My son and I saw Dunkirk (2017) yesterday. I was looking forward to seeing it, but I am afraid I found it disappointing overall. My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect.
Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.
This is a repeat from a post last year, but I think the logic behind the post still holds true. I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price paid to establish our liberties. It is trite to say that freedom is not free, but it is also true. Winning the American Revolution took eight years and it was a definite David v. Goliath upset. A people who forget this eternal lesson will not remain free for long.
A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution. Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:
10. Ben and Me (1953)- Something for the younger patriots. Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos. Quite a bit of fun. Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.
9. The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton. This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie. Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.
8. John Paul Jones (1959) Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero. Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great. The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days. The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong. This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900. Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications. Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison. Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.
7. The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution! Actually not too bad of a film overall. Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes. Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign. The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English. No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive. However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender. The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.
6. Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley. Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life.
I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!
Eliot Ness, The Untouchables (1987)
Hard to believe it is 30 years since The Untouchables (1987) movie was released. My bride and I saw it in Joliet that year and we both loved it. A year or two later and I was sitting next to one of the last of the surviving members of Al Capone’s gang. A truckdriver for Capone, he had invested in Central Illinois farmland and by the time I knew him he was a grey headed and kindly great grandfather. I never worked up the courage to ask him if Capone had asked him to bury some gangland slaying victims in the ground he purchased, as local rumor indicated.
The film was magnificent with the screenplay by David Mamet and the haunting, and period appropriate, musical score by Henry Mancini. De Niro gave the performance of his career as Capone and Sean Connery, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance, was completely believable as honest cop Jimmy Malone, joining Ness in his crusade against the corruption that sickened Malone. Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness was superb as an innocent who learns the terrible cost that is sometimes demanded when evil is confronted.
“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”
Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.
A few films to help remember that there is much greater significance to Memorial Day than sun and fun:
1. American Sniper(2015)- A grand tribute to the late Chris Kyle and to all the other troops who served in Iraq.
“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
2. Hamburger Hill (1987)- A moving film about our troops in Vietnam who served their nation far better than their too often ungrateful nation served them.
3. Porkchop Hill (1959)-Korea has become to too many Americans The Forgotten War, lost between World War II and Vietnam. There is nothing forgotten about it by the Americans who served over there, including my Uncle Ralph McClarey who died a few years ago, and gained a hard won victory for the US in one of the major hot conflicts of the Cold War. This film tells the story of the small American force on Porkchop Hill, who held it in the face of repeated assaults by superior forces of the Chinese and North Koreans. As the above clip indicates it also highlights the surreal element that accompanies every war and the grim humor that aspect often brings.
4. Hacksaw Ridge (2016): Mel Gibson fully redeemed his career as a director with this masterpiece. A film that goes far beyond mere entertainment and illustrates what a man of faith can accomplish when he stays true to his beliefs and cares so much more about helping others than he does about his own mortal life. Incredibly, the movie does justice to Desmond Doss, a true American hero.
5. Sergeant York(1941)-A film biopic of Sergeant Alvin C. York, who, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on October 8, 1918, took 32 German machine guns, killed 28 German soldiers and captured another 132. Viewers who came to see the movie in 1941 must have been initially puzzled. With a title like Sergeant York, movie goers could have been forgiven for thinking that Sergeant York’s experiences in World War I would be the focus, but such was not the case. Most of the film is focused on York’s life in Tennessee from 1916-1917 before American entry into the war. Like most masterpieces, the film has a strong religious theme as we witness York’s conversion to Christ. The film is full of big questions: How are we to live? Why are we here? What role should religion play in our lives? How does someone gain faith? What should we do if we perceive our duty to God and to Country to be in conflict? It poses possible answers to these questions with a skillful mixture of humor and drama. The entertainment value of Sergeant York conceals the fact that it is a very deep film intellectually as it addresses issues as old as Man.
The film was clearly a message film and made no bones about it. The paper of the film industry Variety noted at the time: “In Sergeant York the screen has spoken for national defense. Not in propaganda, but in theater.”
The film was a huge success upon release in 1941, the top grossing film of the year. Gary Cooper justly earned the Oscar for his stellar performance as Alvin C. York. It was Cooper’s favorite of his pictures. “Sergeant York and I had quite a few things in common, even before I played him in screen. We both were raised in the mountains – Tennessee for him, Montana for me – and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up. Sergeant York won me an Academy Award, but that’s not why it’s my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I was portraying a good, sound American character.”
The film portrays a devout Christian who had to reconcile the command to “Love thy Neighbor” with fighting for his country in a war. This is not an easy question and the film does not give easy answers, although I do find the clip above compelling.
My family and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and I found it hilarious. Rocket Raccoon steals every scene he is in. I was going to write a review but my friend Darwin Catholic has a review I doubt I could surpass:
Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!
Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.
Judgment at Nuremberg, (1961)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), loosely based on the trial of German jurists after World War II, is a powerful film. Burt Lancaster, an actor of the first calibre, gives the performance of his career as Ernst Janning. The early portion of the movie makes clear that Ernst Janning is in many ways a good man. Before the Nazis came to power Janning was a world respected German jurist. After the Nazis came to power evidence is brought forward by his defense counsel that Janning attempted to help people persecuted by the Nazis, and that he even personally insulted Hitler on one occasion. Janning obviously despises the Nazis and the other judges who are on trial with him. At his trial he refuses to say a word in his defense. He only testifies after being appalled by the tactics of his defense counsel. His magnificent and unsparing testimony convicts him and all the other Germans who were good men and women, who knew better, and who failed to speak out or to act against the Nazis. Janning’s testimony tells us that sins of omission can be as damning as sins of commission. When he reveals that he sentenced a man to death he knew to be innocent because of pressure from the Nazi government, we can only agree with his bleak assessment that he reduced his life to excrement. Yet we have to respect Janning. It is a rare man who can so publicly take responsibility for his own evil acts.
Yet even this respect is taken away from Janning in the final scene of the film where he attempts to justify himself to Judge Haywood, superbly portrayed by Spencer Tracy, by saying that he never believed that it would all come to the millions of dead in the concentration camps. Judge Haywood delivers his verdict on this attempt by Janning to save some shred of self-respect: “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”
I have a crowded day today. The centerpiece is six bankruptcy first meetings of creditors that will extend from noon to two-thirty PM. As is usually the case when I am in a hearing over the lunch hour, I will grab some fast food in my travels and eat in my car. About 50% of the time the food comes from a McDonald’s, as will be the case today. (No, having done this for thirty-five years I neither lose control of the car nor suffer from indigestion, although sometimes my ties end up the worse for wear.)
On Sunday my bride and I watched the Blu-ray of Founder (2017) the biopic starring Michael Keaton in the role of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. The film is a dark comedy and Michael Keaton’s manic comedic drive is a good fit for the film. The film tells a somewhat fictionalized tale of how Ray Kroc took the idea of the McDonald brothers for fast service of hamburgers, fries and pop and turned it into a globe-spanning corporation.
The film depicts Kroc as both hero and villain. Without his endless energy and resourcefulness the McDonald’s concept of fast food would have remained in San Bernardino and a handful of southwest locations. However, Kroc is also shown cheating the brothers and divorcing his wife of 39 years to pursue a younger woman. The latter charge is correct. It is even worse than the film depicts. When the younger woman did not divorce her husband, Kroc married wife number two and dumped her and married the younger woman, Joan Kroc, in 1969 when she finally did divorce her first husband and became wife number three. That tells you all you need to know about Ray Kroc as a human being. However, the wheel always comes round. Joan Kroc was a liberal airhead who gave away Kroc’s hard earned fortune after his death to such worthless causes as a million bucks to the Democrat party and 235 million to NPR. Ray Kroc, who was a political conservative, was doubtless grinding his teeth in the world to come. Hopefully he wasn’t outraged by the billion and a half she left on her death to the Salvation Army, a worthy cause. The allegation that Kroc cheated the McDonald brothers by denying them royalties is an urban myth. Kroc had to scramble to raise the 2.7 million they wanted as a buyout in 1961, the equivalent today, after taxes, of eight million apiece. When Kroc suggested that they accept installment payments, the brothers said they might as well then continue getting their royalties of 0.5% per annum of the franchise profits. It was understood that no royalties would be paid to the brothers after the sale. Kroc was a rough business man, but an outright cheat, no.
My bride and I went to see The Case for Christ last Saturday. I must admit to some trepidation on my part. I have seen quite a few “Christian” films that had their hearts in the right place but were also simply bad, even laughably bad, films. I was fearful this film would be more of the same. I am pleased to report that The Case for Christ is a very good film, and a profound one. I heartily endorse it for anyone who wishes to see a well-acted and well-made film that asks profound questions about the human condition. My review is below the fold and the usual caveat about spoilers is in full force:
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), perhaps the greatest of Westerns, contains this gem of a scene with John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jimmy Stewart, Strother Marvin, Lee Van Cleef and Woody Strode. Marvin as Liberty Valance is the archetypal mercenary gunslinger, his days, and the days of his kind, about to come to an end. Wayne as Tom Doniphon, rancher, is the obverse of Marvin, a man just as tough as Valance, if not tougher, but no bully. However, his time is also closing. Their destroyer? The almost clown like figure of Ransom Stoddard, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart. He knows nothing about guns, but he knows a lot about law, and law and civilization are fast coming to the range. This is John Ford’s eulogy to the Old West, and to this type of Western.
I was watching the movie Captains Courageous with my bride last night, the 1937 film based on Kipling’s novel of the same name. I was struck by the performance of Spencer Tracy as Manuel Fidello, for which he won an Oscar, the happy go lucky Portuguese fisherman who rescues a spoiled rich kid from the sea, Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew), and who helps put his feet on the path to becoming a good man. Not a learned man, he has a deep faith as symbolized by the crucifix he wears around his neck and this bit of dialogue from the movie:
Harvey: Has your father been dead a long time?
Manuel: Six year, next month. Seem a long, long time.
Harvey: How did he die?
Manuel: He drown off Cape Sable in storm. Wave come at night and wash him overboard.
Harvey: Didn’t they find him?
Harvey: Oh, l’m sorry.
Manuel: What you sorry about?
Harvey: Well, l mean your father. They didn’t find him.
Manuel: What they need find him for? He all right.
Harvey: Well, but, drowning out in the ocean, all alone at night….
Manuel: Well, what’s trouble about that? That fine way. The Savior, he take my father up to fisherman’s heaven… up with all his old friends. Quick he take him up. Quick. Just like l pull up this 35-pound fish. The Savior, He see my father all tired and wet down there in the water. So he light the harbor buoy and he say: ”Come on up, old Manuel… ”l so happy you come up here to help us fish.” And my father, he say, ”Thank you. ”l very happy to come up, too. And maybe l show you something about fishing up here, huh?” And then they all laugh. And the Savior, He put his arm around my father… and He give him brand-new dory to fish in.
Harvey: You think they really fish in heaven?
Manuel: Why, sure they fish in heaven. What else they do? The Apostles, they all fishermen, l think. You remember that Simon, called Peter? Remember that time when… he don’t catch no fish in the sea of Galilee? And the Savior, He stand on the shore and He say: ”Simon, you throw your net on the right side.” And Simon, he throw his net on the right side… and he catch so many fish, his net, it almost break in two. l think the Savior, He the best fisherman. But my father, he come next. And not fishing like this. Oh, no, no. Fish bite all time. When no more fish, the Savior, He make more fish. He make more fish. He make more bread. He make more wine. And at night He stand watch all by Himself. He say: ”Good night, fishermen. You tired now. Go to your bunks. ”And no snorings, please. Good night, Manuel’s father.” Oh, that very nice place. Oh. Sometimes l think l go there right now. Then l say, ”Now, whoa, Manuel. ‘You gotta be better fisherman first. That Savior, He only give dories to first-class fishermen, like your father.” So l keep on fishing. l no hurry. l know my father keep place for me in his dory.
The film Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece, was controversial at its release and remains so. At three hours the film was a pioneering effort using then cutting age technology to produce a movie that stunned viewers with its cinematic quality, something that no one had ever seen before. At the same time the film, based on the pro-Ku Klux Klan novel the Clansman by Thomas Dixon, a friend of President Woodrow Wilson, drew outrage from Grand Army of the Republic Union veterans and black groups with its depiction of the Klan as noble heroes attempting to fight against evil Unionists and its depiction of blacks as little better than beasts who walked erect. Race riots broke out in cities where the film was shown. President Wilson viewed the film in the White House and was reported to have said, “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true”. The White House denied the remark, and in the wake of continuing protests, Wilson eventually condemned the “unfortunate production”. The film used quotes from Wilson’s scholarly works to buttress its negative depiction of Reconstruction and its positive depiction of the Klan. Considering the fact that Wilson imposed segregation on the Civil Service it is difficult to discern what he found to be “unfortunate” about the film.
What is it with liberals and coups? Recently several liberals, including entertainer? Sarah Silverman, and Obama era Pentagon bureaucrat Sarah Brooks, have been calling for/predicting a military coup against the Trump administration. Such fools have no concept of our military where the officers are trained from day one of their careers in the essential fact of civilian control of the military. If the impossible ever happened and some rogue faction of the military ever did move against Trump, the shots fired in such a coup attempt would merely be the opening shots in Civil War II. Liberals have often fantasized about a conservative military coup against the government of the United States, perhaps most famously in the novel and film of the Sixties entitled Seven Days in May. From current calls for a military coup emanating from the portside of our politics, such concerns about a conservative coup apparently were a case of the left projecting upon the right what the left would be tempted to do if confronted by a civilian government they viewed as a menace.
Hard to believe that it is more than half a century since the film Seven Days in May (1964) was released. Directed by John Frankenheimer with a screenplay by Rod Serling based on a novel published in 1962, the movie posits a failed coup attempt in the United States, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, played by Burt Lancaster, being the would be coup leader. Kirk Douglas plays Scott’s aide Marine Corps Colonel Martin Casey who, while agreeing with Scott that President Jordan Lyman’s nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets is a disaster, is appalled when he learns of the proposed coup, and discloses it to the President, portrayed by Frederic March.
The film is an example of liberal paranoia in the early sixties and fears on the port side of our politics of a coup by some “right wing” general. The film is unintentionally hilarious if one has served in our military, since the idea of numerous generals agreeing on a coup and keeping it secret, even from their own aides, is simply ludicrous. Our military leaks like a sieve, and general officers almost always view each other as competitors for political favor, rather than as co-conspirators.
Ironies abound when the film is compared to reality:
(I first posted this in 2014. It is worthy of another posting.)
Back when I was a boy, I watched entirely too much television. Of course, who could blame me? Tempted by a luxuriant three, count them, three channels, albeit one of them fuzzy in bad weather, to choose from! However, I do not regret watching the Early Show on Channel 3. Back in those bygone days, many stations would run old movies from the thirties, forties and fifties, between 3:00 PM-5:00 PM. Thus I first experienced some of the classics of cinema, and one of my favorites was Double Indemnity, 1944, the first of the film noire genre. Adultery and murder were perhaps too mature topics for me in my initial pre-teen viewings, but I was fascinated by it because it seemed to be a playing out on screen of what I was learning at the time from The Baltimore Catechism: that sin will lead inevitably to destruction unless contrition and amendment are made. The film was fortunate to have at its center three masters of the craft of acting.
Fred MacMurray, born in Kankakee, Illinois, 37 miles from my abode, in 1907, was a good guy in real life and usually in reel life. A firm Catholic and staunch Republican, he tried to join the military after Pearl Harbor but a punctured ear drum kept him out of service. He adopted a total of four kids with his two wives: his first wife dying from cancer in 1953, and his second wife remaining his wife until his death. (Such fidelity was as rare in Hollywood then as it is now.) On screen MacMurray played to type and was almost always a good guy, but not always, and it is ironic that the two best performances of his career came when he played bad guys: weak, lustful and doomed Walter Neff in Double Indemnity and the scheming, cowardly Lieutenant Thomas Keefer in The Caine Mutiny.
Barbara Stanwyck had a Dickensian childhood from which she was lucky to emerge alive, her mother dying of a miscarriage and her father going off to work on the Panama Canal and never being heard from again. A series of foster homes followed, which Ruby Catherine Stevens, as Stanwyck was then named, constantly ran away from. Dropping out of school at 14 to begin working, she never looked back. Breaking into show business by becoming a dancer in the Ziegfield Follies at age 16, she was a star on broadway in the play Burlesque before she turned 20. Changing her name to Barbara Stanwyck, she broke into films immediately thereafter, displaying a flair for both drama and comedy, specializing in strong independent women. Her personal, as opposed to her professional, life was a mess. Married in 1928 to her Burlesque co-star Frank Fay, they adopted a son, Stanwyck having been rendered sterile by an abortion at 15. The marriage ended in divorce in 1935, Fay during the marriage often slapping Stanwyck around when he was drunk. Stanwyck got custody of their son. Stanwyck was a hovering and authoritarian mother, leading to a life long alienation from her son after he became an adult. Stanwyck married actor Robert Taylor in 1939, and, after numerous acts of infidelity on both sides, divorced in 1950. Ironically Stanwyck and Taylor did stay friends after their divorce, Stanwyck, who never remarried, referring to him as the true love of her life. In her politics Stanwyck was a staunch conservative Republican who supported the investigations of Congress into Communist infiltration into Hollywood. Remaining in demand as an actress almost until her death in 1990, she filled her last years with charitable work. Stanwyck was well equipped by her own tumultuous life to give depth to her portrayal of the murderous, scheming Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.
Although remembered today chiefly for his gangster roles and his portrayal of the rat-like Dathan in The Ten Commandments, Edward G. Robinson was actually an actor with a very broad range of work: comedies, dramas, historical epics, you name it. By 1944 he was age 51 and realized that his days as a leading man were coming to a close. His half comedic role as the insurance claims adjuster Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity he viewed as a step in his transition to being a character actor. Always a liberal, Robinson was blacklisted in Hollywood due to his affiliation with Communist front groups. Robinson admitted as much by an article he wrote for the American Legion Magazine entitled “How the Reds Made a Sucker Out of Me”. His comeback came when anti-Communist director Cecil B. DeMille, who thought that Robinson had been treated unfairly, cast him in the scene-stealing role of Dathan in The Ten Commandments.
“Like my Master, I shall die upon the cross. Like him, a lance will pierce my heart so that my blood and my love can flow out upon the land and sanctify it to his name.”
Saint Paul Miki, statement before his martyrdom in 1597 in Japan
Bishop Barron has a good hard look at Martin Scorsese’s movie Silence, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endo about two Jesuit missionaries who apostatized in Seventeenth century Japan:
The next day, in the presence of Christians being horrifically tortured, hung upside down inside a pit filled with excrement, he is given the opportunity, once more, to step on a depiction of the face of Christ. At the height of his anguish, resisting from the depth of his heart, Rodrigues hears what he takes to be the voice of Jesus himself, finally breaking the divine silence, telling him to trample on the image. When he does so, a cock crows in the distance. In the wake of his apostasy, he follows in the footsteps of Ferreira, becoming a ward of the state, a well-fed, well-provided for philosopher, regularly called upon to step on a Christian image and formally renounce his Christian faith. He takes a Japanese name and a Japanese wife and lives out many long years in Japan before his death at the age of 64 and his burial in a Buddhist ceremony.
What in the world do we make of this strange and disturbing story? Like any great film or novel, Silence obviously resists a univocal or one-sided interpretation. In fact, almost all of the commentaries that I have read, especially from religious people, emphasize how Silence beautifully brings forward the complex, layered, ambiguous nature of faith. Fully acknowledging the profound psychological and spiritual truth of that claim, I wonder whether I might add a somewhat dissenting voice to the conversation? I would like to propose a comparison, altogether warranted by the instincts of a one-time soldier named Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order to which all the Silence missionaries belonged. Suppose a small team of highly-trained American special ops was smuggled behind enemy lines for a dangerous mission. Suppose furthermore that they were aided by loyal civilians on the ground, who were eventually captured and proved willing to die rather than betray the mission. Suppose finally that the troops themselves were eventually detained and, under torture, renounced their loyalty to the United States, joined their opponents and lived comfortable lives under the aegis of their former enemies. Would anyone be eager to celebrate the layered complexity and rich ambiguity of their patriotism? Wouldn’t we see them rather straightforwardly as cowards and traitors?
My worry is that all of the stress on complexity and multivalence and ambiguity is in service of the cultural elite today, which is not that different from the Japanese cultural elite depicted in the film. What I mean is that the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright. Revisit Ferreira’s speech to Rodrigues about the supposedly simplistic Christianity of the Japanese laity if you doubt me on this score. I wonder whether Shusaku Endo (and perhaps Scorsese) was actually inviting us to look away from the priests and toward that wonderful group of courageous, pious, dedicated, long-suffering lay people who kept the Christian faith alive under the most inhospitable conditions imaginable and who, at the decisive moment, witnessed to Christ with their lives. Whereas the specially trained Ferreira and Rodrigues became paid lackeys of a tyrannical government, those simple folk remained a thorn in the side of the tyranny.
I know, I know, Scorsese shows the corpse of Rodrigues inside his coffin clutching a small crucifix, which proves, I suppose, that the priest remained in some sense Christian. But again, that’s just the kind of Christianity the regnant culture likes: utterly privatized, hidden away, harmless. So okay, perhaps a half-cheer for Rodrigues, but a full-throated three cheers for the martyrs, crucified by the seaside.
A fine Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife from 1947. David Niven is an Episcopalian bishop of a struggling diocese; Loretta Young (ironically one of the more devout Catholics in the Hollywood of her time) is his wife; and Cary Grant is Dudley, one of the more unimportant angels in Heaven, sent by God to lend the Bishop a hand. The film is a graceful comedy which effectively and quietly underlines the central importance of faith in God as we see in this little scene when undercover angel Dudley, Cary Grant, uses his powers to summon a tardy boy’s choir for an unforgettable rendition of O Sing to God:
An interesting film for Advent or Chistmas is a John Wayne flick. John Wayne in a Christmas movie? Yep, The Three Godfathers in 1948! Another fruitful John Ford and John Wayne collaboration, the film was released in December 1948. Three bank robbers, portrayed by John Wayne, Pedro Armedariz and Harry Carey, Jr., stumble across a dying woman and her newborn son in a desert in the American Southwest. The three outlaws, although they are attempting to elude a posse, promise the dying woman to look after her son.
Brother Superior: When the heart speaks, Brother Orchid, other hearts must listen.
Brother Orchid (1940)
Interested in seeing a screwball-comedy-film noir gangster-western-religious flick? I am always on the lookout for oddball films for Advent and they don’t come odder, or more heart warming, than Brother Orchid (1940). Starring Edward G. Robinson with a fantastic supporting cast including Humphrey Bogart, Ann Southern, Ralph Bellamy and Donald Crisp, it is a trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when literate, thoughtful films were considered mass entertainment. It also is a fine exponent of a facet of the human condition that is not much commented upon today: the seductive power of good. A review of the film is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers.