|Saturday, December 22, 2001|
Pavlov, Travis Bickle and Charlie Manson
By Locke Peterseim, Britannica.com
Special to ABC Sports Online
I have always depended on the kindness of strangers ...
The set-up: Miller commented that the Saints seem to be a better team on the field than they are on paper.
The quip: "You look at those numbers we saw earlier and you wonder, where's the hitch? Where's the McGuffin? Why are they 7-5?"
The read: Hitch … McGuffin … Oh that Dennis, trying to slip one by us early.
Film director Alfred Hitchcock coined a term for the object in his films that existed only to move the plot along -- the "McGuffin." It could be anything from the uranium ore in "Notorious" to the microfilm in "North by Northwest." The thing itself wasn't important: "North by Northwest" isn't about the microfilm, it's about Cary Grant looking suave in a suit while getting chased across half the country and hooking up with Eva Marie Saint. "Psycho" wasn't about stolen cash, it was about a boy and his mother. To Hitch, once the McGuffin had served its purpose and got the story rolling, it became superfluous and he'd just as soon forget about it.
Hitchcock first used the term in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University, attributing it to a tale told by his friend, writer Angus MacPhail. In the story, two Scotsmen are riding on a train when one asks the other about a large package in the overhead rack. The man replies that it's a McGuffin, a device for tiger hunting. When the first man points out that there are no tigers in Scotland, the owner of the package says, "Well then, it's not a McGuffin, is it?"
By 1979, the term had become so accepted that there was a wacky kids' caper film called "The Double McGuffin," featuring defensive linemen Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Lyle Alzado as "Assassins No. 1" and "No. 2," respectively.
Also in the late '70s, McDonalds introduced the Egg McGuffin, but the fast food chain was forced to pull the product from its restaurants when dissatisfied customers realized the breakfast sandwich was nothing more than an excuse for the Hamburglar to hook up with Grimace.
The set-up: For the third play in a row, the Saints maintained their goal-line stance, stopping the Rams on the Saints' one-yard line.
The quip: "We got a defense named desire down there."
The read: In the early 1930s, Thomas "Tennessee" Williams' undergraduate studies were delayed by his father, who forced the young playwright to leave college and go to work in a St. Louis shoe company. While at the company -- named, appropriately enough, International Shoe Company -- young Williams made friends with a hale and hearty fellow named Stanley Kowalski. Williams returned to school and graduated from the University of Iowa (also the ADM's alma mater) and in 1944 had his first major success with "The Glass Menagerie."
After "Menagerie," Williams went to work on his next play, "A Streetcar Named Desire," the story of an emotionally fragile Southern belle, Blanche DuBois, who, after being jilted at the altar, moves to New Orleans to live with her sister Stella and Stella's working-class husband, Stanley Kowalski. There follows much sexually charged drama, Stanley bellows "Stella!" and the play closes with Blanche retreating to a fantasy world, stating, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." (There actually was a streetcar named Desire, a New Orleans Railway line that ran down Bourbon Street, serving the French Quarter.)
Jessica Tandy originated the role of Blanche on Broadway in 1947 -- Stanley was played by a young actor named Marlon Brando. "Streetcar" won the Pulitzer the next year, but when it was made into a film in 1951, Tandy was replaced by the more box-office friendly Vivien Leigh (better known as Scarlett O'Hara). Years later, suffering from bipolar disorder, Leigh herself began to confuse fiction and reality, and sometimes believed she was really Blanche DuBois.
Over the years, there have been other famous productions of "Streetcar," including an '80s version with Treat Williams as Stanley and Ann-Margret as Blanche (which we mention only in hopes of getting more pictures of Ann-Margret in the column this week). There was also one in the '90s with Jessica Lange as Blanche and Alec Baldwin as Stanley. Audiences at the Lange production were delighted when Marlon Brando made a cameo appearance as the streetcar.
|Brando ... long, long ago.|
The set-up: Al Michaels questioned whether Rams head coach Mike Martz should have risked giving up another timeout to challenge a call.
The quip: "Well, Pavlov would tell you he did not learn anything from a few weeks ago."
The read: Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov started out researching blood pressure in the late 1880s and then switched to the much sexier study of digestion. But it was his development of the laws of the conditioned reflex in the early 20th century that earned Pavlov his fame and forever associated his name with drooling puppies. Pavlov demonstrated that by always associating feeding with the ringing of a bell, a hungry dog could be conditioned to salivate at the sound of the bell alone.
Though he lived in Russia until his death in 1936, Pavlov opposed Communism and had no interest in the use of the conditioned reflex for brainwashing purposes. However, American advertising agencies pounced on Pavlov's principles to the extent that today consumers have been conditioned to think of beer when they see a bullfrog, and of collect calls when confronted by Carrot Top.
The set-up: Miller commented on Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica's hyperextension of his knee during the Giants game Saturday while jumping in the air in celebration of a field goal.
The quip: "That guy is like the Roberto Benigni of the league now."
The read: Three and a half years ago the impish Italian actor-director Benigni was everywhere, jumping on the backs of seats to accept his "Life is Beautiful" Oscars and deliberately mangling his English syntax to maintain his image as a loveable foreign goofball. (In actuality, it's said he speaks our language quite well and that the Latka Gravas on crystal meth routine is just a put-on for the award-show cameras.)
Already established in Italy in the early '80s, Benigni made his American film debut in 1986 as an escaped New Orleans convict in Jim Jarmusch's cult classic "Down by Law." After that there was a Hollywood misstep as he was groomed to replace the late Peter Sellers in the "Pink Panther" series. After "Son of the Pink Panther" tanked in '93, Benigni returned to Italy to eventually work on "La Vita è bella" ("Life is Beautiful").
Benigni based "Life is Beautiful," his life-affirming concentration camp film, on stories told to him by his father, who had spent two years in a Nazi labor camp, and Benigni the Younger's Best Actor Oscar marked the first time the award was won for a non-English-speaking role. Lately he's been back in Italy, where he's revered as a modern-day Charlie Chaplin, working on his version of "Pinocchio," in which he'll play the boy-puppet.
Some found Benigni's concentration camp comedy to be in bad taste, but it's nothing compared to Jerry Lewis's never-released 1972 film "The Day the Clown Cried," in which the comic genius plays a clown who leads children to the gas chamber.
|Trying to throw your arms around the world.|
The set-up: Dan Fouts commented that given both men's impressive stats, Saints offensive tackle Kyle Turley and Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom should form a tag team.
The quip: "They were in ABBA together, but then they went their separate ways. The gals get them back together periodically for a greatest hits tour, but Grant doesn't like to sing 'Fernando' anymore."
The read: So … many … ABBA … jokes … just … not … enough … time …
The biggest thing to come out of Sweden since the 1660 Treaty of Copenhagen, Swedish supergroup ABBA officially formed in 1974, though various configurations of the group's two couples had been gelling since the mid-'60s. ABBA takes its name from those two couples: Agnetha Faltskog (the blonde girl) and her one-time husband Björn Ulvaeus (the clean-shaven boy) plus Benny Andersson (the hirsute boy) and his lover Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad (the brunette girl, who is actually Norwegian -- see, Treaty of Copenhagen, 1660). They first performed as Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida in 1973, but soon shortened their moniker to an acronym of their names: Since BBAF didn't sound good in any language, Frida reverted to her given name and thus was born ABBA.
"Waterloo" was released in 1974, and by 1975 ABBA had the hit machine cranked up to 11, with such smash singles as "Mamma Mia," "Fernando" and "Dancing Queen." Like fellow '70s coupled-up band Fleetwood Mac, ABBA drifted apart in the early '80s when the lovers started to split. However the mid-'90s films "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and "Muriel's Wedding" -- both Australian, both ABBA-heavy -- signaled the inevitable 20-year nostalgia cycle, and classic ABBA was back.
|"You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet."|
The set-up: A New Orleans fan sported a Mohawk and cornrows.
The quip: "Look at my man, Travis Bickle. That is beautiful."
The read: Let's skip past the requisite "You talkin' to me?" jokes and move it right along …
Travis Bickle was the taxi driver in "Taxi Driver," the 1976 movie that terrified America, inspired would-be assassins, and made the careers of director Martin Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader and an actor billed as Robert DeNiro (a.k.a. Robert De Niro, or Bobby to his friends).
Bickle, a lonely Vietnam vet, spends his nights driving a cab through the mean streets of a New York City that oozes pornography and violence. Obsessed first with Cybill Shepherd's clean-cut Betsy, Bickle also turns his attentions toward saving a child prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster). Eventually Bickle buys a gun, shaves his head into a Mohawk, and, teetering on the edge, heroically sets out to put things right.
Scorsese and De Niro (the correct spelling) had worked together three years earlier on the Catholic-guilt passion play "Mean Streets," but in many ways it was the addition to the mix of Schrader, who was lugging his own pretty heavy Calvinist guilt, that made "Taxi Driver" gel. Finding his inspiration in John Ford's "The Searchers," Schrader poured his life and guts into the script of "Taxi Driver," going so far as to sleep with a loaded gun under his pillow during its writing.
It's safe to say Schrader had some issues to work out through his writing.
|"I think you're a lonely person."|
The set-up: Al Michaels mulled over every angle on a replay review that resulted in offsetting penalties.
The quip: "I just dig watching those gears mesh in your head, you're like Vince Bugliosi taking a deposition."
The read: Vincent Bugliosi made his name as the prosecutor for the Los Angeles District Attorney Office in the 1969-1971 Charles Manson murder trial, especially after he wrote the book "Helter Skelter," detailing the Manson Family's involvement in the gruesome 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders. Renowned for having won 105 of his 106 felony trials, lately Bugliosi has chimed in with books offering his take on the O.J. Simpson trial, the Bill Clinton-Paula Jones case, "the War on Drugs" and the 2000 presidential election.
So there you go: Travis Bickle and Charlie Manson! Happy holidays, everyone!
Locke Peterseim is a senior editor at Britannica.com.
Research assistant: Dave Ihlenfeld.
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