Blue Denim (1959)

Not many movies have a colored fabric for their title.  I had to think back sixty years to try to figure out the point of this one.  Clearly, the title of Blue Denim is supposed to suggest blue jeans.  If memory serves, this item of clothing was primarily worn by teenagers back in those days, not like today, where adults commonly wear them too.  And though the first baby boomers had not quite reached their teenage years in 1959, movies featuring rebellious adolescents getting into trouble were becoming a regular feature at the cinema.  And so, the point was to indicate that this was a movie about teenagers.  But then, we might ask why the title of this movie isn’t Blue Jeans, which almost was the title for a while.  Well, the movie was based on a play, and my guess is that “jeans” was just too lowbrow, whereas “denim” gave it some tone, and so the movie eventually followed suit.  But the title Blue Denim is more than just a synecdoche for teenagers.  It is also a displacement from the subject of the film, which is abortion, something unmentionable in the movies at that time.

When the movie begins, Arthur (Brandon De Wilde) has found out that while he was at school that day, his father took his dog to the veterinarian and had it put to sleep.  Art realizes that the dog was old and sick, but he is upset that his father didn’t discuss it with him.  The lack of communication between teenagers and their parents is a theme of this movie, and this is the first instance of it.  Unfortunately, it is not the last.  These failure-to-communicate scenes are excessive and irritating, the worst parts of the movie.

This scene with the dog also prepares us for the idea of abortion.  Though it was just a dog, putting it out of its misery is euthanasia, killing something for its own good, typically toward the end of life.  Abortion is killing something at the beginning of life, more for the good of the mother than the unborn child, though sometimes for its sake as well.  And, of course, whereas it was a dog that was euthanized, only humans have abortions.  Nevertheless, the one sets the mood for the other.

A little later, Arthur’s best friend, Ernie, comes over on the pretense that he and Arthur are going to do some studying together.  In particular, he is going to help Arthur with biology.  Arthur’s mother wants to know what biology is.  Well, it’s the study of life, of course, and it is hard to believe Arthur’s mother would have to ask.  The conversation becomes awkward, however, and Ernie dances delicately around the subject.  You see, in this movie, biology is the study of sex.  Thus informed, Arthur’s mother says she is glad Arthur is shaky in the subject.

In any event, it’s all a ruse.  Ernie and Arthur go down to the basement whereupon Ernie produces beer and cigarettes, which they consume while playing poker.  Did you ever notice what great hands people get in the movies?  This is ordinary draw poker, and on the first hand, Ernie has aces up, but Arthur wins with three sixes.  In any event, while playing they act tough and use profanity.  Of course, not much profanity was allowed under the Production Code, still in force at that time, so we hear the word “damn” a lot.

Ernie deals the cards fast and slick.  He’s obviously been around and knows a thing or two about the ways of the world, about which he holds forth for Arthur’s benefit.  He speaks disparagingly of the man Arthur’s older sister is going to marry, referring to him as a loser.  “These days it takes talent to learn how to slip and slide around,” he says.  “Do you know at school, one out of six guys is going steady?  One out of six, trapped!  It’s one thing for a guy to go way out, but these guys ain’t never gonna get back.”

I never thought of going steady as being the end of a teenager’s freedom when I was in high school, but Ernie apparently sees it as the stage just before an official engagement.  But then, he allows that maybe it’s for the best that Arthur’s sister is getting married, that the dentist she is going to marry is probably saving her from the evils of this world.  “Some old white slaver could have come along and picked her off like a naked grape.”  Arthur laughs at the idea, but Ernie continues:  “This town’s full of it:  gambling, dope, prostitution, smuggling, illegal operations.”  There it is, the euphemism for abortions.  This gets Arthur’s attention.  Ernie tells of how a guy he knows got his girl in trouble, and he was the one who had to steer him to a doctor who would perform the operation.

Enter Janet (Carol Lynley) through the cellar door.  Ernie realizes that three’s a crowd, so he leaves.  After a little conversation, Arthur and Janet kiss for the first time, and they are so inept at it that their noses get in the way.  It’s hard to believe that they will soon have sex, but before the week is out, they do, especially after Arthur drops the tough guy act and admits that he has never been with a girl before.  Since they only do it one time, the real life the chance of her getting pregnant would be low.  But since this is a movie, we know it’s a certainty.

Three months later, Arthur finds out the truth when he catches Janet reading the chapter on pregnancy in the library.  He goes to Ernie for help.  Now it’s Ernie’s turn to drop the tough guy act.  He lied about being the guy who steered another fellow to an abortion doctor.  Moreover, he tries to talk Arthur out of it, saying it’s illegal, it’s murder, and it’s dangerous.  Janet might die, he argues, because these abortionists are inferior doctors.  Still, he knows enough to set things up.  Earlier, Janet asked him to write a note in her father’s handwriting excusing her from the class she cut to go to a movie.  After Arthur steals a check from his father’s checkbook, Ernie forges that to get the money to pay for the abortion.

Ernie and Arthur send Janet on her way alone, at the insistence of the nurse who blindfolds her.  Then Arthur’s father finds out about the forged check and the reason for it.  There is a lot of melodramatic rushing around trying to find out where the doctor is in order to stop the abortion, accompanied by a Bernard Herrmann score.  It reminiscent of the score for Vertigo (1958), made the year before, so I guess a little of it bled into this movie.  In the play, Janet has the abortion, but the Production Code would not allow for that, so she had to be rescued in this movie.

After Janet is rescued and brought back home, her father and Arthur’s parents talk about how Arthur and Janet will have to get married.  Arthur’s father talks about how his son will have to give up all hope of becoming an engineer or a lawyer.  And we know from an earlier conversation Arthur had with Janet that he wanted to be somebody and not a nobody.  In fact, it’s even worse than not going to college.  Arthur will have to drop out of high school.  Arthur tells his father that he can get a job working in a filling station.

However, when Janet recovers from the sedation that the abortion doctor had administered, she says she does not want to force Arthur to marry her, that it was her fault she got pregnant.  They leave it at that for a while.  Later, Ernie tells Arthur that Janet is leaving town to go live with her aunt.  Presumably, the idea is to have the baby where no one knows her and then give it up for adoption.  Now we have another melodramatic scene of running around trying to catch up with Janet on the train so that she and Arthur can get married instead.

Let us reflect on this for a moment.  We understand why Janet was prevented from having an abortion in the movie version of the play.  But exactly what is wrong with her giving the baby up for adoption?  That way, she could resume high school the following year, and Arthur could go to college.  And they could still get married.  And yet, in the entire history of abortion movies, Juno (2007) is the only one I know of in which the girl gives the baby up for adoption.  All I can figure is that in this movie in particular, and in other abortion movies in general, it is considered wrong to have the baby and give it up for adoption.  Unlike an abortion, doing that has never been illegal, no one has ever said it was murder, and it is no more dangerous than giving birth as a married woman.  And yet, we sense that this must in some way be taboo as well, as if it is a repudiation of motherhood and the blessed event.

All right.  So, the abortion is out and giving the baby up for adoption is out.  Arthur and Janet will get married.  I thought that at the end, Arthur’s parents would tell their son and Janet they will support them, letting the couple live with them while they put Arthur through college.  But that doesn’t happen.  Their future is as bleak as the “straightjacket” Arthur’s father says it will be, recalling Ernie’s earlier remark about being trapped.  In every other abortion movie I have ever seen, if the girl has the baby, she typically marries the father, and they live happily ever after.  If she has the baby without marrying the father, she still lives happily ever after.  This is the only one that ends on a sour note.

Apparently, there was a need for compromise.  On the one hand, the abortion is prevented, allowing for a partially happy ending where the couple will get married and keep the baby; on the other hand, the movie needed to condemn premarital sex and show that it has bad consequences, thereby precluding the possibility of a completely happy ending.

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Unplanned (2019) and Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer (2018)

Unplanned is a pro-life movie distributed by PureFlix, the production and distribution company that gave us God’s Not Dead (2014), and if you’ve seen the latter, you’ll know what to expect from the former.  It is the sweet, loving, pro-life Christians pitted against the mean, selfish, abortionists.

The movie is based on a book by Abby Johnson, telling of her personal experience with abortion and her work at a Planned Parenthood clinic until she converted to being pro-life.  She goes to work for Planned Parenthood thinking she is helping women avoid abortions, but is eventually told that things like birth-control and counseling are not what’s important, because it’s abortions that bring in all the money.  And they need to meet their new growth target by doubling the number of abortions in the upcoming fiscal year.  When Abby protests that Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization, she is told, “Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model.”  And just in case we still have any doubts that Planned Parenthood is evil, we are informed that George Soros supports the organization.

The movie intends to be persuasive, but not in the manner of a discursive argument.  The question of when human life begins is only touched on, just to enough to give us a sense of Abby’s overall view of things.  At a family gathering, Abby says that life begins with viability, before which it is just undeveloped tissue.  Others object that viability changes with technology.  Her mother disapprovingly says that life begins at conception.  But we can expect no more than that from a movie.  If a movie is to persuade, it must do so dramatically and through images.

Dramatically speaking, conversions can be persuasive.  Typically, there is an appeal to an experience one has had that others have not, and it is hoped that by relating that experience to others, they can be converted as well.  In the case of Abby, her experience is that of having had two abortions herself and working at a Planned Parenthood clinic where she witnessed an actual procedure.  It is this latter experience that differentiates her from most of us.  Lots of women have had abortions, but few have worked in an abortion clinic.

The experience consists of two sorts:  pain and gore.  As for pain, in the scene where Abby participates in an abortion, the young woman having the procedure is crying from the pain, notwithstanding the pain medication she was presumably given.  I am guessing that the point of this is to discourage women from having an abortion.  But if the pain of having an abortion is supposed to be an argument against this procedure, then it is undermined later when Abby has a baby and seems to undergo even greater pain from childbirth.

Abby also goes through the pain of having abortions herself:  the first being a surgical abortion; the second, a chemically-induced abortion, using RU-486.  The latter is portrayed as being excruciating, especially soon after taking the pills, followed by eight weeks of cramping.  If it’s really as bad as all that, then I guess women would be well-advised to opt for a surgical abortion instead.

The second part of the experience is the gore.  We get to see a fetus sucked out through a catheter, and after Abby takes the RU-486 pills, we get to see gobs of embryo fall out of her vagina onto the floor or being dumped into the toilet.  The we see her sprawled out on the bathroom floor surrounded by embryo blood and goo.

I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination how Abby eventually quits Planned Parenthood and joins a pro-life organization, bringing joy to the hearts of her family at the return of their prodigal daughter.  Instead, I’ll comment on something about the movie that surprised me.  My pro-life friends are always harping on late-term abortions, and one has recently started expressing moral outrage over what he calls “after-birth abortions.”  Whereas people that are pro-choice are perfectly comfortable with abortion-on-demand during the first trimester, doubt and uncertainly increase the further along a woman gets in her pregnancy.  And it is there that a lot of pro-life advocates choose to make their case, sensing weakness in the pro-choice position during the later months.

I expected this movie to focus on that as well.  In fact, I had recently seen Gosnell:  The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, which is all about that sort of thing.  According to this movie, if Dr. Gosnell, who ran a filthy, disgusting clinic, was a little late getting around to performing an abortion, the drugs that the technicians had already administered would sometimes result in the fetus/baby coming out before he got there, still moving, still alive.  No problem, Gosnell would just grab some scissors and snip the spinal cord.  However, what he was doing was illegal, and he is now spending the rest of his life in prison for murder.

At first, I thought this movie might be pro-choice.  After all, this was about illegal abortions.  However, the movie argues that pro-choice advocates are the real villains, because it was fear of them that led Republican Governor Tom Ridge to end annual inspections of abortion clinics, allowing Gosnell to operate with impunity.   Furthermore, at Gosnell’s trial, a Dr. North testifies as to how legal abortions are performed.  As she goes into detail, the look on her face shows signs of distress, almost horror, as if it never occurred to her before what a terrible thing she had been doing, notwithstanding the fact that she had performed thirty thousand of them, making it clear that the distinction between Gosnell’s illegal abortions and those of the legal sort is insignificant.

Anyway, I thought Abby’s moment of truth would come when she witnessed the Grand Guignol of a late-term abortion of the sort Dr. North described.  Much to my surprise, all the abortions in Unplanned are in the first trimester.  There is reference later in the movie to a new facility that will allow for more abortions to be performed up to the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, but we see none of that.  In a way, this makes sense.  When pro-life advocates make their case against late-term abortions, they are implicitly conceding the field to those that are pro-choice when it comes to early abortions.  Instead Unplanned is determined to attack abortions in the place where pro-choice advocates feel secure, in hopes of putting an end to all abortion.

Though I have said that this movie intends to be persuasive, yet I doubt those who made it are under any illusions that those of us who are pro-choice will actually change our minds.  They probably don’t even expect us to watch this movie.  I did so out of curiosity.  Rather, it is intended to strengthen the resolve of those that are already opposed to abortion.  In fact, my pro-life bridge partner said she was especially eager to see this movie.

God Bless America (2011)

At the beginning of God Bless America, before we can see anything, we hear the sound of a baby crying.  Is there any other animal, when in its infancy, that makes a sound as maddening to its parents as that of a baby to its human mother and father?  And to the next-door neighbor?  In any event, the next thing we see is the eye of that neighbor, whose name is Frank, unable to sleep, in part on account of his migraines, but mostly because of the neighbor’s crying baby and their loud television, which is right up against the paper-thin wall next to Frank’s bedroom.  But what mostly offends Frank is the overall obnoxious stupidity the emanates from his neighbor’s apartment, some of it coming from the television, and some of it from the mouths of the neighbors themselves, who are inconsiderate and think themselves entitled to do as they please.

Frank says he wants to kill them.  But he especially wants to kill the baby.  The next thing we see is Frank busting through the door with a 12 gauge, pump shotgun, blasting the television and then the husband.  The wife holds up her baby, hoping to enlist his sympathy, but Frank blows it away, leaving nothing behind but an empty-handed, blood-drenched mother as we hear Brahms’ “Lullaby” playing in the background and as we see the look of peace and contentment on Frank’s face.  It’s a fantasy, of course, soon interrupted by the sound of a crying baby.

Frank’s whole world is full of people like his neighbors:  his fellow workers, his doctor, his ex-wife and daughter, and pretty much everyone on every channel of his television as he continually works the remote.  Worst of all is the show “American Superstarz,” featuring guest Steven Clark, singing “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” off-key and with a whiny voice.  Ironically, the song asks, “Do you like the things that life is showing you?”  He is so awful that he becomes a sensation, someone people love to insult and ridicule.  When Frank gets to work, his coworkers are talking about Steven Clark, and he fantasizes about killing them too.

But just before that, he stops to say hello to Karen, the receptionist, who smiles at him and seems friendly.  They usually sit together at lunch.  He gives her a book that he had told her about, which she seems to appreciate.  Later, she walks by Frank’s cubicle and smiles at him, almost flirtatiously.  But then Frank is called to the office.  Karen has reported him for sending her flowers at her home, and now she doesn’t feel safe working there.  He is fired.  Then Frank goes to see his doctor, who tells him about his inoperable brain tumor.  It has not been a good day.

Actually, the day started off with Frank calling his ex-wife to see about having their daughter Ava spend some time with him, but Ava is a spoiled brat who doesn’t want to have anything to do with him.  Mother and daughter both have long, blond hair.  When Frank gets home and starts watching television, there is a show about a horrible, self-centered girl named Chloe, who is about to have her sixteenth-birthday party.  She and her mother both have long, blond hair.  Then Frank turns off the sound on the television because the phone is ringing.  It is Ava.  She starts screaming, “I hate Mommy, I hate Mommy,” while we see Chloe on the television in the background, who also seems to be screaming about how she hates her parents because they ruin everything.

Frank takes down his service pistol and starts to commit suicide.  But then he has a better idea.  He goes to Chloe’s outdoor birthday party and shoots her, as a substitute for killing his own his own daughter.  Then his anger gives way to guilt, and he writes a suicide note to Ava, saying she will be better off without him.  This ambivalence toward his daughter also shows up in his attitude toward Brad, a policeman that is planning on marrying Frank’s ex-wife.  On the one hand, he resents Brad as an interloper who will take his place as husband and father; on the other hand, he doesn’t want to kill Brad because that way he will suffer.

When Frank shot Chloe, a sixteen-year-old girl named Roxie saw him do it and was awed.  She manages to find Frank in a hotel room, just as he has put the barrel of his gun in his mouth, and interrupts his plan to commit suicide.  For her, Frank has great potential, killing Chloe being just the beginning.  She starts jumping up and down on the bed at the thought of going on a killing spree.  Frank tells her to quit that, because someone just made that bed.  Now, Frank was sitting on that bed when he was about to pull the trigger, which would have gotten his brains and blood all over the bedspread, but suddenly he is worried that Roxie will get the bedspread all wrinkled.

This is just one of many instances in which Frank seems to have a peculiar sense of what is right and wrong.  Roxie, on the other hand, is completely amoral.  She wants to kill people simply because they are irritating, like twihards, people who give high-fives, and NASCAR fans.  But as she slowly brings Frank around to the idea of killing more Chloes, he says it would have to be only those that deserve to die, people that are mean or rude.  When she suggests Chloe’s parents, he is persuaded.

They go to the house where Chloe’s parents live.  Frank tells Roxie to stay in the car.  He knocks on the door, and when it opens, he pushes his way in, announces who he is and shoots the father.  His gun jams, and the mother starts running through the house with Frank in pursuit.  Suddenly, we see him stop.  Roxie had apparently entered the house too and found a butcher knife, which the mother ran right into and is now impaled.  Roxie slowly brings the phallic knife upward, and if you didn’t know better, you might think the two women were having sex from what could be looks of ecstasy on their faces.  Then the blood from the mother starts squirting all over Roxie like some kind of twisted cumshot.

Frank admits that murdering Chloe’s parents felt pretty good, but he wants Roxie to go back home to her parents.  She gets Frank to let her come along by telling him how her mother is a crack whore whose boyfriend rapes Roxie after her mother passes out.

Roxie asks Frank if he thinks she is attractive, but he refuses to answer that question and any others having to do with sex, because she is too young.  She asks, “So it’s OK to kill a teenager but not to fuck one?” and Frank answers “Yes.”  Now, within the movie, Frank does not have sex with Roxie because she is too young, but from outside the movie it is clear that she was made too young so that they could not have sex, in part to underscore Frank’s peculiar moral code, and in part to keep a heightened sexual tension between them.  That sexual tension is reinforced in various ways.  To get Frank to sleep in the same bed with her in the hotel room, she puts pillows between them, saying, “The walls of Jericho,” alluding, of course, to It Happened One Night (1934).  Later on, they end up on the dance floor together, and she looks good in his arms.

The movie makes it clear that their agenda has nothing to do with politics.  When they murder a television commentator, it turns out that in some ways, Frank agreed with the man’s politics while Roxie did not.  But that didn’t matter.  They killed him because he was rude and offensive.  Typical is their killing of the man who deliberately took up two parking spots.  And then there is the classic scene in which they shoot people in a movie theater for talking on their cell phones.

Frank finds out that he was misdiagnosed, that he does not have a brain tumor.  And then he finds out that Roxie came from a normal family and had normal problems for a teenage girl.  He breaks off their relationship, and she ends up back home.  But it’s clear they miss each other.

Steven Clark’s performance keeps recurring throughout the movie.  There is even a report that Steven attempted suicide, presumably because people were making fun of him.  We know American Superstarz will be Frank’s final destination, determined as he is to kill all those that have been mean and hurtful to Steven.  Frank walks out onto the stage with an AK-47 and dynamite strapped to his chest.  Roxie is in the audience, and she yells out to Frank telling him where there is a security guard, allowing Frank to turn and shoot him.  Then she joins him on the stage.  The theater fills with police.  Frank gives his speech about people being mean to those like Steven, causing him to attempt suicide.  But Steven interrupts the speech,  saying that wasn’t the reason.  He was upset only because he was afraid they would not let him be on television anymore.

Frank realizes that Roxie was right all along, that people don’t deserve to die because they are mean, but because they are irritating.  He looks at Roxie.  He tells her she is a pretty girl and hands her the AK-47, pulling out his pistol as he does.  They begin spraying the room with bullets, until their bodies are pumped full of lead, uniting them in death.

The Young Philadelphians (1959)

The theme of The Young Philadelphians is that of choosing to marry for social position, which we all know is wrong, rather than marrying for love, which is what we are supposed to do.

When the movie opens, Mike Flanagan (Brian Keith) watches forlornly from across the street where the woman he loves, and who presumably loves him, is getting married to William “Bill” Lawrence III (Adam West), scion of a notable family that is part of Main Line society in Philadelphia.

That woman is Kate, whose mother encouraged her to make that choice.  She has a son, Tony (Paul Newman), and she is just as concerned as her mother was that Tony marry into a socially prominent family.

Tony has a friend, Chet Gwynn (Robert Vaughn), who we find out was married to the woman he loved for about two days before his family bought off his wife and had the marriage annulled.

Tony is in love with Joan Dickinson (Barbara Rush), who comes from a socially prominent family.  However, though Tony has the name “Lawrence,” he is not really accepted as part of Main Line society, for reasons to be explained later.  Therefore, when her father Gilbert Dickinson (John Williams) finds out that Tony and Joan are about to elope, he persuades Tony to “postpone” the marriage for a few months by offering him advancement in his prestigious law firm.  Although Joan is all that Tony’s mother could want in the way of social advancement through marriage, she sees even more social advancement through his inclusion in the law firm, and so she conspires with Gilbert in his effort to prevent the marriage.

Joan doesn’t buy the postponement excuse, so she ends up marrying Carter Henry, not because she loves him, but being disillusioned about love, she decided that she might as well marry a man her family approves of.

When Tony finds out about Joan’s marriage, he doesn’t understand why she didn’t accept the fact that their marriage was only postponed.  He becomes disillusioned about love and everything else.  Success is the only thing that matters.

When Carol Wharton (Alexis Smith), wife of a senior partner of a law firm even more prestigious than the one Gilbert is a partner of, offers herself one night to Tony, who is a guest in the Wharton home, he knows he will have to finesse this one.  Having sex with her might spoil his chance for advancement, so he tells her that he doesn’t just want a fling, that he loves her and wants her to divorce her husband John Wharton (Otto Krüger) and marry him.  Though Carol is in love with Tony, she says she cannot do what he asks and so returns to her room.  Tony was pretty sure she would choose social position over love, and why not?  That’s what everyone else in the movie seems to be doing.

Even if free will is a fiction, it is an indispensable one.  And so, just as in real life, we usually assume that the characters in a movie make choices of their own free will.  But this movie is at pains to say otherwise.  When it begins, we hear Tony’s voice acting as narrator:  “A man’s life, they say, is the sum of all his actions.  But his actions are sometimes the result of the hopes, dreams, and desires of those who came before him.  In that sense, my life began even before I was born.”  Well, that certainly has a deterministic flavor to it.

He is referring to the choice his mother made in marrying William “Bill” Lawrence III, and his choice in marrying her.  No sooner are they married than Bill tells Kate, in an over-the-top melodramatic scene, that he cannot love her, that he was forced into this marriage by his mother.  Either he is impotent, or he is a homosexual.  It would make more sense if he were impotent, because it is not uncommon for a homosexual to marry a woman and have sex with her for the sake of appearances, especially when this movie was made.  Whatever the reason, he leaves her alone on her wedding night.  She goes to see Mike, has sex with him, and gets pregnant.  Only later does she find out that Bill killed himself in an accident by driving too fast.

Bill’s mother comes to see Kate in the hospital when she gives birth to Tony.  Mrs. Lawrence says that she knows, as a result of an investigation, that the baby is not her son’s.  (What kind of investigation could that have been?)  She tells Kate that if she gives up the “Lawrence” name, she will give her a lot of money.  But Kate chooses to keep the name.  Apparently, Kate believes that having a prestigious name is not only more important than love, but money as well.

All these choices are likely to make one drift back into the notion that these characters are all acting of their own free will, so it will take more than the opening lines of the movie to dispel that notion.  And so it is than when Tony, as an adult, is invited to a party, he is introduced to Dr. Shippen Stearnes, who is renowned for his research on the question as to which has the greater influence, heredity or environment.  The implication of that debate is that whatever the respective roles these two influences have, they are both deterministic.  They leave no room for free will.

Later in the movie, after Carter is killed in the Korean War, making Joan a widow, she and Tony begin seeing each other again.  For a while, it seems that they have gotten over the question as to who was to blame for breaking off their engagement, but eventually they start having an argument about it, during which Joan tells Tony that she knows that he can’t help what he has become, another deterministic comment.  It’s also an insult, for two reasons:  First, she implies that there is something wrong with what he has become, for which she condescends to forgive; and second, because no one likes being told that his success was not his own doing.  Only if a man is a failure does he want to hear that it couldn’t be helped.

Of course, it is not only the necessity of determinism that is inimical to free will.  Chance also works against this notion.  And much that happens in the movie is the result of coincidence and accident.  By chance, Tony finds out about an opportunity with Wharton.  By chance, he acquires a rich client for Wharton’s firm.  Carter is killed in the war.  Chet loses his arm during that same war.  One circumstance and happenstance after another leads to Chet’s being accused of the murder of his uncle, Morton Stearnes (Robert Douglas).

Faced with the loss of Joan, and threatened with the exposure of his mother’s adultery and the loss of his position in the law firm, Tony chooses to defend Chet even though his family would rather let him go to prison than endure a scandal.  This choice to act out of loyalty to his friend rather than out of self-interest may not be an act of free will, for in the end, who can say about such things?  But it sure looks like it.

Of course, in true Hollywood fashion, Tony’s decision to do the right thing comes with no cost:  He gets Chet acquitted, his ability as a lawyer in winning that case guarantees his future success, his mother’s sin is not exposed, and he and Joan are reconciled and will live happily ever after.

Kitty Foyle (1940) and Tom, Dick and Harry (1941)

Kitty Foyle begins as a comedy, and quite a funny one, I must say.  But once the title character falls in love, the movie becomes a melodrama.  Just like real life, I suppose.  Tom, Dick and Harry, on the other hand, is a comedy all the way through.  Ginger Rogers starred in both, the former being made a year before the latter, and in both movies, she must choose which man she will marry (or at least spend the rest of her life with).  In watching these two films, one gets the impression that those in charge of production at RKO were so pleased with the success of Kitty Foyle that they wanted to do something like that again.  But in order to avoid simply following the same formula, someone added a joker to the deck, with a few elements from the first movie making their way into the second.

Kitty Foyle, which has the subtitle, The Natural History of a Woman, begins with a prologue announcing that it is the story of a “white collar girl.”  It goes on to say that since she is a comparative newcomer to the American scene, it will consider her as she was in 1900.  Said 1900 old-fashioned girl has men scrambling to give up their seats on the trolley for her, with one lucky man having the privilege of doing so.  Subsequently, we see him sitting with her on her porch, wooing her with a ukulele.  He impulsively kisses her on the cheek.  She is shocked at the liberty he has taken.  Realizing he must do the honorable thing, he proposes marriage.  She is delighted, having used her womanly wiles to trap a man, while the man wonders how this could have happened to him.  We see them again after they have married.  He arrives home from work, turning over his entire paycheck to her, though she hands him back a coin, for the trolley, presumably.  Then he discovers that she is going to have a baby, and he kneels beside her, worshipping her now more than ever.  This is an amusing depiction of the idea that women had it made in the old days, that it was when they had few rights that they had real power, as expressed in the nineteenth century poem “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rules the World.”

This is followed by an intertitle that reads, “But this was not enough.”  We see scenes of the women’s suffrage movement, with that same woman now holding a sign that reads, “Let the hand that rocks the cradle guide the state.”  However, once she gets her equal rights, men not only ignore her on the trolley, but when one man gets up to leave, another pushes her aside so he can have the seat for himself.  Quite frankly, I could have stayed with this woman for the rest of the movie.

Anyway, another intertitle tells us that once women began working “shoulder to shoulder” with men, the men became indifferent to the presence of women, leading to that “five thirty feeling,” presumably a woman’s feeling of loneliness at the end of the day on account of not being married.  The point of all this is that a woman now has a harder time getting a man to marry her.  We see a bunch of women on an elevator talking about how much they like having a man or how much they wish they had one.  One woman, however, expresses an independent point of view, saying that a woman can be happy without a man.  “What’s the difference,” she asks, “between men bachelors and girl bachelors?”  Then we see Ginger Rogers, as the title character, exiting the elevator while making her entrance into this movie by answering, “Men bachelors are that way because they want to be.”

This is a familiar premise in the movies, that women want to be married.  No such assumption is made regarding men.  A man may eventually want to marry some woman in particular, but a woman wants to get married as a matter of principle.  The corresponding premise for men in the movies is that they are perfectly happy being bachelors.  They typically do get married, of course, and for no better reason than they are in love.  But for women in these movies, things are not so simple.  Women want to get married even before they have some particular man in mind, and when there is some man in particular for them to think about marrying, considerations other than love enter in.

One consideration is the man’s socio-economic status.  From the time she was a young girl, Kitty has been fascinated with a Main Line social function in Philadelphia known as the Assembly.  By chance, she meets Wyn Strafford, and as soon as she finds out that he is one of the elite, she falls in love with him.  He falls in love with her too, but their class difference makes for difficulties, especially after they get married. When she meets his family, she finds out about their expectations for her, which apparently include sending her to finishing school so that she can comport herself properly at social functions.  And she learns of the hold they have on Wyn.  Kitty wants her and Wyn to move to New York, where they won’t have to bother about all this Main Line stuff, but the Strafford money is in a trust that would require them to live in Philadelphia at Darby Mill house, otherwise Wyn will lose his inheritance.  Kitty is offended, saying she will not go to school to get her rough edges polished off.  She announces disdainfully that she didn’t marry Wyn for his money, that she married a man, not a trust fund.

That’s a fine speech coming from her.  After seeing the way she was awed by those attending the Philadelphia Assembly, and after seeing her become enamored with Wyn the minute she found out he was a Main Liner, we are now supposed to believe that she cares nothing about class and money.  All she cares about is true love, and she is indignant that Wyn’s family is not egalitarian enough to accept her just the way she is.  Well, we all act from mixed motives, and when we do, they don’t stand out as discreet items for our inspection, but blend together into single result, making it easy for us to imagine we have acted from the best of intentions while suppressing those we would rather forget.

When she realizes that Wyn would never be happy if he had to forgo his inheritance, the two of them trying to make a go of it as a working-class couple in New York, she leaves him and gets a divorce.

Kitty has a baby and it dies.  So, what’s the point?  Her pregnancy was not inevitable, especially since she and Wyn were only together as a married couple for less than a week.  Well, in one sense, it was inevitable.  When a woman in a movie has sex with a man just one time, she gets pregnant. Presumably, Kitty and Wyn had sex more than once in the few days they were together, but that’s close enough to practically guarantee pregnancy in a movie.  (This rule does not apply to prostitutes or women that regularly have one-night stands, of course.) In any event, given the pregnancy, the death of the baby was not inevitable, since healthy babies are born every day.  But in another sense, the baby’s death was inevitable, because the plot required it, as we shall see.

On the rebound, she starts dating Mark Eisen, a doctor who is more concerned with helping the poor and needy than in making money.  Still, he wants to marry her, and she could be comfortable with him.  She accepts his proposal.  But as she is preparing to meet him later to get married, Wyn shows up, and it is clear they truly love each other.  He says he has left his wife and is going to South America.  And he wants Kitty to come with him, even though he has no intention of getting a divorce.

I’m not sure what the significance of South America is in these movies about the upper class.  In Stella Dallas (1937), the title character tells her daughter she is going to get married and move to South America to get away from it all.  Isn’t that a little extreme?  I understand wanting to get away from one’s family, because they can be a nuisance, but is it necessary to run that far?  Can’t they just move to Kansas or something, some place where everyone speaks English?

And I don’t mean to overthink this thing, but what will they live on?  Wyn will be disinherited, just as he would have had they moved to New York.  So, instead of his getting a job in New York, and, as Kitty put it at the time, living in a small apartment with a pull-down bed, eating meals in drugstores, going to a movie once a week, and trying to save a dollar or two against the day he may lose his job, now they can do all that in South America.

In any event, Kitty must choose:  have a respectable, comfortable life with Mark or be Wyn’s mistress.  And herein lies the answer to the twofold question, why did Kitty have a baby, and why did it die?  It is easy to understand why the baby had to die.  Kitty would not have been able even to consider living illicitly with a man if she had a child to raise.  It is one thing for her to live in sin with only herself to consider, but to make her child have to bear the disgrace as well would have been unthinkable in this movie.  But that only answers half the question.  Why was it necessary for her to be pregnant in the first place, aside from the reason given above?

When Kitty reflects on Wyn’s proposition, she thinks about how she will be regarded in society, and she wonders how their arrangement will fare as she gets older.  But one thing she never wonders about is what will happen if she gets pregnant.  In fact, we don’t wonder about that either as we watch this movie.  Why not?  Because once a woman in a movie has a baby that dies, she never has another.  Sometimes, after breaking the news to the mother that the baby was stillborn, the doctor then goes on to tell her that she cannot have another.  But that scene is not necessary.  Movie logic precludes another baby regardless.  So the death of Kitty’s baby allows her to consider living with Wyn without worrying about the possibility of getting pregnant again.  Kitty doesn’t know she is in a movie, of course, but we do.  And if we are not worried about her getting pregnant again, why should she?

Still, her life with Wyn would not be easy.  Normally in the movies, the woman chooses the man she loves, but since life with Wyn would be disreputable, she chooses a respectable life with Mark.  Or rather, I should say, by having Wyn’s proposition be an immoral one (by 1940 standards), the movie allows her to choose Mark, the man she does not love.  We are glad that Kitty makes the morally acceptable choice, but we are also glad the she is marrying within her class.  We don’t hold it against women in the movies for wanting to marry into the upper class, but it makes us uncomfortable nevertheless.

This is another difference in the movies between men and women.  A man like Wyn might have to choose between marrying within his class and marrying down, but we seldom see a movie about a man having to choose between marrying within his class and marrying up.  When we do see such a movie, the man’s desire to marry up is felt to be wrong.  But when a woman has a desire to marry up, we are more understanding.  We have misgivings, wondering as we do in this movie whether she can find happiness in a family worried about her lack of polish and refinement; and we may be relieved, as we are here, when she settles for someone in her own class.  But we don’t really think the less of her for wanting to marry into the upper class as we do with a man.

We now turn to Tom, Dick and Harry.  Instead of just two, there are three men in this movie that Janie (Ginger Rogers) must choose among.  Tom (George Murphy) is a car salesman, and he corresponds to Mark:  he and Janie are in the same class, and he can provide her with a comfortable life.  Dick is a millionaire playboy, and he corresponds to Wyn:  he is a member of the elite, and Janie wonders if she would fit in.  Finally, Harry (Burgess Meredith) is a trickster figure, who throws the formula out of whack:  he is an auto mechanic who cares nothing about getting ahead or making a lot of money.

In Kitty Foyle, the characters occasionally reflect on their situation.  In fact, Kitty literally does so when her image in the mirror tells her just how things will be in South America.  But Tom, Dick and Harry seems to take this to a whole new level, especially when Janie is with Harry, who waxes philosophical on her unrealistic dream of marrying into the upper class.  But we meet him later.  When the movie begins, Tom and Janie are in a movie theater, which is a reflexive device right there.  We don’t see the screen.  We only hear the voices of the actors.  It doesn’t sound like any movie that ever actually existed, but rather a parody of one we have already seen.  It is the final scene of the movie, and a man, who is rich and upper class, is telling a working-class woman that he wants her to come away with him, to someplace where they can get away from it all, to South America.  She is reluctant, thinking that he just wants her to be his mistress.  But no, he wants to marry her.  She is so happy, she cries.  They kiss.  The End.

It is a cloying variation on Wyn’s offer to Kitty, but it is just the kind of ending that Janie likes, for she too dreams of marrying someone rich and upper class.  After the movie, she and Tom discuss whether the movie was true to life, whether a rich, upper-class man would marry a poor, working-class girl.  Janie says it is, because he loved her.  Tom doesn’t think so, but that is because he doesn’t want it to be true to life.  He plans on proposing to Janie, and he doesn’t want her head full of foolish notions about marrying up.

The next day after work, Janie is standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the bus, when Harry pulls up in front of her driving an expensive car.  Not realizing that Harry is just a mechanic, and that he is delivering the car to a rich customer, who turns out to be Dick, Janie flirts with him and eventually becomes so brazen as to get in the car with him.  After taking her home, Harry makes a date with her for later that evening.  He shows up with what looks like two small bunches of violets, which is, perhaps, just a minor quotation of Kitty Foyle, where Wyn takes Kitty to New York, and just before entering an exclusive speakeasy, he buys her two bunches of violets.  More importantly, when they are seated at a table, she asks Wyn why he brought her to New York.  She explains:  “When I was going to high school in Manito, Illinois, it’s quite a small town and everybody knew everybody else’s business.  So, when a man wanted to take somebody out, he didn’t care particularly about being seen with her, he’d always take her up to Chicago.”  He says it’s nothing like that, although we suspect it is just like that when we see how cowed Wyn is by his family and their expectations.  In Tom, Dick and Harry, when Janie finally manages to meet Dick, he asks her to go on a date with him to Chicago, which Janie gleefully accepts, unencumbered as she is by Kitty’s worldliness.

All three men want to marry Janie, and she dreams of marrying each of them and then all of them at once.  As for that last dream, on their wedding night, we see the bedroom, and it is of the Production Code sort, with its respectable twin beds.  But then, with Janie sitting in one bed, all three men get in the other.  She wakes up and realizes she must choose.  The next morning, she chooses Dick because he is the man she has dreamed of marrying all her life.  She kisses Tom goodbye.  And then she kisses Harry.  Earlier in the movie, whenever she kissed Harry, they heard bells chiming, something that never happens when she kisses Tom or Dick.  And now, in kissing Harry goodbye, she hears them again.

In Kitty Foyle, we knew that Kitty liked Mark, but it was Wyn she loved.  In Tom, Dick and Harry, it is neither like nor love, but sexual arousal that clinches the deal.  Janie tells Dick goodbye, hops on the back of Harry’s three-wheel motorcycle, and off they go.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

In many ways, The Devil and Daniel Webster is different from all the other Faustian tales we have encountered over the years.  Not better, just different.

First of all, in most such stories, the Faustian character is a bachelor, one notable exception being Damn Yankees (1958), in which Joe Boyd is a married man.  But in any event, they all live comfortable lives.  They sell their souls because they are discontented.  As a result, we never understand why they would be so stupid as to agree to spend an eternity burning in the fires of Hell for a few decades of whatever it is they want:  wealth, power, fame, sex, or a baseball team that can beat the Yankees.

In The Devil and Daniel Webster, on the other hand, Jabez Stone (James Craig) is a poor farmer for whom everything seems to be going wrong.  In particular, the note on his farm is due the next day and he doesn’t have any money, meaning he will lose the farm.  He supports his mother, Ma Stone (Jane Darwell), and his wife, Mary (Anne Shirley), who falls off the wagon and is unconscious.  In his utter exasperation, he says that it’s enough to make a man sell his soul to the Devil.  Needless to say, the Devil, who goes by the name of Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston), shows up ready to make the deal.  At least this makes some sense.  Every man has his breaking point, and Jabez has reached his.  We might actually believe that a man might make a Faustian bargain under such desperate circumstances.

Second, in all other Faustian tales, the two principal characters are the man who sells his soul to the Devil and the Devil himself.  But in The Devil and Daniel Webster, the Faustian character is not in the title.  Rather, it includes some third character.  In fact, so prominent is the role of Daniel Webster in this movie that I’m almost surprised they found room in the title for the Devil.  Now, we all know who Daniel Webster is, a politician of note in the years leading up to the Civil War.  But the excessive adoration of Webster that this movie evinces is beyond anything most of us would ever have imagined.

Third, in most Faustian stories, the Devil lives up to the letter of the contract, but not the spirit.  He grants the Faustian character his wishes, only to undermine them in some way.  As Roger Ebert once argued, the Devil should do everything he can to satisfy the Faustian character so that he will tell all his friends about the good deal he made.  A little word-of-mouth advertising might net the Devil a few more souls.  In this movie, however, Mr. Scratch doesn’t pull any sneaky tricks.  He allows Jabez access to a big supply of gold coins, which solves most of his problems right there.  Mr. Scratch even goes beyond what was required in the agreement, beyond just the money.  He protects Jabez’s wheat against a hailstorm that destroys the wheat of all the other farmers.  And he sees to it that the Jabez family gets Belle (Simone Simon) for a maid so that Jabez can have an affair with her.  As a result, for seven years, the agreed upon length of time Jabez has before he must die and go to Hell, Jabez is on top of the world.

When Jabez first comes running into the house to tell his mother and Mary about the Hessian gold that he found underneath the barn, Ma Stone is suspicious.  “Most outlandish thing I ever heard tell,” she says.  “Doesn’t seem right somehow.”  Now, we all know that Jane Darwell has played in a lot of movies in which she has down-to-earth common sense and gritty wisdom, but this is a little too much.  On that very morning, the sheriff has stopped by to tell them that they will be thrown off the farm the next day.  They can’t sell the pig because he just broke his leg.  Mary’s tells Jabez the butter money is gone because she needed it to pay the vet to treat the horse.  He decides to sell the bag of seed he was going to use for the spring plowing, but it rips open and spills out onto the mud.  And then, ten minutes after Mary has fallen on her head and was knocked unconscious, Jabez comes running into the house to tell about the Hessian gold he just found.  And yet, Ma Stone suspects something.  Like what?  Does she think Jabez just committed highway robbery?  It’s almost as if she suspects Jabez must have sold his soul to the Devil.  Why accept a natural explanation like buried Hessian gold when there is a perfectly good supernatural explanation ready at hand?

In any event, for seven years Jabez is a happy man.  It is only when his time is up that he starts bellyaching, claiming that he has been cheated, which he has not.  He says, “You promised me prosperity, happiness, love, money, friendship.”  Mr. Scratch replies that all he promised him was money and all that it could buy.  More to the point, Jabez had the love of his wife, but he not only cheated on her, but also mistreated her.  He had friends, but once he got his hands on the money, he started taking advantage of them, until no one liked him anymore.  In short, he becomes such a jerk that we really don’t care if he does go to Hell.

That is what makes the intercession by Daniel Webster seem so unwarranted.  But intercede he does.  After admitting that the document in which Jabez signed over his soul is properly drawn, Webster says, “But you shall not have this man! A man isn’t property!”

This just a touch ironic in light of Webster’s speech promoting the Compromise of 1850 and his support for fugitive slave laws on the grounds that slave owners were entitled to the protection of their property.  However, the year in which this scene takes place is 1847, back when his opposition to slavery in principle was perhaps a bit more credible.  But then, this movie was made in 1941, long after we knew better.  In fact, one might say that Webster had made something of a Faustian bargain himself.  So, maybe he does belong in this movie.

All that may be beside the point, however, because when Webster says that Jabez is a “man,” he probably means a white man.  And not just any white man, but an American citizen.  Since slaves were neither white nor American citizens, their status as property undoubtedly seemed acceptable to him:  “Mr. Stone is an American citizen,” he continues, “and no American citizen may be forced into the service of a foreign prince.”

Mr. Scratch takes exception to the notion that he is a foreigner.  When asked if he is claiming to be an American citizen, he replies:

And who with better right? When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on the deck. Am I not spoken of, still, in every church in New England? ’Tis true, the North claims me for a Southerner, and the South for a Northerner, but I am neither. To tell the truth, Mr. Webster, though I don’t like to boast of it, my name is older in the country than yours.

That much having been established, Webster demands a trial by jury, saying that if he cannot persuade the jury to let Jabez go, then Mr. Scratch gets Webster’s soul too.  The jury consists of wicked Americans who now reside in Hell as the result of once having made the same deal that Jabez has, men such as Captain Kidd and Benedict Arnold.  In addressing the jury, Webster goes on at great length about how wonderful it is to be an American, which is just one long non sequitur.  But then he appeals to the fact that they all wish they had a second chance, so why don’t they give Jabez a second chance?  By doing so, he argues, they will be standing up for freedom, for America.

And so, Jabez is acquitted.  I guess the point of this story is that if you are an American citizen, you can sell your soul to the Devil and get away with it.  Perhaps this is what they mean by American exceptionalism.

Adam’s Rib (1949)

Does Adam’s Rib give us a glimpse into what life was like in America in the late 1940s, or does it just tell us about what movie audiences expected to see on the big screen in the late 1940s?  Looking back that far, it is hard to tell.

The theme of the movie is the double standard regarding the sexes, which in those days meant that when a man had sex outside of marriage, either before marriage or with another woman after he was married, it was no big deal; but if a woman had sex outside of marriage, either before marriage or with another man after she was married, her behavior was shameful and scandalous.  Arising out of this general attitude was the “unwritten law,” which held that a man should not be punished for killing his wife’s lover, especially if he caught them in flagrante delicto.  But the same latitude was not extended to the wife, should she kill her husband’s lover.  It is the assertion of this movie that the double standard is wrong, that men and women should be treated equally.

On the one hand, this movie would seem to be premised on idea that this double standard was widely accepted by society at that time, not only as the way things were, but as the way they ought to be as well.  On the other hand, if the double standard were as firmly accepted by society as this movie would have us believe, then a movie like this that challenged that double standard would have been regarded as scandalous and unfit for viewing.  In other words, the audience had to be receptive to the idea that the double standard was unfair in order for this film to be successful.

When the movie begins, we see dizzy Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) following her philandering husband Warren (Tom Ewell) on his way to an assignation with Beryl Caighn (Jean Hagen).  The movie is unrelenting it its determination to show us that Doris is klutzy and simpleminded.  For example, we see her looking at the instruction booklet just before firing the revolver she has in her hand, as if pulling the trigger was something complicated.  The purpose of depicting her in this way, one must suppose, is so that we won’t hold her morally responsible for shooting her husband, which she manages to do after firing wildly around the room.  Later, she testifies that she was not trying to shoot anyone, but only trying to scare Beryl into leaving her husband alone.

The scene shifts to the Bonner household, where Adam (Spencer Tracy) and Amanda (Katherine Hepburn) are being served breakfast in bed by their maid.  This is not a special occasion, like an anniversary.  It is just another workday for this married couple.  Whom do you know today that gets served breakfast in bed by a maid just before going to work?  I refer back to my question in the first paragraph:  Was this normal in 1949, or was this something people expected to see when they went to the movies?

Anyway, Amanda says that Adam was making strange sounds in his sleep, which she mimics.  Because the idea of infidelity is already in our heads, we suspect he was dreaming about having sex with another woman.  Whatever the case, she spots the article in the newspaper about Doris shooting Warren, smiles broadly, and says, “Hot dog!”  Is this really an occasion for glee?  When she says the husband survived, Adam says, “Shame,” a sarcastic response to Amanda’s genuine delight.  She says it serves him right.  Later, after they leave the bedroom, the maid sees the story and says, “Attagirl.”

It turns out that Adam is an assistant district attorney, and he is assigned to prosecute Doris, while Amanda is also an attorney, who decides to defend Doris.  We know this is unrealistic, just a plot device, something that would never be allowed to happen in real life.  During the trial, Amanda keeps trying to make the case that there is a double standard for men and women, especially when it comes to the “unwritten law.”  However, Amanda does not explicitly say that she believes it should be all right for a woman to kill her husband’s lover.  As a further complication, that argument would not apply in any event because Doris did not shoot Beryl, but Warren.  Perhaps Amanda meant the unwritten law to say that it is also all right for the husband to kill his unfaithful wife, and so that should apply to the woman as well, allowing her to kill her husband.  We don’t know, because Amanda does not say that either.  This unwritten law seems to be an unspoken law in this movie as well.  In the end, we get a watered-down version, in which Amanda argues that Doris was just trying to protect her home by scaring Beryl, and shooting Warren was just an accident.

Now, it is not just the men in this movie that believe in the double standard.  Amanda’s secretary approves of the double standard just as much as the men.  At the same time, just like Amanda’s maid, her secretary seems to resent the very double standard she embraces, because upon hearing that a woman shot her husband, she says it served him right, even before knowing any of the details of the case, including the infidelity.

We have already noted that Doris is portrayed as being a dimwit, so as to make her less culpable.  Her husband Warren, on the other hand, is depicted as being a real jerk, who says on the witness stand that he does not love his wife and does not know why he married her.  Furthermore, he admits that he beats her regularly, often knocking her to the ground.  Earlier in the movie, Doris tells Amanda that the first time he hit her, he broke her tooth, the upper-left molar, no less.  And the point of this depiction is to make him seem to deserve being shot.  These characterizations are so heavy-handed as to make the story completely uninteresting.  After all, a man does not have to be a wife-beater to be unfaithful, and his wife does not have to be addlebrained to shoot him in a jealous rage.

The movie tries to have it both ways.  During the trial, Amanda calls to the stand three women who are seen to be equal, if not superior, to men, both mentally and physically, the point being that women should be treated the same as men.  So, why not have a movie in which, say, the chemist, with several advanced degrees and responsible positions in both the public and private sector, be the one who shot her husband?  Flipping back and forth like a Necker cube, the movie wants us to acknowledge that women are equal to men, while at the same time it tries to elicit our compassion for a helpless, weak woman who would be the last person you would offer up as an argument for gender equality.

At this point, I must comment on another double standard, one not made explicit in the movie, but which is definitely present nevertheless:  that between blondes and brunettes, or more generally, between blondes and all other women.  Aside from an occasional woman seen briefly with no speaking part, Doris is the only blonde in the movie.  All the rest are either brunettes, red heads, or elderly women with gray hair.  As if the movie had not already made it painfully obvious that Doris is not very bright, the producer must have decided that this had to be reinforced by the dumb-blonde stereotype.  But that is not all.  During the trial, when Amanda is summing up and wants to drive home her point about the double standard, she implores the jury to imagine Doris as a man.  We see Doris transform into a man with dark hair.  And then she points to Warren, asking them to imagine him as a woman, at which point he changes into a woman with blond hair.

Anyway, the conflict between Adam and Amanda spills over into their marriage, causing them to break up, leading to apparent infidelity, threats with a fake gun, making up, but with fake tears, and hints of further conflict to come.  But at least their reconciliation seems to make sense, sort of.  What does not make sense is the reconciliation of Doris and Warren.  After she is found not guilty by the jury, Doris and Warren become a loving couple, embracing each other and their three children, ready to go back home and live happily ever after.  I’ll bet he beats as soon as he gets her alone, and I’ll give him a week before he starts cheating on her again.  Oh wait, I forgot, this is a movie, not real life.  Never mind.

Of course, the reason for their reunion is that a more realistic ending for them would have been unthinkable.  In other words, suppose Doris had turned to Amanda after her acquittal and said, “Will you help me get a divorce from that louse?”  And while I’m on the subject, suppose Amanda had decided she was fed up with Adam’s insufferable attitude toward her on account of the way she defended her client in court, and she decided she would get a divorce as well.  That would have offended the audience of 1949 far more than the movie’s challenge to the double standard ever could.