Legendary playwright Neil Simon left behind a plethora of classic plays and movies, including the spot-on parody Murder by Death, which hilariously sends up every cliché of the murder mystery. Photo: Barbara Roden.

The Editor’s Desk: It’s the silly season

Musings on a few stories making news as the summer holiday winds to a close.

The month of August is commonly known in the news trade as “the silly season”, as this time of year often throws up little in the way of hard news, leaving reporters and editors scrambling to fill column inches and air time. Herewith are a few musings on some of the things that have been making news over the last little while.

Death of a patriot: Longtime Republican U.S. senator and The Man Who Would be President, John McCain, succumbed to brain cancer last week after a long illness. Tributes poured in for a man who, whatever else might be said of him, was a true patriot: a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was shot down, imprisoned, and tortured for five years in the infamous camp known as the “Hanoi Hilton”. He was offered early release, but refused out of solidarity to his fellow prisoners, and the experience scarred him for life.

One person was—as of press time, at least—conspicuously absent from the list of those paying tribute to McCain the man, politician, and statesman: current Republican U.S. president Donald Trump, who infamously said of McCain, in 2015, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

This is somewhat rich, coming from a man who obtained five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, one for bone spurs that did not seem to bother him during his college sports career but were suddenly a problem when he was eligible for the draft. Mr. McCain probably returned the sentiment, and liked people who weren’t draft dodgers, which is doubtless why Mr. Trump has not been invited to McCain’s funeral (former president Barack Obama, a Democrat, is on the guest list).

I may not know much about art, but I know what I like: It’s not surprising that, as reported elsewhere in this week’s paper, the spending of $100,000 of TNRD-taxpayer money on a public monument commemorating volunteers has generated some pushback. Public art is a notoriously divisive topic, leading to much questioning as to why public funds are being spent on art instead of [insert your preferred spending beneficiary here].

And of course art is very much in the eye of the beholder, with one person’s “It’s stunning!” matched by another person’s “My four-year-old could do better.” Comments on a recent story in The Journal about the sale, for $205,000, of a painting of Ashcroft by E.J. Hughes were uniformly positive about the work in question, with many praising its beauty, but I suspect that some people might not have been quite so keen on it if it were revealed that the Village of Ashcroft had spent $205,000 of taxpayers’ money to purchase it. (No, the Village did not buy it; let’s nip that rumour in the bud.)

Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight: Neil Simon, whose career as a playwright and screenwriter spanned six decades and won him enough awards to stock several bookcases, died last weekend, aged 91. Simon wrote some of the most famous stage and film comedies of the 20th century, including such beloved hits as Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and The Goodbye Girl, but the work that most of my Facebook friends were recalling fondly, and quoting copiously from, was his 1976 film Murder by Death, an all-star send-up of classic murder mysteries.

The best parodies are written by those who know and love what they’re sending up, and Simon clearly loved classic detective tales, every cliché of which he skewered mercilessly but affectionately (and hilariously) in the film.

I could quote from it forever, but my favourite lines are spoken by Peter Falk as his character uncovers something strange. “That can only mean one thing. And I don’t know what it is.”

If you’ve not seen it, do yourself a favour and find a copy. You’ll be glad you did; it’s worth it just for Alec Guinness as a blind butler. Just don’t let him park the car.


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