Chelsea, an aspiring actress, tells Cosmo Kramer during an episode of the TV series Seinfeld that her manager is “trying to put together a miniseries for me on Eva Braun. I mean think about it, is that a great idea? We know nothing about Eva Braun, only that she was Hitler’s girlfriend. . . . What was it like having sex with Adolf Hitler? What do you wear in a bunker? What did her parents think of Hitler as a potential son-in-law? I mean it could just go on and on….”

It could and it will, because while it isn’t true that we know nothing about Eva Braun, it is true that we know relatively little, considering that she was the consort of one of the most recognizable and most reviled men in human history.

Heike B. Görtemaker, tries to bring some clarity to this subject in Eva Braun: Life with Hitler, which was originally published in GermanThe very things that have made Braun an obscure figure up to now were obstacles to the author’s work, beginning with the fact that Hitler wanted to be perceived as a solitary messiah whose life and energy were devoted to lifting Germany and its people from the ignominious consequences of World War I.

 In order to maintain his image, Hitler kept the very existence of Eva Braun a secret from the German people, and he kept her at least at arm’s length and often much farther when they were in the company of his inner circle. Hitler married Braun on the day before they both committed suicide in a bunker in April 1945 while the Red Army was literally striding through the Reichstag grounds about 25 feet above their heads. He once said that he had never married because  he needed the political support of German women and that he would lose some of his appeal if he had a wife. “It’s the same with a movie actor,” Hitler said. “When he marries he loses a certain something from the women who adore him. Then he is no longer their idol as he was before.”

When I read that in Görtemaker’s book, I wondered what “certain something” Hitler had that would attract any woman, never mind millions of them. Evidently the author wonders about that, too. When she writes that Braun’s life was shaped by Hitler’s power, his world view, and his “charismatic attraction,” she adds parenthetically, “however difficult it may be to explain what that consisted in.”
Görtemaker is convinced that neither Braun nor the other women around Hitler — principally the wives of men like Albert Speer and Joseph Goebbels — were simply adornments who were expected to be seen but not heard. On the other hand, the author finds it impossible to say definitively how much Braun and the others knew about German policy, and particularly about the Holocaust. They had to know of the persecution of Jews in Europe; it was no secret. But discussion of the extermination program in Hitler’s presence was forbidden when he was in his “family circle,” as it were, meaning the crowd that frequented Berghof, Hitler’s frequent refuge in Bavaria.

Hitler met Braun in 1929 when he was 40 and she was 17 and working as an assistant to Dietrich Hoffmann who became the privileged official photographer of the Nazi party and the Third Reich. Görtemaker speculates that the couple were not intimate until 1933 when Braun had become an adult . At first they saw each other only intermittently, and this apparently weighed on Braun and was the cause of two suicide attempts. After the second incident, Hitler arranged for Braun to have her own home in Munich and to have regular access to Berghof, where her assertion of her prerogatives irritated some of Hitler’s coterie.

Whatever attracted Braun to Hitler in the first place, long before it was clear that he would lead the German nation, her commitment to him was complete. Görtemaker writes that the level of her loyalty was the object of admiration to at least some of Hitler’s associates and it may have been the one thing that most endeared her to him. There’s no evidence that she pressured him to marry her or that she complained about being kept out  of the public eye. And, in the most dramatic possible demonstration  of her constancy, however misguided, she went to Berlin against Hitler’s wishes with the clear intention of dying with him while many others, including Speer and Hoffmann, were already concocting lies about being “outsiders” in Hitler’s camp. The normal confidentiality of the culture in which Hitler lived, coupled with the loss and destruction of written records and the unreliability of later testimony by turncoats trying to save their own hides and reputation may mean that we’ll never know more about Eva Braun than Görtemaker has been able to tell us in this book. That’s unfortunate, not because Braun was so different from others who supported Hitler, but because she was so like them. She was in all respects an ordinary person who came under the still elusive spell of a bumbling, absurd little man who terrorized the world for more than a decade

There’s a radio station in these parts that started the week after Thanksgiving to play nothing but Christmas music. And that has been pretty much restricted to non-religious Christmas music, which sharply limits the available tracks, even with generic winter tunes like “Let it Snow” thrown in.

JOHNNY MARKS

We usually stick to the public radio classical music station, but once in while, when that station delves into music we find grating, we have switched to the commercial station, but the steady diet of what seems like a dozen songs can be nauseating. Earlier today, within less than 30 minutes, that station played yet again “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee, and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives. It occurred to me as I reached for the remote that all of those songs were the work of Johnny Marks. That’s no small thing when one considers that relatively few pop Christmas songs have become standards.

“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was actually a collaboration with Marks’s brother-in-law, Robert May, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Dartmouth, who worked as a copywriter for Montgomery Ward.

ROBERT MAY

For many years, the retail chain had been giving away Christmas coloring books to children who visited Santa Claus at Montgomery Ward stores, but in the 1930s, turned to creating its own book, which featured the tale of Rudolph, written in verse by Robert May. By 1946, more than six million copies of the book had been distributed. To its credit, Montgomery Ward, which originally owned the copyright to Rudolph because it had been written by an employee as an assignment, turned the rights over to May in 1947. Marks turned May’s poem into lyrics and set it to music. Although other singers turned down the chance, Gene Autry recorded the song for the Christmas season of 1949 and the disc sold more than 2.5 million copies the first year and has sold tens of millions since.

Incidentally, May’s achievement was remarkable in its own right in that he managed to add a character to the ages-old Santa Claus legend.

Marks, who attended Colgate and Columbia universities, also wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a musical adaptation of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The song was recorded by several major artists, including Harry Belafonte, Bing Crosby, and Kate Smith.

From what I’ve read, although “Rudolph” made Marks a rich man, he wasn’t crazy about being remembered only for that and a few other Christmas songs. As it happens, Marks also collaborated with Carmen Lombardo and D.L. Hill to write one of my favorite songs, “Address Unknown.”  It was a big hit for the Ink Spots. You can hear their recording by clicking HERE.

JOHNNY MARKS

I don’t want to leave Johnny Marks without mentioning that he served with the U.S. Army during World War II — specifically, as a captain in the 26th Special Service Company — and he was awarded the Bronze Star and four battle stars.

Serving under General George Patton during the invasion of Normandy, Marks won the Bronze Star for leading 20 men in an attack on a castle and capturing the 100 Germans inside. 

WILLIAM HURT and MIA FARROW in "Alice"

I don’t know if it’s possible to not be in love with Mia Farrow, but watching the 1990 Woody Allen film Alice is not the way to avoid it.

MIA FARROW

In this wonderful fantasy, written and directed by Allen, Farrow plays Alice Tate, the wife of wealthy businessman Doug Tate (William Hurt). Alice lives in a world in which her biggest concern is how to fit all the pampering she receives into her busy schedule. She and Doug have children, and Alice seems genuinely attached to them, but the kids spend most of their time with a nanny while Mom is with the personal trainer or the hair dresser or with her equally spoiled and gossipy lady friends.

Her routine is disrupted at her childrens’ private school when she meets and is attracted to Joe (Joe Mantegna), the divorced father of one of the other children. Shy and at least nominally Catholic, Alice suppresses her interest in Joe at least for a while. Right around this time, her usual hypochondria becomes focused on a chronic pain in her back, which drives her to consult an herbalist in a crummy building in Chinatown.

KEYE LUKE

Dr. Yang, played in a marvelous performance by Keye Luke — his last role — understands immediately that there is nothing wrong with Alice’s back. He hypnotizes her and then introduces her to a series of herbs that have extraordinary effects on her, and eventually on Joe, including invisibility. Alice and Joe learn a great deal about themselves and about their spouses (ex-spouse, in Joe’s case). The result is a total change in both of their lives, although not in the way that might seem obvious.

Yang, who barks at any sign of self-indulgence in Alice and consistently refers to himself in the third person, is a unique and hilarious character.

As usual with Woody Allen, every character in this film is perfectly cast, including a brief turn by Bernadette Peters as a mystical “muse” who addresses Alice’s ambition to be a writer; Gwen Verdon as Alice’s memory of her mother; Blythe Danner as Alice’s somewhat estranged sister; and Alec Baldwin as the ghost of Alice’s first lover. Even the tiny role of an interior decorator is enhanced by Allen’s choice of Julie Kavner.

GWEN VERDON

As for Farrow, she is simply irresistible.

The film is outstanding for its photography and for the writing, which got Allen an Oscar nomination.

Alice was loosely based on Juliet of the Spirits, a 1965 Italian movie directed by Federico Fellini, the first feature-length film he shot in color.

MIA FARROW and KEYE LUKE in "Alice"

ALAN ALDA

I don’t think I’ve ever disliked Alan Alda in a role, his role in the 1988 film “A New Life” is no exception. But this film has the added advantage of having been written and directed by Alda, so it is shot through with his wit and his sense of timing.

In truth, “A New Life” is a piece of fluff, but the combination of Alda and his art with a cast that includes Hal Linden, Ann-Margret, and Veronica Hamel give the fluff enough substance to keep it interesting.

Alda plays Steve Giardino (who makes up these names?), a Wall Street trader whose gearshift is perpetually in overdrive. Among the things he neglects are his wife, Jackie, played by Ann-Margret. Jackie finally has enough — or, more accurately, not enough — and she and Steve split. Both are disoriented in the single state, and Steve is further confused by his stock-market colleague Mel Arons (Hal Linden), a profligate who tries to prod Steve into a similar way of life. Jackie eventually takes up with a much younger and overly attentive sculptor, Doc (John Shea), who is a waiter in real life. Steve settles in, or so it seems, with a medical doctor, Kay Hutton (Veronica Hamel). The truth in this movie is that stable relationships are not easy to come by, and both Steve and Jackie will have more work to do.

HAL LINDEN

This is a delightful ensemble, as the names of the actors promise. Linden is especially entertaining as a kind of Mephistopheles figure to the confused and somewhat naive Steve.  “What are you making such a big deal about happiness for?” he asks Steve. “Look at me. I trade all day against guys who would cut my heart out of an eighth. I drink too much, I eat rich food, I make love to women half my age. You think I’m happy?”

(He grins) “That’s the advantage of being shallow.”

Fans of such Alda-esque dialogue will find it throughout this film.

Look for Alda’s daughter, Beatrice, in the limited role of Steve’s adult daughter, Judy.

Ann-Margret and Alan Alda on the set of "A New Life"

Books: “1493″

December 17, 2011

aka CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

One of my chores at Paolino’s Market when I was a kid was to open up fifty-pound bags of potatoes and divide the spuds into ten- and five-pound bags. “Packing potatoes,” as we called it, was a frequent part of the routine in our store, and that was appropriate in its way, because what could be more routine than a potato — one of the most plain, most simple, and least consequential of vegetables.

Or so I thought until I read 1493 by Charles C. Mann, author of 1491.

In this substantial and exhaustively researched volume, Mann describes the impact of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, whom he calls Cristóbal Colón, the name the explorer answered to in Spain. Overall, Mann explains, the impact of those voyages was to globalize life on earth, sending folks traveling to hemispheres they had perhaps only dreamed about and distributing other forms of life, ranging from mosquitoes to horses, from tobacco plants to rubber trees, to spots where they had never existed before — a phenomenon known as the Columbian Exchange.  Simultaneously, languages and cultural traditions and man-made products were scattered across the planet. So were doleful phenomena such as malaria and potato blight.

The process that Columbus launched, and personally participated on his first trips across the Atlantic Ocean and back, is so complex and far-reaching, as Mann describes it, that I can’t adequately summarize it here. But the potato is a good example of the upheaval Columbus touched off.

Little did I know last June, when I was watching my cousins hoeing potatoes in their massive garden in Il Valle di Sessa Cilento, that potatoes, which were first domesticated in the Andes, weren’t exported to Europe in quantity until the second half of the 16th century, when some species of them were being cultivated in the Canary Islands and shipped off to the mainland.

Irish mother and her children during the potato famine in 1849


The consequences of this, Mann writes, were enormous for a continent that was accustomed to frequent food shortages. In fact:

“Many scholars believe that the introduction of S. tuberosum to Europe was a key moment in history. This is because their widespread consumption largely coincided with the end of famine in northern Europe. (Maize, another American crop, played a similar but smaller role in southern Europe.) More than that, the celebrated historian William H. McNeill has argued, S. tuberosum led to empire: ‘[P]otatoes, by feeding rapidly growing populations, permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.’ Hunger’s end helped create the political stability that allowed European nations to take advantage of American silver. The potato fueled the rise of the West.”

There is much, much more just to the potato story, including the fact that a blight that also originated in the Andes migrated first to North America and then to Europe in the mid 19th century, causing almost incomprehensible hunger and illness, especially but not solely in Ireland.

Mann discusses the potato itself and its geographical history in minute detail, and he does the same with a broad range of subjects including slavery, the mixing of races in the “new world,” and the impact of world economies — most notably that of China — of the Spanish trade of silver from South America. His discussions frequently extend down to the present day, and this book in general is a valuable aid in understanding how the world evolved from the 15th century to the 21st.

WILLIAM HURT

“The biggest disease today,” Mother Teresa is supposed to have said, “is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.” Mother Teresa may have been referring primarily to the kind of people she ministered to, people who are poor and disfranchised, but the problems she identified can affect people of all kinds. Three people who are suffering from the “disease” of feeling  cut off from any human community are the princpal characters in The Yellow Handkerchief , a 2008 film loosely based on a story by Pete Hamill.

These folks are Brett Hanson (William Hurt), who has just been released after a six-year term in prison; Martine (Kristen Stewart), a 15-year-old girl who has wandered away from her inattentive, single father and her friendless life; and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), a Native American teenager who is  on an aimless odyssey. Martine hitches a ride with Gordy after being rejected by a boy who had taken advantage of her, and Brett, who meets the pair chance, joins them on the first leg of his trip back to New Orleans to find his former wife, May (Maria Bello). May, a beautiful but solitary woman bound to the waterways of New Orleans, had married Brett after overcoming what might have been more sensible instincts, and he divorced her as a way of freeing her after the incident that landed him in prison.

EDDIE REDMAYNE

This was an odd trio in that Gordy was attracted to Martine, who regarded him as eccentric and immature, and Brett — although he was protective of the teenagers — considered them only as a means to an end, namely returning to New Orleans to find out if May would accept him after the callous way he had left her. As they continue to travel together, however, the three gain more and more insight into each other’s psyches and problems and find that in their isolation and their desire to be “a part of something” they are more alike than they had imagined.

 This film was shot against the background of post-Katrina Louisiana. Besides being visually interesting, the grim landscapes and the devastation provide metaphors for loneliness on the one hand and a longing for rebirth on the other.

In spite of Hurt’s persona, this is a true ensemble piece in which he, Stewart, Redmayne, and Bello give credible and sympathetic performances.

WILLIAM HURT and KRISTEN STEWART

I grew up among the remnants of war. I was born in September 1942 when the United States had been engaging Nazi Germany and Japan for less than a year. By the time I was old enough to be aware of my surroundings, there still were handwritten letters from the front, brass uniform buttons, photos of soldiers, sailors, and marines, patriotic records, and newspaper clippings reporting on the service of relatives and friends, including cousin Mike Aun, who was awarded the Bronze Star twice, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart with three oak-leaf clusters.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

I also recall that for a long time after 1945, my parents and other adults would frame their conversations in terms of what had occurred before, during, and after “the war.” They needn’t say which war.

So although I don’t remember the war itself, I feel that it was a part of my life, and I eagerly learn as much about it as I can. My most recent opportunity came in the form of Pearl Harbor Christmas, a new book by Stanley Weintraub.

In this compact book, Weintraub describes events at home and abroad from December 22, 1941, to January 1, 1942 — devoting a chapter to each day. The dominant personalities by far are Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Churchill was staying at the White House after crossing the submarine-infested Atlantic in winter seas. He couldn’t wait to get to Washington, because Pearl Harbor had accomplished what he could not, forcing the United States into a war that Britain probably could not survive otherwise. But, although the newborn American belligerence was directed mostly at Japan, Churchill wanted to make sure, and did, that the U.S. would go to war first against Nazi Germany.

WINSTON CHURCHILL

Churchill addressed a joint session of Congress, spoke at the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on the White House lawn — the only time he and Roosevelt spoke from the same platform — and dashed up to Ottawa to speak before the Canadian Parliament. What with his blustering, his cigar-smoking, and his drinking, he was quite the counterpoint to patrician, dignified Roosevelt. Actually, he came across more like Lyndon Johnson: Weintraub describes an incident on December 26 when Churchill was dictating to a male secretary notes for the address to Congress. Churchill was in his bath when he started dictating. He got out, wrapped a towel around himself, walked to an adjoining bedroom, dropped the towel, and continued dictating, stark naked. Suddenly, the secretary recalled, “President Roosevelt [in his wheelchair] entered the bedroom and saw the British Prime Minister completely naked walking around the room dictating to me. WSC never being lost for words said, ‘You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to conceal from you.”’

While Roosevelt and Churchill and others were in Washington working issues of joint command, Adolf Hitler was in Berlin or Bavaria trying to chew the great deal he had bitten off.

ADOLF HITLER

Hitler’s troops were in trouble on the Russian front, and even those closer to home were suffering from a lack of adequate supplies. Hitler actually had Joseph Goebbels run a clothing drive  to help keep his soldiers warm. In a radio address, Goebbels told the German people that they “would not deserve a moment’s peace if a single German soldier was exposed to the harshness of winter without articles of warm clothing.”

Meanwhile, the situation in the Pacific continued to deteriorate as the Japanese took advantage of their momentum and munched away at the region. Churchill had not yet publicly acknowledged the reality, Weintraub writes, and continued to waste resources trying  to defend ground that was already as good as lost.

Even more closely involved in such a charade was U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who had to abandon his headquarters and retreat with his wife and son to a tunnel in Corregidor while he continued to send out dispatches about tank battles, with nonexistent tanks, putting up a fight that wasn’t occurring.

DOUGLAS MACARTHUR

Weintraub explains that there was a certain ambivalence about the war in the United States at first; it still seemed far away.

Still, the government took the impending conflict seriously enough to pack up the founding documents — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights — and ship them off under heavy security to repose in Fort Knox for the duration.

The holidays went on as usual. Despite security concerns, Roosevelt insisted that the national tree be on the White House lawn, not in Lafayette Park where the Secret Service wanted it. There were presents, too, including eight thousand cigars sent to Churchill from various sources.

The new year was marked by a couple of oddities – Churchill making a rare visit to a church, attending a service with Roosevelt in Alexandria, Va., and the beleaguered Hitler publicly invoking “the Lord” in hoping that 1942 would bring positive results for the German people.

Throughout the United States, however, the prospects of what would come in the next three and half years did not weigh heavily on the celebratory spirit, and that, Weintraub writes, included the biggest celebration of all:

“ ‘If there was uneasiness over the possibility of Axis bombs falling into Times Square,’ the Times reported, ‘you could not read it in the celebrants’ faces.’ Despite Pearl Harbor and the reality of world war, it had not yet reached very far into the American psyche.’’

Vincent Donofrio and Marisa Tomei in "Happy Accidents"

I’ve been reading some articles about time travel; it’s a good way to make your head spin without the aid of alcohol.

The subject came up because we watched “Happy Accidents,” with Marisa Tomei and Vincent Donofrio. In this film, released in 2000, Tomei plays Ruby Weaver, a woman chronically unlucky in her relationships with men. She thinks her luck has changed when she becomes involved with Sam Deed (Donofrio), until he tells her that he is a traveler from the future – specifically from the year 2470.

VINCENT DONOFRIO

Sam claims that he saw Ruby’s picture when he was living in Dubuque, and that he traveled through time, to Brooklyn, in search of her – though he doesn’t say why. As any person would, Ruby initially thinks Sam is either joking or deranged, but Sam won’t budge off his story. Ruby is particularly disturbed by a notebook in which Sam has repeatedly sketched the face of a woman — he claims it’s Ruby’s face — and written the words Chrystie Delancey — he claims she’s his “contact,” another time traveler who was assigned to give him his orientation when he arrived in the past — that is, the present.

This tale grows quite intense; in fact, I was surprised to see it listed on IMDb as a comedy, because there’s nothing funny about it.  It keeps us guessing whether we’re watching a fantasy in which Sam is telling the truth, or a tragedy in which Sam is either playing mind games with Ruby or is insane.

Underlying the story itself is the paradox that the notion of time travel to the past always poses — the question of causality. Namely, if time travel to the past were possible, would the time travelers, either by their mere presence or by their overt actions, change the course of events, change the future.

Donofrio and Tomei

I don’t think this movie did very well at the box office, but it’s a worthwhile property. The story is compelling, Tomei and Donofrio are both magnetic, and there are strong supporting performances by Tovah Feldshuh as Ruby’s mother, Holland Taylor as Ruby’s therapist — a pivotal role, and Nadia Dajani as Ruby’s best friend.

Several years ago, I read a book entitled The Physics of the Impossible by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. In that book, Kaku explored some ideas that have been presented over the years in science fiction literature, films, and TV shows, and organized them according to how plausible they were. As I recall, he concluded that under the known laws of physics, time travel into the past was impossible and time travel into the future was possible, but not likely to become reality for many many years. If you’d like to see a somewhat comprehensible explanation of Albert Einstein’s view of time travel, click HERE.

STEPHEN COLBERT

Stephen Colbert, in his recent irreverent commentary on the new English translation of the ritual of the Roman Catholic mass, said something to this effect: “For the record, consubstantial is now Istanbul.” For the benefit of the uninitiated, consubstantial is a technical term in the Nicene Creed that expresses something we Catholics and many other Christians believe about the nature of God. In the translation in use from around 1970 until Nov. 27, the Latin phrase consubstantialem Patri was rendered “of one substance with the Father,” but in the new rendition it reads, “consubstantial with the Father.”

Anyway, that was the occasion for Colbert to make that play on words.

JIMMY KENNEDY

That had the unintended result of reviving in my brain the memory of a song written in 1953, with lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Nat Simon, namely “Istanbul (Not Constantinople”). I don’t know how historically accurate Kennedy was trying to be, but the song in general refers to the fact that in 1930, the government of the relatively new Republic of Turkey declared Istanbul to be the one and only name of a city that had had many names — sometimes more than one at the same time — over its very long history. Istanbul was not a new name in 1930. Far from it, the name was known in some form since at least the tenth century.

Things like that used to interest song writers, and Kennedy turned out a lyric that, in part, went like this:

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can’t go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

The ‘fifties being what they were, that was a big hit for the Four Lads.It was played on the radio again and again, and it was bored into my subconscious mind, where it rested happily until Colbert summoned it from the tomb.Kennedy, incidentally, was a very talented guy who wrote several standards, including “South of the Border,” “The Isle of Capri,” and “Red Sails in the Sunset.” Nat Simon and Charles Tobias teamed up in 1946 to write “The Old Lamp-Lighter.”

But Kennedy’s best-known work may be the lyrics he wrote in 1939 for “My Prayer,” which had been composed in 1926 by violinist Georges Boulanger. Glenn Miller and the Ink Spots had big hits with that song, but its most popular interation was the 1956 recording by The Platters.

“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” has been recorded by many performers, including Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, Caterina Valente, Bette Midler, and They Might Be Giants.

You can hear the Four Lads’ version by clicking HERE.

HECTOR ELIZONDO

I have to begin by saying that I was predisposed to like Tortilla Soup because I am predisposed to like Hector Elizondo, who is the focal point of this film. Tortilla Soup, a 2001 remake of the 1994 Taiwanese movie Eat Drink Man Woman, concerns Martin Naranjo (Elizondo), a semi-retired Mexican-American gourmet chef who is the widowed father of three beautiful young women. His daughters still live at home and — at the beginning of the story, at least — gingerly try to accommodate his fixed ideas what their lives, and family life, should be.

The oldest daughter, Leticia (Elizabeth Peña) is loveless and unhappily employed as a high school chemistry teacher. She has broken with her father only to the extent that she has left the Roman Catholic Church in favor of evangelical Christianity. The second daughter, Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors), would have liked to follow in her father’s culinary footsteps, but she caved into his pressure to become a businesswoman. The youngest girl, Maribel (Tamara Mello), disdains the degree of her sisters’ conformity and is potentially the most rebellious.

In a parallel story story line, Yolanda (Constance Marie), a divorced friend of the family, introduces her mother, Hortensia (Raquel Welch), into the Naranjo household. The flamboyant Hortensia quickly decides that she will marry Martin and mistakenly believes that he shares her ambition.

ELIZABETH PEÑA

As Martin strives to keep his family together with a constant stream of elaborate meals, each of his daughters starts to drift away – Letitia into the arms of an athletic coach at the high school, Carmen to a lucrative job in Barcelona, and Maribel to the side of a young man who is more of an alternative to her father than he is a lover.

Although the situation is hackneyed and the denouement is predictable, this is a charming movie. That’s attributable to the attractive and talented cast, the intimate nature of both the story and the manner in which it is told, and the lively and evocative musical background.

Elizondo, whose stodginess is altogether benign, is irresistible, and the actresses who portray his daughters establish a credible combination of affection and tension among themselves and between them and their father.

I don’t recommend watching this film on an empty stomach, because the enormous amount of food that cascades across the screen as one meal follows another is mouth-watering.