The pleasures of the elderly

pleasures of the elderly

“Did you see ‘Scaramouche’ on Turner Classic the other night?” I asked Apollonia the other day.

“What? Yeah, I think I switched past it,” she said. “Who was that? Rory Calhoun?”

“Nah,” I said. “Stewart Granger.”

We both laughed. “Same thing,” she said.

“I’ll say,” I said. “I think they were the same person. Maybe he was Rory Calhoun on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, and Stewart Granger on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.”

Now we were both laughing like idiots.

Off in the corner there was a table of younger staff members, listening to us. They stared at us as if we were patients in an asylum. We were aware of them. But we kept laughing. No, more than that: we laughed even harder because they were staring at us.


  • Does any of the above make any sense to you?
  • Do you know who Rory Calhoun was, or Stewart Granger?
  • Does “Turner Classic” mean anything to you?

It’s a habit of the elderly to mumble and cackle over the past. But this is a game we elderly people like to play: making reference to things that happened long before the other people in the room were born. It’s a way of getting even with those young people, with their music and their slang and their television programs that we’ve never heard of, and their texting jargon that we still haven’t quite figured out.

This is one of the great pleasures of the elderly: to make younger people uncomfortable.

Movie review: “Caesar and Cleopatra”


The other night I watched a British production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra,” starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh. The Romans were, I swear, wearing designer bedsheets, and the armor looked like something you’d buy at iParty. The Egyptians were drab for the most part, surprisingly, although some of them had things looking like kitchen utensils sticking out of their heads. It was Shaw, so I expected the dialogue to be brisk and clever; sadly, apart from an occasional epigram, it was pretty limp.

In a word: costume drama at its most languid.

There were, however, two bits of entertainment, buried away like raisins in a dry scone:

There was Flora Robson, who played Cleopatra’s nurse Ftatateeta. Yes, I spelled that correctly. Caesar / Claude Rains can’t pronounce her name, and calls her “Teeter-Totter” and “Titty-Totty” and such. Flora Robson was a very distinguished-looking actress, but they gave her (to use Wallace Beery’s expression) “a hell of a make-up”: they dyed her skin a rich dark mahogany and gave her a hairstyle like a mangled throw pillow. She is ridiculous and superb.

And there was also Stewart Granger, as Apollodorus the rug merchant. He had a pretty good body, and he gets to flaunt it here. His bedsheet toga is a little more colorful than everyone else’s, and it keeps falling away to show off his big strong arms and chest. He generally enters every scene with one arm held high in the air, like the little man on top of a swimming trophy, shouting “Ha ha!” He is supposed to be a wit, and gets to call Flora Robson a “venerable grotesque,” right to her face.

But the best line in the movie is one of his.

Scene: our protagonists are trapped on top of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Enemy soldiers are coming up the stairs. The Roman galleys are a quarter mile away. What to do? “Ha ha!” Farley trumpets, leaping to the parapet. “I will reach the ships!”

“How?” says Grumpy Roman Soldier #1. “Do you have wings?”

“Ha ha!” laughs Farley triumphantly, yet again. “I have water wings!”

And he raises his bronzed arms above his head and performs a swan dive into the Mediterranean.

Water wings?

And that’s why I love old movies.

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