This question arose after I saw the following fragment from The Desert Fox (1951). It took me ages to extract the clip from the movie, and get it so that it started and stopped at the right place.
In it Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (James Mason) is welcoming Generals Maisel and Bergdorf to his home in Herrlingen, Bavaria at 12:05 pm on 14 October 1944. As they are sitting down, Rommel says:
“Make yourselves comfortable. Smoke if you wish. I’m not like Montgomery. Smoke doesn’t make me unhappy.”
The passage fairly leapt out at me as I watched it. But it occurred to me that it probably leapt out back in 1951, when the film was released, because in the previous year – 1950 – Doll and Hill’s London Hospitals’ study had been published, and smoking was highly topical. I imagine that the line was added late in the production. Erwin Rommel probably never said any such thing. It’s a piece of fiction.
But was Monty an anti? Did he start coughing and waving his hands whenever he saw anyone smoking cigarettes? Clearly the film’s producers thought so, and probably most of the audience in the gloriously smoky English cinemas of 1951 (I remember those cinemas well, because they lost their homely atmosphere when smoking was banned in cinemas in about 1990, and I’ve never liked soulless cinemas much since).
Which reminds me that I’ve been slowly reading the First Volume of the Underdog Anthology for the past couple of weeks. I’m not a great reader of fiction. I seem to have lost the knack. But this collection of short stories came in the sort of bite-sized morsels that I can consume in a single sitting. And that’s what I’ve been doing: reading them one by one, usually last thing at night.
There are a number of different authors, and several of them are people with whom I am very familiar – e.g. Roobeedoo, Leg-iron, and Longrider -, two of whom left comments just yesterday under this blog. The stories are all very well-written, and almost all of them are shocking and surprising in one way or other. So far there’s only been one story that left me perplexed and unmoved. My favourite so far has been one about a gunfighter who also happens to be a startlingly beautiful Indian woman: she fairly leapt out of the pages to capture my imagination (and my heart).
Talking about bite-sized, several of the other stories have been so minimalist that they barely even make it as morsels, and are more like single fragments or crumbs or crisps. Is it really possible to tell a story in a single paragraph? Well, yes, I decided, after reading one of them: it is possible.
Another feature of the book is the frequency with which smoking gets mentioned, sometimes perhaps a little incongruously. It will give nothing away to tell you that, yes, of course, the beautiful gunfighter smokes.
All of which reminds me that I’ve myself been toying with an idea for a highly improbable short story for a year or more. I was researching it again last night when I came across the clip from the Desert Fox above. For the story is to be set in the home of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel on the 14th of October, 1944, and begins about three-quarters of an hour after Erwin Rommel has told generals Maisel and Bergdorf that they can smoke if they wish. That’s to say that it starts at precisely 12:50 pm on 14 October 1944, as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel raps on the door of his son Manfred’s bedroom with his field marshal’s baton, and walks in.
The working title for the story is: Manfred.