Perry on Politics: The problem with 'The Interview'

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 The Interview Van Nuys erDennis Lavalle holds a ticket and a poster of the film "The Interview" starring actors Seth Rogen and James Franco as he attends the Christmas Day screening of "The Interview" in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles, California, Dec. 25, 2014. (Associated Press photo)

By James M. Perry

"The Interview" is a second-rate comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

It must have occurred to Sony Pictures Entertainment, the producer, that Kim Jong-un, who is clearly evil and may, like so may tyrants before him, be just a little crazy, would not be pleased. In fact, the North Korean government vowed "merciless actions" if Sony went ahead with releasing the film. Not many days later, Sony's computers were hacked by an organization that U.S. authorities say is somehow connected to North Korea. The film was finally released over the Christmas holiday.

"The Interview" purportedly is a comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, two whacko journalists charged with assassinating the North Korean leader with a strip of ricin hidden for a handshake, during an interview with the mad dictator. The movie ends, preposterously, with the two crazy Yanks in a tank, from which they shoot down and kill the North Korean despot circling overhead in a helicopter, scrambling to arm his country's nuclear arsenal.

As far as I can tell, no major studio has ever made a movie in which an active, ruling head of state is actually assassinated. "The Interview," therefore, is the first to do so. (There have been a dozen or more movies about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but they were all made after his tragic death. In "The Day of the Jackal" (1973), a paid assassin, played brilliantly by Edward Fox, comes within seconds of killing Charles de Gaulle, the president of France. Mr. De Gaulle, though, had died peacefully months before the movie was released.)

Assassinations, it seems to me (I was in Mr. Kennedy's motorcade the day of his death, a searing experience) are not funny.

Reading about the plot of this movie reminded me of the Three Stooges (Moe, Curly, and Larry) in one of their 190 slapstick short features (No. 44, actually) called "You Nazty Spy," in which they became, improbably, the rulers of Moronica. Moe looks and acts like Adolf Hitler, Curly seems to be Hermann Goring and Larry seems to be Joseph Goebbels. They indulge in the usual slapstick that amused millions of fans for 25 years.

"You Nazty Spy" was released in 1940, when the United States was technically neutral. It was the first major film satirizing Hitler.

Curiously, the Hays Code, which censored all Hollywood productions, pretty much forbid movies satirizing world leaders, no matter how evil. But, says one observer, the censors may have paid little attention to short subjects, such as those churned out by the Three Stooges.

Charlie Chaplin's celebrated "The Great Dictator," spoofing Hitler in his role as a barber who becomes dictator of Tomainia, came out nine months after "You Nazty Spy." Jack Oakie plays Napaloni, dictator of Bacteria. Pouty, posturing Benito Mussolini was often seen in real life as a comic figure, but rarely satirized in film. Mr. Chaplin supposedly said years later he never would have made a comedy about Hitler (in which storm troopers attack Jews) had he known about the horrors of concentration camps and the extermination of millions of innocent Jews.

Once again then. Assassinations are not funny.

Note: I confess I plagiarized the idea for this blog post from David Rogers, ace congressional correspondent for Politico.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.


Christmas Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Studio Lambert/CBSStudio Lambert/CBS

One more work day before there are Christmas morning mimosas. In the meantime, here's your breakfast sausage.

1) Although some of the donors that allowed Mayor Bill Peduto to hand out cash to city workers in need during his "Undercover Boss" appearance prefer to remain anonymous, the mayor told reporters on Tuesday his office would account for the $155,000 he solicited for the show – and he dismissed any notions of impropriety: "If I can raise money to help worthy causes, worthy institutions, I'm going to do it. Because this was on TV, people see it differently. I see it no differently."

2) Want a beer with that Christmas Eve Pizza? Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board recently delved into the Byzantine maze that is our liquor laws and came up with an opinion that you can have that beer delivered.

3) A recent Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll found that 62 percent of Pennsylvanians support same-sex marriage while 32 percent oppose it, a stunning turnaround from a decade ago, when more than half of the state's residents opposed same-sex marriage.

4) We hope it turns out to be a happy holiday for George H.W. Bush. The 90-year-old former president was taken to a Houston hospital Tuesday night after suffering shortness of breath.

5) And we hope it's a happy holiday for you as well. Merry Christmas, everyone. We'll see you back here on Friday


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .


We're stuck in the P-G newsroom this morning, which means we're not having breakfast at Pamela's in the Strip District like someone in our Twitter stream.

1) Do prosecutors have an obligation to enforce all laws, even ones they find to be unconstitutional? Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has refused to enforce the state's Defense of Marriage Act – you know, the one that has since been ruled unconstitutional – and she's picking a fight with another, the new law that allows gun-rights supporters to sue municipalities over local laws. Our Tracie Mauriello found that Ms. Kane isn't alone in picking and choosing which laws to enforce.

2) From the We-Could-Have-Told-You-This-Was-Coming Department: Ms. Kane's refusal to enforce the gun law – along with her refusal to pursue corruption charges against Philadelphia-area legislators – is again drawing cries from state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe to impeach the attorney general. The Butler County Republican has made the same call before, even though, as Franklin & Marshall College Professor G. Terry Madonna told Pennsylvania Independent, Ms. Kane hasn't been accused of breaking any laws.

3) As we noted a day ago, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto warmed hearts and won over skeptics by doling out cash by the handful during his appearance on the CBS program "Undercover Boss." The good news? That wasn't our money; it came from sponsorships that Mr. Peduto referred to as "friends." The not-so-good news? The Peduto administration isn't identifying who those friends are.

4) The Republicans have had just a few weeks to enjoy their sweeping victory in November's election but we're seeing signs that the party is already over. Among them: Roll Call has identified the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Pat Toomey as a race to watch – because of Mr. Toomey's perceived vulnerability -- in 2016.

5) Bye Bye, Joe Cocker.


A tale of two television appearances

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A Christmas gift suggestion for Mayor Bill Peduto: a chainsaw.

Or maybe some lessons on using one.

As part of his stint on the CBS program "Undercover Boss," Mr. Peduto struggled with handling a chainsaw, hanging a door and working on a city sanitation crew. In fact, his blue-collar skills were rough enough that most of his co-workers on Sunday's program pegged him pretty quickly as an office guy with an impressive beard – and one, Public Works Department employee Marty, saw through the Duck Commander disguise. But Mr. Peduto's political skills shone in the episode, as did the city itself; he handed out a promotion, pledged a scholarship to Marty – who wasn't exactly a fan of the Mayor's before the show – and tapped a housing authority carpenter to lead a new apprenticeship program. Pittsburgh looked terrific, and our mayor looked even better.

Mr. Peduto wasn't the only local politician who got some bonus airtime this weekend. U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler), offered President Obama a lump of coal – a pretty substantial one, too – when he was featured in the Republican response to the Mr. Obama's weekly address to the nation. Mr. Kelly's career as car dealer has to have influenced his appearance in the address – he has some showman in him, and that came across as he hammered the administration of Mr. Obama on energy issues.


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

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The Pub Chip Shop, South Side.

Happy Friday, everyone.

1) Given the recent attention paid to ethics – what with Gov.-elect Tom Wolf forbidding members of his administration from accepting gifts and the announcement of charges against two Philadelphia lawmakers for accepting too many – Lloyd Smucker his compadres in the General Assembly should have much tougher rules about accepting gifts. The Republican state senator from Lancaster County said he is set to introduce a ban of nearly all gifts for public officials and employees in Pennsylvania; the sweeping ban would include local government employees as well The AP notes that stuff like this has been proposed before, but Mr. Smucker's proposal might have some momentum behind it. And we'll be genuinely curious to see what kind of public support this gets.

2) It's probably not necessary to justify shameless self-promotion, but in this case, the public discussion of ethics in government comes at a perfect time. Once you're done with Early Returns, you'll want to head over to the P-G's main site and take a look at the ongoing series on ethics and government. Our Joe Smydo started on Thursday with a look at legislators whose committee appointments might pose conflict-of-interest problems; in today's story, he looks at the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of the state's ethics commission. And if you're curious about how the committee appointments of your favorite legislators might dovetail with their outside business interests, you'll want to take a run through the accompanying interactive.

3) The latest charges against the two Philly-area state representatives were brought by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams – and not state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who refused to follow up on the investigation after deciding the evidence didn't support further action. Ms. Kane took heat for that decision then, and she's weathering more for it now, notably from U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the dean of the state's Congressional caucus and the chairman of the Philly's Democratic committee. Kane wasn't the party-endorsed candidate in the Democratic primary in her first run for the AG's chair, so she may not be too worried about support for her 2016 re-election bid. But holding on to that office without the backing of Philadelphia's most powerful Democrat would be a chore.

4) Mayor Bill Peduto's first budget made nearly everyone on Pittsburgh City Council happy – hello, Darlene Harris – but it remains to be seen if Mr. Peduto's spending plan will gain the support of the perpetually grumpy Intergovernmental Cooperation Board, which is scheduled to vote on the budget today.

5) We're about to begin the last weekend before Christmas, so we're not especially focused on what we're supposed to be doing, and getting through four of our alotted five things on point seems to be good enough. How we're going to finish instead: Spend a good bit of our Friday going through the Munchies, the 2014 Best of Munch awards. And with references to many of our favorite things – Rochester's Hollywood Gardens, Slice on Broadway, The Pub Chip Shop and a Phish song set halfway between Erie and Pittsburgh – why not?