Question: Some old movies are promoted as "film noir," while some networks have "femme fatale" films. I know "femme fatale" is French for "fatal woman." But in a movie, what does it mean? I'm also shaky on my knowledge of "film noir," or "dark film." - H.K., Klamath Falls, Ore.
Answer: You are right, the phrase "femme fatale" is French for "fatal woman." She is a mysterious and seductive woman who lures her lovers into dangerous situations. You could also describe her as a woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery. The femme fatale is usually a villainous character.
The term "film noir" was coined in 1946 by a French film critic, Nino Frank, to describe many American crime and detective films released after World War II. Film noir is a type of crime film featuring cynical, malevolent characters in a sleazy setting along with an ominous atmosphere that is conveyed by shadowy photography and foreboding background music.
Some film noir classics include "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), "Murder, My Sweet" (1944), "Double Indemnity" (1944), "The Woman in the Window" (1944) and "Laura" (1944). The film noir period lasted until about 1960. According to many critics, the last film of the classic film noir era was Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" (1958).
Q: My folks always listened to the radio show "Fibber McGee and Molly" - I preferred "The Lone Ranger." How many years did "Fibber McGee and Molly" run? What was Gildersleeve's first name? I think he had an unusual middle name also. Were Fibber and Molly married in real life? - B.H.H., Coral Gables, Fla.
A: "Fibber McGee and Molly" premiered in 1935 and continued until 1959. The stars of the program were real-life husband and wife team James "Jim" Jordan and Marian Driscoll. The couple met at church choir practice in Peoria, Ill.
The next-door neighbor was Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve, played by Harlod Peary. Gildersleeve had his own spin-off, "The Great Gildersleeve," which ran from 1941 through 1957.
Q: My boyfriend gave me a beautiful pendant for my birthday. He asked me, "Why are pendants called pendants?" I have no idea. We'll look for your answer. - K.B., Peoria, Ill.
A: The word pendant comes from Old French "pendre" and Latin "pendere," which mean, "to hang down," the way a pendant does off a necklace.
LET'S LEARN ENGLISH: In the U.K., it's a "duvet"; in the U.S., it's a "comforter." Something that takes "two weeks" in the U.S. takes a "fortnight" in the U.K.
Q: It's hard to turn on TV and not see a GEICO insurance commercial. What does GEICO mean? - J.M., Salinas, Calif.
A: In 1936, Leo and Lillian Goodwin founded GEICO. Leo worked for USAA, an insurer that specialized in insuring military personnel. He rose in the company as far as a civilian could rise in a military-dominated hierarchy, so he decided to start his own business - GEICO. GEICO stands for Government Employees Insurance Company. In 1996, GEICO became a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Q: In the movie "Mary Poppins," there was a song with the word "supercal..." - I don't know how to spell it. What does the word mean? - F.M.L., Carlsbad, N.M.
A: The word is "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." The nonsense word was written for a song by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman for the 1964 Disney film. It was sung by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. In the film, the word means "something to say when you have nothing to say." The word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.
Q: I overheard a conversation in which someone used the word "gobsmack" or "gobsmacked." Do you have any idea what the word means? - A.U., Bowling Green, Ky.
A: "Gobsmacked" refers to someone who is completely dumfounded or shocked. The best usage of the word that I came across: "We were utterly gobsmacked when we spotted John at a restaurant on Friday night, after having attended his funeral that very morning!"
Q: Did John Wilkes Booth really did die when soldiers caught up to him, or was it a look-alike? - S.L.F, Stanley, N.C.
A: John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865, just days after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union soldiers. Following the assassination, Booth fled on horseback, making his way to Fort Royal, Va. He was tracked there by Union soldiers, who shot and killed him after the barn in which he was hiding was set on fire. He was 26.
DID YOU KNOW? Gwyneth Paltrow talked with James Cameron about the role of Rose in the film "Titanic" (1997); the role went to Kate Winslet. Paltrow also turned down the role of Emma Peel in the movie "The Avengers" (1998).
Q: I was at a yard sale and came across a box of about 100 vintage photographs. Some were black and white, and others in sepia tone. The pictures measured about 4 inches by 6 inches and were mounted on a heavy paper. On the front of most of them was a nice border and an advertisement on the bottom. All of the photos that I looked at had an ad for the photographer on the back. The owner had no idea how old they were or any history behind them. What did I find? - G.G., Nashua, N.H.
A: It sounds as if you came across a stash of "cabinet cards." In the 1860s, a shift was made in photography from glass and metal photographic media to treated paper mounted on cardstock. This new process originated in France and was much cheaper. It made pictures affordable, and ideal for giving out at social visits as gifts or even calling cards.
Q: Are there words to the song "Taps"? Who wrote the song? - Y.L.B., Roxobel, N.C.
A: There are several versions of the origin of the song. According to Brigadier Gen. Daniel Butterfield, during the U.S. Civil War he whistled the tune to his wife. His wife was able to read music, so she jotted down the notes and he gave them to company bugler Oliver Willcox Norton.
As for words to the song, there are no official lyrics; however, the words "go to sleep, go to sleep" are often sung along with "Taps." Horace Lorenzo Trim also wrote unofficial lyrics to the song:
"Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake, from the skies -
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh."
Q: While vacationing at the shore, I heard someone mention Reef Macaronis. Is it a food or plant or what? - W.M., Virginia Beach, Va.
A: Reef is a brand of casual sandals. Two Argentine brothers created their brand in the 1980s. They opened a surf shop in their home country in the 1970s, and later moved to LaJolla, Calif., where they developed the Reef sandal, which has become one of the world's leading sandal manufacturers.
There are several dozen different Reef sandal models; macaronis retail for more than $100 (I'm putting them on my Christmas list). The rest of the line seems to be more moderately priced. Several models actually have a bottle-cap opener built into the underside of the sandal. Reef is now owned by VF Corporation.
- Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at AskMrKIA@gmail.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.