Win Min Than
Squadron Leader Forrester wakes to the sound of ice tinkling against a glass borne by perhaps the smoothest, sleekest face he has ever seen. Ungesturing at the glass, wholly mesmerized by the genteel sycophancy of the face in which a bit of shame mingles with pride, he tries to blurt, but his throat will not oblige. So he drinks, eyes still on the eager, submissive-looking neat face, with the whisper of someone educated at the best of girls' schools. Miss Win Min Than, as she introduces herself, will see to him, feed and rear him, get him to church and back to form. She knows all the jargon, the hearty british devil-may-care, and will lead him out of the funk in which he rots. His Mosquito has crashed in the desert; Blore, his Cambridge-educated navigator has perished, trekking into the far desert in search of something unutterable. Or did he shoot himself? Forrester is not sure. Did he, Forrester, shoot himself as well, and can this be the skimpy afterlife that equips exquisite handmaidens with strange, inadequate-sounding names? Even if only comforting him with glasses of tinkling water, Win Min Than will touch him magically, he just knows it. Along comes Brenda de Banzie, hearty theist, who vows to see him honorably linked to God. Squadron Leader Forrester is Gregory Peck. As stories go, it has epic reach, especially in its opening scenes. The flying is good, the just deserts in the desert better. In what seems no time, at least in the spiritual avalanche that in The Purple Plain passes for interiorized "recognition," as Aristotle put it, Squadron Leader Forrester goes in search of a ruby, or perhaps Win Min Than equips him with it. Yes she does. The love affair begins to boil, but only as warm catalysis over cold rocks. This is Burma after all, and the time that of the famed Burma Road. All liaisons are bound to be temporary, and Win Min Than, that honed, almost simpering epitome of Burmese beauty—slender, winsome, keenly spiritual—knows it. Yet she risks her all, as if life's profoundest experience has leaped upon her, never to come again. An air raid ensues. Things revert to so-called normal, and the tenderly adjusted octave of wartime infatuation slumps into diurnal uproar.
How cleverly she combines the ogled pleasure of scanties with an apocalyptic vision of monsters, flaunting her no-nonsense briefs in the recesses of her own interstellar Air Force One. But that was years ago, when we held hands and shrieked as the saber-toothed, newborn monster baby burrowed out of John Hirt's virgin chest. Nowadays, in a movie she herself produced, she is a mere clone of Ripley, two hundred years old, freed by Caesarean from her alien baby who will grow into a queen, a breeder, not through egg-laying but delivering vaginally a monster baby, huge and goofy, with trembling, twinkling upper lip and savage jaws. This is the chap whose tongue, long as three oxen's, uncoils from within his chops to encircle her in glutinous caress, sensing the real dysgenic Mama. Lanky Rip has come so far, you wonder at her teratological imaginings. Is she difficult to live with now? Do baby aliens lurk like feral dolphins in her thorax? Why does she say hand for glove and fuck for fork? Does she remain superb at basketball? Does her blood, cast off like sputum from a Beckett sniter, still work as an oxyacetylene torch? Can she leap enormous distances and shove knives through her palm with minimal pain? Perhaps she will grow up sideways, so to speak, actually learning to read Machiavelli or Hobbes, apply to Yale for a fellowship in drama (thus coming full circle), and in a phrase she applies to Winona Ryder, her former assassin, "save the Earth." Said with a certain monstrous jocularity. Will that slender tummy once more bear alien fruit, then be sliced open like the bellies of those twelve other not so maiden ladies? Will she be number nine this time? She seems to have a penchant for tongues, saving one specimen for Ryder, so perhaps in one sense she will can it: Ox-Tongue (pseudo) for Baby Boomers. Lick it and feel the monster surge within!
Uncorrected teeth clamped on the butt of a cigarette, the madcap juvenile grin a mere vehicle to the tenor of a sideways leer, the military-cum-yatching cap rakish and too small, his entire torso sheathed in a white tunic up tight to the chin, epaulets ornate and the ribbons of the twin medals Hohenzollern wide—it is the standard photograph of him, the impudent, domineering bad lot. He loved the role of Hun, but only twice won parts worthy of his talent: the camp commandant in Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion and the butler in Sunset Boulevard, in which he fawns on the very Gloria Swanson who got him fired from Queen Kelly. Obligated to his caricature, he made his movies far too long, seeing most of them cut, and his Walking Down Broadway (1932), wholly reshot, ended up as the disaster Hello Sister, as banal as its predecessor was raunchy.