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Lindbergh Case "Yearbook" · Kim Kardashian · The Deliberate Stranger
Also: HBO freebies and a book-review poll!
Last day to vote in the April bonus book-review poll! On offer: the birth of forensics; bad seeds; hip-hop and law enforcement; arson; and more. I’m pretty confident I won’t be nearly as late with this month’s as I was with March’s, which finally went live yesterday for paid subscribers (apologies again). Vote now and make me read something good! — SDB
New Jersey State Police Museum archivist Mark W. Falzini is as much of a publishing completist when it comes to the Lindbergh kidnapping case as I am a consumer completist of it. I zipped through Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case in a day and a half; should you bother?
I’ll borrow my summary from the last time I wrote up a Falzini property: “Charles Lindbergh Sr. was the most famous man in the world in the first third of the twentieth century. The kidnapping and murder of his firstborn, Charlie, was that time’s most notorious crime.”
Well, look: Falzini self-published Their Fifteen Minutes through iUniverse, and as I implied in my 2016 review of New Jersey’s Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial, as a writer, he’s…a very good archivist? But as with the previous book, the clonky diction and errata (“Cornel” University is in “Ithica,” for one) aren’t terribly obtrusive, because the subject really doesn’t need excellent or even particularly sturdy prose; it carries itself.
As well, Falzini’s strength is in surfacing obscurer information and contemporary writings and opinions on the case, and while Their Fifteen Minutes is perhaps compulsive in its focus on lesser figures in the story — William Allen, who found the baby’s remains; each and every juror from Hauptmann’s trial — and the minutia of their lives, and deaths, after the case, there’s enough new and/or interesting information here to make Fifteen Minutes worth it for Lindbergh-case diehards. Among the worthy bits:
“Red” Johnson, traumatized by his experience as a suspect, developed a two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off binge-drinking problem, related by a relative in an almost fairytale manner;
Hauptmann’s car (minus the notorious license plate, which after surfacing on eBay in the aughts had disappeared as of Fifteen Minutes’s writing) sat in the evidence garage until the state of New Jersey turned it in “for scrap” as a contribution to the war effort;
John F. Condon, known before he was “Jafsie” as “the Tremont Peach” for his triumphs on the baseball diamond, also published a book that really sounds obnoxious and I absolutely must read it: A Chronological Table of the Battles of the Civil War in Verse. In VERSE, people! Hilarrible.
Falzini also takes the time to rip on contemporaneous news coverage for fat-shaming Juror #3, including clocking Walter Winchell for not just piling on but doing so unfunnily.
Even if you’re as steeped in this case as I, I can’t really tell you to spend $19 on Their Fifteen Minutes, though you may get that amount of amortized value out of it if you park it on the toilet tank for a few weeks (Falzini doesn’t use those words, but does say it’s a reference book you don’t have to read straight through, so: bathroom book) (no shade! Tara Ariano and I literally pitched the TWoP book as a bathroom book). The good news is, this sort of book is the first to end up at the used-book shoppe after a Kondo-ing, so I’m betting you’ll find a near-pristine copy at your local…come the day you can go back there. In the meantime, email them and ask! But if you have to choose between this’un and the Images Of America Falzini, go with the IOA book. — SDB
Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project aired last night on Oxygen. I couldn’t find a way to put this in my Primetimer review that I didn’t think would get cut, but it’s kind of like Snakes On A Plane (or the Zac Efron Bundy thing, though I doubt Joe Berlinger would agree) — in that the point isn’t necessarily that anyone watches it, but that it exists.
What I did say, in part:
It's easy to make fun of Kardashian West, to drag her for treating a massive systemic issue like a hobby, to roll our eyes at her assertion that she's "reading the law" to better understand the nuts and bolts of the cases she's involved in. And the tendency of VIPs who attach themselves to causes to act as though 1) they're the first to discover the injustice in question, and 2) their fame confers significance on the issue is a little off-putting. But that a Person as Very Important, or at least Very Well-Known, as Kardashian West has discovered the issue of wrongful sentencing and has hung a 1000-watt lantern on it with her fame is significant.
I mean, it’s pretty fuckin’ sad that she has to take her legendary ass to the White House and shame Trump into signing even the most incremental prison-reform legislation, but…at least she did it! It’s better than nothing.
The actual documentary, enh. Not offensively bad, not doing anything new either. If you watched it, let us know what you thought! — SDB
Speaking of stuff I’ve written up for Primetimer, HBO has made Kill Chain available for free! This one’s a better use of the time than KKW:TJP, and the timing of its release may have meant it got lost in…All Of This.
I wrote at the time that watching Kill Chain “can wait,” although as the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic grows more murderously oafish by the day, ensuring that our elections are fair and legal (and recognizing the ways in which they aren’t) is of paramount importance. Anyway, it’s free for the next six weeks; read my review and give it a look if you like. — SDB
No, I can’t believe I hadn’t ported over my review of The Deliberate Stranger yet either. Yes, that’s Frederic Forrest Yoricking it up while the dad from Some Kind Of Wonderful looks on. Yes, the film’s still impossible to find online, although you can buy the DVD. Here’s that review from PTV; leave your skin-crawly reminiscences about That Music in the comments. — SDB
Miniseries: The Deliberate Stranger
Premiered: May 1986
Why Was It Made? Back then, Ted Bundy -- with whom, of course, the mini concerns itself -- was the shorthand for charming evil. A miniseries exploring his crimes (among them two successful escapes) was bound to be a sweeps-ratings slam dunk, especially one based on the book by Dick Larsen, the Seattle Times reporter who covered the Ted murders and, if TDS is credible on that point, took quite a bit of convincing that the sociable law student Ted Bundy he knew could have left the local state parks teeming with bones.
Bundy made the long straight center-part hairstyle a non-starter for brunettes for like two decades, put the late great Ann Rule on the map, and served as a one-man primer for law enforcement and civilians on serial-killer MOs, the importance of jurisdictional cooperation, and a host of other things we take for granted now. Like VICAP.
And what a casting coup Mark Harmon must have been as Bundy. Harmon had just wrapped his arc as St. Elsewhere's foxy plastic surgeon Bobby Caldwell -- also primetime's first ongoing character to receive and struggle with an HIV diagnosis -- and landed on the cover of People as its Sexiest Man Alive.
Why Didn't I Watch It Again? A couple of reasons. First, it's '80s TV. I had no way to watch it again unless it popped up as the late movie on NBC, which I feel like it may have.
Second of all, the shot that closes the first "night" flitted through my nightmares for years. A woman has gotten Bundied out of a hallway at a ski lodge, her snowflake-besweatered fiance is freaking the F out, and half the cops in Colorado have converged on the resort to try to find her. Cut to the spring thaw: the streams filling with water; the fir trees bright with droplets; the...hand of the missing woman, sticking out of the receding snow.
Why Give It Another Shot? It's the rare miniseries from the format's first golden age that holds up as anything but an unintentionally amusing peek into our cultural preoccupations and mistakes with trouser rises, never mind one that left such a creepy impression on me -- but I had a hunch it would hold up. And it can sometimes seem like we've all agreed as a culture to forget that Mark Harmon had a whole career before he started (...NAVALLY!) projecting a weekly air of exasperated competence on NCIS. He died of AIDS (offscreen, but still) on a popular drama. He played Ted Bundy. He was a cut-rate Bill Murray in Summer School. (For the record, I goddamn love that movie.) Why not travel back to that time? Why else have a true-crime review blog if not so that one can take these things as a tax write-off?
My esteemed colleague Omar Gallaga took pity on me and bought it off my Amazon wish list a year or so ago.
What Aspects Would Seem To Invite Revisiting It? It's not quite as scary as it was back then, but in an understandable way; I am no longer 13. The hand is also not shot quite as horribly as I recall, but it's...still horrible.
Harmon? Not horrible. Excellent. When you think about TDS in the abstract, you kind of assume that he got cast on the strength of a reasonable resemblance to Ted Bundy and his figurative hotness as a ticket in TV Land, but while Ann Rule evidently had notes on the performance, saying it didn't quite get at Bundy's profound insecurity, it's extremely effective. Harmon's Bundy is just glib enough, just smart enough, projects just the right amount of hail-fellow cheer (he does a skip-step jog move when Bundy's running to answer the phone or trying to corner a co-ed that, as blocking for a serial killer looking to seem like a harmless heterosexual-male fan of vintage musicals, is perfect). But then occasionally there's the little frown that only hints at the underground magma lake of resentment and desire to control. It's very smartly done.
...Jesus, the turtlenecks. Anyway, Harmon was up for a Globe for the part, but didn't win, and neither did anyone else in the cast, which is a veritable buffet of '80s Hey, It's That Guy!s: Frederic "Cut The Rebop" Forrest, M. Emmet Walsh, the guy who plays the dad in Some Kind Of Wonderful, George "Arthur Gold" Grizzard as Larsen, Willie Garson with hair, Glynnis O'Connor and Deborah Foreman as two of Bundy's willfully clueless lady friends, Lawrence "The '80s Man's Nick Searcy" Pressman, and the aptly named Frederick Coffin.
And the zingy, tension-inducing Casio you remember, and you're like, "Well, it's a Casio and I was a child, I'm sure it's merely funny now"? It still works, or at least it did on me!
What Aspects Discourage Revisiting It? Much depends on your patience with true stories, and waiting for the various jurisdictions to figure out they're all chasing the same sicko; it didn't seem to take too long to me, but the opening attack and a few of the others dragged a bit. The disco scene in Florida prompted a "less hustle, more murdering" from my better half, and I can't disagree.
Much also depends on your patience with Glynnis O'Connor. The I Had No Idea Significant Other role is legitimately tough, because the line between "wow, can you imagine?" and "not really, because who is that fucking stupid" is easy to blunder across, and it's kind of hard to get your mind around the idea that Bundy's real-life girlfriend did try to rat him to the cops, like, twice but still mooned moistly around on the phone with him with apparent sincerity. It's even harder when O'Connor and her camel toe make boo-boo-kitty faces at Ted Bundy. IT'S TED BUNDY, girl.
Final Verdict: It's not easy to find, is the real problem. I own the DVDs, but Netflix doesn't have it in any format, and it's not on Hulu, Amazon streaming, or YouTube, even in chunks. Best deal is ten bucks on Half.com, which still seems steep for a mini you might not watch again. If you can put hands to it for less than a sawbuck, though, it's a worthwhile rainy-day sit -- and I don't think tweeting at Hulu to whinge that they don't have it is the worst idea. — SDB, 9/24/15
Coming up around here: Not sure what Eve’s got in store for all of us tomorrow, but I’m-a probably try to drop The Blotter Presents 138 a little early; that’s me and Toby Ball talking about Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered on HBO, plus Kevin Smokler talking with Bob Kolker about Lost Girls and Kolker’s new book, which also drops tomorrow. Don’t miss out; subscribe now!
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