Saturday, May 18, 2013

In Memoriam: Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

(This post originally appeared on sister blog Shadow of a Doubt 5/12/2013)

Special effects artist/stop motion model animator. George Pal's Puppetoons. Mighty Joe Young. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. It Came From Beneath the Sea. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. 20 Million Miles to Earth. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The Three Worlds of Gulliver. Jason and the Argonauts. One Million Years BC. Clash of the Titans.

"Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars."

--George Lucas

"He was the man who made me believe in monsters."

--Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead director)

"I think all of us who are practitioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant. If not for Ray's contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn't be who we are."

--James Cameron

"What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits."

--Terry Gilliam

Mighty Joe Young (1949) On this, his first live-action movie, Harryhausen assisted a man he'd long admired, Willis O'Brien, who had created the special-effects for King Kong 16 years earlier.

Speaking of King Kong, its re-release in mid-1952 proved to be more popular than three earlier reissues, as well as its initial showing in 1933. It was the highest grossing film that summer, and Time magazine called it Movie of the Year. Why am I telling you all this? Because more than anything else, it was the success of this then-19 year old film that spurred on the giant-creature-attacks-big-city stop-motion picture craze of the 1950s, of which Ray Harryhausen played no small part.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) "Burp."

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) "If you're going to San Francisco/be sure to wear some flowers in your hair"

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) Earth would seem to be the underdog.

20 Millions Miles to Earth (1957) We don't fare too well against reptiles from Venus, either.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) With the exception of the "red-and-white" burning house scene in Mighty Joe Young, this was Harryhausen's first foray into color. Green looked rather becoming on her, don't you think?

Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Probably Harryhausen's most famous (and most bone-chilling) special effect.

One Million Years B.C. (1966) In case you're curious, Raquel Welch is not a Harryhausen special effect. All kidding aside, I think that T-rex holds up well against the computer-animated one in Jurassic Park.

Clash of the Titans (1981) Harryhausen's final film. Heads up!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Help

This post also appeared on sister blog Shadow of a Doubt.

Actress Celeste Holm died last week at the age of 95. In my opinion, she had both the talent and the looks to be a leading lady, yet with the exception of one, possibly two, films, she spent most of her brief Hollywood career (by her own choice; she preferred New York and the theater) in supporting roles. She won an Oscar supporting Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement. She also supported Olivia De Havilland in The Snake Pit. As an uncredited, disembodied voice, she supported Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Southern, Kirk Douglas, and Paul Douglas in Letter to Three Wives. On TV in the 1960s, she supported (with a wave of a wand) Leslie Ann Warren in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.

These days, Celeste Holm's best known movie may be All About Eve (1950), where she supported Bette Davis. Watch:

Well? Did you see her? Did you see Celeste Holm? She was the blond standing to the left of Davis. She said, "We know you. We've seen you like this before. Is it over, or is it just beginning?"

Not to give you the wrong impression, there are plenty of instances in Eve where Holm really does get to show off her thespian skills. She turns in a good performance in a movie full of good performances. However, the particular scene that I just showed you happens to be most famous one in the movie (as well as the most available scene on YouTube.) Probably because it contains the most famous line in the movie, uttered by Miss Davis: "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night." But Holm set Davis up to say that line! You know, when she said, "We've seen you like this in the beginning. Is it over, or do we know you?" Something like that. Holm supported Davis.

OK, this may not be the best argument on behalf of Miss Holm. So I'll give you another clip from a lesser known but hardly obscure film, High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. Holm could sing as well as act, and here she supports Frank Sinatra, who could act as well as sing. Sinatra was a big star in 1956, and was billed above the title, along with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. Louis Armstrong had a much smaller role, but was prominently featured on the film's poster anyway. As for Celeste Holm, you have to kind of look for her name. Yet in this particular scene, Sinatra dominates at first, until Holm's contribution increases, it all balances out, and both stars end up supporting each other:

Unfortunately, this equality doesn't last the whole picture. Celeste Holm was, after all, just a supporting actress. One of the best.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Vital Viewing (Girl Next Door Edition)

(This post originally ran on sister blog Shadow of a Doubt--KJ)

Actress Ann Rutherford died Tuesday at 94. Never a major Hollywood star, most obituaries emphasized her small role in Gone with the Wind as Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister Carreen. However, as popular as that movie was when it premiered in 1939, she probably was better known at the time for the thankless part she played in what was officially called the Judge Hardy's Family film series as Andy's on-again-off-again girlfriend Polly Benedict. Why thankless? Gamely played by Mickey Rooney, and by far the most popular character in the series, Andy Hardy was a typical all-American horny teenage boy, within the bounds of late '30s-early '40s movie morality (such as, you couldn't use the word "horny".) Let's just say he fell in love a lot. Since it wouldn't make much dramatic or comedic sense to have him fall in love with the same girl in film after film, MGM assigned such up-and-coming contract starlets as Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson, Donna Reed, and Esther Williams to play targets of Andy's lustful affections. A typical movie would begin with Andy breaking up with Polly in the first 15 minutes, then getting in some romantic misadventure, then getting lectured by his old fart of a father for said romantic misadventure, before finally hooking up again with Polly. Like I said, thankless.

Those of you who know what Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson, Donna Reed, and Esther Williams looked like in their primes may be saying to yourselves, "I don't blame Andy leavin' Polly for those babes! Why'd he always go back?" That's very unfair to Ann Rutherford, who was a very capable comic actress...OK, comic capability may not mean much when stacked (no pun intended) against Esther Williams in a bathing suit. But Ann-as-Polly had considerable other charms as well. If you don't believe me, just watch this:

Wooo-wooo is right! The bigger question should be, why did Polly always take him back?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blinds Drawn

This is my first posting in three years, and it may be another three years before I post again, as I have another blog that I do, as well as an off-line life to lead. So why have I, for the moment, pulled this neglected web site out of mothballs? For the worthy cause of film preservation: 

Today, I want to talk about Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock's classic on voyeurism. This isn't a full-blown critique or analysis. I'll do that later, when I'm able to post more regularly (three years say?) No, this post is really about me, how I recently made an ass of myself over this film, an explanation of how this came to pass, and, finally, a plea for understanding.

Self-Styled Siren, one of the sponsors of the "blogathon" that the link in the first paragraph refers to, recently did an analysis of Rear Window on her fine blog. It was well-written and insightful, with several observations that I hadn't previously considered. As well as one great, big, fat, glaring observation that not only hadn't I previously considered, I hadn't observed, period.

You have to understand that Rear Window is my favorite Hitchcock film, my favorite classic Hollywood film, maybe my favorite film ever. I've seen it at least ten times. I consider myself something of an authority on it. If you've never seen this movie, in which case you've led an empty and meaningless life, I'll give you a brief sketch. Jimmy Stewart is laid up with a broken leg. Bored, he's been spying on his neighbors, including one who may have killed his wife. But that's not important to this conversation. Rather, it's two other neighbors, a middle-aged couple played by Sarah Berner and Frank Cady (Sam Drucker, to all you Petticoat Junction and Green Acres fans out there), and their little white dog, which they lower in a basket from from their upper floor apartment so he can romp and play in the courtyard. In a pivotal scene, the dog is found strangled to death. Self-Styled Siren describes the whole scene and its aftermath, including this observation that caused me to recoil when I first read it:

"...Miss Lonelyhearts, tenderly placing the dog's body in his basket for the last time..."

That's not how I remembered it, and told Siren so in the comments section:

"Please excuse my nitpicking, but I've seen this film many, many times, and I'm positive it was the lady sculptor, who lived at ground level, who put the murdered canine back in the basket."

Hmm, used "who" one too many times. Anyway, the Siren was quick in responding:

"Hm, I don't have this on DVD, but that isn't my memory. Anyone able to check? Or Kirk, did you?"

Um, no, I hadn't. Why should I, when I was, like, positive and all? But seeing as she asked, I would check, and I wouldn't need no DVD, either! I went straight to YouTube, and, sure enough, the scene was there, and, sure enough...Miss Lonelyhearts, not the lady sculptor, places the dog's body in his basket one last time. Sigh.

How could I have been so wrong? I quickly came up with an explanation, which I passed on to Siren:

"...I've always found that scene a little disturbing. Animals (unlike humans) dying in movies always makes me a bit queasy, and I tend to turn away whenever that scene plays."

And it's true. I don't know if it's their utter innocence or what, but animal deaths in movies disturb me much more so than humans. I've only seen The Yearling and Old Yeller once, and it's going to remain once, unless when I die and go to Hell, Satan subjects me to a 24-hour showings of both films.

The fate of giant gorillas probably doesn't affect me as much as deer and dogs, as I've seen King Kong more than once, and surely will again. Still, I find his fall from the Empire State Building rather saddening. Not just the fall itself, but what leads up to it, the way those machine guns on the WWI airplanes gradually weaken the poor simian. No amount of modern-day computer animation can equal the poignancy of the big guy's stop-motion plunge to the streets of Manhattan .

I saw this odd mid-1960s sci-fi flick not too long ago called Village of the Giants, in which Ronny Howard, as he was known back then, invents a potion with his chemistry set that causes two ducks to grow to a size of about 7 feet. A group of teenagers led by Tommy Kirk happen upon these ducks and end up making a grand feast of them. I found that rather unsettling, and I'm not even a vegetarian!

Sometimes the animal doesn't even have to die. I thought it sad in The Diary of Anne Frank when the cat ran away. Really, I should have saved my sympathies for Anne herself, who was taken away.

OK, I'm stalling here with all the morbid movie memories. Yes, I was disturbed when the dog was killed, but that hasn't kept me from seeing Rear Window at least ten times. Also, I really should despise Raymond Burr, who kills the canine, or at least his character did. However, later on during the film's climax, I find myself feeling sorry for the guy, even more so than when Tokyo collapsed on top of him in Godzilla.

So if it's not the dog's demise that made me forget, what was it? Well, there is a lot going on in that scene. First the woman who owns the dog screams, followed by a speech lamenting neighborly indifference as Mr. Drucker sadly looks on. But the neighbors are anything but indifferent at that particular moment. Everybody runs to look--Miss Torso, the people at the party, etc. The lady sculptor runs out of her house. In fact, other than Miss Lonelyhearts, she's the closest one to that dog. Had the lady sculptor just been a little more proactive, she could have pushed Miss Lonelyhearts out of the way, and put the pooch in the basket herself, saving me a lot of grief in the process.

Finally, did I even forget what happened? When I viewed the scene again, it's not like I said to myself, "Oh, yeah, now I remember! Miss Lonelyhearts picked up the dog!" You can't forget something if you didn't notice it in the first place. And I didn't notice, because, in spite of all the times I've seen this movie, I just wasn't paying close enough attention.

I'd make a lousy voyeur.
















Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Misfits

1961. Directed by John Huston. Screenplay by Arthur Miller. Cast: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach, James Barton, Kevin McCarthy, Estelle Winwood. Music by Alex North. 124 minutes. Black and White.

There's probably no more quintessentially American movie genre than the western. Not just movies. Pop culture, period. Think of all the western TV shows, books, comics, and, though I'm too young to remember this first hand, radio dramas. But what exactly is it that makes a western a western? That it takes place out west? By that standard, A Star is Born is a western. That it takes place on the frontier? Then why has there been more movies about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday than about Lewis and Clark? The latter two were born about 60 years too early. The vast majority of westerns take place in the second half of the 19th century, usually after the Civil War, when there was much LESS frontier. When you had trains and telegraph, the cutting edge technologies of the day. And that's what most westerns really are about, the gradual decline of the frontier. The passing of a way of life, until there's nothing left but the myth.

The Misfits is a movie shrouded in myth, perhaps unintentionally. See, it stars Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift. If these three were in a shaving cream commercial, it'd probably be shrouded in myth. I even can visualize such a commercial. A doped up Marilyn and drunk Clift spray Gillette Foamy all over each other while Gable stoically applies little pieces of toilet paper to the cuts on his face. But it's a movie, so the mythology is increased exponentially. Not only is it Gable's last film, it's damn near his last breath. It's Monroe's last film, too, though she won't breathe her last for another year or so. Meanwhile, her marriage is breaking up with the film's writer, Arthur Miller, who, when he sat down a dozen or so years earlier to write a play about a suicidal salesman, probably couldn't imagine in his wildest wet dreams that it'd be such a success he'd end up with a suicidal Sex Goddess as a wife. And it's Clift's last film, too, for he will soon die. Well, no, that's not quite right. He still has five years and three more films to go, but nobody will remember what the hell they were, so he might as well be dead. Finally, there's the film's Hemingwayish director, John Huston, hitting the bottle between takes as he wonders what the hell's happened to his career since Bogart died.

Strangely, the movie opens with neither Gable, Monroe, or Clift, but with a couple of supporting characters. Since when do you begin a myth THAT way? Actually, I don't mind. I have a soft spot for supporting characters. And supporting actors. And these two--Thelma Ritter and Eli Wallach--are among the best there is. Wallach is a middle-age garage mechanic named Guido Racanelli. He's just arrived at a rooming house run by Isabelle Steers, played by Ritter. Now, Ritter's known for portraying common-sense-no-nonsense-suffer-no-fools wisecracking working class working women. But in this particular film she's perhaps a little nonsensical herself. Her one arm in a cast (she fell down while celebrating a former tenant's divorce), she wants Guido to tow away a banged-up car with only 28 miles on it. The reason this car's all banged up, Isabella explains, is that it was driven by her latest tenant. This tenant's not a bad driver, but so drop dead gorgeous that, just as the mythical Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships with her own beauty, so, too, she inspires legions of male motorists to not watch where they're going when they pass her on the road...Can you guess the actress who plays her?

Isabelle also convinces Guido to give her and her tenant a ride to the courthouse. You see, this is Reno, Nevada, which in the early '60s is the easiest place in the country to get a divorce. Not only does Isabelle cater to that kind of tenant, but even coaches them what to say in front of a judge. As Guido waits outside, Isabelle does some last minute coaching of that gorgeous tenant, Roslyn Taber, played by Marilyn Monroe (who else?) I've always felt Monroe has a kind of uneven acting style. But unlike other uneven actors, she's better, and more convincing, the more emotional the scene. The less emotional, the more tentative her recitation of her lines, as if she's afraid of mangling the dialogue, and that sometimes gets in the way of the acting. Actually, her character here is afraid of mangling what's she's going to say to the judge. Isabelle expects her to tell him that her husband was cruel and physically abusive. In fact, Roslyn's spouse was merely inattentive. Huh? Come again? Did I mention Roslyn is played by Marilyn Monroe? In the words of her real life husband, attention must be paid!

Roslyn has certainly captured Guido's attention. He gladly drives her and Isabelle to the courthouse. There, on the steps leading to the building, is her soon-to-be ex Raymond, played by Kevin McCarthy. Real life soon-to-be ex Arthur Miller is not known for his clever dialogue, but working on this film seems to have released his inner Joseph L. Mankiewicz. When Raymond tries to reconcile with Roslyn, she replies:

"If I'm going to be alone, I'd rather be by myself."

She won't be by herself, at least not for the rest of this film.

And it's a film that will date very little in the next half century. We're now coming to that little part. Miller could have named the Clark Gable character Happy. Instead, he chose Gay, which, in 1961, means, as far as mainstream audiences are concerned, happy. The word's other meaning never comes up (though that would certainly put a whole new twist on the film's theme of freedom and individuality.)

Gay Langland, in fact, seems to be a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy. We meet him at the train as he bids farewell to a reasonably attractive woman (if you're wondering why I'm qualifying it with reasonably, consider this film's female lead.) She wants him to go with her, she'll get him a job with her father. He says no. He's a cowboy.

After her train leaves, Guido shows up. Guido tells Gay about the hot blond he's just met. Gay just laughs it off, he's had plenty of women (are you getting an inkling why I think that name might date this film a bit?) He, instead, has a business proposition for Guido. There's a herd of wild horses up in the mountains. He and Guido can round them up, and then sell them to, well, more about that later. To discuss this further, they light out for the nearest bar.

It turns out it's the same bar that Roslyn and Isabelle has lit out for. First, the ladies sees Gay's dog, a mangy dalmatian mix (I'm guessing here), to whom they throw some food to. This, in turn, draws Gay's and Guido's attention. Guido introduces Gay. From the look on Gay's face, it's obvious that he's entranced, or at least turned on, by Roslyn.

Gay's face. Gables's face. Not quite what it used to be. Imagine Rhett Butler getting a skin graft from a World War II bomber jacket, and you'll get an idea what Clark Gable looks like at 59. Handsome more in the past than present tense. Minus the star power, 46 year old Eli Wallach as Guido really should have at least a fighting chance with the 35 year old Monroe as Roslyn. Maybe that's why Guido will come to look so pissed off as this film progresses and he gradually realizes he doesn't.

But before he gets to that pissed off stage he invites Roslyn and Isabelle to look at his house in the desert (where he no longer actually lives), and that's where they all four end up. It's a house unfinished. No front step. No heat. No electricity. In one of the bedrooms there's a picture of, and a shrine to, a young woman. It's Guido's late wife, and he tells Roslyn the tragic, if somewhat odd, story about how his wife died in labor because both the phone didn't work and his truck had a flat tire.

Things lighten a little after that as the foursome share a bottle of wine. This scene, for a while, belongs to Thelma Ritter. I said earlier that her character was eccentric. This eccentricity gives away to a kind of wisdom, as she expounds on the virtues of Nevada. According to her, people come to Nevada to get rid of things. Husbands to get rid of wives, wives to get rid of husbands, the government to get rid of atomic bombs. Arthur Miller wrote these lines, but Ritter says them like she just thought them up right there and then.

More drinking. Roslyn wants to hear some music. Guido hurries to the truck to turn on the radio (remember, the house has no electricity.) When he comes back in, Roslyn is dancing with Gay. Just look at that expression on Guido's face. Boy, is he pissed! He butts in and starts dancing with Roslyn. Now, look at the amused expression on Gay's face. No insecurity there! Soon, Roslyn is dancing by herself, right before she passes out

Roslyn comes to in the front seat of Gay's truck on the way back to town. Gay tries to kiss her, and she replies,

"I don't feel that way about you, Gay."

I want you to keep that line in mind, for in the very next scene...

...she sleeping in a bed, apparently nude (I haven't seen it but in an European version, you can supposedly see her breast), when Gay (himself fully dressed) comes into the room, and awakens her by giving a little kiss. Roslyn kisses him right back. She must now feel SOME way about him! What changed?

You probably thought I was being mean earlier when I made fun of Gable's old, weathered face. But his past good looks were only part of his appeal. The rest was a tremendous charisma that he'll have right to the very end (basically this movie.) So, yeah, it's not hard to believe Roslyn's now won over.

Anyway, the two are now keeping house. In Guido's old house. Now, he did offer Roslyn a place to stay, but Gay? Apparently, that charisma must have won Guido over, too.

Earlier in the film, Gay, revealing a sensitive side, tells Roslyn that she's the saddest girl he ever met, but she seems happy now. Such as when she frolics on a Lake Tahoe beach (the only time, I believe, that Monroe wears a bikini on screen, though in Let's Make Love she wears a similarly revealing chorus girl outfit.) But there's an even more tantalizing scene than that. Gay and Roslyn are horseback riding. She's wearing what looks like a flannel shirt and jeans. Gay is riding behind her. Smiling, he looks down, and we're all treated to a close-up of Roslyn's tight jeaned ass.

Let's just focus on that tight jeaned ass for a moment, but not for the reasons you might think. Why is it in the movie? For the reasons you might think? Well, if the idea is titillation (the main reason why any studio would green light a Marilyn Monroe project in the first place), why preface it with Gay smiling? That seems to undercut his earlier sensitivity. Now, he's a dirty old man. Of course, that earlier sensitivity could be just an act. Except "saddest girl I ever met" is an odd come-on line for a lecher. Or a stud, no matter how many notches in his belt. And, anyway, he says it after they've apparently had sex. So maybe he meant it. But, he's never met anybody sad before? She's it? It's easy for US to believe that about her, as we know the actress who plays her will soon end up on a gurney with a sheet pulled over her face. But Gay doesn't know that. My guess is she's the most beautiful sad person he's ever met. And the sad person with the nicest ass.

As happy as Gay and Roslyn seem together, a problem sprouts up. Examining their garden, Gay notices a rabbit's been nibbling at the lettuce. His first instinct is to grab a gun and hunt the critter down. Roslyn, a thou-shall-not-kill type, begs him not to. Gay, in some way threatened by this, begins to lose his temper (charm suddenly transformed into anger is something Gable's especially good at.)

Their first lovers quarrel (they have to be lovers, right? She was in bed naked...) is interrupted by the arrival of Guido and Isabelle. So Gay and Roslyn give them a tour of their desert idyll, nibbled lettuce and all. Guido's impressed, or at least he's acting like he's impressed, saying things like, "You've got the gift of life, Roslyn! The rest of us, we're just looking for a place to hide and watch it all go by." Poetic, ain't he? Roslyn may not want to hide herself, but when Guido opens up a door covered with cheesecake pics of her (including the famous skirt-blown-upwards-by-the-subway scene from The Seven Year Inch), she quickly closes it, explaining it's just something silly Gay did. Guido opens it up again, and she closes it again. Just another thing for him to get pissed off about.

Somehow, all four of them end up in a car headed for the rodeo, where Gay hopes to find another hand to help him and Guido catch mustangs up in the mountains. As the car approaches a phone booth outside a gas station, the two men recognise Perce Howland, played by Montgomery Clift. Finally, the film's third lead character, at least according to the opening credits. Clift actually has less screen time than Eli Wallach, but he's still the bigger star, if not for much longer, as his career's been in decline since the 1956 car wreck that left him disfigured. Now, by "disfigured", don't get the idea he looks like Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera. Before the accident, he had, appropriately, movie star good looks. After the accident, he looks...normal, average, plain, nondescript. Except for those expressive eyes of his, a kind of built-in Greek chorus for the pauses between the dialogue (giving him a distinct advantage, artistically speaking, over rival Marlon Brando's squinty face.) Not that it's necessarily his looks that's killing his career. He's turned into a booze and pill addict, perhaps because of his accident, perhaps because of issues that predate the accident (issues, that had they been addressed in this film, might have put a whole new twist on it's theme of freedom and individuality). Anyway, he's fucked up, but that's what in the past made him so appealing. Role after role of fucked-up guys with movie star good looks. But no more.

So anyway, we now have fucked-up average-looking Montgomery Clift as fucked-up average-looking Perce Howland arguing with his mother on the phone. Near as I can tell, he doesn't get along with his stepfather. A common complaint, but this is no common fellow. The call ends, and fucked-up average-looking Perce gets into the same car as fucked-up average-looking Guido, fucked-up drop-dead gorgeous Roslyn, eccentric average-looking Isabella, and craggy, charismatic, possibly fucked-up Gay. On to the rodeo we go!

In the car, Perce asks Roslyn what did she do before coming out West. Instead of saying "housewife", which up to now I assumed she was, she instead replies that she was an "interpretive dancer". Every one in that car knows she means "stripper", except me. I'll catch on a little later in the picture. I can be a bit dense sometimes.

I'm not too dense to appreciates what's next. Marilyn Monroe, wearing one of the sexiest dresses she's ever worn in a movie, does one of the sexiest things she's ever done in a movie. Here's what happens. They all stop in a bar on the rodeo grounds. There, Roslyn gets into a paddle ball contest with some old guy. What? That doesn't sound too sexy? It is when the camera focuses on her ass bouncing to the exact beat of the ball bouncing on the paddle. It was at this point that I finally understood what she meant by "interpretive dancing." Roslyn wins both the contest and a bunch of money that was placed as bets. Veteran actress (even back then) Estelle Winwood shows up as a religious woman collecting money in a hat, and ends up with some of Roslyn's winnings (I wonder if the Hays Office sent her.)

The foursome walk outside of the bar where Isabelle spots her ex-husband and his new wife. She decides to leave with them, taking the film's humor along with her.

The rodeo finally begins. And ends. At least for Perce, as he's thrown from a horse and knocked unconscious. Gay, Guido, and most of the people in the stands take this as a matter of course, but Roslyn's shocked. She thinks Perce is going to die! Gay decides to comfort her:

"Honey, we all have to go sometime, reason or no reason. Dyin's as natural as livin'. The man who's too afraid to die is too afraid to live."

Personally, I think, "Aw, he'll be all right" would have sufficed.

And Perce is all right, if a little woozy. That night they're all back at the bar, and Roslyn and Perce, who now has several rolls of bandages wrapped around his head, share a little dance (again pissing off Guido, who apparently has even less sympathy for the injured than Gay.) The dancing is making Perce a little dizzy, so they both go out into a back alley. I wouldn't think that's the most therapeutic place in the world to be, but it seems to work to Perce's benefit. It helps that his head in cradled in Roslyn lap.

The two of them have a nice little talk. Roslyn has a way of bringing out the introspective in people. Or it could just be that fucked-up knows fucked-up.

Gay comes out into the alley. Now, he's fucked-up in the three-sheets-to-the-wind sense of the phrase. Clark Gable's always good playing drunk. He tells Roslyn and Perce that his children, from a marriage that didn't work out, have arrived, and he wants them to get acquainted.

But when they go back inside, the kids aren't there! Gay asks Guido where they went. Guido first looks puzzled, then, perhaps humoring Gay, points to the bar's front entrance. Gay runs out, but his kids have left. Were they ever they're to begin with? You have to be pretty drunk to imagine people who aren't there. Or pretty lonely. In a biography I once read about Gable (I'm sorry to say I no longer remember the author's name), it said he refused to do a scene in Gone With the Wind that called on him to cry. 22 years later, he no longer gives a damn, and a good thing, too, as it's one of his best scenes in the film, as Gay pushes through a puzzled crowd of people, screaming out to a lost family.

On the ride back to the house, Guido is the designated driver. He really shouldn't be, but Gay and Perce have both passed out. And Roslyn? I don't know. Maybe she's too sad to drive. Guido tries to make her sadder still, describing his guilt over bombing Japanese civilians during World War II. Keep this scene in mind.

Eventually they arrive at the house. Gay and Guido (alliterative, huh?) have a good laugh at Perce's expense as struggles with his bandages. Roslyn's not laughing, which annoys Gay. As does her overall naivete. Now, I've said Gable was good at playing angry, and I've said he was good at playing drunk. Now, as a special treat, we get to see him play an angry drunk !

"What's the matter with you, anyway?" Gay asks Roslyn. "You act like you just were born?!"

Good thing he didn't say "born yesterday" or else Huston would have had to cast Judy Holliday.

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. (Both women did specialize in playing dumb blonds. Maybe that's what Gay was getting at.)

The next we see the four of them, they're all sobered up and ready for act III, the trip out to the mountains to catch some wild horses. First, they camp out for the night. This little campout almost ends the trip before it begins. Roslyn finds out that these horses, once caught, are destined to end up in cans of Alpo, and she objects. Gay explains that back when he first started doing this kind of thing, the horses, being smaller than average, were sold as children's pets. But kids these days have scooters and the like, so the cowboys have to go where the dollars are. When Roslyn rejects the free-market argument (Arthur Miller, incidentally, belonged to the Communist Party back in the 30s), Gay uses this line:

"Honey, nothing can live unless something dies first."

You might recall he said something similar when Perce was thrown from the horse. When that doesn't work, Gay gets personal, pointing out to Roslyn that he's not judgemental about her "interpretive" dancing. That kind of does the trick, but, as we shall see, only for a very short while.

The next morning they're all set to catch some horses. Here's how it works. Guido will use his airplane to chase the horses out of the mountains and onto the desert floor, where Gay and Perce will further chase and corner them with the truck.

Now, I'd like to take some time out to explain this film's title. Or rather, Gay will. As he now tells Roslyn, these horses are called misfits because of their odd size (they actually look normal to me, but what do I know about horses?) You probably assumed this film is called The Misfits because that's what the four main characters are. And you'd be right. The horses are a metaphor. Personally, I don't think Miller should have waited all the way until act III to spring this metaphor on us. I mean, we know what this film's about by now. When Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire he sprung his metaphor at the very beginning of the play. In the title, in fact. Maybe Miller should have done that. Some Horses Called Misfits. Then, as the movie progressed, we could say, "Ah, this is really about human beings!"

OK, maybe not.

Metaphors or not, the horses don't want to be caught. There's only three of them, Momma, Poppa, and Baby, and that first horse, which may be getting on in years, gives Gay, Guido, and Perce one hell of a time. After some struggle, the Momma horse is tied to the ground, it's child loyally by it's side. Gay, disappointed that there's not a whole herd (as he had promised), suggests giving both horses to Roslyn.

Unfortunately, Roslyn, pissed, and unaware of this pending offer, makes an offer herself. She'll pay cold, hard cash for the two horses. Insulted, Gay turns her down, forgets about his own offer, and angrily goes after the remaining horse. Guido uses this moment of human conflict to, of all things, hit on Roslyn. He tells her he never wanted this (never mind he quit his job in order to go on this little expedition), and, he'll call the whole thing off if she'll just, you know...

Roslyn knows only too well. Listen to her shoot him down while at the same time accusing him of false sensitivity: "You could blow up the whole world and still feel sorry for yourself!"

You're not going to get anymore poetry out of me, he's probably thinking.

Now, all three horses are tied to the ground. Gay, Guido, and Perce and discussing how to split up the money when Roslyn suddenly, well, remember I said before the more emotional Monroe is, the better? Well, I don't know how much more better she can get than when she's throwing dirt in the air and screaming:


Well, I know if I was one of those three sweet damned men, I'd feel ashamed!

And Perce DOES feel ashamed. He and Roslyn jump into the truck, drive to all three horses, and set them free, much to Gay's enraged chagrin (Guido, meanwhile, is still peeved that Roslyn jilted him.)

Gay throws a lasso around the man horse, the male horse, the stallion (I knew I'd remember.) It's not as easy as all that, however, and the stallion races across the desert floor, dragging Gay along with him. But is it Clark Gable that's being dragged, or a stunt double? There's some disagreement on that. Eventually, Gay, uh, slows the horse down, and then singlehandedly ties the horse back on to the ground (remember, it took the three of them to do that earlier.)

Stunt double or not, Gay--Gable--is now, drenched in sweat, red (or a very dark gray, as the movie's in B&W) in the face, and PANTING. If the capitalization doesn't get that across to you, it's VERY LOUD PANTING. Not just PANTING, but COUGHING even.

And he then does an odd thing. Over Guido's protests (who, you'll remember, is still nursing a broken heart, or libido), Gay frees the very horse he just singlehandedly captured.

Still PANTING, he manages to spit this out:

"I just don't want anybody making up my mind for me."

And this:

"Damn 'em all! They changed it, changed it all around. Smeared it all over with blood!"

And, finally, this: "I'm finished with it. It's like ropin' a dream now. I just gotta find another way to be alive, that's all. If there is one anymore."

Were Clark Gable to live another five, ten, twenty years, the above might be considered some of the best acting of his long and remarkable career. Maybe he'll get the Oscar. Look how convincingly he plays exhaustion.

But Gable doesn't even have five weeks, much less years. Whether because he performed his own stunts (as legend would have it), or was annoyed with Monroe's and Clift's antics (as another legend would have), or, heavy smoker and drinker that he was, had had some heart problems in the past that went untreated (as boring reality would have it), that PANTING is real.

He does, however, stay in character, and THAT'S acting.

Things wrap up quickly after that. Bygones apparently bygones, Gay and Roslyn take the truck back to town (and I'm guessing Guido and Perce fly back.) On their way back in the dark, Roslyn asks Gay, "How do you find your way back in the dark?"

This is, if you think about it, a very logical question. In fact, even if you don't think about it, it makes sense to ask. There's no street lights, and there's no street. Still, Roslyn, or the woman who portrays her, sounds like she wants not logic but poetry.

Gay provides it.

"Just head for that big star straight on. The highway's under it. It'll take us right home."

I said earlier that most movie westerns take place in the second half of the 19th century, usually after the Civil War. I also said westerns are about the gradual decline of the frontier, and the passing of a way of life. For a long time Hollywood treated this as a good thing. By the 1960s, however, movie makers were having second thoughts. And not just young directors. Even John Ford (see Cheyenne Autumn .) And so, too, John Huston. Wait, the Misfits takes place a 100 years after the Civil War. That frontier was over with before Gay Langland was born, a way of life he probably only knew as a little boy watching Tom Mix movies. But now the way of life that replaced that way of life is itself passing. The horse was never the world's primary mode of transportation in Gay's life, but at least it was a great gift for a kid, and now it's a satisfying meal for a dog (incidentally, I did some research, and there seems to be some disagreement as to whether dog food companies still do that. Capturing wild horse on public lands was outlawed for about 20 years, but it's once again legal.) Of course, even if the way of life stays the same, you're own circumstances may change, whether because of divorce, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a parent, or just through the aging process. It's that last frontier that's always in decline. Gable, Monroe, and Clift at least got some mythology out of it.

Of course, that just one interpretation of this film. You could just say it's a movie about fucked-up people by fucked-up people. Hell, for all I know, it's intended audience is fucked-up people.

I think I'll watch it again.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Since You Went Away

1944 Directed by John Cromwell. Screenplay by David O. Selznick. Based on a book by Margaret Buell Wilder. Cast: Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Monty Woolley, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Walker, Hattie McDaniel, Agnes Moorehead, Alla Nazimova, Albert Bassermann, Keenan Wynn, Guy Madison, Craig Stevens. Music by Max Steiner. 172 minutes. Black and White.

Movies, both old and new, are often described as "escapist", meaning the folks who watch them want to, well, escape. But escape from what? Boredom. Stress. Their jobs. Their marriages. Their families. Themselves.

Of course, there's always been that other kind of movie. You know, the serious ones. The ones the critics like. The ones that are "realistic". The ones that are "slice of life". The ones that are called--what's that French term?--"cinema verite" The ones that think they're doing their audiences a favor by confronting them with all the boredom and stress that they want to escape from in the first place. The kind that John Cassavetes used to make. The kind Henry Jaglom still makes. The kind Woody Allen makes in between the funny ones. The kind that wins awards at Sundance. The kind film students make until they sell out to Hollywood and get filthy rich making the escapist kind.

But suppose, just suppose, there was a movie about boredom and stress, that was slice of life, that was actually entertaining? Suppose there was a movie that took ordinary existence, and, in some weird, twisted fashion, actually made it escapist? Is such a thing possible? For the answer we have to go all the way back to World War II. No, no, no, no, I don't mean the World War II of tanks and grenades and dive bombers and depth charges and battleships. That was hardly ordinary. I mean what was going on here at home. The World War II of rationing, the World War II of separation, the World War II of uncertainty. The World War II of producer David O. Selznick, the man who gave us Gone With The Wind.

Since You Went Away begins with this written introduction: "This is the story of that unconquerable fortress--the American Home, 1943." And sure enough we see a nice, big American home. Residing in this unconquerable fortress is Tim Hilton, an advertising executive, his wife,, and his two teenage daughters. Actually, Tim was residing in this house. He's left, by his own free will, to fight World War II. He exists in this film only as a framed picture (it's actually Neil Hamilton, who had been a star a decade earlier. And two decades after this movie, he would play Commissioner Gordon on TV's Batman.)

To play Bridget, or "Brig", the younger of the two daughters, Shirley Temple was lured out of "retirement." 16 when she made this, she talks and acts like she's still six. In fact, throughout this movie I kept half-expecting her to start singing "On The Good Ship Lollipop." Good thing she didn't. It would have clashed with Max Steiner's fine score. The older daughter, Jane, is played by Jennifer Jones, only one of the most beautiful women ever to have walked the face of the Earth. Her mother, Anne, is all right, too. More than all right, as she's played, at age 41, by the still sexy Claudette Colbert. The filmmakers didn't necessarily want her to come across as sexy. At least not initially. So they do their best to dowdy her up. Well, if all dowdy women looked like this, the Miss America Pageant would be forced to start a frumpy house dress competition.

As I said earlier, Tim was an ad executive, and the loss of his paycheck means Anne has to get rid of the family's black housekeeper Fidelia, played by Gone With The Wind veteran Hattie McDaniel. That Academy Award she won, the first by an African-American, really opened up a lot of doors for her, didn't it? From slave to maid. Well, as she herself said, "I'd rather play a maid for $700 a week that be one for $7"

Mr. Mahoney, a local shopkeeper, agrees to extend credit to the now struggling family. Anne, in turn, agrees to talk to her husband about giving Mahoney's serviceman son Johnny a job with the ad agency once peace is at hand. Betcha' didn't know we had a barter economy during World War II, huh?

You probably did know about the housing shortage. The family agrees it's their patriotic duty, as well as a way to bring in some needed money, if they rent out a room to a serviceman. A young Marine that answers shows a decided interest in Jane, testing the limits of her mother's patriotism. It's back to the barracks for him. Next to answer the ad is a much older man played by Monty Woolley. Woolley had played Sheridan Whiteside in the stage and movie versions of The Man Who Came To Dinner , and he, initially, plays a similarly fussy character here. When Anne informs him that the room is meant for a serviceman, he INFORMS her that he's Colonel William G. Smollet, retired. Then, without knowing for sure if he's going to get the room, starts listing all sorts of demands. Watch Claudette Colbert's pretty face as he does this. She actually looks amused that she's being taken advantage of.

Next thing you know Mammy, er, Fidelia's back. She wants a room, too, and offers to house keep as rent. Like I said, barter economy.

War or no war, everyone deserves a night out. Anne, dressed to the T's, goes to a crowded bar (much like a crowded bar you'd see nowadays, minus the rock music) with her friend, Emily Hawkens, played by Agnes Moorhead. Twenty years in the future she'll be playing a witch on TV. Here, she's a divorcee, pretty much the same thing as far as 1940s Hollywood is concerned. Snobby, vain, and consumed by excessive makeup (you remember how Endora looked), it was characterizations such as this that kept women trapped in loveless marriages for the next few decades. Why exactly a kindhearted woman like Anne is friends with a upwardly-mobile shrew like this is never explained. Well, maybe I explained it already. She's kindhearted. She's also, as I stated earlier, hot, and is hit on by a number of fellas, much to the chagrin of man-hungry Emily. One of those fellas she recognizes. It's Tony Willet, best man at her wedding and now a lieutenant in the navy. He's played by Joseph Cotten.

Old Hollywood stars like James Cagney and Cary Grant are fun to watch, but it's hard to imagine them in a 21st century movie along side Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt. The acting styles are just too different. Not so Joseph Cotten. This low-key thespian drags this movie kicking and screaming into a new millennium. He's post-modern at a time when it's still post-antiquity. As Tony he basically invites himself to stay at Anne's, again much to her kindhearted amusement (you'd think the military might provide places for all these servicemen to stay. Someone should write Congress.)

Hilton is an appropriate last name for this family, as their house is now a hotel. To make room for all the new arrivals, Anne and her two daughters double and then triple up into the same bedroom. Anyone who's ever struggled moving a mattress can identify Anne's dilemma as she turns hers vertical, then horizontal, then vertical again through a series of doors. Even the fussy Col. Smollet finds himself doubling up, much to his displeasure, with Soda, the family's pet bulldog.

Tony was a commercial artist in civilian life, and he now shows the family a recruitment poster he's painted, a woman in a military uniform with her skirt hiked up, revealing a long, shapely leg. The woman's face? It's Anne's. Sixty-five years of changing sexual mores later, this scene is still pretty weird. What the hell kind of friend of the family is this anyway? And remember, he's showing this cheesecake poster to the woman's two daughters. By all rights he should be thrown out of that house on his ass. Anne, however, looks surprised, then amused.

Incidentally, for those of you who's seen the famous hitchhiking scene in It Happened One Night , Tony got that leg exactly right.

Shirley Temple and Monty Woolley team up a bit in the first half of this movie. Although I have a certain aversion to Temple, they do work well together, whether planting a liberty garden or looking over a map, with Woolley a supercilious foil. In fact, he may be her best screen partner since Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (though he obviously moves a lot slower.) It's when they're looking over the aforementioned map that the doorbell rings. Jane tells Col. Smollet that it's his grandson Bill. We, the audience, can tell at once, from the very kind expression that momentarily appears on the Colonel's face, that he's really fond of his grandson. But for some reason he doesn't want the characters in this film, including Bill himself, to know this. Bill is played by Robert Walker (Jennifer Jones' real life soon-to-be ex-husband.)

At this point in his career Robert Walker specializes in playing the green enlistee. Whether it's a comedy (See Here, Private Hargrove), tragedy (Bataan), or romance (The Clock), he always plays these characters in the exact same way , with a golly-jeepers-gee-whiz-willikers-boy-that's-swell kind of dorkiness. Sounds like I'm being mean, but this makes me feel even more sorry for him when he's coldly rejected by the Colonel. More significantly , Jane feels more sorry for him when she overhears the brushoff. For now, that's all she feels, for she's in love with "Uncle" Tony.

Nevertheless, she accepts when Bill invites her to a serviceman's ball. Tony takes Anne, which might seem like a kind gesture if he HADN'T painted that picture. At the ball, she meets Mr Mahoney's son, Johnny, who thanks Anne for that cushy ad agency job awaiting him when he gets out of the army. That job will have to await someone else. Soon after, Johnny is killed when his plane crashes during a training flight.

Tony drives Anne home. Along the way he stops along the shore, and makes what may be, might be, could be, should be, probably is, quite possibly is, arguably is, a pass. Anne, amused as always, rebuffs it.

The time comes for Tony to leave, his passion for Anne unrequited, just as Jane's passion for Tony is unrequited, and just as Bill's passion for Jane is unrequited. This movie could use a cold shower. At any rate, Jane's come down with the mumps and doesn't want Tony to see her. She needn't worry. Even with her face stuffed with more cotton than Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, Jennifer Jones ain't half-bad.

Time heals all wounds, as well as mumps, and Jane is soon over Tony. She agrees to go bowling with Bill. A word about that bowling alley. Huge cartoons of Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini hang right above the pins. You just couldn't escape that war (imagine what putt-putt golf must have looked like.) Anyway, now you might think Bill has it made. Not quite yet. At the bowling alley a young sailor, played by Guy Madison, takes a shine to Jane. This couple of minutes actually made Mr. Madison a star for awhile, eventually ending up in a TV western playing Wyatt Earp. Fortunately for Bill, he's not challenged to a gunfight, and the two young men, and one young woman, strike a very brief friendship, until he gets on a bus to some distant naval base. You just couldn't escape that war.

Afterwards, Jane and Bill go to a soda fountain. Nowadays, they'd go to McDonald's. OK, I'm beginning to understand nostalgia. While there, Jane asks Bill just what is it between him and his grandfather. It seems the Colonel is upset that Bill was expelled from West Point, and has to go into the Army as a private. He shows her a watch his grandfather had given him, with an inscription that mentions his family's proud military tradition. Don't feel too sorry for Bill. All this failure and disappointment causes Jane to fall in love with him. How do I go about getting kicked out of West Point?

The next morning Jane criticises the Colonel for the way he's treating his grandson. The Colonel then criticises Jane for butting into a family matter. Anne, not amused for a change, criticises the Colonel for speaking in that tone to her daughter, the upshot being the Colonel no longer gets his meals made for him. There are wars you can't escape, and then there are wars you can't escape.

Tim--the father--the guy in the picture--still looms large in this family's conscience, if not always the audience's. In an earlier scene with a ring of truth about it, the family had gone to a movie, and had watched a newsreel (no CNN back then) about the war. They, and probably everyone else in that theater with a loved one overseas, think they've caught a glimpse of him on-screen. Later, they find out Tim will be changing trains in a nearby city, and see if they can't catch up with him. Unfortunately, they don't.

At this point Anne and Jane are a little on the outs with each other. Anne wants her to go to college right after she graduates, but Jane wants to put that off so she can work as a nurses aide in a local army hospital (kids can be so selfless at times) On the train ride back (with a few of the war wounded aboard) from the aborted reunion, the family meets a woman whose granddaughter disappeared in the Battle of Corregidor. Affected by this story, Anne allows her daughter to work at the hospital.

This movie started out as a mild sitcom, but, as you might have guessed, it's not going to end as one. Especially now that Anne receives a telegram that reads: WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR HUSBAND TIM IS MISSING IN ACTION...

Anne passes out cold.

A little while later, Bill is ordered to report to duty. He and Jane, now engaged, spend one last day in the country.

Monty Woolley, not surprisingly , gets the best lines in this movie, but the young man playing his grandson gets the funniest scene. Driving some sort of combination tractor-hay thrashing machine, Bill starts singing, unaware that his fiance, who was sitting in back, has fallen in the hay, and is in mortal danger of getting...thrashed.

Meanwhile, Anne informs the Colonel that his grandson's been called up, and he can see him off at the train station. The Colonel haughtily claims a previous engagement with some old army buddies. Then, more softly, tells her he'll try to get to the station afterwards.

Back at this farm they've apparently trespassed onto, the two young lovers share a romantic moment in a barn, as it rains outside (no matter how much a pain in the ass rain can be in real life, it always looks romantic in movies, doesn't it?), Jennifer Jones really does look gorgeous here, and the fact that a nerdy, geeky, dorky, dweeby guy like Robert Walker can latch onto someone like that, both in this film and in life, gives hope to the rest of us who suffer from similar afflictions. At least is does until you find out that in real life she left him for producer David O. Selznick, the man who gave us Gone With The Wind.

That night, Anne and Jane go to the train station (a very convincing Hollywood set) to see Bill off. They're hardly the only ones seeing a loved one off. We see people of all different races, religions, and classes. Nothing like a transportation hub to get an idea of our nation's diversity. Of course, nowadays, train stations are few and far between. But if you've ever been in an airport terminal around the holidays, you'll find this scene familiar.

Speaking of scenes, a famous one's coming up. In fact, this scene may be more famous than the movie as a whole. It's been copied many times. And not just by hacks. Both David Lean and Billy Wilder seemed inspired by it, though there variations were a little more...sober. Here's what happens. Bill gives Jane his grandfather's watch as as an engagement present. Then he gets on the train. As the train begins to slowly move, Jane slowly moves in the same direction, telling Bill she loves him. The train moves a little faster. Jane, too, moves a little faster, still declaring her love for Bill. The train moves faster still, as does Jane, still shouting, "I love you, Darling!" The train's now in full throttle, and so is Jane! Had any Olympic judges been around I'm sure they would've handed her a gold medal. If this movie had been in 3D I'm sure she would've burst right through the screen and onto the moviegoers lap, causing popcorn and Milk Duds to fly all over the place, all the while screaming "I LOVE YOU, DARLING! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!"

Wow! That's certainly an emotionally charged scene, isn't it? But what I find equally poignant, if not more so, is what follows: the Colonel finally arrives at the station, but he's too late. His grandson's train has left.

Some time passes, and yet another telegram arrives at the Hilton home. This one's even worse. In fact, I'm bothered by it! Bill has been killed in action (I know I was kind of making fun of him earlier, but I actually liked this character.) Anne breaks the news to Jane, who cries, as anyone would in that situation. Jennifer Jones tries her damnedest, but it's oddly less memorable than that train scene. Less moving, because there's less movement.

Anne also breaks the news to Colonel Smollet. No tears, but he's nonetheless devastated. He had forgiven his grandson for dropping out of West Point, but just couldn't bring himself to tell him. Great acting here by Monty Woolley. He was funny in The Man Who Came To Dinner, but this film allows him to be both funny and dramatic, without ever betraying character. I think this scene reminds us that death affects broken relationships as well as those that work. How we may love someone but, for whatever reason, can't stand to have him or her around for the time being. Or, as with the Colonel, estrangement is just a habit you fall into, one that you'll kick later on. Assuming you get to that train station on time.

Jane throws herself into her hospital work. We see what looks like documentary footage of actual amputees. It's all very moving. And real. So vot vould you tink follows all dat movink und veal stuff? Vy, a Viennese psychiatrist, of course! Vun vith der first name Sigmund!

I think were I to examine Albert Basserman, the actor who plays the shrink, as well as David O. Selznick, who wrote the scene, I might find they're both suffering from lack-of-originality complex, and prescribe a round of shock therapy treatments. If those don't work, frontal lobotomies. Anyway, the good doctor counsels Jane, who's upset at what she sees around her. How she even understands his psychiatric advice, given his thick accent, I don't know. But it works; she feels better. Perhaps at their next session they can do word association, such as, STEREOTYPE--HACKNEYED.

The Colonel's a regular member of the family by now, and he's about to bite into the birthday cake Mammy, er, Fidelia's made for him, when the doorbell rings. Jane opens the door, and, what do you know? It's Tony! (For a naval officer fighting a global conflict, he sure gets a lot of time off, doesn't he?) He joins the party.

The doorbell rings yet again. It's Emily Hawkens. Remember her? Agnes Moorhead? Just as Endora doesn't approve of Samantha cavorting with mortals, so Emily thinks it's beneath Jane to hang around that army hospital with all those amputees and basket cases and so forth. It's just not proper! At that Anne lays into Emily, basically accusing her of treason. But Emily has the last word. She reminds Anne that she's done nothing to help the war effort. Anne reluctantly agrees, and decides to start by kicking Emily out of the house. Still, that's not enough. She decides to get a job at a defense plant.

While working at the plant as a riveter, a la Rosie, she meets an immigrant woman named Zofia, played by Alla Nazimova, a former silent film star who once worked with Valentino. Much more talkative here, she compares Anne to the Statue of Liberty. Anne reacts with amused humility.

Just as the Statue of Liberty invites the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, so too does Anne invite much of this movie's masses to her house on Christmas Eve. There's her two daughters, of course, and the Colonel, Fidelia, Zofia (whom the Colonel seems to have taken a shine to), Soda, Danny Williams (played by Craig Stevens, he was one of Jane's patients. And, perhaps, a new beau?), Tony, and Tony's shipmate, Lieutenant Soloman (Keenan Wynn). These navy guys really know how to liven up a party, and for a second there I thought this movie was going to turn into On The Town. The alcohol flows. Soloman tells Anne about a Medal Tony received for some heroic action above and beyond the call of duty, leading directly to the scene that made me want to write about this film in the first place.

Anne invites Tony into the kitchen. He's been holding back, not telling him about that medal. Tony just laughs it off. Anne looks--you guessed it--amused. But more than amused. Look into her eyes. I think Anne is turned on by heroic action above and beyond the call of duty. Or maybe she's turned on by false modesty. Or maybe she's turned on by both. Also, I wonder if she's not just a little buzzed. I am sure she's a little lonely. We know Tony wants her. Could she want him?

I'm at the edge of my seat now, talking, pleading to the screen. C'mon, you two. I know you both want to. What's stopping you? Tim? I won't tell. I've never even met Tim. He's just a framed picture. He's Commissioner Gordon, for God's sake! C'mon, you two. You know how that Bob Seger song goes. Actually, you don't. Bob Seger hasn't been born yet. Well, it goes like this: we've got tonight, babe. Why don't you stay? Or how about Crosby, Stills and Nash? If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.

C'mon, you two. Do it. Throw off your inhibitions! Throw off your clothes! Do it! HAVE MAD, PASSIONATE SEX RIGHT THERE ON THE KITCHEN LINOLEUM! DO IT! DO IT! DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!

They don't. This is, after all, a 1940s movie.

After that, the party wraps up fairly quickly. The navy guys leave first, still whooping it up as they walk down that snowy street. Inside, Anne and her two daughters take turns giving the Colonel a kiss under the mistletoe. Finally, Anne is alone in that dark, living room, staring at the presents under the tree. She's starting to cry when, suddenly, the phone rings. It has to do with Tim. He's coming home. In what condition is left an open question. Still, after one year, one long year (and one long movie review), Tim is coming home! An unconquerable fortress, indeed.

If you read other old movie blogs, you'll see this film's often described as melodramatic, or as a soap opera. I don't know. There are no amnesiacs, or split-personalities. No murder mystery. No young lovers on the run. Luke and Laura would be out of place here, as would Erica Kane. As far as the story goes, there's nothing that happens in this movie that couldn't happen in real life. Much of this film is merely ordinary existence, punctuated by death. So why doesn't it always seem real? Well, it's real life once the screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, producers, wardrobe people, make-up artists, hair stylists, acting coaches, set designers, sound effects people, publicists, and, this being 1944, war propagandists, get through with it. It's reality to escape into, not out of. And who wouldn't opt for ordinary existence if such ordinary existence included the likes of Claudette Colbert, Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, and Monty Woolley? Hell, even Shirley Temple (just think, all you parents out there, this is one teenage daughter you don't have to worry about getting knocked up. She'd be too afraid of getting cooties.)

As for Anne's and Tony's unconsummated affair, well, I can't say I'm too disappointed. I suspect people abstain as much as they give in to passion. Old movies exaggerate the former, the new the latter. I'd grown fond of these people, and I think their "doing it" would just have complicated things. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary, in both war and peace.