Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Movie Luggage

These days we have soft luggage made of lightweight material, with shoulder straps, a million zippered pockets, and quite often on wheels. We still struggle with our bags through airports (where our luggage is sometimes reduced to a clear plastic ziplock bag), struggle with jamming overstuffed suitcases in the ever-smaller trunks of cars, and drag on gummy wheels “pilot’s cases” on sprints through subways and train platforms.

George Bailey wanted a “great big” suitcase in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) to take with him on the wonderful adventures he was never to have. It was a hard boxy second-hand thing with no retractable handle and certainly no wheels. One wonders how far he could have gotten anyway.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen hustle to catch a train in “White Christmas” (1954) and lament they must leave behind their trunks. Their trunks? Their trunks with no wheels? Can you imagine traveling these days with a trunk? John Candy, maybe, in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Nobody else would dare.

Actually, Laurel and Hardy tried to take off with a neighbor lady in a trunk, twice -- once in “Unaccustomed As We Are,” (1929) and once in its remake of “Block-Heads” (1938), but didn’t get very far either time. Too unwieldy.

One of the iconic images of “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) was Dana Andrews’ hauling around an overstuffed army suitcase through the entire movie. It is with him at the beginning when he arrives home from the war, and at the end when he bitterly decides to leave his hometown. It is one of the few times I can remember where a suitcase actually looked heavy. He clearly struggles with it, leaning to keep his balance as it bangs against his hip. Usually the luggage carried in old movies looks light as a feather. The characters carry their worldly belongings and never seem out of breath.

That is, of course, because the suitcases are actually empty. The prop guy made sure Dana Andrews’ bag was stuffed to the gills. Even Gladys George won’t let him leave without an additional sweater.

Charlie Chaplin sometimes carried everything in a bandana tied to the end of his cane. Holds about as much as a clear plastic ziplock bag, so you can see how far we haven’t come.


J.C. Loophole said...

And how about the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera with the Marx Brothers? When Groucho enters his room with the oversized trunk- out pops stoyaways Chico and Harpo! Classic scene, that!
I had always thought it would be neat to pack one of those standing trunks that served as a traveling boudoir. It always seemed to indicate some long fascinating journey somewhere. Of course, nothing could be more obnoxious to travel and carry outside of the movies.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

That was a great scene! Thanks for remembering that one, J.C.

Yes, you have to admire those superior travelers in days of old with those trunks meticulously packed, sliding out suits and dresses on hangers. I especially admire the railway and steamship stickers pasted on the outside.
The last time I was in an airport, I peeled the sticker off my banana and stuck it to my plastic ziplock bag, but it wasn't the same somehow.

Thom said...

I like the old recurring Abbott and Costello comedy routine in which Lou has to keep packing and unpacking because Bud can't make up his mind to stay or leave: "pack that grip!...[Bud talks himself out of leaving the hotel]...wait a minute...unpack that grip!...[talks himself out of staying]...I said, pack that grip!...etc" And what better slang for a heavy handled suitcase than "grip?"

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by, Thom, and bringing Abbott and Costello with you. That's a great example of a classic suitcase scene. They made such great props, didn't they?

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