Archive for September, 2009

What not to post

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Maybe I’m getting superstitious, but after reading through a quarter’s posts on 520 (or so) liblogs, I have a suggestion for anyone who’s been neglecting your blog for a while, but thinks you’ll do better in the future:

Don’t write a post saying so!

Just, you know, start blogging again. Or, if events turn out differently, don’t start blogging again.

See, here’s the thing: On too many occasions, the most recent post I saw on a blog was along the lines of “Sorry I haven’t been posting much, but I’m going to do much better”…

And, well, “the most recent post” means anywhere from a month to two years ago.

Sure, there were a few cases where someone noted their absence, said they’d do better, and actually kept on blogging…but more often, when someone returns from unplanned blogging hiatus, they just do it.

If I had to guess, I’d guess there’s a very strong correlation between swearing you’re going to do more posts…and never doing any more posts.

It could be coincidence, of course, and correlation doesn’t always imply causation, but it’s such a frequent pattern. And I wonder whether, in this case, there isn’t a causation of sorts: You recognize that you haven’t been doing it. You take the time to craft a careful message saying “I’m back!”…and you get blogger’s block.

So what do I suggest, if you’ve been away from your blog for a few months and you really do believe you have things to say that belong on the blog?

Just do it.

Let the new posts speak for themselves. Oh, if you feel the need to note why there’s been a hiatus, that’s as interesting as any other post–and frequently there are good reasons. (Marriage? Health problems? New job? Ennui? All good reasons…)

Just leave out the part about “And I’m going to do lots more posting.” It may not always be the kiss of death, but it sure does feel that way.

PS: My guess is that, for most of us, where most readers subscribe to a feed, a hiatus isn’t noticed all that strongly, with a few high-profile exceptions. As a reader, I’m always delighted when someone who’s been missing returns–but I can’t say that I necessarily notice their absence, any more than most of you would notice mine, or should.

But now, as an informal researcher, I get nervous when someone who’s been missing returns with one of those “Hi guys, I’m back!” messages…because I wonder whether they’ll ever be heard from again.

Just the blogs: any audience?

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

As already noted, I am doing another liblog investigation, this one covering 2007 through 2009 but not quite as broadly as The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008 (which will continue to be available at Lulu and Amazon).

I’m not sure just what I’ll do with the results, but one possibility is another book–this one having review copies and all.

Brief status report

  • I’ve established the universe being investigated (521 blogs in all, all of them visible as of September 2009).
  • I’ve done almost all of the metrics for the blogs–measured frequency, length and comments for March-May 2007, 2008 and 2009 (as feasible), recorded starting date, prepared text section with blog name, tagline/subtitle/motto, author’s name, start date, metrics table and, new for this year, a sentence or two of personal commentary (although I omit that on some blogs). (What’s left? Maybe nothing; maybe a quick 10/1-10/2 scan for most recent post and for blog software.)
  • I’ve prepared the 15 quintiles that feed back into the blog tables (frequency, words per post, comments per post, each for 2007, 2008, 2009, and the delta from 2008 to 2009 and 2007 to 2009). (There are other quintiles–total blog length, total number of comments–but they won’t be reported at the individual-blog level)
  • I’m about halfway through updating the “blog chapter” by adding the quintiles to the text tables.

There’s a lot more to do, to be sure–all of the other analysis and narrative. But…

A few people, commenting on The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008, said they were sorry I decided not to include my comments on individual blogs–and at least one even said they’d pay for that book.

The question then becomes…

Would you?

That is, are there folks out there who really don’t care about the details of the overall liblog picture but would be interested in a book (PDF or paperback) consisting of the 521 liblog profiles, with an introductory chapter explaining how they were chosen, giving the quintiles (but no other metrics) and noting how they work–and with a blog author index?

I’m thinking there might also be some folks who really don’t care about the individual liblogs, but are interested in the discussion of the liblog field as a whole.

If there is a market for “just the blogs,” it wouldn’t take a lot of work to do it–slapping together that introductory chapter, doing the index (fairly easy in this case), making a couple of global format changes in “the blog chapter” and breaking it into 27 chapters for convenience…and, to be sure, making a cover. I could probably have such a book available by mid-October.

If that book came out, then I’d see there being three versions of the investigation (plus whatever I publish in C&I or elsewhere):

  1. Just the Blogs. Probably $20 PDF, $30 paperback. Probably around 200 pages. Probably out October 2009.
  2. Just the Analysis. Probably the same price. Probably around 100-150 pages. Probably out December 2009-January 2010.
  3. But Still They Post… The “real book,” the one I’d send out for review. I don’t think it will be divided into analysis followed by one big blog chapter, as was the case for the three previous blog studies. Instead, I think I’d interleave blog notes as appropriate within the narrative. This would also be a better bargain than the others: Probably $20 PDF, $35 paperback. Probably around 250-300 pages. (The text in “Just the Blogs” would be 11pt. where blog segments within the overall book would probably be 10pt.–and “Just the Blogs” would have a bunch of extra chapter breaks. And one chapter in “Just the Blogs”–as well as the index–would be redundant. Thus, 100-150 plus 200 really might total around 250-300.)

Reactions desired

It would be exceptionally dumb, even for me, to do #1 and #2 unless there’s some indication of demand. It might be exceptionally dumb anyway (maybe the whole project is!), but that’s another question.

Do note: There wouldn’t be “excess paper” if I do it this way–other than the single proof copy, that is, No more books will be printed than are sold, and if people want PDF, that’s fine with me.

So: Over to you. Is there any interest in #1 or #2? (Or #3 for that matter…)

And a final reminder

If you have a sudden belated urge to own a copy of Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples, you have a few more days to buy one (you can probably find that on Amazon as well). On or about October 1, 2009, it will go “out of print”–I’ll turn off both print-on-demand projects.


Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

On August 25, I posted “Open access: Giving up on a theme?” — asking whether I should give up on Library Access to Scholarship as a continuing aspect of Cites & Insights coverage. (I asked the question on FriendFeed as well.) I gave the reasons I was thinking of dropping the section and asked for feedback.

One librarian offered appreciation of the articles (but noted that she’s in an area where it may not matter). Peter Suber, as expected, hoped I would continue. One (scientist?) basically said give it up, ’cause everything that can be said about OA has already been said.

I repeated the request on September 2, noting that–apart from Suber–I’d received zero feedback from “the OA community” or from scientists (with one possible exception), and that I was postponing the decision in any case. At that point, I used September 14 as a cutoff (easy to remember, since it’s my birthday). One scientist said, I’m afraid correctly, that most academic scientists could care less about OA (he used a more vivid term); a journal editor hoped I would cover OA in my blog, which wasn’t the question (and that was before I moved the blog back here–and I see that the 40-odd imported posts aren’t formatted very well. Sorry.).

Just to be thorough, I also repeated the question in the October Cites & Insights, which came out on (surprise!) September 14, giving September 21 as a deadline for responses. While C&I readership always grows slowly, this issue’s not off to a bad start; as far as I can tell, that essay’s either been downloaded (as part of the complete issue) or read (as an HTML separate) at least 450 times so far. Presumably, the blog posts have been read several hundred times through feeds and maybe, oh, 50 or 60 times directly. I have received no further feedback from the C&I question.


So it’s still difficult. On one hand:

  • The addition of Bill Hooker’s Open Reading Frame and Stuart Sheiber’s The Occasional Pamphlet may make my contributions even more superfluous.
  • It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the “OA community”–the bloggers who focus on open access, notably apart from Peter Suber and Charles W. Bailey, Jr.–would be just as happy if I disappeared or, perhaps more correctly, have never been aware (or cared) that C&I even existed. A few searches of the big OA blogs certainly suggest total ignorance of my contributions. That may not be surprising, and may be even less surprising given my lack of scholarly imprimatur and lack of wholehearted support for OA. Suber appreciates subtleties and conflicts; some others do not. (Note: I also exclude Dorothea Salo from this grumbling, but I don’t think of her as an OA blogger.)
  • Within the library community, I wonder whether my OA articles aren’t preaching to the choir. Outside the library community, I doubt that C&I has any impact (or much readership) at all.
  • Dropping OA entirely means I can ignore SOH (Stevan “One-Note” Harnad) entirely, which all by itself is a good point.
  • I grow increasingly convinced that most scientists just don’t care–either about libraries or about OA–and maybe that’s appropriate. I also grow increasingly convinced that librarians can’t do it on their own, although it’s encouraging to see things like the Compact that recently emerged. Still, it’s an uphill battle, and one that I really can’t play much part in.
  • And, frankly, every time I see calls for “universal mandates,” I get nervous and just want to back as far away as possible. That’s quite apart from the question of whether all worthwhile scholarship comes from academic institutions (since if it doesn’t, there can be no universal mandates), and as a non-scholar, I just won’t get into that morass…

On the other:

  • Maybe, just maybe, I’m occasionally putting points together in a different manner.
  • Maybe, just maybe, I’m persuading one or two people a year to think about aspects of library access to scholarship that they might not have thought about otherwise.

That’s a pretty slender hand; in a no-limit tournament, I’d fold.


That’s what I’m doing–along the lines of “When in doubt, punt.”

  • I’ve started a “get it all out there” essay on OA, under the Library Access to Scholarship heading. It will be in the November 2009 issue (I think), which will be out sometime in October (I think).
  • In the process, I cut the number of printed and delicious leadsheets down from 92 (actually 95) to 68…
  • So far, I’ve dealt with 16 of the 68. And the article draft is around 9,600 words.
  • If I maintain that rate, the full article would be 40,000 words. That’s too long. That wouldn’t be part of a November issue, it would be a November issue–and at that, an extremely long one (maybe 50 pages).
  • But I don’t think that rate will maintain. I may look at some of the lead sheets, or even some of the topical clusters I’ve arranged them into, and recycle them without writing anything. It’s likely that one cluster, where I have six lead sheets, will only require 1,000 to 1,500 words; it’s possible that the biggest cluster–17 lead sheets–will result in a relatively brief section (or none at all: the cluster topic has two letters and maybe I’ll just avoid that particular moteltopic).
  • I’m trying to have some fun with some of it, here and there. That’s not always easy…
  • Can I keep the essay short enough so it doesn’t become a single-essay issue? I’m not sure–and I’m not sure it matters, except to those who might be waiting for the next installment of Making it Work, Thinking about Blogging or Writing about Reading. Single-essay issues have sometimes worked quite well…
  • Once that essay is done, I will either stop tagging “interesting stuff” related to OA, or do so very selectively.
  • And, after three or four months, (more likely six or twelve), I’ll decide whether to resume Library Access to Scholarship, fold certain OA items into another area (or the catchall Trends & Quick Takes) or just walk away from the area entirely.

So that’s where things stand or don’t stand. Right now, along with a brief mental vacation from LLN editorial matters (before thinking through some major rewrites), I’m mixing this essay with the second phase of the liblog project (doing quintiles, then deciding how or whether to proceed), with reading books–yes, real print books, from the Livermore library–and magazines, with trying out a few things in the fall TV season. And, to be sure, with hiking, walks in the neighborhood (we have a 1.2-mile “around the block” walk that’s just about right for a daily break), and all that.

Oh, and once in a while, maybe even writing a post. It’s been known to happen, if not all that often.

Mystery Collection, Disc 3

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The Shadow: International Crime (aka International Crime), 1938, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Rod La Rocque, Astrid Allweyn, Thomas EE. Jackson, Oscar O’Shea, Wilhelm von Brincken, William Pawley, Tenen Holtz, Lew Hearn. 1:02.

Another Shadow movie, but although the actor’s the same, Lamont Cranston’s very different: A criminologist who has a column, The Shadow, in the newspaper and a nightly radio show. He’s witty, he picks on the police commissioner, he solves crimes—and he plays an odd mix of trying to keep the two identities separate and the fact that pretty much everybody knows that The Shadow is Lamont Cranston.

Ability to cloud men’s minds continues to be nonexistent. Quiet and sneaky? Not this time around. The plot has to do with a murder disguised as robbery (blowing up a safe), a just-released safecracker who’s appalled that such a sloppy job is being blamed on him, an extremely upset police commissioner, a cravenly newspaper editor…and an “international crime” that’s a little hard to follow. But the dialogue is snappy, Cranston’s assistant—a young woman who’s the publisher’s niece and really wants to do a great job, but can’t dial a telephone to save her life—is a charmer, and it moves right along. Defects: Any time there’s orchestral music it’s very badly distorted, and there are a few missing syllables here and there. Still, and noting that it’s another short B flick, I’ll give it $1.00.

Mr. Moto’s Last Warning, 1939, b&w. Norman Foster (dir.), Peter Lorre, Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Field, John Carradine, George Sanders. 1:11.

Can you buy Peter Lorre as a gap-tooth Japanese detective—specifically, one who works with international police agencies just prior to World War II, in this case to assure that Britain and France don’t go to war with one another?

If you can engage your willful suspension of disbelief that far, the story involves a small band of fairly incompetent foreign agents (and what actors!) planning to mine the Suez Canal and destroy the French fleet, arriving for a joint British-French exercise. Moto has a way of getting associates and assistants killed, but manages to survive. Definitely entertaining, frequently a little over the top. $1.25.

The Mysterious Mr. Wong, 1934, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford, Arline Judge, E. Alyn Warren, Lotus Long, Robert Emmett O’Connor, Edward Peil Sr., Luke Chan. 1:03.

Mr. Wong, an evil mastermind with three badly-dressed murderous minions and a frightened niece, is having people in Chinatown killed to take from them the Twelve Coins of Confucius, which would give him control of a Chinese province—and which, somehow, have all come to be in an American Chinatown. (So far, he has 11—and the twelfth resides with, what else, a Chinese laundryman. Presumably either that, a restraurateur or a herbalist.) The cops and press cry “Tong war” and don’t do much of anything (including keeping a wise-ass journalist from entirely corrupting a murder scene) except come up with lots of stereotypical comments. The wise-ass journalist, also full of stereotypical comments, somehow manages to save the day. Oh, and get the girl.

The good news? The wise-ass journalist is amusing, the plot moves right along, the print’s decent and, other than a continuous background noise level, the sound’s OK.

The bad news? The thought that putting a “Chinese” mustache on Bela Lugosi makes him a Chinese master criminal; the general attitudes portrayed in the movie, the sheer level of stereotyping. On balance, reluctantly, $0.75.

Mr. Wong—Detective, 1938, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Boris Karloff, Grant Withers, Maxine Jennings, Evelyn Brent, George Lloyd, Lucien Prival, John St. Polis, William Gould. 1:10.

Same studio (Monogram). Same director. Same “Wong.” Once again, a non-Asian in the title role.

That’s about all this picture and the one above have in common. This one’s definitely set in San Francisco, not in some anonymous metropolis. This one doesn’t have stereotyped Irish cops or whole bunches of stereotyped Chinese-Americans—indeed, the title character and his servant are essentially the only Asians in the movie. Oh, and Mr. Wong in this case is clearly highly educated, speaks with a refined accent…and is a brilliant detective with whom the police willingly partner.

Boris Karloff turns out to be good for the role, with a normal mustache instead of a Fu Manchu parody and with no artificial Chinese mannerisms (he does dress in a silk robe at home, but why not?). He doesn’t chew the scenery; if anything, he underacts a bit. He’s well-mannered, soft-spoken and dignified. But he sees things—like any good detective—and uses scientific exploration to uncover the truth.

The plot’s fairly interesting. One of three owners of a chemical plant calls Wong because he thinks he’s being threatened—and, the next morning, when Wong arrives to discuss it with the owner (who has, by the way, just signed a mutual contract by which any dying partner automatically leaves his portion to the others), the owner’s dead—in a locked room, after an enormous red herring of a fight involving the creator of a “formula” (apparently for poison gas). Over the course of the movie, Wong recreates a murder weapon based on very little physical evidence but the cooperation of a nearby university lab; there are more deaths; a highly ingenious trigger mechanism comes into play; and…well, it’s quite a plot and, remarkably, all makes good internal sense.

Negatives: There’s background noise in part, but not all, of the soundtrack—and, well, Karloff is about as Chinese as I am. Positives: Well played, well plotted, well filmed. This was the first of six Mr. Wong movies; unfortunately (in this case), I don’t believe the set includes any others. On balance, $1.25.

But still they post…

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

…but perhaps not very often.

As previously hinted, I am (as a certified glutton for punishment) doing another round of liblog analysis. In fact, I have about 74 blogs left to do the raw metrics for (I say “about” because I do check some blogrolls–and now exclude any blog that’s no longer available at all).  That’s about 15% of the total, so I’m almost there…

Of course, the raw metrics are only part of the work. Then comes all the analysis, writing it up and determining how to publish it or make it available. (The tentative title for one version of the book, if that’s how I do it, appears as the title of this post, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s discoveries.) I won’t even suggest when this all might come out–although if I did a “just the blogs, none of the analysis” version, it could probably be out in October.

So how often do they post?

Just for fun, I’m tracking just how much of an “overload” I get from following way too many liblogs (and a handful of non-liblog blogs) in Bloglines. I read posts once or twice a day; when I do, for the next month or so, I’m noting the number of feeds with new posts and the number of new posts in a spreadsheet.

Let’s make it a guessing game (no prizes other than a notice here):

Given that:

  • I subscribe to 499500 501 blog feeds, of which 461462 463 are liblogs (defined broadly, including some open access and museum blogs) Note 9/21: In the process of completing the scan, I added one liblog–but it won’t change the overall frequency significantly, I don’t believe. Note 9/24: One more liblog added, but only 10 posts over 3 months, so no big deal.
  • Of the “firehose” blogs, I subscribe to Open Access News but not ResourceShelf or Slaw or, as far as I know, any of the other megablogs–and my 38 “other” blogs don’t include any of the high-frequency magazine-blogs/newsletter-blogs like boingboing, Huffington or whatever. (Well, I do subscribe to Whatever, John Scalzi’s blog, but that’s not a high-frequency blog.)

Then, for the period from September 16 through (say) October 15, what will be the average number of new posts per day?

I know, I know: This is potentially a quantum-physics-style question, as a few of you could manipulate the results by blogging where you now use Twitter or Friendfeed–but I think most all of us are too lazy to do that.

What’s your guesstimate?

[Hint: It’s within an order of magnitude of 100–that is, more than 10 posts a day and fewer than 1,000.]

Note: You can, in fact, see exactly which blogs I’m subscribed to–there’s a link over in the right margin.

Posts restored

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Unless I’m mistaken (which is certainly a possibility), all of the posts that appeared only on the ScienceBlogs version of Walt at Random (“my summer fling”) have now been imported to this blog.

I even think I fixed interblog links.

There were, to be sure, a few posts that appeared on both blogs (mostly C&I announcements); I left those out. And a few posts will read a little oddly, since they mention my being on ScienceBlogs. Such is blogging.

I didn’t do as well at ScienceBlogs: In the process of wiping out the pre-June 2009 archives, I managed to wipe out the 25 most recent posts as well. And restoring them didn’t work. Which means they’re here, but not there.

Again, such is blogging.

Right back where I started from

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Yes, this is the post I warned you about.

Short version

Walt at Random–all of it–is back here. The blog on ScienceBlogs will have no new posts.

I’ll restore the banner a little later…I’ve restored the banner and slogan: Easier than I remembered.

Some (but probably not all) of the posts that appeared at ScienceBlogs since that version of Walt at Random was inaugurated will (eventually) appear in the archives here.

The longer version

:If you’ve already read this on the ScienceBlogs version, you can skip this section.

As noted on what was, for a while, “the last Walt at Random post” at, I was invited by ScienceBlogs to join their newish Information Science channel, already populated by John Dupuis and Christina Pikas.

The invitation itself was an honor, particularly given the regard in which I hold John and Christina.

Even then, I was a little doubtful of my credentials as an information scientist. Quoting further from that post, under the heading “Information scientist? Moi?“:

I’ve never claimed that title and don’t intend to start now.


I believe I’ve done better (more comprehensive, more careful) research on liblogs and library blogs than I’ve seen elsewhere, even if I’ve deliberately stuck to meatball statistics rather than sophisticated analysis.

I’ve certainly written (and will continue to write) about open access and other topics that concern scientists.

My brother’s a chemist. Does that count?

So I moved here–and moved the archives as well. (I may delete those here, since they’re all available on the old/new site.)

I was delighted when Dorothea Salo started a new blog on ScienceBlogs, after closing her old one. The Book of Trogool is an important new blog, one that I believe will have a real impact on data curation.

And, of course, both Confessions of a Science Librarian and Christina’s LIS Rant continue to be fine blogs that enrich the liblog community and ScienceBlogs.

So why did I leave? It’s complicated. Some of the factors (from a message I sent to ScienceBlogs’ Erin Johnson):

  • To the extent that I was reaching a new audience, it’s outside of the library field–and, while it’s welcome, I felt the need to explain things that I wouldn’t explain to the few hundred people I know get my posts.
  • I find an internal pressure (a) to write more posts, (b) to make them a little more formal. Neither of these makes much sense within my overall scheme of things….
  • The split between old and new–in essence, between reviews of old flicks (and duplicated posts on new material in the Library Leadership Network)–seems artificial to me, at odds with the random theme of Walt at Random.
  • I’m really not an information scientist; in fact, I’ve historically made fun of the term.
  • I believe Dorothea Salo (whose star continues to rise), Christina Pikas and John Dupuis all make sense as ScienceBlog bloggers. I don’t believe I do; I think I’m decidedly the odd blogger out in that community. (Note: these are all at least virtual friends–I don’t know that I’ve met Christina in the flesh, but I have both of the others–and I think the world of all of them.)
  • Given everything else, I’d just as soon have complete control of my own space. (And, given everything else, my dislike of the MovableType editing platform as compared to WordPress becomes significant.)

One factor not mentioned there, but one I think may be more significant than all of these:

Walt at Random has always been a secondary outlet. Cites & Insights, my ejournal, has always been more important to me and, I think, to the community. I found it difficult to explain Cites & Insights within this space…

Based on the metrics, ScienceBlogs wasn’t gaining much from my presence, and they’ve been very gracious about letting me go.

The randomness continues

I’m not wild about managing multiple blogs in any case, and between work and other things, I was handling four. Maybe with only three (and only one open to all that randomness), I’ll do a better job. Maybe not.

In any case, you’ll find me here–not only the LLN and C&I announcements and reviews of old flicks, but all my posts.

Explicit disclaimer

I haven’t been blogging all that much at either address. Now that it’s back here, I’ll resist the urge to blog for the sake of blogging.

Note that I am not promising to take up the slack. I’m in the midst of doing another liblog research project, and I’ve seen a few too many cases where a blogger, after an absence, says “I’ll be writing a lot more…” and then is never heard from again.

I’ll say this: I’ll post when I have something to say that appears to suit this particular venue.

Watch this space

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

If you’re still subscribed to this feed (or coming to this site)…well, watch this space. Significant news coming soon.

Cites & Insights 9:11 available

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Cites & Insights 9:11 (October 2009) is now available.

The 30-page issue is, as usual, PDF, with HTML separates available for most of the essays. The issue includes:

Bibs & Blather

Sponsorship still needed, status reports on Cites & Insights Books (one book gone, one going soon…and a new project underway), and one more chance (11 days) to help me decide whether to keep Library Access to Scholarship.

Perspective: Writing about Reading 4

A variety of perspectives on that long-time favorite, The Death of (Print) Books.

Trends & Quick Takes

Seven mini-commentaries and six quicker takes…including a slightly skeptical take on Wolfram|Alpha and fanboy commentators.

Copyright Currents

Musings on fair use–and why it’s important that it’s an exception to copyright protections, not just a defense against infringement. (Would’ja believe dancing babies?)

My Back Pages

Always a bonus for full-issue readers (it’s never available in HTML), this brief installment includes five brief snarky commentaries.

50 Movie Comedy Classics Disc 10

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Happy Go Lovely, 1951, color. H. Bruce Humberstone (dir.), David Niven, Vera-Ellen, Cesar Romero. 1:37 [1:30].

See, there’s this threadbare American musical revue group in Edinburgh for the Festival, and the investors are about to pull the plug on “Frolics to You,” and the producer’s going nuts. Meanwhile, one chorus girl wakes up late for rehearsal, begs a ride with the chauffeur for Scotland’s richest bachelor (a greeting card magnate!), and one thing leads to another…

You get a rich man pretending to be a journalist to get close to a young woman—and the woman asking him to pretend to be the rich man to keep the show going. You get long dance numbers, of mixed quality, and some good knockabout chase-related comedy. You get David Niven, who does a fine job as the magnate/journalist, and Cesar Romero, chewing the scenery but possibly appropriate for the role. And Vera-Ellen, moving from fired chorus girl to lead dancer/singer, doing lots of dancing, and some acting and singing. All in all, a pleasant entertainment with a good print. $1.50.

The Smallest Show on Earth, 1957, b&w. Basil Dearden (dir.), Virginia McKennan, Bill Travers, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers, Bernard Miles, Francis De Wolff. 1:20.

The sleeve description is wrong in one key respect (well, it gets part of the plot wrong too): It says “Starring: Peter Sellers.” Sellers is in the movie, overplaying an aging, drunken projectionist who’s the only one who can handle a rundown theater’s equipment (when he’s reasonably sober), but he’s definitely not the star. (Margaret Rutherford does well as an aged ticket-taker.)

A writer’s having trouble finishing a novel and the family’s running out of money when he finds he’s inherited the goods of an unknown great-uncle. The goods turn out to “the flea pit,” a wholly decrepit little movie theater that’s constantly shaken by trains and isn’t running—but still employs three ancient staff. The gimmick: The one grand movie theater nearby really needs this place to build a parking lot—but doesn’t want to pay a fair price for it.

It’s actually a lot of fun, particularly as the young couple (who somehow have enough money to do all this…) get the place sort-of running and find profit in running old westerns set in the desert, turning up the heat, and selling lots of cold drinks at intermission.

Not a great movie by any means, but amusing. Decent print, mediocre sound quality. $1.25.

Sandy the Seal, 1969, color. Robert Lynn (dir.), Heinz Drache, Marianne Koch. 1:13 [1:10].

It’s really hard to know what to make of this—and how it comes to be on a set of comedy “classics.” A lighthouse keeper (alternating one month off, one month on) on Seal Island, on shift-change day, hears gunshots on the other side of the island and just misses the poachers (but he’s unarmed, of course). There’s an orphan seal pup, who follows him back…all the way back home on the mainland, where the keeper’s two kids adopt the seal, now named Sandy.

Much frolicking ensues. Apparently, all seals inherently balance circus balls and walk around with them in midair, and do lots of other tricks automatically. So the kids hold a neighborhood circus (with fish as payment). Later, the seal blunders onto a fishing boat and, in looking for it, the kids wind up down in the hold—where there are lots of seal skins. But when they tell their dad and he comes down to look (punching out a foul-tempered mate in the process), there’s nothing there!

Anyway, this “comedy” proceeds to the unarmed keeper once more confronting armed poachers, getting shot, the kids finding him as the poachers smash up the island-to-shore radio…and a happy ending that’s just a trifle contrived. Good points: a little nice underwater photography and a well-trained seal. Weak points: The focus is a bit off during part of the picture—and it’s just not much of a picture, much less much of a comedy. As a sermon on the evils of seal-poaching, maybe. I’ll give it $0.75.

The Front Page, 1931, b&w. Lewis Milestone (dir.), Adolphe Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Mary Brian, Edward Everett Horton. 1:41.

Clearly a classic comedy, and you probably already know the plot. (Reporter wants to quit paper, move to New York, get married; his editor wants to prevent that; there’s a prison escape of sorts; and we get to see lots of byplay among prison reporters…along with some social commentary from the prisoner.)

Note that this is the 1931 version with Adolphe Menjou, not the 1974 version with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Well played, funny, but there are two problems, both print-related more than movie-related: The sound’s poor (lots of background noise, some distortion) and there appears to be lots of overscan—as in, on the opening credits you can’t read the actors’ names.

A great print of the movie would probably get a full $2, but I can’t give this one more than $1.50.