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.
Spoiler alerts in regard to the following: Continue reading
The family and I went out and saw America, the latest film of Dinesh D’Souza. I enjoyed the film and found it an intriguing step in the development of a new form of conveying conservative messages. My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect. Continue reading
In honor of my bride who is a descendant of King Harald Hardrada.
Hard to believe that it is 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: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. One of the most powerful depictions of Christ on film from the movie Ben Hur (1959). A wonderful melding of music and dialogue as Christ goes silently to the aid of Ben Hur and gives him water. The wordless encounter between Christ and the Centurion was amazing, as the Centurion’s face registers bewilderment, shame and curiosity as he has a totally unexpected encounter with the Divine. Whatever the actor who played the Centurion was earning that day, it wasn’t nearly enough.
I mean I’d pray for myself, but I’ve never prayed—nobody ever taught me how.
Dr. Ryan Stone, Gravity
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.
Sir Isaac Newton
Something for the weekend. The Hank Williams, Jr. tune Angels Are Hide to Find from the movie Gravity (2013). I picked up a copy of the movie Gravity, not expecting much, and assuming that I would probably quickly resell it on e-bay. Somehow I had managed to read nothing about the film. I was astonished at how much I enjoyed the film and how much it had to say about the human condition. My review is below and the usual caveat about spoilers apply. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. A musical medley from the movie Major Dundee (1965). Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65. Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers. Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon. Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West. The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.
Here is a fan made trailer for the restored edition that was released in 2005 that included much of the footage that was cut over Pekinpah’s protests:
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, 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.
(I originally posted this in 2009 when the blog readership was much smaller. The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films and I am taking the excuse of my vacation from the blog to repost this review.)
For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney. Over the past 31 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny. Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk, who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.
The cast is top notch. Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine. In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman. Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions. Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior. Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character, too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer. Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg. Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.
In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them.
What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted. A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. Continue reading
In the past year three films on President Lincoln have been released: the truly odious Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, the superb Lincoln and now the low budget, funded by Kickstarter, Saving Lincoln. I am pleased to report that I think Saving Lincoln is much closer in quality to Lincoln than Vampire Hunter. The film has an intriguing take on Mr. Lincoln and I was both amused and moved by it. My full review is below. The usual caveat regarding spoilers ahead is given. Continue reading
(This post originally ran in 2010. The movies listed would make excellent viewing tomorrow and any day.)
Last year I listed here my top ten picks for movies about the America Revolution for the Fourth. This year here is my list of patriotic movies for the Fourth.
10. National Treasure (2004)-Sure it’s cursed with a ridiculous plot involving the masons and a treasure, it is still a lot of fun and calls us back to the foundation document, the Declaration of Independence, that is the cornerstone of our Republic.
9. Hamburger Hill (1987)-Content advisory: very, very strong language in the video clip which may be viewed here. All the Vietnam veterans I’ve mentioned it to have nothing but praise for this film which depicts the assault on Hill 937 by elements of the 101rst Division, May 10-20, 1969. It is a fitting tribute to the valor of the American troops who served their country in an unpopular war a great deal better than their country served them.
8. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)-James Cagney in perhaps the greatest film bio of them all, a salute to George M. Cohan, the legendary composer, playwright and patriot.
7. The Alamo (1960)-“The Republic” scene from The Alamo, a film which was basically John Wayne’s love note to America.
6. Gettysburg (1993)-The movie that I think comes the closest to conveying to us the passions of the Civil War. You really can’t understand America unless you understand the Civil War. As Shelby Foote, one of the greatest historians of the war, said: “Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.”
Introduction to the movie Gettysburg. Released on the 130th anniversary of the battle, I will have it playing at my home during the 150th anniversary next week. Overlong, and historically suspect, especially as to its Longstreet-could-do-no wrong perspective, it still is a masterpiece. It captures perfectly the desperate nature of the battle that has become the symbol of that fratricidal conflict. The late Shelby Foote once said that to understand this country you needed to understand the Civil War. I concur, and I would also suggest that it is impossible to understand the Civil War without understanding Gettysburg, a battle which marked the end of Lee’s perceived invincibility and gave Lincoln an opportunity to explain to the people why so many men had to die so their nation might live.
Stay tuned to The American Catholic for several posts in the next few days on Gettysburg and the Civil War.
If there is a forgotten theater where American troops fought in World War II, it is most definitely the Aleutians. The Japanese took Attu and Kiska, islands in the Aleutian chain, in June of 1942, to forestall the Aleutians being used as a base for a move on the Japanese Home Islands from the Aleutians. Due to the rugged weather conditions, the US had never seriously entertained using the Aleutians as a staging area for future offensives. However, Attu and Kiska were American territory, and national pride, as well as alarm from the Alaskan territorial government, made inevitable an American campaign to take back the strategically worthless islands. Continue reading
There is well known to Us, Venerable Brethren – and it is a great cause of consolation for Our paternal heart – your constancy, that of your priests and of the great part of the Mexican faithful, in ardently professing the Catholic Faith and in opposing the impositions of those who, ignoring the divine excellence of the religion of Jesus Christ and knowing it only through the calumnies of its enemies, delude themselves that they are not able to accomplish reforms for the good of the people except by combating the religion of the great majority.
Pius XI, FIRMISSIMAM CONSTANTIAM
The film, For Greater Glory, the heroic story of the Cristeros who fought for the Church and religious liberty in the twenties of the last century in Mexico, is opening on June 1. Go here to read my first post on the film and the historical background of the Cristeros War. I will be seeing the movie with my family on Saturday, and I will have a full review of the film on Sunday or Monday. In the meantime, reviews are beginning to come in. I enjoyed this one by Dustin Siggins at Hot Air:
Over the last several years Catholics in America and Europe have experienced what they believe are the stripping of religious rights, and many are concerned the situation could easily turn into a public confrontation with various governments. One example of this is in England, where just this week the federal government has moved to declare wearing crosses in public is not a right. On this side of the water, my church’s parochial vicar Father Robert Lange often quotes His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, who in 2010 said the following: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
Such things were on my mind as I watched “For Greater Glory,” a movie about the Cristeros, or “soldiers for Christ,” who fought against religious persecution by the Mexican government from 1926 to 1929. The movie starts with laws which encroach upon religious freedom relatively benignly, such as not allowing the public wear of religious symbols. The Mexican government then moves to decry foreigners who allegedly control the nation’s citizens, particularly the Vatican, and rounds up all foreign-born bishops and priests to force them to leave the country. Peaceful rallies and protests are responded to with military force, which leads to an economic boycott.
The boycott is the last straw for Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles. Ignoring the counsel of his advisers, he begins invading churches and killing Catholic priests and parishioners. This leads to protests of various forms, from peacefully marching in the streets to violent rebellion. At the heart of the entire movie are a teenage boy who sees his mentor shot before his eyes, an atheist whose wife’s Catholic faith and his own belief in religious freedom cause him to lead the rebellion, a woman whose network of faithful Catholic women is critical to the rebellion’s early formation, a rebel whose legendary fighting skills are matched by his disdain for authority, and a priest whose violent leadership in the rebellion causes a great deal of spiritual uncertainty. Continue reading
One of the last remaining survivors of the Golden Age of Hollywood has passed away:
The chimpanzee – who arrived at the sanctuary in 1960 – loved finger-painting and watching football and was soothed by Christian music, the sanctuary’s outreach director Debbie Cobb told the Tampa Tribune.
Back in the Sixties the old Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies were replayed endlessly on TV, and as a boy I loved them. Completely inaccurate as to Africa, and with plots as skimpy as some of the costumes worn by Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane, they were always good, and, not infrequently, hilarious entertainment. I have always treasured Tarzan’s commentary on the legal system in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942) where an evil circus owner is attempting to use the courts to win custody of Boy: Continue reading