Thursday, July 30, 2009

Crazy Bogie


Monday’s post which mentioned the movie “In a Lonely Place” (1950) brings to mind one side of Humphrey Bogart’s many film characters for discussion. Crazy Bogie, the man you love to report to the authorities.


In “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (1947), Mr. Bogart plays an artist, living a quiet life in the English countryside with his second wife, Barbara Stanwyck. He murdered his former wife, and he seems to have similar designs on Miss Stanwyck, but first he has to paint a really ugly picture of her. Were he just a mean guy who wanted the insurance money, we could easily dismiss him as evil, but there is something more intriguing about Bogart’s murderer that makes him hard to dismiss. He manages to affect a loneliness in his psychosis that at times elicits more sympathy than fear. He suffers in his paranoia, and appears physically pained with outbursts. If both Bogie and Stanwyck, and the script, are a little over the top at times, it’s still a thoughtful characterization of trying to make us see things his way.

“In a Lonely Place” (1950) shows Humphrey Bogart as a snide Hollywood screenwriter, quick to anger, who is under investigation for a brutal murder. We follow his budding relationship with his new girlfriend, Gloria Grahame, and navigate the highs and lows of their romance, of the suspicion under which the police hold him, and Miss Grahame’s growing suspicions in the same dizzying way Bogie navigates the winding Los Angeles streets at night in a nearly out of control convertible.

Here again, we see a guy who could be a killer, but whether or not he is, there is still something amiss, something askew in his prickly personality that begs for sympathy. He regrets his outbursts, but cannot stop himself. He is defensive, paranoid, quick to wound, and quick to hurt others. But he’s not a nut we can just dismiss as being a nut. He is intelligent and articulate. There’s so much more to his grand persona that is real and valid and logical, that the nuttiness seems only a quirk, until it brings danger, until it’s almost too late. In true film noir fashion, he brings his own downfall.


“The Caine Mutiny” (1954) is so fine a movie it deserves it own discussion sometime for the many great performances in the ensemble cast. Here Bogart is the mercurial Captain Queeg, whose irrational displays cause his men to revile him and mutiny against him. Bogart is excellent in the role (though I would have loved to have also seen Lloyd Nolan, who played the part on stage). He is fearful and fretful, vengeful and bitter, paranoid and deceptive. Mr. Bogart plays the gamut of emotion, and makes us, as with the other characters, see how it could happen, and see the dismal sadness and lack of confidence in a person’s life that would alter his psyche and remove that under-appreciated but most important aspect of a person’s humanity, his self control.


Bogart is older in this part, and looks it, and at times looks tired, at times looks exactly like a man who knows he looks old and tired and is desperately trying to hide it. One common thread in all three of these “crazy” characterizations his Bogart’s seeming empathy with the character, playing him not as a “type”, but from the inside, somewhere deep, and intimate, and troubled. In one film he touches his forehead in a reflex reaction to accusation. In another, his hands shake when he lights a cigarette. In another, he fumbles with steel marbles to comfort himself. His technique runs to more than just a crazed expression. There is so much going on his eyes as haunted as it is threatening, silently begging for help before he strikes.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Movie Hating Public

There’s an interesting discussion at both Raquelle’s “Out of the Past” and at the “Back Alley Noir” message boards on the disappointment of seeing classic films in a public theater when some of the public ruins the experience by ridiculing the film while the movie is playing.

Others have chimed in with their own similar experiences and I would encourage our readers to go have a look. I can’t add anything new to what has already been discussed, except perhaps to acknowledge that it can be frustrating to attempt to share an old movie with someone who fails to be equally enchanted by it.

We’ve all known the eyeball-rolling response from otherwise good friends when we gush over a really, really old film they’ve never seen and don’t want to see.

The vocal ridicule and guffawing over a film noir classic like “In a Lonely Place” (1950) which Steve-o describes (also have a look at his great blog “Film Noir of the Week”) can be attributed to more than just a lack of appreciation for an old film, however. Even passionate film buffs disagree on what it is that makes a good movie.

This problem seems less about the old movie and more about the public. We’ve entered an age where people aggressively demand respect but who feel they are not obligated to respect others. The importance of self esteem seems to have eclipsed the virtues of humility and courtesy. The desire to make one’s own opinions known has evolved into a bullying need to not only refute anyone else’s opinions, but to destroy them from existing.

There are still enough people in the world who would sit in that same theater as the one Steve-o describes and think, “This movie seems pretty stupid and ridiculous to me, but I’ll let the others who paid as much as I did to see it just enjoy themselves.”

But the loudmouths, the classless morons who think that their price of admission allows them to ruin the movie for other people, they exert their power, brave and bold in the dark for 90 or so minutes, and then morph into nobodies on the street again. Meanwhile the film that was made over half a century ago will still be seen, and even enjoyed, half a century from now, so paltry is the loudmouth’s actual influence.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"5 Against the House" - 1955


“5 Against the House” (1955) delivers social commentary in the guise of a robbery plot, sometimes on purpose and sometimes without seemingly meaning to, which is an intriguing accomplishment, to be representative of an era and yet stand apart from it objectively.

“Everybody’s got a headache today,” Brian Keith grumbles, “We’re living in the Aspirin Age.” It’s an exemplary line in a film with a constant patter of snappy dialogue. He’s just planted a label on the mid-1950s. No quick aspirin fixes for him, though.


The “5” of the title are Brian Keith, Guy Madison, Kim Novak, Alvy Moore, and Kerwin Mathews. The men are all roomies at college, and Miss Novak is the girlfriend of Guy Madison. All the men are preparing for future careers, and the lady, a townie in this Midwest college town, just started a new career as a lounge singer, teetering on the brink of commitment to marriage with Guy Madison. Despite these plans, or hopes, for the future, all are a bit stuck, floundering in static lives. The ennui will lead them to an attempted casino robbery.


It’s an interesting premise, and we build to it slowly. One of the many writers on this film was Sterling Silliphant, a prolific writer in TV’s “Golden Age”, films, and novels. One of his many notable projects was “Route 66”, and at times this movie reminded me a little of the style of “Route 66” or some similar character-study episodic TV drama show of that era.


The film begins with the boys having a last night on the town in Reno at “Harold’s” casino, having finished their summer jobs on a ranch and will head back to college for the beginning of the semester. They watch an attempted robbery foiled by the casino guards, and this gives Kerwin Mathews, who plays the rich boy with brains but little maturity, an idea that it would be fun to rob the casino in The Perfect Crime just to see if they could get away with it. He tinkers with this notion throughout the film, but at first we pay little credence to him because he seems so flighty and boyish.


Alvy Moore is the wisecracking clown of the group, with a quick line for every circumstance, but when the stakes are raised toward the end of the film, we see his smart mouth is just a cover for a very frightened person, with very little will of his own.

Brian Keith and Guy Madison are older than the other two. They are Korean War vets, attending college on the GI Bill. Madison, now at least a decade into his acting career, has matured from his earlier youthful appearances (“Since You Went Away” and “Till the End of Time”) of almost jaw-dropping boyish beauty into a rugged, near William Holden look-alike, but without Holden’s talent. However wooden Madison may still appear, he has achieved a quiet authority and plays his part well as the hardest working, most mature of the pack. His character nearly died in Korea (pal Brian Keith rescued him), and now that he has a second chance at life, Madison means to grab it with both fists. He has more drive and ambition than the others, and one of his goals is to try to get Kim Novak to marry him. She is hesitant, because commitment frightens her, and this is Madison’s particular frustration.

Brian Keith, such a fine natural actor who has so much commanding screen presence to spare he could bottle it, plays perhaps the most disenchanted member of the group. We do not see it at first, because he is so cool and calm, charming women at the casino bar, rolling his eyes at the boyish antics of Moore and Mathews, but soon we see there are cracks in his façade.

While saving Madison in the war, Keith suffered a head wound. We are still in the movie age where head wounds automatically infer evil and/or crazy. This is where we are headed in this film, but with unusual and unexpected sympathy for the vet who breaks into violent rage and beats people up, for the vet who sells out his best friend and threatens to kill him just for money.

The casino scenes are absorbing to watch. Lots of extras pulling at one-armed bandits and clustered around roulette wheels. There is such a natural feel to these shots, one wonders if the extras were actors or if a hidden camera was used.

Another character is introduced into the gang, a hapless freshman whom they haze, turning him into their houseboy. Though it seems odd that two more sophisticated and world-weary men like Keith and Madison would put up with or abet this kind of college-boy hijinks, the frosh boy does serve some purpose to round out exposition. It is he who tells us what he heard about the war careers of Keith and Madison, and it is he who lets us know that the younger two were not involved in the war, providing more social commentary and insight into the mid-1950s.

“Were you two guys in Korea?” he asks. Moore and Mathews feign insult, accusing their slave of inferring that they are cowards for not going to war.

“Are you questioning our patriotism?” This is interesting, turning talk of commitment or non-commitment to military service into a comic routine. Only four years before in “I Want You” (1951) -- see previous post here, the resentful Martin Milner regrets not being old enough to fight in World War II and moans, “It’s not my fault I was born in 1931.”

No longer any regret about being too young to fight in a war. Now there is only relief. In such gossamer ways do eras turn.


But though the Korean War, now two years past, is ancient history to these boys, its repercussions still linger for the Keith and Madison. When Keith nearly kills a young man in a blind rage, Madison drags him back to the dorm room, where Keith confesses in tears that he does not want to go back to the VA hospital for psychiatric treatment, where they “treat you like an animal”, though Madison reminds him, “a lot of guys went through shock like you did.” Without too much explanation, we are meant to infer he went through electroshock therapy, still the subject of lurid thrillers at this time.

We see the tight relationship between the two men; that close, brotherly bond between men who have been through battle. Madison gives Keith a sedative and puts him to bed, and we see that Madison is the caretaker, while suave and cool Keith is really the most needy of the gang.


Madison carries scars from the war too, but his seem to give him drive to get things done. When Miss Novak complains that their relationship is moving too fast, Madison replies, “I’ve been places where if you didn’t make up your mind in a hurry, you never got a second chance.”

She gently reminds him that he has all the time in the world now. “Honey, you’re not in Korea anymore. Nobody’s going to drop a bomb on you.”

This is somewhat reminiscent, but a different delivery and intent, to the line Virginia Mayo gives the struggling Dana Andrews in “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) - see previous blog post here - when she exhorts him to forget his war troubles and “Snap out of it.”

It’s the Cold War now, and no big public whoosh of relief came with the armistice in 1953. Wandering back to his dorm, another classmate asks Keith if he will go to the Halloween Dance, and he replies in another of this film’s unexpected comic send-ups:

“I wonder if now is the time when any of us should be dancing, when we don’t know if
Little Orphan Annie’s ever going to get back to Daddy Warbucks.”

Alvy Moore replies in deadpan woe, “She’s just got to!”

We are in the middle of what one day would be called The Silent Generation, marching in lock-step with the neighbors, but not knowing why, dogged by doubt and television aspirin commercials, and ennui.

When the plan to rob the casino gels, it gets its legs from Keith, who is a poor student and knows his chances of graduating are slim, who already feels he’s lost enough time because of the war. He wants that money. Mathew’s silly pipedream of a plan becomes reality in Keith’s ready hands, and they rope in the weak-willed Moore to help. They need Madison as well, but Keith knows the level-headed Madison will never agree. So he tricks him into joining the casino heist, kidnapping Madison and Novak without them knowing it.


Here is where we add another dimension to Keith’s considerable palette of emotions. We have accepted that he is emotionally troubled and possibly, as Madison fears, psychologically “sick”. But his determined and cool effort to stab his best pal Madison in the back is not the action of a psycho, but just of plain old-fashioned greed. (Kerwin Mathews’ character, who does not seem to connect any wrongdoing with his plot, is the one who seems more disassociated from reality.) There may also be an element of jealousy here, as Keith sees that Madison is moving forward with his life with Miss Novak, and Keith may lose his caretaker, his emotional crutch, to her.

On the Thanksgiving break, the three conspirators rent a trailer and prepare to head back to Reno, and then up to Mathew’s rich papa’s ranch for turkey. They invite Madison and Novak along, who plan to marry in Reno. They do not tell the happy couple about the impending heist.

Here is an interesting shot, by the way. Mr. Madison enters Miss Novak’s dressing room, and we see him under her leg, a provocative shot that pre-dates the famous Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman shot in “The Graduate” (1967) by 12 years. I wonder if this is where they got the idea?

On the road, Madison puts two-and-two together, and nearly puts an end to their robbery scheme until Keith pulls a gun on him and forces him to go through with it.


William Conrad has a featured role as the unfortunate casino worker they force to help them. Tension builds, and the climax occurs on the upper levels of a parking garage where Madison and Keith have a final showdown, but a showdown not with fists or weapons, but with memories.

I expected the escaping Keith to be shot or fall to his death in the usual manner of solving the problem that films employed then and now. It was a surprise to find him being escorted safely away, which perhaps was a gesture to his being a sacrificing, and sacrificed, veteran. So often when a film ends with “the problem” being shot dead, it feels like a copout. We can’t diminish our problems like that in real life (or we would all need psychiatric treatment). That’s what Madison knows. Problems can't be eliminated with weapons, or outrun. Just faced.

I think the biggest shock was the sign listing the parking rates in this garage, where cars are parked using a mechanical lift: 25 cents for the first hour, 10 cents for the next two to four hours, and 5 cents for every half hour after that.

Eras are marked in many different ways, some not so subtle.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lillian Gish and Robert Mitchum Duet



When thinking of your favorite movie duets, you might consider any number of wonderful songs from musicals. This duet of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” by Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish, from “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), anything but a cheery musical, is one of my favorites.

Intense, contemplative, soulful, representing good and evil, it is inspirationally eerie. And they sing well together, too. Some time or other we’ll actually get around to discussing the movie, but for now, just take the duet for what it is. A special moment in time with two pros. (By the way, the movie is on TCM tomorrow afternoon if you want to catch it.)

Do you have any favorite movie duets?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Off Topic - Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)

Walter Cronkite was a journalist in the best sense. He was one of the last of the old guard of newsmen, the kind who wrote well and spoke well. There was no nonsense about him. He did not attempt to ingratiate himself with inane "happy talk" or overly dramatic showmanship. He kept his opinions to himself, until it really mattered, and then he gave us his most simple, and honest, assessment. He had courage. He had eloquence. He had class. His passing is worth noting not only for the value of his place in American journalism and popular culture, but mainly because there seem to be absolutely no broadcast "journalists" today who even try to emulate him. The courage, the class, and mostly, the eloquence, is gone. Delivering the news has become an obnoxious standup routine.

Listen to his voice on this audio excerpt in a thoughtful summation of an historic event, the enormity of which today would be lost in a sea of sophomoric acting for attention by "journalists" with eighth grade vocabularies performing on frenetic, circus-style techno studio sets. "Journalists" who no longer seem to have the dignity and the discipline of that old guard which would not dimish the importance of the day's events with shredded English and an appalling reliance on celebrity news. Listen to his voice, the style and the substance. It's all the razzle dazzle we really need.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Party's Over

The party’s over, as Judy Holliday used to sing.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and making a mess. The best. Making this the best virtual cocktail party I’ve every thrown. Mary Richards, eat your heart out (TV reference, anyone?).

For the next week I’m going to be busy vacuuming, and hauling drunken revelers out of the pool. Charles Laughton seems to have fallen asleep under the piano, and he’s too big for me to move. Margaret Dumont and the alpaca left together this morning. They seem to have bonded.

So far, I found three Buffalo Nickels and two Mercury Head Dimes in the couch cushions. Not bad, huh?

See you next week.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Virtual Hollywood Cocktail Party

Hello! Welcome to the party! (Stay away from Bogart, he’s already had a few and he’s getting nasty.)

The fellows in the white jackets are the waiters, just help yourselves to drinks and Hors 'd orderves.

Dang! I keep tripping on the massive head of that stupid tiger skin rug on the floor. I bought it at a yard sale Gloria Swanson was having up at her place on Sunset Blvd. Twenty-five cents. I think I got taken. Boy, did she see me coming.

Have you met my twin brother, John? He’s from Arte Acher’s Falling Circus, sweet and silly cartoons by a sweet and silly cartoonist. He’ll be valet parking your car. (John! Quick, put on this jacket and grab their keys. The valet parking people didn’t show up. Oh, it’s just for a little while. I’ll save you some food. Go, go, go!)

How nice of you to come. Just drop your calling card in the comments section below so we can find you. If you’re not sure how to create a link to your site, just make like this:

That ought to do the trick. Don't forget to come back and check out the sites of your new friends.

And did I forget to mention? You look mahvelous.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Invitation to a Virtual Cocktail Party


This is to invite you all to a Hollywood cocktail party. Virtually.

I’m shamelessly stealing this idea from literary agent Rachelle Gardner, who recently on her blog, “Rants and Ramblings”, conducted a kind of open house for her readers to attend a virtual blog party and introduce themselves.

This being a blog about old movies, we can’t just have a virtual house party or a virtual backyard barbecue. It behooves us to put on the dog. Virtually.

So, this coming Thursday, July 9th, please stop by and bring your friends, and mingle. Leave a line or two, or paragraph, in the comments section about you and your blog and leave a link, so that we can all go camp on your couch.

But remember, this is a Hollywood cocktail party in the grand old manner. I want everyone dressed to the nines and smelling good. Gallons of “Jungle Red” nail polish (movie reference, anyone?) and buckets of Brylcreem. No jeans.

And no need to bring anything, either. I’m having it catered by the Mocambo. I’m trying to get Hoagy Carmichael to sit at the piano for a while, but we keep playing telephone tag.

See you Thursday. Dahling.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Drums Along the Mohawk - 1939


“Drums Along the Mohawk” (1939) leads us into our weekend celebrations of Independence Day, and is one of the few movies of Hollywood’s heyday to deal with the American Revolution. Surprisingly so, since one would expect that the intrigue and drama of the era, not to say the very patriotism of the theme, would lend itself to films of the day. Perhaps the studios perceived the subject was too remote, too far past to be appealing to modern audiences, the people and manners too colorless. Director John Ford’s vibrant movie does much to dispel the ideal that the forefathers were saintly heroes and the Revolution a foregone conclusion.

This early Technicolor film is beautifully shot, and the muted pastel tones are much more realistic and pleasing to look at than the garish “red shirt photography” of the 1940s musicals that would follow. The score is peppered with 18th century fife and drum music, and country fiddle tunes (and a liberal smattering of “In an English Country Garden” to designate the gentility of Claudette Colbert’s refined family heritage).

Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are frontier newlyweds when the frontier was still in New York. Fonda looks good in knee breeches and always looks authentic in period settings, no matter what the period. Claudette Colbert, even more like a porcelain doll in this rough setting of log cabin, appears as she always does; a loveliness of no certain age, but perhaps a bit too glamorous.

The movie is stolen outright by Edna May Oliver, who received an Oscar nomination for her role as the feisty widow who the young newlyweds come to work for as servants when the Indians burn their own homestead and crops to the ground.

The story is comprised of events, rather than a linear beginning, middle and conclusion. The frontier settlement, always battling the Indians, gets word of the colonists’ revolt against the English king. They think it’s a swell idea, and drill in ragtag formation, ready to fire upon any redcoats, but the British domination of North America in this movie is just John Carradine as a menacing Tory leading bands of Indians in waves against the township’s lonely fort.

Miss Colbert, the daughter of a fine family, must adjust to the roughhewn ways of her new neighbors and her new life. She and Fonda suffer privations and tragedies. Their bond, as actually occurred with many frontier couples, is strengthened from necessity of self reliance as much as from being in love.


There are humorous moments in the film, such as when the minister, Arthur Shields, half prays for and half reprimands a local girl for keeping company with a New Englander, “he’s a Massachusetts man, Lord, and Thou knowest no good can come of that.” He also prays for a man with the flux “real bad” and gives a commercial for a local merchant. And when he announces that the militia be formed, “Every man failing to report for duty will be promptly hanged. Amen.”

Ward Bond, another Ford regular, is the lusty, barrel-chested, booming-voiced bachelor who teases Edna May Oliver, and she gives it right back to him. John Ford always seemed to have given as much attention to the character actors as to the stars, which may be why they are so memorable in his films. At one point Bond, some 20 years her junior, playfully plants a kiss on a surprised Miss Oliver that, in its ferocity and very length is probably one of the most passionate kisses on the silver screen. I half expect that if the couple were Fonda and Colbert, the Code would not have allowed the kiss to last that long, but because the characters are supposed to be comic, Ford, and Bond and Oliver, get away with it.

But Edna May Oliver is more than just comic foil in this movie. She gets a chance to display her considerable dramatic talents, and the inherent drama in her each slight movement provides depth and texture to her role. Sometimes the ability to make a moment seem both comic and dramatic at the same time is like laying a perfect bunt down the third base line. It’s a thing of tantalizing beauty when it works.

Miss Oliver does this in such scenes as when Fonda is about to join a column of troops passing by her stone cottage, and she bids him goodbye first so that he can spend another few moments with his wife.

“I’m going to kiss you, so I better do it now so’s you won’t go off with the taste of a widow on your mouth.” Afterward, she comes indoors to keep from watching the men march away, reminded of her late husband, “Sometimes he’d wave…ten to one he didn’t even see me.” Her voice drops wearily, and the comic moment becomes tension-filled, and then simply philosophical.

Another moment finds both Colbert and Oliver on a porch at night, waiting for news of the battle. Colbert paces, finally is persuaded to sit on the step of the porch as Oliver, planted in a chair behind her, flaps a palmetto fan at mosquitoes. The contrast between the two actresses is interesting. Colbert is still, like a pristine statue, looking dreamily off. Miss Oliver hunches forward, her legs spread apart under her long skirts, resting her elbows on her knees, her chin on her hand in a brooding manner much less lady-like. She uses her whole body. Miss Oliver is living her role, while Miss Colbert is seems merely posed for the camera.

But the comedy is never too deeply buried, and bubbles up in Miss Oliver like a stream, as when the tobacco-chewing frontiersman comes to her door and tells her all families must flee to the fort. It’s a tense moment, but seeing he needs to spit his tobacco juice, Edna gets irritably practical,

“Go on and spit, man! Spit and get it over with!” She shoves him out the door so he can do so outside, and then mutters, trying to conceal her alarm about the approaching enemy, “Fool. He can’t even spit by himself.” In her crusty way, she is sensitive to life where Colbert is only hypersensitive to sounds and smells, and possible danger.

When Fonda and the troops march off in the distance, Colbert watches in the foreground, her back to us, from the rise of a sunny meadow. It’s a scene repeated in other Ford films like “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “Fort Apache”, and “My Darling Clementine.”

The film turns from a study of frontier life to an action flick. Fonda, dragged from the rain and the mud, babbles to himself as he describes the gore of battle while Colbert tries to stop his bleeding and tries not to listen to him. It is her best scene where, distracted from posing, she appears most natural.

A man, sent to get help, is captured and tortured, and the horrified minister shoots him to keep him from suffering when the Indians burn him to death. Fonda is sent next to get help, and the women huddled in the fort don men’s uniforms to make the enemy think the fort is well defended by soldiers. This has precedence in many instances during the Revolution and in the French and Indian War when women took on a soldier’s role, sometimes donning soldier’s uniforms.

Even Daisy, Miss Oliver’s black house servant, dons a uniform and loads muskets. Edna May fires her gun, and takes an arrow in the chest, takes it like a man.

One wonders if the Indians were surprised that the “soldiers” were still wearing their frilly day caps underneath their tricorn hats.

The Indians depicted here are all “savages” except one; that is the character called Blue Back, played by Chief John Big Tree. He is a Christian convert, what were once called “praying Indians”, and so is friendly to the settlers. One could excuse Ford’s making the enemy Indians “savages” and the “good Indian” as the one who befriends the settlers, because that is how English-speaking settlers in the 18th century would have viewed the matter themselves. The year 1939, when this film was made, was too early for the revisionist history that attempts to make modern films on historical subjects less bigoted, if perhaps also sometimes less accurate in depicting the true (if sometimes repugnant) feelings of our ancestors.


However, Blue Back could have been a stronger, more well-rounded character, and Ford might have shown the immense conflict of what it must have been to have his feet planted in two different worlds. Unfortunately, Blue Back is little more than a clown who hollers “Hallelujah” at unexpected moments. Ironically, as a member of the Seneca nation, Chief John Big Tree is probably the most authentic link to the locale of the film.

The film ends with the fort being saved and the news that the British surrendered. That means the British lost the war. What they do not know, and the colonists all might have wondered for at least another generation, was who won the war? Who were the Americans?

John Ford brings the film to a rousing close with the strains of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (which since those lyrics had not been written yet, was still “God Save the King”, an odd choice), and the camera pans on the Americans of this frontier outpost admiring the raising of their new American flag atop the church steeple. Separation of church and state hadn’t been invented yet.

The camera lingers on, among others, the smiling face of Daisy, the African-American servant of Edna May Oliver, played by Beulah Hall Jones (in the last of only a few films she made). Daisy could have been a freewoman, but at this time it is more likely she was a slave. Her expression of breathless hope and satisfaction looking at the new flag is quite surprisingly moving. The camera lingers on Chief John Big Tree, also admiring the flag. Is it Ford’s way of showing we’re all happy Americans now, or Ford’s subtle irony that “freedom” and “equality” would have to wait for some people? Flawed, and diverse, if not equal, they all take in the moment to celebrate the new nation.

I hope you can take a moment this weekend to celebrate it, too. By the way, among the flags that finale color guard is holding appears to be the flag of New England (see this post from my New England Travels blog). Apparently, the reverend’s warning against consorting with New Englanders (or perhaps only Massachusetts men) was suspended for the moment.