Golden Age of Hollywood
A profoundly Catholic movie, Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) is usually not perceived as such. The tale of two slum kids, Jerry Connolly, Pat O’Brien, and Rocky Sullivan, James Cagney, who attempt to steal fountain pens from a train. Sullivan, who can’t run as fast as his friend, is caught after the robbery. Connolly wants to share in the blame for the theft, but Sullivan tells him not to be a sucker and takes all the blame. Sentenced to a brutal reform school he embarks on a life of crime while his friend becomes a priest, assigned to the same slum parish which he and Sullivan attended as boys.
The priest and the gangster renew their friendship with Sullivan quickly becoming the idol of the slum boys that Connolly is trying to keep from a life of crime. Connolly embarks on a crusade against the local gangsters, including Sullivan. Sullivan murders his partner Jim Frazier, Humphrey Bogart, and Mac Keefer, George Bancroft, to save Connelly who they were planning to have killed to stop his anti-crime crusade.
Sullivan, who tells the authorities all he knows about the local criminal operations, is tried for these murders and sentenced to death.
The ending of the film is a powerful look at courage and redemption:
Father Jerry: We haven’t got a lot of time.
I want to ask one last favor.
Rocky: There’s not much left that I can do, kid.
Father Jerry: Yes, there is, Rocky.
Perhaps more than you could do
under any other circumstances.
If you have the courage for it,
and I know you have.
Rocky: Walking in there?
That’s not gonna take much.
Father Jerry: I know that, Rocky.
Rocky: It’s like a barber chair.
They’re gonna ask, “Anything to say?”
I’ll say, “Sure, give me a haircut, a shave
and one of those new electric massages.”
Father Jerry: But you’re not afraid, Rocky?
Rocky: No. They’d like me to be.
But I’m afraid I can’t oblige them, kid.
You know, Jerry, I think to be afraid,
you gotta have a heart.
I don’t think I got one.
I had that cut out of me a long time ago.
Rocky: Suppose I asked you to have the heart, huh?
To be scared.
Rocky: What do you mean?
Father Jerry: Suppose the guards dragged you out of here
screaming for mercy. Suppose you went to the chair yellow.
American history tends to be ignored by Hollywood and therefore it is unusual for a battle to receive treatment in a Hollywood feature film. It is doubly unusual for a battle to be treated in two Hollywood feature films, but that is the case for the battle of New Orleans, the two hundredth anniversary of which is coming up this week on January 8, 2015. The 1938 film The Buccaneer was directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille and had Frederic March, an actor largely forgotten today but a major star in his time, as Jean Lafitte. Two future stars have bit parts in the film: Anthony Quinn and Walter Brennan. Hugh Sothern who portrayed Andrew Jackson would also portray Jackson in 1939 in the film Old Hickory.
The 1958 remake was also to have been directed by Cecil B. DeMille, but he was seriously ill at that time, and relegated himself to the role of executive producer, turning the director’s chair over to Anthony Quinn, his then son-in-law, the one and only film that Quinn ever directed. DeMille was unhappy with the film and it received fairly negative reviews, although I think the battle sequences are superior to the first film. Yul Brynner plays Jean Lafitte and Charlton Heston is a commanding Andrew Jackson. Like Hugh Sothern, Heston would portray Jackson twice, the first time being in The President’s Lady (1953), the tale of the great love story of Rachel Jackson (Susan Hayward) and Andrew Jackson. Future stars in this version include Inger Stevens, Claire Bloom and Lorne Green. Adequate coverage of the battle is given in each film, although not much detail. The battle of course is merely an adjunct to the romantic tale of Jean Lafitte. Without the pirate turned patriot, I am certain the battle of New Orleans would have likely received the same indifference that Hollywood has shown for most of American history.
Have you ever heard of some fellows who first came over to this country? You know what they found? They found a howling wilderness, with summers too hot and winters freezing, and they also found some unpleasant little characters who painted their faces. Do you think these pioneers filled out form number X6277 and sent in a report saying the Indians were a little unreasonable? Did they have insurance for their old age, for their crops, for their homes? They did not! They looked at the land, and the forest, and the rivers. They looked at their wives, their kids and their houses, and then they looked up at the sky and they said, “Thanks, God, we’ll take it from here.” Continue reading
Continuing our look at Advent and Christmas movies: 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:
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 goodness. A review of the film is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers. 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
Recently on the American history blog Almost Chosen People that Paul Zummo and I run, I wrote a post, which may be read here, saluting the actress Bette Davis for the ardent patriotism she displayed during World War II. In the course of my research however, I came across information which paints a very bleak picture of the famed actress indeed.
In the video at the beginning of the post we see a clip from the movie Juarez (1939) where the Empress of Mexico, Carlota, superbly portrayed by Bette Davis, is begging the Blessed Virgin for a child. This scene is extremely ironic, since throughout the thirties and into the forties, Davis, for the good of her career apparently, and with the consent of her husband, had a series of abortions. She opined in an interview in the eighties that she did not believe that abortion during the first month of pregnancy was the taking of human life, which leads me to wonder if she did not routinely go through pregnancy tests and abortions as a matter of course. The cold bloodedness of this needs no amplification by me. Continue reading
Frank James Cooper, a\k\a Gary Cooper, was a child of the last century, being born into it on May 7, 1901, the son of Charles and Alice Cooper. Unlike Alvin C. York, Cooper was born into a prosperous family, his father being a farmer turned attorney who would eventually serve on the Montana Supreme Court. His parents were English immigrants from Bedfordshire, and from 1910-1913, Gary and his brother were educated in England.
After high school, Cooper went on to study at Grinnell College for a few years, although he did not receive a degree. After an unsuccessful attempt to earn a living as an editorial cartoonist in Helena, he followed his parents out to Los Angeles where they had retired. Cooper later said that if he was going to starve, he might as well do it where it was warm rather than where it was freezing.
Out in the land of fruits and nuts, Cooper tried his hand at many things in order to earn a living: promoter for a photographer, a seller of electrical signs and even applied for work as an ink-stained wretch at a newspaper. Out of desperation for employment rather than any burning desire to be an actor, Cooper began to work as an extra in movies. A friend, Nan Collins, advised him to change his name to Gary after her hometown of Gary, Indiana, and Cooper took her advice. After several years as an extra, Cooper achieved early stardom in the western, The Virginian. Although he would appear in every type of film imaginable in his career, Cooper always appeared most comfortable in Westerns, a genre which fit his understated, laid back acting style, and his laconic speech. Cooper specialized in playing ordinary decent men, trying to do their best in extraordinary situations. He also had a flair for comedy where his dead pan delivery, combined with a dry wit, ensured laughter whatever “funny” lines he was attempting to deliver.
The archetypal film during this period of his career for Cooper was The Westerner where he played a cowboy who tangled with “Judge” Roy Bean, “Law West of the Pecos”, magnificently portrayed by Walter Brennan who appeared with Cooper in several films, including Sergeant York as York’s pastor. The film is a skillful mixture of comedy and drama, with Cooper giving a bravura performance.
Alvin C. York had been approached by Hollywood producer Jesse Lasky several times, beginning in 1919, to make a movie of his life. Each time he refused, summing up his position simply with the phrase, “This uniform ain’t for sale.”
This video re-awakened one of my alternate history fantasies: Tolkien publishes the Lord of the Rings in the Thirties to immediate acclaim. The film rights are bought by Hollywood with the condition that Tolkien has script approval. Tolkien relunctantly travels to Hollywood during the filming where an epic, and comedic, struggle ensues as Middle Earth and the Golden Age of Hollywood come into mortal combat. Continue reading