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun’s wife, Niki Broun, says he’s going to run for the Senate. Broun’s office said nothing is official yet, but that he will make his plans known within the next week.

* Illinois state Sen. Napoleon Harris (D) dropped out of the race for the seat formerly held by Jesse Jackson Jr., and endorsed former state representative Robin Kelly (D). The departure of Harris, a former NFL linebacker, whittles the list of candidates down to 21 (!).

* The White House had no reaction to the skeet shooting challenge Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) offered up for Obama.

* Michigan state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D) will not challenge Gov. Rick Snyder (D) in 2014. Democrats are still looking for a candidate to rally behind.


Break it down!

With Aaron Blake

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

NBC moves Mike Tyson ‘Law & Order: SVU’ episode up a week NBC moves Mike Tyson ‘Law & Order: SVU’ episode up a week

NBC has moved an episode of its drama series about sex-crime victims — in which Mike Tyson is a guest star — so as not to air on the eve of a global event supporting rape and abuse survivors.

The episode of “Law & Order: SVU” that was originally scheduled to air Feb. 13 has been moved to Feb. 6.

The air date was changed after rape survivor Marcie Kaveney created a petition on asking NBC to recast Tyson’s role. She told The TV Column last week that she did so after learning about the casting and the airdate — which was on the eve of the event One Billion Rising.

“As soon as I saw it [in a news report], I just saw red,” Kaveney, who now works as a rape-crisis advocate in Fort Myers, Fla., told The TV Column.

Tyson was arrested in 1991 and charged with raping then-18-year-old Miss Black America pageant competitor Desiree Washington; he was convicted and served three years of a six-year prison sentence.

In her petition — which has more than 7,000 signatures strong on — Kaveney requests that NBC “re-consider casting convicted rapist, Mike Tyson.”

Tyson has finally weighed in on the petition, insisting that it’s “difference of opinion.”

“I’m sorry that she’s not happy,” he said of Kaveney, in an interview with TV Guide Magazine, adding: “I didn’t rape nobody or do anything like that, and this lady wasn’t there to know if I did or not.”

“Since I’m clean and sober five years, I haven’t broken any laws or did any crimes,” he said.

Tyson also provided some details of his “SVU” character, which NBC declined to give earlier. Tyson plays a death-row inmate who was a victim of childhood abuse and who murdered one of his abusers.

Tyson said that he was coached by his team about what to say during the interview because “they feel I can’t handle this stuff.” He added: “I’m happy with myself. I’m not on drugs. I’m not drinking. I’m not making a big fool of myself again. I’m trying really hard, you know?”

NBC had not returned e-mails and a phone call seeking comment at presstime.

Among the 7,000 who have signed the petition is “NCIS” star and abuse survivor Pauley Perrette.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

Obama Cabinet musical chairs update Obama Cabinet musical chairs update

Jeffrey Zients (Courtesy of the Office of Management and Budget)
The smart money seems to be drifting these days to acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients to become U.S. trade representative.

He’s been widely praised for his performance at OMB and no one seems to be holding his early years in management consulting at Bain & Co. against him.

Zients also might be looking for work soon, given recent reports that Sylvia Mathews Burwell, now head of the Wal-Mart Foundation and former deputy chief of staff and deputy OMB director in the Clinton administration, is moving in to be OMB director.

Meanwhile, buzz at the Labor Department has it that economist Ed Montgomery, now dean of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute and before that the department’s chief economist, assistant secretary for policy and deputy secretary during the Clinton administration, is being looked at as a potential secretary of labor.

In 2009, President Obama appointed Montgomery, who had worked on the 2008 labor transition team, to the presidential task force on the auto industry, which dealt with the Chrysler and General Motors bailouts.

And at Transportation, while the leaders continue to be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Ohio GOP representative Steve La Tourette and National Transportation Safety Board chair Debbie Hersman, there’s talk that Jane Garvey, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration, who had been mentioned in 2009 as a possible transportation secretary, is once again in the mix.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

At Constellation Theatre, a dashing ‘Zorro’

Let’s stipulate right off the bat that Danny Gavigan makes for a dashing caped crusader. No, not the one with the souped-up car and the sidekick and the high Hollywood profile. This other guy does the fight-for-justice thing in dustier precincts, with a leather mask and a sword, the latter used for duels or carving the letter Z into walls and bad guys’ faces.

Slash! Slash! Slash! Por supuesto, señor: He’s Zorro, in Constellation Theatre’s new play of that title, receiving its world premiere in the Source space on 14th Street NW. Gavigan, a valued player wherever he turns up, whether as a low-rent hoodlum (in Studio Theatre’s “Mojo”) or a salt-of-the-earth Marine (in Round House Theatre’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”), gives a solid leading-man performance in Janet Allard and Eleanor Holdridge’s well-played but a mite too slavishly romantic treatment of the avenging hero of pulp Western fiction.

Constellation augments its classical thrust in a thoughtful way with “Zorro,” which continues the company’s laudable efforts at delivering intimate theater with high standards for design. The Spanish-mission-inspired set by A.J. Guban and the costumes for comely damas and elegant caballeros by Kendra Rai are shown off to handsome effect in Nancy Schertler’s light-scape of sunbeams and moonbeams; we might well be on a soundstage, watching as an episode is made of the 1950s “Zorro” black and white television series, with Guy Madison as the masked nobleman, Don Diego de la Vega.

“I am one who avenges wrongs!” Gavigan declares in a proximate Spanish accent, in answer to the obvious question of a discombobulated local: “Who are you?” Finished with college, where his course of studies included lots of fencing, Don Diego is back home and enduring the patronizing rebukes of his father Don Alejandro (a well-used Jim Jorgensen), who harbors few illusions about his fey son.

Which naturally sets the secretly heroic Don Diego on the clandestine path to valor, by assuming a Robin Hood alter ego, vanquishing the prideful, corrupt Capitan Ramon (Andres Talero) and winning the corazon of the fair Lolita (Stephanie LaVardera).

The authors’ affection for the material is obvious — maybe a little too much so. We may not require a wink at every soulful turn of the plot —one needn’t remake “Zorro, the Gay Blade.” But some awareness that a modern audience can see right through the story’s paternalism and schmaltz might give “Zorro” a less antique feel and turn it into a more gleeful kind of romp.

Carlos Juan Gonzalez, playing a wily village elder, and Carlos Saldana, as an inept local constable, come closest to locating an ironic duality in “Zorro”: both manage to send up their stock characters without making them laughable. Oscar Ceville conveys the requisite severity as the haughty district governor and LaVardera serenades us prettily as Zorro’s exploits unfold.

Gavigan’s quick changes from Don Diego to Zorro and back again earn appreciative laughs; one wishes the script offered some wittier acknowledgment of the backstage heroics these feats require of him. The configuration of the stage — the audience sits on opposite sides, with the performance occurring in the alley between — puts us close to the action but restricts the actors’ motion in the swordfights. As a result, under Casey Kaleba’s fight direction, the duels Gavigan undertakes with Zorro’s adversaries look tentative and stagey.

It’s still pleasant on this occasion to watch a fine actor get to express his inner illustriousness, as much as it is to see the willingness of a company that usually takes on older works to try something new. As they say in the business of clashing rapiers:Touché.


by Janet Allard and Eleanor Holdridge, directed by Holdridge. Set, A.J. Guban; costumes, Kendra Rai; lighting, Nancy Schertler; music, Mariano Vales; sound, Behzad Habibzai; fight direction, Casey Kaleba. With Vanessa Bradchulis and Michael Kramer. About 1 hour, 45 minutes. Through Feb. 17 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Visit or call 202-204-7741.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

Katie Couric’s daytime talk show renewed for second season Katie Couric’s daytime talk show renewed for second season

Manti Te’o speaking with host Katie Couric during an interview for "Katie.” (Lorenzo Bevilaqua – AP)
Six days after Katie Couric’s much-ballyhooed interview with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o about his love affair with fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua, Disney’s TV syndication division rewarded Couric with a formal second-season pick-up on her new daytime talk show.

This news didn’t surprise Couric nearly as much as the Lennay’s phone call from the dead did Te’o, given that Couric’s show already had a two-year deal with ABC-owned TV stations around the country.

That said, it’s worth noting “Katie” is the top-rated new syndicated talk show among viewers of all ages and in the key 25-54 chick demographic group so important to daytime TV. And that the Jan. 24 interview with Te’o and his parents scored 30 percent bigger ratings than the show’s prior 4-week average.  

Sadly, “Katie’s” original exec producer, Jeff Zucker has departed to go shake things up at CNN, and Michael Morrison joined late last month.

And, in other Te’o news: Roniah Tuiasosopo, the guy behind Fake Lennay Kekua, will bare all to Oprah protege Dr. Phil on his daytime talker, Thursday and Friday. He’s going to say his was the voice talking to Te’o all those hours on the phone when Te’o thought he was talking to a woman, and that he was deeply, romantically in love with the football star.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

E.U.-funded project recommends a ‘flag as terrorism’ button in browsers

The European Commission’s CleanIT project has been an Internet punching bag since September, when a draft of its recommendations — including mandatory use of real names on social networks — first hit the Internet.

Wednesday, the two-year, $442,000-study on Internet terrorism released its final list of best practices. But while CleanIT has scrapped some of its more controversial ideas, it’s still earned widespread criticism from tech pundits in Europe and beyond.

The project’s most inflammatory recommendation advises social networks and browsers add a terrorism flagging button, similar to the “report this video” function on Youtube or “report this user for spam” on Twitter.

“Internet users currently do not have enough easy ways of reporting terrorist use of social media,” the report explains. “As a consequence, some terrorist use of the Internet is currently not brought to the attention of Internet companies and competent authorities.”

The report also suggests a number of more common-sense measures, such as better international cooperation and further academic study of terrorists online.

So far, critics sound unimpressed. Most seem concerned that the project has only vague definitions for online terrorism — “terrorist use of the Internet is currently not widely known or understood,” the report reads — and seems unaware of how a flagging function could be turned to censorship or political ends.

European Digital Rights, a Belgium-based civil rights group, called the recommendations “worrying” and said the project “still believes in a circumvention of the rule of law.”

On Reddit, commenters complained that a flagging function could be misused by censors and pranksters alike. “That’s an incredibly dumb solution looking for a problem that doesn’t really exist,” said one user. “Although I guess we could use the ‘This may be terrorism’ option to flag all articles about the Iraq invasion …”

“if (religion == “Islam”) { flag.raise(); },” joked another in faux Javascript, suggesting anything about Muslims would be flagged.

Even Ars Technica, whose editor moderated CleanIT’s concluding conference this afternoon, labeled the recommendations “odd” and “strange,” adding “what could go wrong? Well, plenty…”

This certainly isn’t the European Commission’s first questionable tech initiative. In June, the commission launched a campaign called “Science: it’s a girl thing” that showed young women gasping as they examined atomic models and blowing kisses at test-tubes.

Still, the commission claimed success in that case, and the CleanIT project might succeed too. On Tuesday Italy also signed on to the project, making it the 11th European country to do so.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com