REMOVE TRUMP.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Holiday Inn on the Radio with Gordon MacRae


Wishing you here in the U.S. a very peaceful and pleasant Thanksgiving, and to you, our neighbors in Canada, Mexico, and around the world...a more hopeful and happy beginning to the holiday season with Gordon MacRae's delightful radio show The Railroad Hour.  

The ambitious musical program, sponsored by the Association of American Railroads (in pre-Amtrak America, there were bushels of independent railroads in this country, passenger and freight) presented cut-down versions of stage and movie musicals and operettas. 

This episode is a version of the movie Holiday Inn (1942), starring Gordon in the Bing Crosby role, and Dorothy Warenskjold, lyric soprano for the San Francisco Opera, in the Marjorie Reynolds role.

I hope you have a chance to sit back and relax today or sometime this weekend with this cozy performance.  Blessings to you all.

*********

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her next book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Hollywood Fights Fascism - now in print and eBook


Classic films were often extraordinary chroniclers of their own times.  Despite the cozy nostalgia that may come to mind when we think of classic films, there could also be an unflinching look at society's evils.  Foremost among them: fascism, in its varying oppressive forms.

Hollywood Fights Fascism is an examination of these movies, and a celebration of integrity.

Available in print at Amazon and here at my Etsy shop.

Available in eBook here at Amazon,

Barnes & Noble,

Apple,

Kobo.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The summer after that...


There is a scene in Since You Went Away (1944) of such gossamer poignance that we might miss the impact just because it is a fleeting, throwaway line.  But these days, I think our own experience engenders empathy and we understand a little better.

Claudette Colbert plays the mother of Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple.  They sit together as Colbert reads aloud a letter to them from her husband, who is away in the war.  She reads the special message he sends to his daughter, Jennifer Jones: "...she must hold the thought that next year, or the summer after that, we'll be boating again on the lake..."

Jennifer lifts her head slightly and says, almost to herself, with a leaden epiphany, "The summer after that."

She suddenly realizes that the war may last a very long time.  She is seeing in her mind's eye a picture of the normal life she knew growing smaller in the rearview mirror.  She has no idea how to look ahead.

This movie, like many produced during World War II, was produced not only for entertainment value, or for the box office draw the big names would elicit.  It was produced to serve the country during a terrible time.  It was produced to remind us of homespun, democratic, decent values for which we told ourselves we were fighting; and also to give us hope, not only the hope of future victory, but the hope that we would remain unchanged and our regular lives of comforting normality would resume one day.

Neither theme was entirely accurate, but both were necessary.  We needed to aspire to more than just a return to normal, but to make normal better.  We do now, too.  In the meantime, we have to slog through some unpleasantness. And we have to just buck up and do it. 

In the United States, we have the Thanksgiving holiday approaching next month, which, for those from other countries who may not be so familiar with it, is a huge holiday in this country because it so deeply reaffirms our cultural heritage. Also, most of us really like pumpkin pie.

Christmas, which is celebrated around the world, will come after that in a world now consumed by the COVID-19 virus.  We in our respective countries are being told to tone down our holiday family gatherings this year to keep each other safe.  So many of us are balking at that, but I would have to ask them, if a doctor gives them a diagnosis of cancer and tells them they must begin treatment with chemotherapy or radiation, or surgery, or a combination of all three, what will be their answer?  Will they say, "No, I won't!"  And run out of the office and on to their certain deaths?  Or will they master their fear and face down their dislike of unpleasantness and inconvenience for the good of themselves and their loved ones and begin treatment?

If you are given a diagnosis of cancer, only you have the disease.  If you are infected with COVID-19, everybody near you gets it, too.  Unless you have been tested, you may not know that you have it. 

Back to Claudette, and Jennifer, and Shirley sitting together for comfort in the icy cold realization that their lives are not going to return to normal anytime soon...I'd like to add a personal note.  My father, who served overseas during World War II in the United States Army fighting the fascist enemies of democracy (that's what you do when you're Antifa), missed three Thanksgivings and four Christmases.  He had to; it was for the good of the nation and all civilization.  Some of his pals never got home to celebrate another Thanksgiving or Christmas ever again. So he didn't complain.

Neither should you.  Do your part.  Do your bit.  Wear the mask.  Stay home.  Keep calm and watch classic movies.

*********

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her next book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Turning Point - 1952

 


The Turning Point (1952) depicts a government committee’s investigation of organized crime. In film noir style, it becomes a kind of anti-crusade, a bleak tale of shattered illusions, of mobsters who get away with pretty nearly everything just by seeing how far they can go, of cops on the take, and a romantic triangle that blows up into bits.


This is our entry into the Politics on Film Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association.
  Have a look here at more participating blogs.


Edmond O’Brien plays the head of the investigating committee, a college-educated, idealistic, and unimpeachable hero out to crush the gangsters and their tenacious reach into law enforcement and politics.  Though he states he has no political ambitions himself, nailing the crime syndicate would be his ticket to fame and almost any future political office he wants.


William Holden is his boyhood pal, now a cynical and savvy reporter who will follow the doings of the do-gooders and spare them as little mercy in his crusty observations as he does the mobsters.  The two of them are 1950s men in the gray flannel suits, better educated than their fathers, and considered to be more successful, certainly with more polish. But rather than easier, their lives seem even more complicated.


Alexis Smith also has considerable polish.  She is also college-educated, and comes along with Edmond O’Brien as his gal Friday.  She holds a kind of secretary’s position, we gather, but she is seen more often pouring coffee than taking notes, and hosting cocktail parties for the committee.  Holden sizes her up with a sexist if not exactly misogynistic attitude, noting at once that this apparently high-class society dame might be slumming.  He senses phoniness.  She challenges his self-superiority and his cynicism with her own well-pointed remarks and a withering glance or two, getting him only to admit that as a reporter, he only points out the problems of life and never the solutions.


Tom Tully plays Edmond O’Brien’s father, a tough cop.  Tom Tully is one of those wonderful character actors equally adept as playing lovable as playing hard-edged and sarcastic.  Mr. O’Brien invites his dad to help in their investigation, counts on it, but Tully begs off, wanting no part of politics or some high-tone committee holding meetings in a swank hotel ballroom.  He says he’s just a cop and wants nothing more than that until they pension him off.  O’Brien insists that he wants an honest cop like Dad on his side.
 

But Tully is a cop on the take.


William Holden, who always seems to be giving everybody the side-eye, suspects this almost immediately and spends a good deal time tailing Mr. Tully, who is working directly at the pleasure of the head mobster, played by Ed Begley, who is so effective in these kinds of blustering, snide roles.  Tully got involved with the mob years earlier when he wanted more money to send his boy Edmond to college.  So we have the irony of Edmond’s superior education and supposedly superior morals bought with dirty money.


Tailing Tully brings us some wonderful location shots of the more run-down neighborhoods of Los Angeles (though the movie is evidently supposed to be set in some fictional Midwest town). There is a great sequence on the Angel’s Flight funicular, which we covered in this previous post.


Don Porter is also one of Ed Begley’s boys, as is Danny Dayton.  Even Whit Bissell, whom we see briefly when Tully goes to ask for some official records to be photo-stated, is also on the take when he rats to the mobsters that Tully has copied some info on them he shouldn’t have.

The result is Ed Begley putting out a hit on Tom Tully, and also having the mobster who shoots Tully to be killed in turn.  Nobody left to implicate him.  Anybody’s expendable, according to Begley.



William Holden, along with his cynicism for do-gooders as to how much good they do, now carries the burden of keeping the knowledge from Edmond O’Brien that his father is a crook.  Holden confronted Tully and gave him a chance to go straight by getting the info on Begley, for which Tully was murdered, and for which Holden now feels responsible.  If that wasn’t enough to carry on his plate, Alexis Smith shows up at his apartment to confront his arrogant detachment, and when he takes her on another tailing of bad guys, pretty soon she’s pouring his coffee as his gal Friday. Alexis is smart, and fearless, and honest with herself and others, and he likes that.  It’s a role Alexis plays so well, her intelligence and her elegance is part of her sexiness.  Pretty soon he has another burden; he’s betraying his best buddy.

Edmond O’Brien, who declares, “I’d rather nail one crooked cop than a hundred hooligans,” will eventually be crushed to find out his dad is one.  In the meantime, his dad has been murdered.


Edmond also catches Alexis with her head on William’s shoulder, but he asks no questions.  Some things can keep, or maybe he doesn’t really want to know.

One standout feature of the movie is the televised committee hearings conducted by Edmond O’Brien as he deposes the lesser figures in the crime syndicate in order to get at the top.  This is based on the Senator Estes Kefauver hearings on organized crime from 1950 and 1951 as a special committee of the United States Senate.  This was for forerunner of all the televised investigations that would become part of our social zeitgeist through the decades: the Army-McCarthy Hearings, Watergate, right up through the Impeachment of Donald Trump. 


Such TV hearings make us familiar with the individuals of our legislature, make household names of senators from states other than our own, and become part of pop culture.  We may expect that the trajectory of his political career will only rise for Edmond O’Brien after this. (Two other films released this same year of 1952 also featured Kefauver-like committee hearings: The Captive City and Hoodlum Empire, so we can imagine the impact that first-ever live TV hearing made on America.)


Carolyn Jones stands out in her debut film performance as a comic gangster’s “moll” being questioned by the exasperated Edmond O’Brien.


One of the witnesses blurts out the information that a company owned by Ed Begley will yield documents pointing to his guilt, and while O’Brien and his men prepare to follow this lead, Begley arranges an intricate setup of a gas explosion and fire that will destroy the building, and the apartments above it. When one of his men questions him going that far, murdering a bunch of residents in the building just to cover his tracks, Begley sneers, “You wouldn’t think we’d do it?  That’s what makes it good.  I don’t think a jury would believe it either.”  Pushing evil to the extreme to dare people to believe their own eyes is another tactic used infamously today.

Walking among the bodies of innocent victims after reaching the blast too late, Edmond O’Brien is disgusted, defeated, and he wants to give up, but Holden urges him to continue.  He tells him about his father’s being a crooked cop and makes the frank, and in spite of himself, idealistic viewpoint, “Even allowing for the apathy of the people and their lack of integrity and their occasional lack of intelligence, and that’s the fact that they all want desperately to believe in a certain majesty of the law.  And for people like you and me, the greatest crime in law is the lack of faith in the law, and that’s when we join hands with the hoodlums.  If they can convince us of the uselessness of knocking out crime, the difficulty, the fact that personal sacrifices may be too great, then we might as well hand over the city and the state and the nation, too…”

Then O’Brien and Holden shift gears to separately track down the girlfriend of the mobster who shot his father, because she has more info that would nail Ed Begley and she wants to talk.  Adele Longmire is great in her brief scenes. It’s a suspenseful search, but we find ourselves in the bowels of boxing arena (which is actually the Olympic Stadium in L.A.) where Holden is hunted by an assassin, played by Neville Brand.


Alexis catches up to him, but he pushes her away just the gun trained on him is fired.  Edmond O’Brien shows up too late again, and though we are certain by now that there is enough evidence on Ed Begley to bring the racketeers to justice, we don’t see that happen in front of us, and we are left with an ambiguous ending also for what future Edmond and Alexis are going to face.  The individual stories of the trio are brushed aside, made almost irrelevant in the wake of the enormity of political intrigue.

The Turning Point can be seen, at least for now, on YouTube if you want to have a look.

Have a look at the other great blogs participating in the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Politics on Film Blogathon.

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Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her next book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available for pre-order here on Amazon.

 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Pre-order now - HOLLYWOOD FIGHTS FASCISM

 


Pre-Order Sale on
HOLLYWOOD FIGHTS FASCISM!


Past is prologue.  Our greatest gift from the Greatest Generation was freedom from fascism...until now.  Relive, and celebrate, how evil was faced, discussed, dramatized...and fought.  

Classic films were the weapon. 

The Greatest Generation received instruction, inspiration, and, of course, entertainment from a source that affected them perhaps even more than the greater technology of generations to follow: the movies.

The movies of the day tell us a lot about that generation, that first generation that fought fascism: what was expected of them, what they hoped to achieve, and how they saw themselves. It is not a perfect measuring stick, but the movies of the day show a passion for fighting fascism by everyday people that may shame their twenty-first century descendants.  Or at least, it should.

                                                                                            
Pre-order your e-Book copy now on Amazon (to be published Friday, October 23rd) for the sale price of $1.99!   On Tuesday, October 27th, the price will be raised to $4.99.    The print version will be available at the end of the month ($17.99).

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Hollywood Fights Fascism - cover reveal


Hollywood Fights Fascism...Coming later this month. 

Past is prologue.  Our greatest gift from the Greatest Generation was freedom from fascism...until now.  Trumpism is Hitler 2.0.  Relive, and celebrate, how evil was faced, discussed, dramatized...and fought.  

Classic films were the weapon.  

Collected essays from the blog, special thanks to Casey Koester for the striking cover art.
 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Strange Holiday - 1945



Strange Holiday
(1945) is a dystopian view on the United States in the closing days of World War II. It’s warning message, belatedly, was for the generation of civilians that fought the war on the home front to keep them pitching in, doing their part, and remembering why doing their part was so important. Soon to be a museum piece in the post-war era when victory brought both relief and amnesia, the movie ironically has more punch to it today. It is a message for our time.

I’d like to note that this movie first came to my attention back in May when I posted a request from someone wanting to know the name of a move he recalled from childhood.  I had no clue, based on his description, but a reader came up with this movie, and I think it might have been the one in question.  Many thanks to readers of this blog for always providing such a wonderful wealth of information.  I learn a lot from you.  The movie is currently up on YouTube.


Claude Rains stars as a businessman on a fishing trip in the wilds of “the north woods” with his buddy, played by Milton Kibbee. Since the movie is sandwiched in this period of Rains’ career between Mr. Skeffington (1945) and Notorious (1946) and Deception (1946), which we discussed here, it’s a little surprising to see this magnificent actor in his prime appearing in such a low-key, and low-budget-looking film (it runs just over an hour).  It’s difficult to surmise whether this is just an example of Rains’ fulfilling his studio contract and getting off the bench when he was called, or if this movie was intended to create a bigger splash but the production never lived up to its greater possibilities.


Rains is a family man.  His wife is played by Gloria Holden, and his three young children are Bob (Bobbie) Stebbins, Paul Hilton, and Barbara Bate. It was little Barbara’s only film; the boys both had minor careers in a handful of movies, but Paul actually started in the Our Gang shorts in the 1930s. 


Rains’ marriage is a happy one, and he is a doting father.  The movie begins when he realizes he must return home from his vacation immediately because it is his wedding anniversary.  We have a flashback to his life at home, his kids celebrating Christmas, enduring school assemblies.  It is a quiet and contented life, but even through these prosaic early scenes we are jabbed with a sense of foreboding by his voiceover questioning, “How did it happen?  When did it happen?”

The director is Arch Oboler, from his screenplay based on his radio play.  His name may be more familiar to fans of old time radio for his work as a producer/writer/director, a creator of many thoughtful, inventive radio stories that were powerful in that medium.  Here, the emotional and psychological meandering seems somehow diluted as we must wait a rather long time to find out exactly not just how or when, but “what” happened.

Mr. Rains and Mr. Kibbee have taken their trip to get away from the tiring war news.  Rains is sick of it and wants a break.  They have been gone from home for a few weeks. They have been cut off from any news.  They are in such a remote area that it was only accessible to them by plane.  Kibbee flies the small plane that is owned jointly by several of their buddies. 


The plane has some engine trouble and they land in a field, where they approach a farmhouse to use the phone. The farmer acts as if he is suspicious of them, shuts the door and tells them to go away.  The buddies are baffled and miffed, but shrugging it off, they begin to hitchhike down a highway. A truck comes along and they stop the driver.  He is also standoffish, rude, but he will take one of them back to town for $20.  Kibbee stays with the plane, Claude Rains goes with the truck driver and will send help back.

When he reaches the city where he lives, there is nobody in the streets.  He meets a few people he knows, but they shun him. He goes to a familiar shop to buy an anniversary present for his wife, but is told, “We can’t sell anything. You know that.”

He knows nothing, but his unthinking, exuberant nature seems to keep Rains from questioning any of this too deeply.  At this point in the film, we have more questions than he does, and the sense of fear comes to him rather late in the game.

He meets someone from work and is told, “You can’t ask questions.”  There is no one in the office.  There is no one at home. Everyone is fearful and more than a little impatient with him for behaving as if he doesn’t understand what’s happening.  He gets on their nerves as much as they get on his.


Two plainclothes detectives grab him and hit him with a blackjack. He wakes up in jail. A slow-talking older man is his cellmate, who kindly brings him water and tries to revive him. He is played by Thaddeus Jones.  He had a long acting career, but not many movies and most roles were servants, porters, or waiters.  He quiet gentleness is appealing, and unlike all the other frightened citizens, displays humanity despite his obvious helplessness.  He tries to tell Rains what’s been happening to society while Rains was on vacay, but it is difficult to comprehend, let alone to explain it.  The best he can do is, “They threw out the Bill of Rights.”


Claude Rains doesn’t believe him, and shouts for a lawyer.  Though all the authority figures up to this time have been Americans, the local man in charge, called the examiner, is a man with a slight German accent, played by Martin Kosleck.  Kosleck had a long career in film and TV, with his earlier movies casting him mostly as terrifying Nazis.  He interrogates Rains, wants to know all about his vacation, where did he go.  They bring in Rains’ wife, who is crying, and then take her immediately away.  They knock Rains unconscious again and he wakes tied to a table, where the examiner will beat him with a rubber hose.  We see Rains’ bound hand flinching, and then it does not move.


He is interrogated again and is told, “Discipline, the first rule you must learn in this new state of ours…This glorious new state that we are planting here. The fulfillment of the dreams some of us have had since the day we heard a voice telling us of our destiny.”

Though there are few displays of fascist regalia, it is inferred that this new order came from outside our country, but that we were not so much invaded as displaced by people educated by a foreign fascist doctrine planted here.

The words were likely less chilling to audiences then, when the war was nearly won, than they are today.  “We will turn your own democratic weakness against you.”  Marches, labor unions, all our freedoms will be wiped away.


In a haze in between beatings, Claude Rains reviews in his tangled mind what has happened.  He dreams of an idyllic scene of his family and friends having a picnic in the country, where a young couple discuss their future.  “We were too young for the war and we’ll be much too old for the next one…We can have anything and everything we want…”  Are the young always so callow and self-centered, so unable to see trouble ahead?  Rains, back in his cell ponders with greater regret of those lost in the war, “They died on the battlefield that I might live, and out of their victory, I made nothing.”

Through nightmarish whispers, he confesses, “I’m not afraid to die.  I’m afraid to go on living.” 

“I thought that freedom was like the air, always with me as long as I lived.  I thought you didn’t have to do anything about it.”

He resolves in his cell to keep on fighting.  However, and somewhat disappointingly (because a Resistance-style pushback would have added some satisfying action), it was all a dream.  He wakes in the fishing camp in the north woods and is eager to rush home to his wife and kids.

“It was only a dream” is probably the biggest deflator in any movie plot.

A lot more might have been made of this movie, which feels like it was padded a bit to fill out what might have been a more taut radio script.  The most chilling aspects are the loss of the Bill of Rights and the way his frightened community has caved.  And his confession that he is afraid to go on living.

We are on the brink of such a scenario today. Russian election sabotage mixed with white supremacist street gangs playing soldier with AR-15 weapons, rampant police brutality, along with a Republican Party that has caved in to the Trump Party, all gleefully and greedily conspiring to destroy American democracy, and during a raging pandemic to boot.  It would be a good time to wake up.

*********************

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her next book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - will be out next month.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Hollywood Fights Fascism - Coming Next Month!

 
Coming in October - HOLLYWOOD FIGHTS FASCISM.

My latest book is a collection of essays from this blog on how the film industry tackled the subject of fascism. 



President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s remark in 1936 memorialized, even when they were still just teenagers, the generation that would later be called The Greatest Generation: “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

There were many hurdles and many adventures in the lifespan of these individuals, including the Great Depression, wars, Cold War, and often bewildering changes in society that always seemed to come too quickly and followed by more. The chief horror of the twentieth century, that century to which they were born and only a small number outlived, was fascism.

The Greatest Generation received instruction, inspiration, and, of course, entertainment from a source that affected them perhaps more than even the generations to follow, who grew up with greater technology: the movies.

This book is a collection of essays adapted from this blog which strives to examine classic films in the context of the eras in which they were made. The movies of the day tell us a lot about that generation, what was expected of them, what they hoped to achieve, and how they saw themselves. It is not a perfect measuring stick, but the movies of the day show a passion for fighting fascism by everyday people that may shame their twenty-first century descendants.  Or at least, it should. 


I invite you to join my  beta readers squad and get a free eBook before publication.  (Please consider leaving a review on Amazon - but this is not required, and any review must be your honest opinion.)  

There will also be an opportunity to pre-order on Amazon. A print version of the book will also be available.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Wear a mask.


In this era of repulsive politicizing of a simple, commonsense act of wearing a mask, we might do well to recall an era where citizens on the home front during World War II were called upon to do much more. Urged, reminded, hounded, and haunted by their patriotic duty, the level of homework on the home front would probably not be tolerated by the whining, selfish, stupid brats today who refuse to do so much as wear a mask in a store to save the lives of their fellow Americans.

Have a look at these posters. They speak to another generation, but before you laugh at the images, remember the ultimate sacrifice occurring on foreign shores made the folks on the home front willing to shoulder any responsibility for the greater good. They had a shared purpose: to survive.


















Thursday, September 3, 2020

Orson Welles and the Blessed Eloquence of Moral Outrage

Los Angeles Sentinel, August 15, 1946, p. 1.

Orson Welles, famous for his War of the Worlds broadcast on radio in 1938, actually delivered a far more daring, even inflammatory, radio program eight years later.  Listen to this remarkable episode below of Orson Welles Commentaries, an ABC radio program broadcast July 29, 1946.  It is remarkable for Mr. Welles’ articulate and noble prose forcefully and intelligently delivered (such eloquence, courage, not to say moral clarity, is sadly lacking by some in our media today).  It is remarkable for the rage of a white man in protest for the brutal beating and blinding of a Black veteran by cops.

In February of that year, Sergeant Isaac Woodward, Jr., a decorated soldier who had served in the South Pacific, had been discharged from the Army only hours before he suffered a brutal attack by the police.  He traveled on a Greyhound bus to his home in South Carolina when, at a planned rest stop, Sgt. Woodward asked if there would be time for him to use the restroom. The driver argued with him, but held the bus for him so he could use the restroom.  At another stop in the town of Batesburg near Aiken, the driver contacted the local police and had Sgt. Woodward forcibly removed from the bus.

Police Chief Lynwood Shull and a few of his men beat up Sgt. Woodward for having the temerity of being Black and insisting he be allowed to use a planned rest stop. They beat him with nightsticks and took him to jail. While in jail, Chief Shull continued to beat Sgt. Woodward for responding with “Yes” instead of “Yes, sir.”  He repeatedly jabbed his nightstick into both of Sgt. Woodward’s eyes. 

He was blinded for life.


Two days later, they allowed a doctor to come to the jail to look at him.  He was taken to a hospital, and his family, awaiting his return from the war and expecting him to arrive, had to endure three more weeks before they found out what happened to him. He was finally taken to an Army hospital in Spartanburg, but his sight was gone forever.

President Harry S. Truman, furious at the treatment of Sgt. Woodward and the lack of punishment of the police involved, directed Justice Department to investigate.  South Carolina was reluctant to put the police on trial.

A jury trial was finally held that November.  Police Chief Shull admitted blinding Sgt. Woodward.  Still, he was acquitted by an all-white jury.  In the days of Jim Crow, Blacks were not allowed to serve on juries.  When he went free, the courtroom burst into applause.  He was never punished.

Orson Welles knew it back then: Black Lives Matter.



--------------

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.




Thursday, August 27, 2020

Three Came Home - 1950


Three Came Home
(1950) is notable for its presentation of courageous women struggling to survive in a Japanese prison camp during World War II, and for its presentation of their captors in a way that is not a racist caricature.  Both are a big accomplishment for Hollywood at the time.


Claudette Colbert stars as Agnes Newton Keith, on whose memoir, Three Came Home, the movie is based. Miss Colbert had long since been a giant in Hollywood, whose ability to play drama or comedy was equal and impeccable. This movie benefitted especially from another quality she displayed which was more subtle: a kind of impression of being unassuming. Another actress might have played this role chewing the palm tree and barbed wire scenery, but Colbert moves from one incredible situation to the next like a person who at once has no idea how she got here, but is intellectually open to every experience. As such, she is our stand-in.

Today we celebrate TCM’s star of the day, Claudette Colbert, in the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Kristen Lopez over at Journeys in Classic Film.

Agnes Newton Keith, an American, is the wife of a British official, the Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture, in Borneo. Agnes herself is a writer, having authored a book on her experiences as a Yank in Borneo. She is the only American among a colony of Dutch and English government workers and their families.  It is a world of wearing tropical whites and delegating labor to native servants. War breaks out, and the Japanese Army reaches them far sooner than they’d imagined.


Patric Knowles plays Colbert’s husband, and little Mark Keuning plays their son. He was about six when he did this role, and played in only one other movie, in the same year.  When it appears the Japanese are on their way, Mr. Knowles encourages his wife to take their son and leave for her home country, the U.S., but she wants to stay.  We listen to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio, and a month later, everyone in their small community is taken prisoner.


Sessue Hayakawa, whose film career dates back to the ‘teens when he was a matinee idol in silent movies, appears as Colonel Suga, who will figure prominently as Colbert’s counterpart in the story. Hayakawa has read her book on Borneo, and he is very impressed with her, “You were very sympathetic with Orientals,” he remarks, “It’s not usual, you know.”  We have the suggestion that racism is a subplot to the story.

Mr. Hayakawa’s character studied in the United States as a young man, and he and Colbert reminisce about their college years.  It is one of those moments where Colbert’s quality of being unassuming makes the scene almost otherworldly for her being able to take in his surprising words and gentlemanly behavior (he lights her cigarette) while being scared to death at the soldiers with their bayonets about to herd them into a concentration camp.


The Japanese soldiers are present everywhere, some are stony-faced and stoic, some are cruel, some are bumbling, but all are human. That is one of the achievements of this movie, made only five years after the war ended.  Agnes Keith in her book was clear that she felt barbarism was to be found not in people, but in war, and the movie seems to have followed the spirit of her book.

The other aspect of Keith’s book well replicated in the film, as Colbert remarks, “Life was reduced to one simple, stubborn purpose – to keep alive.” 

They are brought on trucks down the jungle island to a camp where they spend nine months, the women and children separated from the men.  The men’s camp is nearby and they sometimes catch glimpses of them out in forced labor parties or are left notes.  There is a harrowing scene where Colbert sneaks out at night to meet her husband in the bush, while she is weak with fever, having not seen him for five months.


There are scant rations, working in rice paddies, beatings.  Colbert clings to her son and cuddles him.  Her friend Betty, played by Florence Desmond, sneaks her food from the garbage.  There is more in the book about the Dutch and English communities and the sometimes rancor between them, but the movie flows along quickly and with dramatic visuals of the muddy camps in the rain, of a group of British women singing “God Save the King” in their bunks at night while Colbert and her son, giggling, substitute the words for “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” of the threat of death always present.


They are moved to a new camp where they will spend the rest of the war, and will not be near the men anymore. They are allowed a distant goodbye with a ditch between them, barely allowed to touch their fingers if they can reach far enough.


The commander at the new camp, Lt. Nekata, is played by Howard Chuman. He is sadistic.  One night, Claudette Colbert is outside the hut retrieving laundry when a guard tries to rape her.  She reports the incident to Mr. Chuman, who wants her to sign a confession that nothing happened and that she lied.  She refuses, and Chuman has one of his men beat her.  The scene is about to be repeated the next day, when Sessue Hayakawa shows up unexpectedly, is delighted to see her, and he seems like a hero because we know she will be safe if he is near.


Though he is obviously strict and authoritarian, he behaves kindly to the children in the camp, and insists Colbert sign a copy of her book to him.  Toward the end of the war, in August 1945, they know that Allies will eventually arrive.  Hayakawa is stunned, almost somnambulant, but not because the Japanese have lost the war and he will likely face retribution; it is because, as he confesses to her, his family have all died at Hiroshima.  He says of his three kids, “Three of the dearest children you ever saw.”  Later, while watching Colbert’s son and some other kids playing in his garden and eating fruit he gives them, he will break down and sob.


A month later, in September, 1945, they are liberated, with a long scene of reuniting with the men prisoners that is more suspenseful than jubilant as we discover some of the women will not see their husbands again. Colbert at last spots her husband, stumbling down the dirt road on crutches.

The film was directed by Jean Negulesco with a smooth, rather quick pace and many dramatic visuals, but one aspect to the book was left out of the movie.  It is not dramatic, but it is important to the character Colbert plays.  Agnes Keith made secret notes and left them on bits of paper stuffed into cans, buried in the camp, sewed into her son’s teddy bear, hidden all over, and when she was liberated, she made stubbornly certain that she was not going to leave this part of her behind.  She was a writer.  She scrounged up all her notes and took them with her, and they eventually became her book.

The story of women in a Japanese concentration camp is reminiscent of our look here at A Town Like Alice (1956), which took place on the Malay peninsula.  Nevil Shute’s novel was based on stories of women’s real-life experiences as prisoners of war, but because he was a novelist, that story made more of a full arc in the telling.  Agnes Keith’s memoir was nonfiction, so it was detailed and precise, and less concerned with dramatic arcs, more concerned with chronicling a record. Nunnally Johnson’s script is necessarily episodic.  The movie does not tell us, as the book does, that Colonel Suga committed suicide in his Allied cell by cutting his throat on the day Agnes Keith, her husband, and son, left for the United States.


Claudette Colbert, despite her reputation for crisp, aristocratic elegance, had an everywoman quality that lent itself to her achieving a full spectrum of strong women’s roles during World War II: A nurse on Bataan here in So Proudly We Hail! (1943), a wife and mother keeping the homes fires burning—and eventually going to work as a Rosie the Riveter here in Since You Went Away (1944), and in this film, certainly an impressive trilogy. 

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Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.

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