Prisoner of Love

RENDEZVOUS-ICON

Sneak away and enjoy two perfectly paired films, mood food and a classic attitude that’ll carry you through ’til the next rendezvous…

Roman Holiday blog 2  Trumbos out blog 2

THE FILMS: Roman Holiday (1953) starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn; Directed by WilliamWyler; Story by Dalton Trumbo (prior to 1993 credited to Ian McClellan Hunter) written by Dalton Trumbo (prior to 2011 uncredited), Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton; and Trumbo (2007) documentary, some of the actors featured: Paul Giamatti, Josh Lucas, Nathan Lane; Directed by Peter Askin; Written by Christopher Trumbo.

THE CONNECTION: One is a black-and-white, classic romantic comedy, set in post war Italy; the other a documentary about the black-listed Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, yet both, surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, tell the tale of true love, secrets, and sacrifice.

Roman Holiday vespaRoman Holiday stars Gregory Peck and, in her first American film, Audrey Hepburn, who plays Princess Anne. Uncomfortable in her official role and chafing against its demands, the young Princess runs away and meets Joe Bradley (Peck), a journalist. But he doesn’t tell her his real job; and she doesn’t tell him her real name. Though Joe quickly figures it out, he maintains the deception as the Princess experiences life as a commoner. Joe’s in pursuit of an exclusive scoop as he records her shopping, sightseeing, and dancing. She even gets her hair cut! But beneath the secrets and the lies, in the 24 hours spent together, Princess Anne and Joe fall in love.

In Trumbo, various actors and actresses read Dalton Trumbo’s letters written over the decades to family, friends and enemies, alike. The letters reveal a man of absolute convictions that you can either love him or hate him for. But, that he was a witty, self-aware, dedicated family man, is undeniable. A big secret gets revealed in this documentary: Dalton Trumbo was a hopeless romantic, completely and utterly devoted to his wife, Cleo.

Trumbos at hearing blog 1Trumbo was convicted in 1947 for Contempt of Congress, following his appearance before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee ( HUAC). While his case was going through the appeals process, Trumbo wrote Roman Holiday. Think about that. With a potential jail sentence looming, friends and writing assignments disappearing quicker than the spines of the Hollywood moguls, his name decried in newspapers, Dalton Trumbo sat down and wrote a romantic comedy for the ages!

The inspiration for Roman Holiday started with the headlines of the day, right next to the ones denouncing him, about the young Princess Elizabeth (the pre-coronation future Queen of England). She was in Malta to be near her husband, Prince Philip. Away from the pressures of the royal court, the Princess happily immersed herself in the life of a commoner: shopping, sightseeing, and dancing. The papers reported she even enjoyed the novelty of visiting a local hairdressing salon. Sound familiar?

But, as will happen with writers, something from deep within their hearts always seems to subconsciously end up on the page. And For Trumbo, what ended up on the page was a cinematic love letter to his wife that we all fell in love with.

Joe Bradley is a writer; Trumbo is a writer; Joe is keeping his identity a secret so he can do his job; Trumbo was keeping his identity a secret so that he could do his.  In speaking, ostensibly about his small apartment, Joe/Trumbo says: “Well, life isn’t aways what one likes, is it?” Princess Anne/Cleo, replies: “No, it isn’t.” Princess Anne and Joe fall in love within 24 hours. Trumbo proposed to Cleo the moment he saw her.Cleo Trumbo blog

Roman Holiday blog 1Proof that kismet exists, the same words can be used to describe both Audrey Hepburn and Cleo Trumbo: ‘petite,’ ‘dark-haired,’ ‘fine boned,’ ‘graceful’ and ‘natural beauty.’ Let it be said, however, that Trumbo bore absolutely no physical resemblance to the tall, dark and handsome Gregory Peck.

From one of his letters written to Cleo from prison, he reminded her of the night she needed a ride and called upon him. Recognizing it as a turning point in the story of his life, he reminiscences about that night when a “… weary, frightened, teary-eyed girl who got into my car was the luckiest night of my life.”

A teary-eyed Princess Anne and Joe have a turning point in their story played out in a car, also. Though for them it’s not the beginning of their time together; but the end. Trumbo rewrote his past to reflect his ominous present. He was acknowledging that there were forces in his own life, as in his characters,’ that were beyond his control and would have to be answered to. For Trumbo, that meant serving 11 months in a federal penitentiary in Ashland, Kentucky, becoming prisoner #7551.

But, remember the conclusion of his cinematic love letter? It’s a declaration of Trumbo’s absolute devotion to Cleo. He and Cleo had kept many secrets together; they had remained together in adversity and Trumbo,  hopeless romantic that he was, believed they would remain together even when apart. And, he was right! Their marriage remained intact throughout his incarceration and Dalton and Cleo Trumbo remained happily married until the ultimate separation came knocking at his door in 1976.

MOOD FOOD: What food? These are worlds of cigarettes and champagne. Smoking is strongly discouraged, so skip the cigarettes–unless they’re candy cigarettes (and yes, they still do make those). But, like the dialogue itself, floating on champagne is highly recommended. And gelato. By all means gelato.

CLASSIC ATTITUDE: Have convictions. Honor your convictions. Wrap them in a loving embrace and hold them above all else.

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Carriers of Precious Knowledge

I agree with Martin Scorsese in this essay he wrote for TCM. He calls all classic film fans, such as myself, to action! And as a Classic Film Columnist, I’m totally committed. How about you?

It’s interesting to consider the many different kinds of changes that have happened in cinema across the last few decades. Some took place suddenly and others took years or decades to occur. It seems to me that the world of movie appreciation, the shared understanding of movie history and its place in our lives, has been changing slowly but steadily. If you were to stop a stranger on the street 30 years ago and ask them who caroleHumphrey Bogart or the Marx Brothers or Carole Lombard were, they probably would have known because they were common reference points. Now, with the possible exception of Bogart, that seems unlikely. Things change. Several generations of stars and styles of acting have come and gone. Home video followed by digital restoration techniques followed by TCM and other classic film channels followed by DVDs, BluRays and streaming have made much of film history instantly accessible. But instant accessibility also makes it easier to take film history for granted. And as this was happening, many moviegoers (or watchers) have grown used to episodic television and superhero stories and their particular kindsof visual storytelling. I think it’s come to the point where much of the cinema’s past feels as distant as the Italian Renaissance. Those of us who know and love cinema are now carriers of precious knowledge. We have to hand it down and transmit it to future generations, like the book people at the end of Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451.

Devoted TCM fans know a lot about every one of the actors and actresses highlighted in this year’s edition of Summer Under the Stars, but at this point in time we have to start telling the stories of what these artists meant to younger people, not just why they mattered but how. For instance, how did an actor like Dana Andrews affect audiences? Who was he in relation to the other actors of his era – Frank Sinatra, for instance, who came to movies at roughly the same time, or an older actor who started in the early talkie era like Clark Gable? How did movie acting change during the span from Miriam Hopkins in The Stranger’s Return to Carroll Baker in Baby Doll to Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s pictures? What about an actor like Gary Cooper? If you glimpse a moment or two from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town or The Fountainhead on YouTube, you might not know what to make of him, but if you study his acting closely you can see that he was a real artist with an extremely sharp sense of the way he looked, moved and sounded on screen. If you pay close attention to Joan Crawford in Frank Borzage’s Mannequin, you can see a side of her that’s quite different from the standard image we get from clip reels. We watch these pictures with younger people who want to know and learn, and we pass down our knowledge as if it were a treasure. And, in the bargain, we get to see the films through new eyes.

by Martin Scorsese

Popcorn Sermons #4: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

“Popcorn Sermons” explores the religious symbolism in non-religious films. This month at the Museum of Russian Icons I presented the last film of my series, Frank Capra’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. I’m happy to report the room was packed and all enjoyed this cinematic ode to our better angels! Thanks to everyone who came out and enjoyed the films and the perspective.

mr. smith goes... MRI 2018

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) Directed by Frank Capra. Jefferson Smith, U.S. Senator (James Stewart) looks heavenward for the strength to continue his fight against the graft and corruption in the Senate by filibustering.

“You all think I’m licked. Well, I’m not licked. . . somebody will listen to me.”

Who else could utter those words but the incredibly idealistic and patriotic Junior Senator, Jefferson Smith, taking on political corruption by filibuster in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

For Capra, democracy and the teachings of Christianity were one and the same. In his autobiography, “Frank Capra: The Name Above The Title,” he recalls that while scouting locations for this film in D.C. he was overcome: “The Capital, the Supreme Court, the White House. Our Trinity of Liberty. Three in one and one in three.”

J. Stewart & J. ArthurWith that in mind, let’s introduce the main characters: Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the Christ figure. Jefferson means the son of the divinely peaceful one; Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) as Mary Magdalene. Clarissa means brilliant. Saunders is smart, but also, in the beginning, quite cynical. It’s her proximity to Jefferson that effects her. He renews within her a brilliant light, a faith in the goodness of humanity. And then it is she who consoles him when it all gets to be too much for him. She personifies a spiritual light, that leads Jeff out of his darkest hour; Senator Paine (Claude Rains) as Judas. The aptly named Senator’s nickname, “The Silver Knight,” foreshadowing the night Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver; and Abraham Lincoln (the statue at the Lincoln Memorial) as Abraham. Yes, here Lincoln represents the original Abraham, called our Father in Faith by Christian Churches. Capra presents The Lincoln Memorial as an American cathedral; light dramatically shinning in, men removing their hats, the Gettysburg Address recited as prayer. It’s a place of divine inspiration for Jefferson Smith.

Mr. Smith 2There’s a parallel in Christ’s journey and in Jeff’s. In presenting his bill for a National
Boys Camp, Jeff experiences a large, public outburst of support, (Palm Sunday). Those behind Senator Paine, and the graft within his bill surrounding the same piece of property, now deem Jeff a dangerous man. They (Priests & Scribes) plot against him. He’s accused of doing wrong and summoned before a committee. And like Christ, Jeff realizes that the truth before them is useless (“It’s you who say I am.”). He visits his “church” and cries in its shadows, a moment of weakness and doubt (Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane).

Even the dialogue evokes the presence of God. Clarissa encourages Jeff, who feels a fool, to stay and fight the corruption he sees, saying: “All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith.” Senator Paine tries to back out of the plot against Jeff with these words: “I don’t want any part in crucifying this boy.” And listen to JEfferson Smith, U. S. Senator, during his filibuster: “…abidth faith, hope, charity. Of these three, the greatest of these is charity.” He continues dramatically: “…lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for …because of just one, plain, simple rule: Love thy neighbor.”

Within this film boys are held up as the best hope for our future. Jeff works for the welfare of boys. He’s called a boy in a man’s world. It’s meant to be an insult, but is it? “Amen, I say to you whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

In the end, Jeff collapses. Paine’s guilt (like that of Judas) drives him to attempt suicide and hysterically confess. Realizing Jeff is okay, and as he’s carried out like Christ being taken off the cross, the crowd erupts into celebration. “Make a joyful noise to God; shout in triumph…” (Pslams 81:2)

The Senate President gives up trying to call for order and reveals that he too is just a boy in a man’s world. He pops a wad of gum into his mouth, leans back and takes in “the joyful noise” going on all around him.

Enjoy this moment of pure idealism brought to you by MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON:

Popcorn Sermons #3: FORCE OF EVIL

“Popcorn Sermons” explores the religious symbolism in non-religious films. Last month I presented the classic film noir FORCE OF EVIL at the beautiful Museum of Russian Icons. On August 19th I’ll be presenting Frank Capra’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. I invite all to come and enjoy this cinematic ode to our better angels and to participate, if you so choose to, in the discussion that follows.

Force Of Evil MRI 2018

Force of Evil (1948) written and directed by Abraham Polonsky. Young Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson) and brash Attorney Joe Morse (John Garfield) are stricken by the sight of his brother’s body, a victim of the force of evil.

“A man could spend the rest of his life trying to remember what he shouldn’t have said.”

Brash, young Attorney Joe Morse (John Garfield) is about to make his “first million dollars.” He’s helping gangster Ben Tucker go legit by first consolidating all the little number racket operators (banks) into one big powerful operation–his. But, Joe’s ailing, older brother, Leo (Thomas Gomez), a little ‘bank,’ wants no part of either Joe or Tucker. Sadly, the Force of Evil (1948) is too much for one, small-time, operator with a weak heart.

abraham-polonsky-george-barnes-john-garfield-force-of-evilForce of Evil has all the clichés of a great film noir: black & white photography, rapid fire dialogue, shadowy cityscapes, dames in black, mugs with guns. Yet, something about it moved the Library of Congress in 1994 to select it for preservation in its National Film Archive. Could it have been  because its inspiration is the story of Cain and Abel recast as brothers Joe and Leo Morse?

In the bible, Cain, the eldest, consumed with greed and envy, kills his younger brother Able. The roles here are reversed. Cain is Joe, the younger brother. The name Cain has various interpretations: son of perdition (damnation); father of secret societies (e.g. organized crime); and the inspiration for the title of this film, the power (or force) of evil. Abel, a shepherd, is Leo, the older brother. Leo is the good shepherd towards all who work for him, like young, innocent Doris and hapless Freddie Bauer.

To force Leo in, Joe has his ‘bank’ raided. Leo says to Joe as he gets out on bail: “All that Cain did to Abel was murder him.” Leo relents though, and joins Tucker’s gang. Later, Freddie panics, tips the police, and Leo’s ‘bank’ is raided a second time! Leo yells at him: “You want to get yourself killed?…I’ll kill you with my own hands rather than let you put the mark of Cain on my brother.”

forceevil4bigJoe, meanwhile, has turned his corrupting influence towards Doris (her name means beauty; both inside and out). He flirts and mocks her ethics. She tells him: “You’re a strange man, Mr. Morse, and a very evil one…It’s not wicked to give and want nothing back.” His response: “It’s perversion.”

The language of good and evil is punctuated throughout this film with shots of Trinity Church set against the skyscrapers of Wall Street, silently asking Joe (and us), “Who will you serve, God or mammon?” The answer is easy for Joe, until he discovers his phone is tapped. Realizing he’ll be investigated and disbarred, he confesses to Doris: “I didn’t have enough strength to resist corruption; but I was strong enough to fight for a piece of it.”

Abel is considered the first martyr to Christ. In one of the most stark cinematic translations of the betrayal of Jesus, Freddie (Judas) lures Leo (Christ) into a rival gangster’s trap set in a restaurant, late at night (Last Supper). There, Leo confides to Freddie his sensations of pain: “Y’know, sometimes you feel as though you’re dying here (rubs the palm of one hand) and here (touching the other hand) and here (rubbing his left side). You’re dying while your breathing.” It’s the stigmata! Gangsters (Roman soldiers) rush in and, like Christ, Leo is dragged away. Though not by his own hand, Freddie, vulnerable and scared among those who have only used him, is brutally killed.

When God asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” he answered defensively, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But Joe is no unrepentant Cain. When he learns Leo’s been kidnapped, he runs to Tucker, desperate to know: “Where’s my brother?”

Joe’s epiphany is hard won. He had morally descended. Now, watch the clip below, as he does so literally, symbolically, to find Leo’s dead body thrown against the rocks by the river.  Gone is Joe’s former bravado as he narrates: “…And I felt I had killed him. I turned back to give myself up…because if a man’s life can be lived for so long and come out this way…then something was horrible and had to be ended…And I decided to help.”

When Joe turns he sees Doris, and behind her, a lighthouse; both stand as beacons of light, forces of good, for him to now follow:

 

“Popcorn Sermons” Coming Attraction: MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. Both director Frank Capra, and Junior Senator Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) looked heavenward for inspiration in this 1939 classic that I’ll be showing August 19, at 1:30pm at the Museum of Russian Icons.

NEW New Year’s Resolution: The Top 20 Classic Films Set in New England

Uh-oh, bathing suit season’s here…need a NEW new year’s resolution? Why not make one that you’ll enjoy keeping? Like ‘Watch These Top 20 Classic Films Set In New England.”

The films on this list, some in glorious black and white; others in Technicolor, showcase the region’s natural beauty and are filled with unforgettable characters, compelling narratives and Yankee spirit to spare. They’ve earned countless Academy Awards, making them not only some of the top classic films set in New England, but some of the most iconic films ever made. 

A Summer Place1. A Summer Place (1959) – ME: Melodrama

Marrying the wrong person never makes life any easier but things are guaranteed to get really complicated if the off-spring of both of those unhappy unions (Sandra Dee, Troy Donahue) fall in love themselves. This is exactly what happens at a summer place off the coast of Maine. Add divorce and remarriage and watch as emotions clash with duty, and duty clashes with regret, forcing passions to explode among the pine trees and the salt air!

 

Fear Strikes Out2. Fear Strikes Out (1957) – CT: Sports Bio Pic

Bio pic of Waterbury, Connecticut native and Boston Red Sox outfielder, Jimmy Piersall (Anthony Perkins) who was relentlessly driven from childhood by a domineering father (Karl Malden). Perkins portrays Piersall with increasingly resentful, paranoid, and fearful eyes that silently chart his path to both the big leagues and a nervous breakdown. Piersall was brave to make his story public in the 1950s; Perkins, absolutely fearless in his total commitment in portraying that story.

Johnny Tremain3. Johnny Tremain (1957) – MA: History

It’s 1773 in Boston, Massachusetts, and a young silversmith’s apprentice, Johnny Tremain, falls in with the Sons of Liberty and their fight for American Independence. He soon realizes how important the ideals of human liberty are for everyone. There’s an effort here to be historically accurate in portraying the Boston Tea Party and The Battle at Lexington Concord in all the quirkiness, confusion and even mundaneness, inherit in any conflict, in any century.

Peyton Place4. Peyton Place (1957) – NH: Melodrama

Prim and proper gets messy and real in this melodrama extraordinaire set in Peyton Place, New Hampshire, where gossip and repression affect the adults and those coming-of-age. It’s where everyone, including Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner) the seemingly perfect widow, seems to have a secret: child-out-of-wedlock, rape, alcoholism, suicide, even murder. Add the start of WWII and watch the price of keeping those secrets grow even higher.

Carousel5. Carousel (1956) – ME: Musical

Set in a small, seaside town in Maine, this Rodgers & Hammerstein musical revolves around Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae), a rough carousel barker, and Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones), an innocent mill worker. They fall in love, but their union isn’t an easy one. There are clambakes, lobsters and ‘A-yuhs’ uttered even in heaven in this beloved, though bittersweet, tale that comforts its audience with the transcendent, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Moby Dick6. Moby Dick (1956) – MA: Drama

Great adaptation of the classic tale of New Bedford, Massachusetts’ Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck) and his obsessive pursuit of Moby Dick, the white whale that took his leg. Filmed so that the color itself is but an echo of reality, the questions raised are big and eternal, right out of the Old Testament. Like the crew, you may feel that you’re between Elijah and a hard place – and you are!

High Society7. High Society (1956) – RI: Musical

It’s ‘The Philadelphia Story’ redux, this time swinging to the music of Cole Porter and moved to the milieu of Newport, Rhode Island. Tabloid reporters (Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm) invade the society wedding of Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly), who’s still pursued by her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby). Everyone is so beautiful and so very beautifully dressed. Grab a glass of champagne and sing along to the regionally-accent inspired, “Well, Did You Evah?”

All That Heaven Allows8. All That Heaven Allows (1955) – CT: Melodrama

Allow yourself to enter this celluloid world without judgement. If you do so, some eternal dynamics of the human heart, as true in the 1950s as they are now, will be revealed. Enjoy the stylistic path that director Douglas Sirk sets lonely widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) on as she learns to defy the small-town gossip of her tony Connecticut suburb when she falls for handsome Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), her young landscaper.

The Trouble With Harry9. The Trouble With Harry (1955) – VT: Murder Mystery

It’s a Hitchcock rom-com/murder mystery set near Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont. There, a young couple (Shirley MacLaine, John Forsythe) meet over a corpse named Harry; a corpse no one seems to know quite what to do with. Upon seeing the young lovers, an old tugboat captain opines, “Marriage is a good way to spend the winter.” The humor is all Hitchcock, dark and droll; the scenery is all Vermont, bright and glorious!

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House10. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) – CT: Comedy

A New York ad man and his wife (Cary Grant, Myrna Loy) dream of a country home in Connecticut. It eventually becomes a reality but not until everything that could possibly go wrong with a fixer-upper, does! If for no other reason, watch this film to enjoy the scene where Loy describes to her painter – in detail – the different colors she’d like for each room of her brand new home.

A Stolen Life11. A Stolen Life (1946) – MA: Drama

The only thing more fun than watching Bette Davis play a stinker, is watching her play a stinker to herself. Here Davis plays twins, one good; one bad. When the stinker sinks into the sea off the coast of Nantucket Island during a storm and drowns, good-Bette takes her place as the wife of the man (Glen Ford) that they both loved. Complications, as you might imagine, ensue.

MBDCHIN EC01212. Christmas in Connecticut (1945) – CT: Comedy

Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) writes the most successful homemaking column in America. Only problem is she has no home and she can’t boil water! Unaware, her publisher forces her to host a war hero, Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), over the holidays. Cue the zaniness as love prevails among the rural folk of Connecticut, who provide additional home front flavor. And once you see Morgan in uniform (swoon!) you’ll understand why what happens, happens.

Now Voyager13. Now Voyager (1942) – MA: Drama

Charlotte Vale (Massachusetts’ own Bette Davis), a repressed spinster from a wealthy Boston family, has a nervous breakdown following years of emotional abuse from her mother. Transformed by psychiatry, and the love of a married man, Jerry (Paul Henreid), Charlotte is transformed. She creates a life made of her own choices; her own sacrifices. Poignantly summed up in the famous line: “Jerry, let’s not ask for the moon. We have the stars.”

I Married a Witch14. I Married A Witch (1942) – MA: Comedy

This is a supernatural farce that begins in 1770 in Roxford, Massachusetts where the Puritans have just burned a witch (Veronica Lake) at the stake. Laughing yet? You will. Lake plays her witch as minx, returning to bewitch Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) the hapless descendent of the man responsible for her death. Wally hasn’t a chance against witches, brides and curses, for as we know, love is confusing enough for us mere mortals as it is.

Bringing Up Baby15. Brining Up Baby  (1938) – CT: Screwball Comedy

Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn), a madcap heiress, (is there any other kind?) upsets the buttoned-down world of Professor of Paleontology, Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) in this delightful screwball comedy. Somehow, in trying to secure $1 million dollars for his museum, David and Susan end up running around Connecticut in pursuit of a leopard named Baby, a dog named George and a dinosaur bone that’s gone missing.

Captains Courageous16. Captains Courageous (1937) – MA: Drama

Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew), is a spoiled, little, rich boy. On a steamship with his father, he falls overboard and is rescued by a fishing boat out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. There, he’s made to work to earn his keep for the remaining three months of the boat’s journey. A Portuguese sailor, Manuel Fidello (Spencer Tracy) teaches this ‘little fish’ what it is to be a man, one of faith and honor.

Stella Dallas17. Stella Dallas (1937) – MA: Drama

Stella (Barbara Stanwyck), a millworker’s daughter from Millhampton, Massachusetts, marries into society when she weds Stephen Dallas. Together they have a baby girl, Laurel. But, Stella is a broad, (and Stanwyck plays her broadly). She’s uncouth and unlikeable. You totally get why her husband takes a job in another state. So, trust me, you’ll be surprised how your heart will break and your tears will flow when you watch Stella sacrifice everything for the happiness of her beloved child.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town3. Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) – VT: Comedy

When Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) from Mandrake Falls, Vermont inherits $20 million dollars, he suddenly has to deal with the denizens of New York City and all their deceptions. The prettiest one being newspaper reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur). Vermont stands tall and proud in the lanky frame of Mr. Deeds, who embodies common sense and individual dignity and is almost declared insane for simply trying to do good.

Captain January2. Captain January (1936) – ME: Musical

In Cape Tempest, Maine a kindly, old lighthouse keeper, Captain January (Guy Kibbee), takes care of Star (Shirley Temple), the child he saved from a shipwreck. All is well until a vindictive truancy officer vows to take the orphaned Star away from January and put her into an institution. Temple’s charm and pluck impresses even today. And what a trooper her Star is, hoofing it with the grown-ups and out shining them all at every turn!

Little Women1. Little Women (1933) – MA: Drama

A tale of sisterhood, self-reliance and charity set among the four March sisters of Concord, Massachusetts. Along with their beloved mother, ‘Marmee,’ they band together, longing for their father’s return from the Civil War. Born to play Jo March, Yankee Katherine Hepburn can still bring a lump to your throat in this story set in the 19th century, filmed in the 20th, and still worth viewing in the 21st.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Popcorn Sermons #2: MARTY

On June 3rd I presented the film MARTY at the beautiful Museum of Russian Icons. This is an abridged version of that presentation which was made all the more richer by the insights, comments and questions of the audience members in our discussion that followed the film.

“Whaddya feel like doin’ tonight?”    I dunno, Angie. Whaddya feel like doin?”

These lines could only be from one film, Marty (1955). The story of 34-year-old Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) a lonely butcher who lives with his widowed mother (Esther Minciotti) in the Bronx. 

There’ve been many films about lonely people trying to find someone to marry. Why has this film’s emotional power lasted for over 60 years? There are no big name actors; no fancy camera work; no epic musical score. It’s just a Saturday night and Marty and his friend, Angie, are trying to figure out “Whaddya feel like doin?”

Maybe it’s because it illustrates with simple, heartfelt, humanity the words of the gospel according to Mark 6:4 “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” For if you change the prophet’s occupation from carpenter to butcher, make his native place the Bronx; the kin, his extended family and friends; and the house personified by his widowed mother, you’ve got the words of St. Mark set in a working-class Italian-American neighborhood in the 1950s. You’ve got Marty. A Bronx prophet who lives by the words of Luke 6:31 “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

But, after years of rejection on the dating scene, Marty, who everyone agrees is a nice guy, has given up on himself, believing he’s too fat and ugly for any woman to love. His mother encourages him to the point of harassment, “You gonna die without a son!” to go to the Stardust Ballroom and try just one more to meet someone.  And, under the man-made glow of the mirrored dance ball, Marty does meet someone. He meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a shy school teacher from Brooklyn who’s as lonely as he is.

The saying goes: love is blind, but isn’t just the opposite true? Doesn’t love help us to see clearly, beyond appearances and circumstances, right to the heart and soul of another? Marty and Clara see each other for the wonderful gifts they truly are.

But then native place, kin and house weigh in. A Bronx buddy meets Marty with a car full of women: “These squirrels are nurses. Money in the bank, man” and asks Marty if he wants to join them. Angie ignores Clara all together and wants Marty to come with him as: “There’s still plenty action around.” His mother asks Clara a trick question: “You don’t think my sister Caterina should live in her daughter-in-law’s house?” 

But Marty remains faithful to himself and to Clara throughout the night.

He happily awakens Sunday morning, knowing he has plans to see Clara that evening. He holds his cousin’s baby, symbolizing the new life Marty feels he’s starting for himself. But, native place, kin and house don’t let up and Marty, without Clara by his side, falters.

Borgnine portrayed Marty with a physicality that revealed more about the man than words ever could. I defy anyone to watch his performance and not get a lump in their throat. At the Stardust Ballroom, he awkwardly practices a few steps before asking a woman to dance; or the hug that follows the small, tentative kiss between he and Clara. His hug is like that of a drowning man who’s just been thrown a life preserver. And, as if in prayer, Marty closes his eyes 3 times in the film, sending up a silent, simple, desperate, “Help me.” Once, when he’s rejected by a girl he’s called; again when Clara tells him she likes him and lastly when he’s back where he began, miserable and lonely with the guys, wondering: “Whaddya feel like doin’ tonight?”

Mark’s gospel continues “…And their lack of faith made it impossible for him to perform any miracles.”

But, that third time, when Marty opens his eyes, he sees his world clearly. “What am I hangin’ around with you guys for!? …I had a good time last night. I’m gonna have a good time tonight. If we have enough good times together,…I’m gonna beg that girl to marry me!” Marty rushes to the pay phone, closes the door on his past “Excuse me, Angie” and greets his future “Hello, Clara.”

And a miracle has been performed, one that with a little faith we can all experience: Love.

 Please join me on July 15, at 1:30pm at the Museum of Russian Icons  for the 3rd film in my Popcorn Sermons series. It’s a classic film noir with rapid fire dialogue, dames in black, and mugs with guns. It’s also the story of Cain and Abel, recast as brothers Joe (John Garfield) and Leo (Thomas Gomez) Morse caught up in the FORCE OF EVIL.

Popcorn Sermons #1: ON THE WATERFRONT

On The Waterfront

On The Waterfront (1954) directed by Elia Kazan. Father Barry (Karl Malden) and Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint) minister to the body and soul of Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) after a beating by union thugs.

“I coulda been a contender.”

You hear those words and you know the movie. It’s On The Waterfront (1954), the story of Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) a once promising fighter now considered a ‘bum,’ and a lackey for the mobsters ruling the longshoremen’s union. He suffers a pang of guilt following his part in the death of Joey Doyle, a fellow dockworker ready to testify against them. The situation intensifies as Terry falls in love with Edie (Eva Marie Saint), Joey’s sister, who’s determined to find her brother’s killer. It becomes even more complicated once the parish priest, Fr. Barry (Karl Malden), gets involved.

Legendary acting by Marlon Brando? Gritty, crime drama? Maybe even a tender love story? But did you ever think of On The Waterfront as the story of Christ on the docks? A morality play in black-and-white, all about redemption.

The ‘black’ is union boss, John Friendly. His name itself a warning: beware the devil disguised as your friend! It’s no coincidence that Friendly is photographed mostly at night, in back rooms, bars, or in his union shack; the waterfront’s own man-made hells.

The ‘white’ is Edie. As the only blond in the movie she stands in stark contrast to others and is a symbol of goodness. She seems an angel, her faith and devotion a beacon to all. Crucifixes often hang on the walls behind her, but, she’s also framed by ‘found’ crucifixes. For example, when on the tenement rooftop, crosses appear among the fields of TV antennas stretching out behind her.

The redemption is that of Terry Malloy, the Christ figure of the movie. In the gospel according to Matthew 1:1-16, Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob, Jacob begat…etc., to establish Jesus’ lineage.

In the film, Terry’s identified as the chosen one through the symbolism of Joey Doyle’s jacket. Upon Joey’s death, his father, ‘Pop’ Doyle, gives it to another dockworker, Dugan. Dugan soon feels the same moral strength as Joey did to testify against the ‘pistoleros’ but then he too is killed before he can do so. Edie then gives the jacket to Terry. The lineage from Joey to Dugan to Terry complete. Though it’s not until the final scene that Terry actually puts the jacket on.

And what a great climatic scene it is. I believe its power owes a lot to the symbolism and imagery borrowed from the first 9 Stations of the Cross. Judge for yourself as Terry, following his testimony before the Crime Commission, goes down to the docks to confront John Friendly:

Terry Malloy’s own Via Dolorosa

1. Jesus is condemned to death; Terry, too, stands condemned; abandoned, scorned.

His fellow longshoremen do nothing as he’s beaten up by Friendly’s thugs (Roman soldiers).

2. Jesus carries His cross; Terry carries the longshoremen’s hook; the cross of the workingman on the docks.

3. Jesus falls the first time; Terry stumbles back. 

4. Jesus meets his mother, 5. Simon helps Jesus to carry his cross, 6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; Edie personifies all three stations as she tries to wipe Terry’s face, console, help him.

7. Jesus falls a second time; Terry stumbles a second time.

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem; Edie tries to reach Terry, but is stopped.

9. Jesus falls a third time; Terry stumbles a third time.

It’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking.

The Shipper yells “All right, let’s go to work!”

Terry, redeemed in everyone’s eyes, including his own, enters the cargo area first. The church teaches that Christ’s suffering allows us to enter into the kingdom of heaven, Terry’s suffering allows the longshoremen to enter into their own version of heaven on the docks: an honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work.

The cargo door closes. ‘Friendly,’ has been cast out for good!