Friday, June 19, 2009

Karma Curmudgeon

85 years ago, in separate incidents, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner slew their boyfriends. Allegedly. Both were acquitted. Beulah didn’t actually deny shooting hers; she simply said she acted in self-defense and not at all because of his intention to dump her. After the shooting she played a foxtrot record while waiting for the fellow to die, which he did 4 hours later. Then she called the police. Belva never admitted doing anything. Sure she was in the front seat of her boyfriend’s car where he was killed by a gun found on the seat next to him. Other people had seen her there. Sure she owned guns. Other people had seen her with those too; a girl had to be careful of robbers, she said. Sure she was still covered in her boyfriend’s blood when the police arrived at her apartment. But she had been drinking, you see, and for the life of her couldn’t remember what happened in the car. She sincerely doubted she had anything to do with her boyfriend’s death though.

These became celebrity cases. The juries bought the defendants’ stories and both walked free. Beulah’s husband stood by her through the trial, but after it was over she dumped him and married a boxer.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote a play based on the events called Chicago which ran on Broadway. It was made into a movie in 1927. The movie was remade in 1942 as Roxie Hart with Ginger Rogers in the title role. It returned to the stage in 1975, renamed Chicago, this time as a musical. The best known version is probably the 2002 movie adaptation starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

I’ve never seen the straight original play, but I’m fond of the 1927 version (the scene where Roxie is being coached by her lawyer is here: ), the 1942 version, and the Broadway musical. My fondness reinforced a resistance to seeing the 2002 movie that I had anyway. It long has been my opinion that stage musicals rarely translate well to the screen; they never turn out better on screen, despite all the superior stagecraft and fx possible, and sometimes achieved, with film – it’s just not the right medium. On a recent sleepless night, though, I finally watched it. It actually isn’t bad. I much prefer Broadway, but it isn’t bad.

I’m not sure what about this kind of story catches our attention so much in real life and in the movies. It may be wonderment that karma really doesn’t balance things out. What goes around doesn’t come around – unless we decide to make it do so. Even then, we often get it wrong.

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