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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.

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