Beating a Dead Horse for Fun

by John Delach

I have acquired an enormous knowledge about certain subjects, most of them useless for all practical purposes. My cousin, Helen, once experienced a large enough dose of my trivial inventory leading her to exclaim: “John, you might have been a smart person if you didn’t have so much junk clogging your brain.”

I didn’t disagree, instead I embraced it. When I read a book, watch a movie or listen to a radio program I take pride in knowing that the author, commentator, director or researcher got it wrong. My pulse quickens, heart beats faster and a private, “Gotcha” races through my spirit.

Most of the time, I keep these triumphs to myself, but if I find one especially egregious, I am happy to contact the offender. Usually the written word provides the easiest opportunity to reach the author. For books, it is by way of the publisher. For instance, Geoffrey Perret in “Winged Victory” wrote that Doolittle’s raiders took off from the USS Enterprise rather than the USS Hornet. I let Perret have it. As usual, no reply.

Another time I discovered an unforgivable error in a biography of General Curtiss LeMay. One chapter in a book covered the ill-fated air attack on the Ploesti oil fields in Romania by Army Air Force heavy bombers. The author maintained several times that these bombers were B-17s. In my letter that went un-answered, I sarcastically pointed out to him that if he had only bothered to look at the photos of the airplanes in his own book, he would have noticed that all those B-17s were cleverly disguised as B-24s.

My personal best involved a sports blog about the Chicago Bears written by a life-long fan of “Da Bears.” In it, he told the story of how the Bears had defeated the Football Giants in New York’s Polo Grounds in the 1963 for the NFL Championship game. The piece included his e-mail address, so I critiqued him somewhat as follows:

“Interesting piece but for the record, the Giants left the Polo Grounds in 1955 and were playing in Yankee Stadium in 1963. However, that was the least of your sloppy reporting. The sad reality is the 1963 Championship game was not played in New York. It was played in Wrigley Field in your home city!”

I included my phone number in my critique and he soon called me to object to my criticism. When I countered that he had made a huge error he tried to duck responsibility. “I had somebody else do the research.”  

“Not an excuse.” I replied. “You are trying to throw somebody else under the bus! No, you don’t, this went out under your name and nobody else’s.”

Movies are my favorite hunting grounds. Authors and their staffs usually do enough research to get it right. My experience is movie researchers are sloppy about history. They don’t care if they get it right, they want just enough accuracy so that perhaps it makes some sense.

Even I’ll admit that continuity can be trumped by the story line. Take the car chase under the elevated subway line in the “French Connection.”. The film makers used poetic license by using several different elevated lines to heighten the excitement of the chase. Still, privately I do note the filmmaker’s errors. My curse.  

Which brings me to the new feature film, “Motherless Brooklyn,” a period piece detective story set in 1957. How do I know this: The hero drives a 1957 Chevy and the Dodgers are still in Brooklyn but on the cusp of leaving. That could only be 1957.

That being established what errors did I find. Before I reveal them, I admit this is a good movie and they do get many things right. Also, it is based on a novel so poetic license is rampant. The villain is a thinly disguised Robert Moses character named Moses Randolph played by Alex Baldwin. If Caro didn’t make you hate R.M. Baldwin will.

My criticisms are historical and boring. During a car chase shortly after the start of the film, a scene includes a City bus that didn’t exist in 1957.

Later in the film, the heroine boards a subway train to take her home to Harlem. The vintage train the director uses was in service in 1957. But it only operated on the BMT lines which didn’t go to Harlem. The closest that train would have taken her to was 57th Street a long walk from her home on 148th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.

The last mistake shows an elevated train that would have been a futuristic vision in 1957. I am almost certain that this was a simple case of laziness. The director used it as a quick background shot and didn’t care that the train, we see didn’t exist then.

Boring, indeed, but not to me.

My hunt continues. Next up, a new movie called, “The Battle of Midway,” The film chronicles the naval battle in the Pacific in early June 1942 that changed the course of the war,

Already, from what I’ve read, heard and saw, it is chock-a-block full of flaws and mistakes.

Don’t worry, dear reader, I will save what mistakes I find for another time and I promise to snot to report them to you any time soon.