The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and The Hunt (2020)

In 1924, Richard Connell published The Most Dangerous Game, which begins with Sanger Rainsford on board a ship in the Caribbean, heading for South America, where he intends to bag a jaguar.  He regards hunting as the “best sport in the world.”

His companion, Whitney, qualifies the statement, saying it is great sport for the hunter; for the jaguar, not so much.

“Don’t talk rot, Whitney,” said Rainsford. “You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?”

“Perhaps the jaguar does,” observed Whitney.

“Bah! They’ve no understanding.”

“Even so, I rather think they understand one thing—fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.”

“Nonsense,” laughed Rainsford. “This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees.  Luckily, you and I are hunters.”

Rainsford falls off the yacht he was on and has to swim to the nearby island, the one that sailors were afraid of for some reason.  He makes it to an enormous structure.  Inside, the owner of the place is a General Zaroff.  He used to be a military man from an aristocratic family, a Cossack.  He explains:  “After the debacle in Russia I left the country, for it was imprudent for an officer of the Czar to stay there. Many noble Russians lost everything. I, luckily, had invested heavily in American securities, so I shall never have to open a tearoom in Monte Carlo or drive a taxi in Paris.”

Like Rainsford, Zaroff has an attitude about hunters and the hunted, as something that was meant to be, saying, “God makes some men poets. Some He makes kings, some beggars. Me He made a hunter.”  However, he found he had grown bored with just killing animals.  “No animal had a chance with me any more….  The animal had nothing but his legs and his instinct. Instinct is no match for reason.”

Zaroff continues, saying he needed a new animal to hunt.  “I wanted the ideal animal to hunt….  So I said, ‘What are the attributes of an ideal quarry?’ And the answer was, of course, ‘It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.’”  Such an animal would be the most dangerous game of all.  This idea occurred to him while suffering from a splitting headache, probably the result of the fractured skull he received when he was hit by a Cape buffalo, so there is the suggestion that his madness was brought on by that.

When Rainsford finally realizes that Zaroff is talking about man, he is appalled.  At first, it seems that Zaroff is hoping his new companion will join him in the hunt, for he has a bunch of men from a ship that crashed into some rocks and sank, owing to some deceptive lights that lure ships to their doom.  But when Rainsford refuses, calling it murder, Zaroff sends him off to his room to sleep, while he proceeds to hunt one of the sailors in the basement.

The next morning, Zaroff tells Rainsford the man he hunted, a big, strong, black man, who looked resourceful, was nevertheless too easy a prey.  Zaroff expressed his fear that even here he was becoming bored.  But then an idea occurs to him.  If Rainsford refuses to join him as a hunter, he can join him as the hunted.  Being a man experienced in big game hunting, he will indeed be the most dangerous of the most dangerous game.

And so, the hunt begins.  The rest of the story is of thrust and parry, of the wits of Rainsford versus the cunning of Zaroff.  In the end, Rainsford outsmarts the general and kills him.

There have been many adaptations of this short story.  I even saw an episode of Get Smart based on it, “Island of the Darned.”  Before considering them, let us isolate four features of this story, which will be a guide to determining how closely an adaptation is to the original.

First:  The essential feature of this story is that of one man hunting another man through the jungle.

Second:  A second feature is the theme of the hunter who becomes the hunted.  The man being hunted is a big game hunter, who therefore knows his woodcraft and knows what hunters look for in pursuing their game.

Third:  A third feature is that indicated by the title.  It concerns the motive of the man doing the hunting, a man who has become bored with hunting animals.  He can get a thrill only by hunting the most dangerous game, which is man.

Fourth:  Finally, the hunter who has become the hunted is arrogant at the beginning of the story.  He regards his role as a hunter as just the way things are.  And he lacks empathy.  It doesn’t bother him to kill animals just for sport.  The animal’s life means nothing to him, nor does he concern himself with the any pain and suffering experienced by the animal.

In the 1932 movie based on this short story, all four elements of this story are preserved.  Rainsford (Joel McRea), whose first name has become Bob, expresses similar sentiments to that of his character in the short story, except that he suggests that the animal enjoys the hunt as much as the man, referring specifically to a tiger he recently killed.  When asked if he really thinks he would have enjoyed the hunt as much if he had been the tiger, Rainsford hedges, suggesting it is an idle hypothetical:  “This world’s divided into two kinds of people, the hunter and the hunted.  Luckily, I’m a hunter.  Nothing can ever change that.”

However, he is just a touch less arrogant than in the short story.  The Rainsford of the latter is completely contemptuous of his friend’s apprehension regarding the waters they are in, and he dismisses the nervous sailors as just superstitious.  In the movie, Rainsford suggests they play it safe and go the long way around, but the owner of the yacht insists they proceed through the channel indicated by the lights.  As a result, the yacht smashes into the rocks and sinks.  Only Rainsford survives.  Still, Rainsford of the movie satisfies the fourth feature of arrogance and lack of empathy.

There is, however, a variation on the first feature, which is Rainsford has a female companion who is hunted along with him, a woman who is from another ship that sunk.  She is played by Fay Wray.  Her clothes manage to become torn as she and Rainsford run through the jungle, exposing some of her beautiful flesh, much in the way she would lose some of her clothing in another jungle movie she would star in the following year.  In fact, in some scenes, it appears to be the same jungle.  And she becomes the spoils of the hunt, as it were, because Zaroff (Leslie Banks) says that love is best after the kill.  In the short story, the knocker on the door is merely a gargoyle, but in the movie, the knocker, as well as a painting on the wall inside, is that of a centaur with an arrow sticking out of his chest as he carries a woman, presumably an allusion to a myth in which Heracles kills a centaur on account of the woman he is carrying away.  The centaur perfectly represents the idea of a man being hunted as an animal, and the woman he is carrying as the prize.

A Game of Death (1945) sticks fairly close to the 1932 version.  Here too, Rainsford suggests playing it safe and going the long way around, but in this case, the owner of the yacht ends up agreeing with him.  However, the change of course occurs too late.  Still, Rainsford expresses the same attitude about the animals he hunts as in the original story.  Zaroff, the Russian, has been replaced by Erich Krieger, a Nazi.  There are other variations from the 1932 version, which render it inferior to the original, but all four features are still present.

Run for the Sun (1956) is said to be a remake of A Game of Death, but that’s only because Russians have been replaced by Nazis in those two movies.  In fact, whereas as A Game of Death mostly follows The Most Dangerous Game, Run for the Sun varies significantly from either of those two movies.  The feature of the protagonist being a hunter is present, but somewhat understated.  Richard Widmark plays a novelist who has lost his ability to write because his wife left him.  He has become a recluse, making a living mostly by fishing.  There is some reference to his having at one time been a big game hunter, but just in passing.  I saw the movie when I was a child and saw it again some years later, in both cases before I had read the short story or seen the 1932 movie based on it.  When I did finally become aware of the original story, I thought to myself, “It’s too bad they didn’t use the theme of the hunter becoming the hunted in Run for the Sun.”  When I saw it again recently for a third time, and I was surprised to find out that Widmark had been a hunter in that movie, so little emphasis is given to that aspect of his personality.  In any event, he does not come across as arrogant about his superiority to animals or express contempt for what the animal feels.

Those that hunt him in this movie are Trevor Howard, who is British, and Peter van Eyck, a German who claims to be an archaeologist.  Widmark’s plane gets off course and runs out of gas, forcing him to land near the house of these two men.  The library in their house has no books on archaeology, but there is one by Nietzsche, so you know what that means.  Sure enough, Howard turns out to be have been a traitor during World War II, and van Eyck is a Nazi.  They have been hiding out in the wilderness until they feel safe to return to civilization, for they fear being prosecuted for war crimes.  While they are both hunters, the reason Howard and van Eyck end up hunting Widmark is to keep their secret safe from the world, merely self-interest.  So, in this movie, we have only the first two features of the original story.  Widmark is not hunted for the sport of it, and he is not arrogant or lacking in empathy.

Jane Greer is Widmark’s companion and love interest in Run for the Sun.  The women in these adaptations are not helpless females, whose sole function is simply to be rescued, but rather are intelligent and resourceful.  They make the story more interesting, more engaging.

In Surviving the Game (1994), there is not even a shred of the Rainsford character in the one played by Ice-T.  Instead of a hunter getting a little karma, finding out what it feels like be hunted, we have the ultimate sad sack.  He lost his family in an apartment fire and ended up homeless.  His only friend and his dog both die, and he is on the verge of committing suicide.  So, when we find out he is to be hunted like an animal, it just seems to be so much piling on.  Oh, sure, he uses his street smarts instead of any knowledge of woodcraft to outwit them all, and I suppose that he has been given a new lease on life.  But the second and fourth features are both missing.

A small variation on the first feature is that he is hunted through the woods rather than a jungle.  The third feature, that of the most-dangerous-game theme, is present, for he is hunted by wealthy men for the pleasure of the kill.  They are rich men of various sorts, Gary Busey, a psychopathic psychiatrist, John C. McGinley, a Texas oil man, and F. Murray Abraham, a wealthy executive, to name a few.  There are no women at all in Surviving the Game, which is just one more mark against it.

There are numerous variations on the first feature, too many to consider them all.  In Hounds of Zaroff (2016), there is a Zaroff, but a woman plays the Rainsford character.  More than one woman is hunted in The Woman Hunt (1972).  It is a woman who does the hunting in Confessions of a Psycho Cat (1968).  And the hunt may take place in the city, as in the one just mentioned and in Hard Target (1993).  Honorable mention goes to The Naked Prey (1965), Deliverance (1972), and Southern Comfort (1981).

Interestingly, the fourth feature, in which the one being hunted is someone who is arrogant and lacks empathy, is least likely to be present in a remake.  Perhaps we today would find such a protagonist too unlikeable for our taste, but I think it is exactly this feature that is the perfect prelude to the attitude of Zaroff, who has taken Rainsford’s view of things to the next step, feeling superior to other men and having no sympathy for their suffering when he hunts them.

For example, in Never Leave Alive (2017), an announcer on the radio says that Rainsford is trying to turn over a new leaf after all the trouble he has been in on account of being an alcoholic.  To that end, he has started a wildlife preservation campaign.  He is referred to as altruistic, as being a philanthropist.  When he kills a deer, he donates the venison to charity.

Finally, we come to the latest variation on this story, The Hunt (2020).  It is hard to believe this movie’s release was delayed on account of some shootings that took place in 2019, or that it inspired serious political criticism.  Filled with Grand Guignol humor, this over-the-top satire doesn’t take itself seriously, so why should anyone else?

In this story, a bunch of liberal elites in prominent positions got on a roll one day, texting each other about how they were looking forward to the Hunt at The Manor, where they would slaughter a bunch of deplorables, an allusion to Hillary Clinton’s expression “basket of deplorables,” which she use in a speech to refer to half the Trump supporters, which she defined as “racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic.”  The word “deplorable” was used by Athena (Hilary Swank), which she regards as a polite term for “fucking rednecks,” “gun-clutching homophobes,” “academically challenged racists,” and “tooth-deprived bigots.”  It was all a joke, but it was leaked and posted on the internet, fomenting a conspiracy theory known as Manorgate.  As a result, they all lost their jobs.  To get even, they decide they will turn their joke into a reality and hunt down all those responsible for pushing that conspiracy theory, after abducting them and taking them to a place in Croatia made to look like Arkansas, where the Manor is supposedly located.  It is left to our imagination as to how they landed that plane in Croatia, removed all those drugged deplorables, and transported them to the countryside, without the government of Croatia knowing about it, a government depicted in the movie as being especially concerned to keep refugees from entering the country.

As the liberal elites prepare for the hunt, trying to decide who their victims will be, one of those to be hunted is seen in a photograph posing over a rhinoceros he just bagged, and he is selected.  He gets wiped out by stepping on a landmine before he gets a chance to expound on any philosophy about the hunter and the hunted, but I suppose the smirk on his face as he poses over the rhino allows us to infer he is arrogant and lacking in empathy for the animals he hunts.  Still, his role is so small that this hardly qualifies as satisfying the fourth feature.

The principal hunter, Athena, and the only one of the hunted to survive, Crystal (Betty Gilpin), are both women.  And Crystal turns out to have been a victim of mistaken identity, having nothing to do with the internet conspiracy theory.  Neither of them has hunted animals, as far as we can tell, but they both seem to have had a lot of martial arts training.

Athena had nicknamed Crystal “Snowball,” as an allusion to one of the pigs in Animal Farm, and she is surprised when Crystal gets the reference, though Crystal doesn’t understand what she has to do with that character, suggesting Athena is more like Snowball.  Other deplorables are also named after characters in that novel.  The farm in that story ends up being called “The Manor Farm,” and there is a pet pig the liberal elites have brought along named “Orwell.”  Perhaps the idea is that in Animal Farm, those that claim to be acting for the greater good of all are really in it for themselves, though, as Crystal suggests, that may be just as true of the elites as it is of the deplorables.

In most of the previous versions or variations of The Most Dangerous Game, the men that hunt other men are on the right of the political spectrum.  Having the manhunters be liberal elites is disorienting.  It is easy to fall into the old habit of thinking that those doing the hunting are a bunch of macho, right-wing, fascist psychos.  But we are regularly reminded of their left-wing attitudes as they admonish one another when someone is accidentally being politically incorrect:  culturally appropriating a kimono, failing to use gender-neutral words, saying things like “those people” when referring to African Americans, and debating whether calling them “black” is almost as bad as using “the N-word.”  In selecting their list of twelve people to be hunted, they wanted to include an African American for the sake of diversity, but he didn’t score high enough on the deplorable scale.  Just before one of the victims dies, he tells the woman leaning over him, “You’re going to Hell.”  But she says she doesn’t believe in Hell because she is one of the “godless elites,” citing a remark from his website, apparently.

And we are also reminded of the mentality of those being hunted.  When a woman starts convulsing after eating a doughnut, another one of the deplorables says she must be “dianetic.”  Gary talks about the “globalist cucks who run the deep state.”  And Don tells Crystal that when this Manorgate scandal breaks wide open, the two of them are going to be on Hannity, “just like them two Jew boys that fucked Nixon up.”

On the flight to Croatia, with a dozen drugged deplorables in the back of the plane, one of the liberal elites tells Kelly, the stewardess, who offers him caviar, that he just had caviar yesterday, and he is weary of it.  (In the credits, Kelly is also listed as “Not Stewardess,” since the word “stewardess” is now politically incorrect.)  When he agrees to have some champagne, she pulls out a bottle, and he asks if that is the Heidsieck.  She is puzzled by the question, so he explains:  “A German sub sank a ship on the way to Tsar Nicholas II.  Couple years back, they found the wreck and a case of the 1907 Heidsieck.  They sent a little robot down there to bring it back up.  Athena bought three bottles at 250K per.  And no one even knows what the stuff tastes like.”  But it is just ordinary champagne that Kelly has to offer.

During the climactic fight, Crystal grabs a bottle of the 1907 Heidsieck and throws it at Athena.  Horrified, Athena catches it and sets it aside.  After Crystal kills Athena, she picks up that bottle and heads for the plane that brought her to Croatia.  She gets on board and tells the pilot that everyone else is dead and she wants to go home.  She invites Kelly to have some caviar with her.  Then she picks up the bottle of the 1907 Heidsieck that no one has ever tasted, puts it to her mouth, and guzzles it.  When Kelly asks her how it is, Crystal says, “It’s fucking great!”

The Glass Key (1935 and 1942)

The Glass Key is a 1931 novel by Dashiell Hammet.  It was made into a movie in 1935, which is a lot better than I thought it would be.  Although most critics say that film noir began in the 1940s, this version of the novel, apart from the date of production, would almost seem to qualify.  Its remake in 1942, however, is unequivocally film noir, and one of the best.

When the 1942 version begins, we are introduced to Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy), a crooked ward heeler who has contempt for Senator Ralph Henry, the reform candidate for governor.  When he makes a snide remark about the Senator’s son Taylor, who he says could stand some reforming himself, the Senator’s daughter Janet (Veronica Lake) slaps him in the face and calls him a crook.  Being a real man, Madvig just stands there and takes it.  In fact, he immediately becomes smitten by Janet.  As a result of this infatuation, he tells Ed Beaumont (Ned in the novel), played by Alan Ladd, that he is going to support Ralph Henry for governor.  When Sloss, one of Madvig’s henchmen, tells him he won’t remain boss for long if he supports the reform candidate, Madvig tosses him through the window and into the swimming pool.

Madvig is head of the Voters League, which sounds like a civic-minded organization.  But when Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) and his bodyguard, Jeff (William Bendix), push through the doors of the headquarters, we see people shooting pool, playing poker, and shooting craps.  They tell Oswald, the man who greets them at the door, that they want to see Madvig.  Oswald relays the message to Beaumont, right while he’s trying to make his point with the dice he’s about to throw.

In a film noir, craps is one of the gambling games that it is respectable for a tough guy to play.  The same can be said for shooting pool, playing poker, and betting on the horses.  These are all games that require some skill or sophistication to do well at.  Furthermore, it is with games like these that the tough guy gets to hold something, whether it is a cue, cards, dice, or a racing form.  This makes him an active participant.  Moreover, his physical contact with these items makes it more difficult for others to cheat him at the game.

Roulette, on the other hand, is something a tough guy must never play.  There is nothing to think about, no place for skill.  You don’t get to hold anything, unless it’s your chips, and you just plop them down somewhere and passively await results.  As often as not in the movies, the wheel is crooked.  It is strictly for women and weak men.  In Dead Reckoning (1947), when Lizabeth Scott starts playing roulette, saying she has a system, Humphrey Bogart suggests she might as well throw her money out the window.  She loses a lot of money, but he stops her while she still has a little left, suggesting she let him see what he can do shooting craps.  On the way there, the owner of the casino remarks that it all depends on the talent of the player.  Humphrey Bogart wins three times in a row, getting all her money back for her.  The croupier says the house will change the dice.  Bogart says he can feel snake eyes in the new dice.  The original dice are given back to him, and he wins back twice as much money as Scott started with.  In Out of the Past (1947), when Robert Mitchum makes a snide remark about the way Jane Greer is losing at roulette, she asks, “Don’t you like to gamble?” to which he replies, “Not against a wheel.”  In Casablanca (1942), it typically happens that when a married couple needs to leave Casablanca, Claude Rains, a corrupt Vichy official, will require that the wife have sex with him.  Humphrey Bogart, who runs a casino, feels sorry for one couple.  He sees the husband, looking weak and pathetic, sitting at the roulette table, trying to win enough money for him and his wife to leave Casablanca.  Bogart tells the man what number to bet on and then signals the croupier to let him win just enough money to book passage out of the city so the man’s wife won’t have to have sex with Rains.

I say all this because it came as a surprise to me, when watching the 1935 version of The Glass Key, to see George Raft, as Ed Beaumont, betting against a wheel.  The wheel is a fan with numbers on the blades, and men bet on the number that is on the bottom blade when the fan stops.  However, he redeems himself later when he looks out the window, sees that it is raining, and calls in a bet at the racetrack.  This shows knowledge of which horses do better on a wet track, something we can admire in a tough guy.  Still, this scene of betting against a wheel is another reason why this 1935 version should not be counted as being a film noir.  It was not in the novel, and it is not in the 1942 remake, to which we now return.

After making his point, saying, “Little Joe, brother, that’s it,” Beaumont tells Varna he’ll let Madvig know he’s there.  When Beaumont walks in the office, we find Madvig putting on some socks with a fancy design on them.  I have never been able to tell what it is the design of.  In the 1935 version, Beaumont says something about Christmas trees, and in the 1942 version, he says something about a clock.  In any event, when he tells Madvig that Varna wants to see him, we begin to see that there is a difference in the intellectual capacity of the two men.  With Madvig, what you see is what you get.  His thinking is straightforward.  He tends to insult people because it is too much trouble to lie just to be polite, because it requires double thinking, knowing what is true while saying what is false.  Of course, as we find out later, he can lie when he really needs to.  It’s the subtle kind of lying that is too much for him.

Beaumont, on the other hand, has the ability to think at a higher level.  So, whereas Madvig cannot think past his love for Janet, Beaumont can see that backing Ralph Henry and the Reform Ticket will disrupt their whole setup, causing trouble between Madvig and Varna, who is head of a rival gang.  Beaumont tells Madvig he’s wrong, “as wrong as those socks.”  In the 1935 version, following the novel, he tells Madvig (Edward Arnold) on a separate occasion, “Silk socks don’t go with tweed.”  Madvig replies, “I like the feel of silk,” to which Beaumont rejoins, “Then lay off tweed.”  Madvig knows only what feels right to him.  Beaumont knows how things will appear to others.

Madvig is going to have dinner with Senator Henry, and he mentions that it is Janet’s birthday.  He asks Beaumont what he should get her.  Beaumont asks, “Want to make a good impression?”  When Madvig says he does, Beaumont says, “Nothing.”  Madvig is stunned.  “But why?” he asks.  Beaumont answers, “Because you’re not supposed to give people things, unless you’re sure they like to get them from you.”  It is clear that Ed Beaumont is the Miss Manners of film noir.

Beaumont asks if Madvig is sure that Senator Henry will “play ball” after the election.  Madvig says, “Why he’s practically given me the key to his house.”  Beaumont says it’s a glass key, which might break off in his hand.  Then Madvig says he is going to marry Janet Henry, although only he and Beaumont know about it.  Beaumont suspects the Senator is just using his daughter as bait.  He tells Madvig he’d better insist on the wedding before election day, so he can be sure of his pound of flesh.

In the novel, Madvig objects to Beaumont’s suggestion that the Senator will go back on his word after the election, saying, “I don’t know why you keep talking about the Senator like he was a yegg. He’s a gentleman and….”

“Absolutely,” Beaumont agrees.  “Read about it in the Post—one of the few aristocrats left in American politics. And his daughter’s an aristocrat. That’s why I’m warning you to sew your shirt on when you go to see them, or you’ll come away without it, because to them you’re a lower form of animal life and none of the rules apply.”  That’s a pretty good line.  Unfortunately, it didn’t make its way into either of the movie versions.

Meanwhile, Oswald, under Madvig’s orders, is trying to keep Varna out, but Jeff shoves him aside.  When Oswald’s glasses fall on the floor, Jeff deliberately grinds on them with his heel.  Once inside the office, Varna complains about his gambling joints being closed down, and that he knows Madvig is behind it.  But Madvig tells him that’s the way it’s going to be, and he’ll just have to take it.  Before they leave, Jeff lets a big wad of spit fall from his mouth onto the floor.

That night at the dinner party, Madvig is telling the other guests about how politics is simple, just a matter of muscle.  Janet looks at him with amused disdain.  As they get up from the table to go to the living room for coffee, Senator Henry tells Janet that he needs her to be nice to Madvig until he wins the election.  She says at least he will be good for some laughs.

Janet’s brother Taylor signaled her while she was at the table, and she goes to meet him.  He needs money to pay his gambling debts, but she has already given him all she has.  Their father shows up, and he and Taylor start quarreling.  When his father threatens to get him a job on Monday, that is just too much to bear, so Taylor leaves in a huff, letting in Beaumont on his way out, who just dropped by to bring Madvig some figures.  He is invited to join them for coffee.

As Madvig reminisces about his days working for the Observer, Janet starts giving Beaumont a sexy look.  It is clear that they are attracted to each other.  Furthermore, she is Beaumont’s equal mentally, though she has a bit of a mean streak.  Madvig tells what his job was, saying that if he came across someone selling the Post, he would slug him.  But then he made the same deal with the Post, saying, “You see, if the guy handed me the Observer, I’d slug him for the Post. If he hands me the Post, I’d slug him for the Observer. It was very simple.”

Janet observes with amusement, “You certainly were a two-fisted newspaper man, Mr. Madvig.  Wasn’t he, Mr. Beaumont?”  This goes right over Madvig’s head.  But Beaumont doesn’t like it.

Madvig continues.  “Yeah, but there was just one hitch.  I used to have to be very careful about repeating.  But once I missed.  I remember it was on Third and Broadway.  I slugged a guy for handing me the Observer.  About a week later, I got balled-up, and I found myself in the same spot.  Well, the guy hands me the Post, so, I have to slug him again.  You should have seen the expression on that fellow’s face.”

“There was enough there for an expression?” Janet asks as she glances again at Beaumont.  Again, Madvig has not the slightest idea that he is being made fun of by the woman he loves, who instead is flirting with best friend.

On the way home, Beaumont is approached by Opal (Bonita Granville), Madvig’s sister, who asks him for money, all he has on him.  He gives it to her, and she drives off.  He follows her to Taylor’s apartment.  She has given Taylor the money for his debt to Varna.  Beaumont drags her out of there and takes her home.  Being a gentleman, he lies to Madvig about where she’s been, but she defiantly says she was at Taylor’s apartment.  In those days, that meant she was going to have sex with him.  And in those days, that was something shameful.  She even says she has been to his apartment many times.  Beaumont leaves while they are arguing.

A parenthetical consideration:  If Madvig married Janet, Taylor would be his brother-in-law.  And if Taylor married Opal, he would also be Madvig’s brother-in-law.  So, if they all got married, that would double the in-law situation.  That’s not actually incest, but it is a little too all-in-the-family.  In fact, I seem to recall from when I read War and Peace a comment to the effect that in Russia at that time, if a man married a woman, his sister could not marry his wife’s brother.

Anyway, when Beaumont gets home, he gets a call from Opal, who is frantic, because Madvig is heading over to the Henry house after Taylor.  She’s afraid he’s going to kill him.  By the time Beaumont gets there, he finds Taylor’s corpse lying in the gutter in front of the Henry house.

From this point on, things become increasingly tense between Beaumont and Madvig.  There is a lot of suspicion that Madvig killed Taylor, and Varna claims to have a witness, that fellow Sloss that Madvig threw out the window, who claims that he saw Madvig and Taylor arguing that night.  Janet has been sending the District Attorney anonymous letters trying to incriminate Madvig, even after she and Madvig have become engaged; and Opal has agreed to let the Observer run a story in which she accuses her brother of killing Taylor.  Beaumont practically cuckolds the owner of the newspaper by making out with his wife on the couch while the pitiful husband asks her if she’s coming to bed.  When she keeps kissing Beaumont, the husband kills himself, and the story about Opal’s accusation is quashed.  But that comes later.  In the meantime, Beaumont tells Madvig it is more important than ever to make peace with Varna, but he refuses.  Adding to that is the fact that Beaumont has fallen for Janet too.

Beaumont decides to leave town.  When Madvig tries to talk him out of it, Ed suggests they have a drink for old times’ sake.  In the 1935 version, they knowingly go into a bar that is one of Shad O’Rory’s places, Shad O’Rory being the character equivalent of Nick Varna in the 1942 version.  This is important for interpreting what happens later.  In both versions, they start quarreling again, and Ed leaves.  In the 1935 version, this is noticed by one of O’Rory’s henchmen, who passes the information on to his boss.  We figure that Beaumont is purposely putting on a show, to make it look as though he is through working for Madvig.  Because Madvig is not good at dissembling, Beaumont does not tell him what he is up to.  In the 1942 version, it seems to be only an accident that one of Varna’s men overhears what is going on.

Varna gets the word to Ed that he wants to see him and offers to pay for Beaumont’s services, to get him to work for him, and Beaumont seems to be interested.  This theme of the servant of two masters, of a man playing one gang off the other for his own profit, is said to have been the inspiration for Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), which was turned into a Western by Sergio Leone in A Fistful of Dollars (1964).  In all three stories, the law is weak or corrupt.  And in all three stories, the protagonist is beaten severely when one of the gang leaders realizes he has been betrayed.

What Varna really wants from Beaumont is anything that might help him pin the murder of Taylor on Madvig.  But when Varna realizes that Beaumont is still loyal to Madvig, he tells Jeff to beat the information out of him.

At this point, we come to the question as to whether there is a homosexual subtext in the novel and its movie versions.  In a review by Curt J. Evans, he suggests that it is not so much that Beaumont wants Janet as it is that he is jealous because of his homosexual feelings for Madvig.  Being straight myself, that would never have occurred to me.  To me, the men are just friends.  Even if Beaumont had not been in love with Janet, he could easily resent the fact that Madvig was letting his infatuation with Janet cloud his judgment, jeopardizing their political organization, without leading me to conclude that deep down he wanted to have sex with him.

Jeff is a different matter.  In the novel, he refers to Beaumont as “sweetheart” and “baby.”  And in the 1935 version, Jeff, played by Guinn Williams, likewise uses those terms of endearment while beating up Beaumont, and also “sweetie-pie” and “cuddles.”  Still, I would never have suspected anything from that.  To me, it would just be cruel sarcasm.  But the 1942 version managed to penetrate my heterosexual way of looking at things.

Perhaps it is the way William Bendix portrayed him, but Jeff clearly seems to be a man with repressed homosexual tendencies, and when another man arouses such urges in him, he just naturally has to beat the crap out of him.  Not only does he use those same terms of endearment, but he also says that Beaumont likes it, a sadist fantasizing a complementary masochism on the part of the man whose face he is pounding on.  But my becoming aware of this repressed homosexuality was facilitated by Alan Ladd playing the role Beaumont.  As noted above, in the 1935 version, Beaumont was played by George Raft, who has a standard tough-guy persona.  But Alan Ladd is a small man with delicate features.  It is easy to imagine him bringing out feelings in Jeff that he doesn’t fully understand.

Beaumont manages to escape from the brutal beating, which he barely survives.  After Madvig is indicted for Taylor’s murder, he and Beaumont start quarreling again about Janet.  Madvig claims he did kill Taylor in self-defense, but didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to lose her.  Beaumont suspects there is something phony about this admission, but he is not sure what.  He leaves the district attorney’s office where Madvig is being held.

The scene shifts to a bar owned by Varna.  We see a black woman, Lillian Randolph, playing the piano, singing “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You.”  Well, you know how it is.  Once your gaydar has finally been turned on, you begin seeing stuff everywhere.  As she sings that love song, she gazes into the eyes of another woman, who is leaning on the piano and looking back at her.  It made me wonder.

In any event, she eventually turns and begins looking at Jeff, who is also at the piano.  Jeff doesn’t seem happy.  Maybe the song has made him sad.  Suddenly, Beaumont appears on the stairs, slowly descending.  He and Jeff look at each other across the room.  Beaumont approaches, looking timid and submissive.  Jeff puts his arm around him and leads him upstairs to a private room, talking about how he’s going to bounce him off the walls.

Once in the room, Jeff says he knows what Beaumont is up to, trying to get him to talk.  He tells him he’s a heel.  Usually, that is something a woman says about a man, or a man will say about another man in reference to a woman, as in, “Your boyfriend is nothing but a heel.”  Now, I realize that a man might say that to another man.  In fact, in the novel, Madvig calls Beaumont a heel when Beaumont tries to tell him what Janet is up to.  Interestingly, that comes right after a line that Evans cites as evidence that Beaumont might have homosexual feelings for Madvig:

“What is it, Ned? Do you want her yourself or is it—” He [Madvig] broke off contemptuously. “It doesn’t make any difference.” He jerked a thumb carelessly at the door. “Get out, you heel, this is the kiss-off.”

What was the “or is it” Madvig was referring to?  In any event, Jeff uses the word “heel” in talking to Beaumont again and again, which seems express his feeling of being betrayed by someone he loves.

Varna shows up, irritated that Jeff has not stayed undercover as he was told to and irritated that he killed Sloss.  They start fighting, and Jeff strangles Varna, feeling sorry for himself as he does so, saying, “I’m just a good-natured slob.”  When the police arrive, before they start to take Jeff away, he tries to show his contempt for Beaumont by letting another big drop of spit fall to the floor, but Beaumont neatly slides a cuspidor underneath him to catch it.

In the end, it turns out that the Senator was the one who accidentally killed his son Taylor.  I said at the beginning that the 1935 version would almost qualify as film noir were it not for the date of production.  However, there are two differences in the endings that make it easy to see which one was made before the film noir period, and which one was made during it.

In the 1935 version, Madvig lives with his mother, something a tough guy in a film noir never does.  She says that Senator Doherty, the one who will be taking Ralph Henry’s place, is an honest man, one whom Madvig will not be able to handle.  She tells Madvig and Beaumont that they will enjoy working with an honest man once they get used to it.  In short, corruption is coming to an end in this town.

In the 1942 version, Madvig, who doesn’t even have a mother, let alone live with her, says he hasn’t picked who will be the next governor yet, but he guarantees he’ll be a winner.  There is every indication that the corruption will continue just as before, especially since Madvig will not be having anything to do with the Reform Ticket anymore.

Second, in the 1935 version, Beaumont and Janet do not fall in love, so there is no triangle between those two and Madvig.  And after Senator Henry confesses, there is no more mention of anything between her and Madvig either.  Instead, it turns out that Beaumont and Opal have started dating and are now in love.

In the 1942 version, however, the fact that both men want Janet only aggravates the tension between them.  In the final scene, Madvig finds out that Janet and Beaumont are in love.  He gives them his blessing, tough-guy style, and then slides the ostentatiously expensive engagement ring off her finger, saying, “If you figure on getting married with my rock, you’re nuts.”

Spacewomen vs. Earthmen

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

Cat-Women of the Moon is a cheesy science fiction flick with a right-wing ideology.

When it begins, we find five astronauts on a spaceship on their way to the moon.  One of those astronauts is Helen (Marie Windsor), the navigator.  After the ship has quit accelerating, and the astronauts are able to rise from their cots, Helen flips open her compact and begins combing her hair and fixing her face.  Walt, the engineer, who comes across as a womanizer, watches her do this and says, “Oh brother, am I going to collect some bets.”  One can only imagine that the bets had something to do with having a little space sex with Helen.  This might be a challenge, however, because there seems to be a love triangle between her, Kip (Victor Jory), and Laird (Sonny Tufts), the copilot and pilot respectively.  Looks as though they should have brought more women along so that everyone could have one.  But that will soon be remedied.

Walt is also out to make a fast buck.  He plugs an oil company on the radio when saying a few words to the folks back home, which he figures is worth a couple of grand.  He also has some stamps to put on his letters from the moon, which he figures will be worth a couple of hundred bucks each.

Helen seems to be directing the ship to land on what she and Laird call the “dark side” of the moon, which no one has ever seen, as opposed to the “bright side” of the moon, which is what we on Earth can see.  Of course, the far side of the moon is not always in the dark, just as the near side of the moon is not always illuminated, so the man that wrote this script seems to have been rather confused on this point.  Laird balks at Helen’s desire to land on the dark side because the original plan was to start with the bright side.

Once they land and get suited up, Helen complains about her boots, which she says are too heavy.  But Laird tells her that they will weigh less once they leave the ship and are walking on the surface of the moon.  That’s where there will be less gravity, you see.  And sure enough, once they disembark, the boots are much lighter.

Anyway, there they are on the “dark side” (i.e., far side) of the moon, and yet Laird is able to look up at the sky and see the Earth.  Helen, who brings her cigarettes with her because they make her feel at home, directs them toward a cave.  Laird just doesn’t understand how she knows so much about this dark side of the moon.  But it’s a good thing she does, because when they reach the border where the illuminated part of the moon begins, Laird shows the men how you can light one of Helen’s cigarettes by exposing it to the sun, where it immediately bursts into flames.  It manages to do this even though oxygen is not present.  Laird did this with the cigarette to show everyone why they must avoid setting foot on the bright side.  And this is strange, because it was the bright side where Laird said they were supposed to land originally.

Once they get inside the cave, their boots become heavy again.  Then they notice stalactites, which are formed by dripping water.  Kip takes one of Helen’s matches and lights it, proving that there is atmosphere in the cave as a result of the increased gravitational pull.  So, they remove their space suits.  Kip brought his revolver with him for the same reason Helen brought her cigarettes:  it makes him feel at home.  But now that they know they can breathe the air, Kip says the revolver is definitely going with him now.  As he says, “Where there’s oxygen, there’s life.  And where there’s life, there’s death.”  In a left-wing movie, any character that straps on a gun with a swagger is doomed to suffer an ignominious death before the movie is over, but as this is a right-wing movie, he proves to be quite the hero with that gun, as when he deals death to couple of giant spiders that attack Helen.

Eventually they encounter the title aliens, good-looking women from an ancient civilization, three of whom are Alpha, Beta, and Lambda.  They are called “cat-women,” presumably, because women are often thought to have feline characteristics, especially if they wear black tights, have upward slanting eyebrows, and long fingernails.  The men of their civilization died soon after these women were born, but Beta says they have no use for men.

What they do have need of is the spaceship so they can get to Earth, because they are running out of oxygen on the moon.  They have been in telepathic communication with Helen and have made her one of them.  The cat-women have no telepathic control over men, only other women, but they do have their womanly wiles.  The women set about trying to seduce the men in order to learn how to fly their spaceship.  Once they get the information they need, they will kill the crew, go to Earth, get telepathic control over all the Earth women, eugenically select the best men to impregnate the cat-women, have lots of girl babies, and rule the world.  Needless to say, it is just this idea of women taking over that bothers the male-dominated, paranoid right.

Beta works her charms on Walt, playing on both his lust and his greed.  He hopes to get a little moontang from her, and he becomes really interested when she tells him about all the gold on the moon.  She promises that after he teaches her what he knows about the ship as the engineer, she will show him the gold.  On the ship, she catches on quickly.  Walt says, “You’re too smart for me, baby.  I like them stupid.”  Beta then delivers on her promise to show him where the gold is, taking him to a cave where the walls are full of the stuff.  While he is dreaming of untold wealth, she plunges a knife in his back.  Meanwhile, Lambda has been going to work on Doug, who is the boy-next-door type.  She falls in love with him and warns him of what’s up.

Kip has been suspicious of the whole setup.  While the other men have been enjoying delicious meals with the cat-women, he has been sitting apart, eating his K-ration.  He even tosses the wadded-up package on the floor to show his contempt for the whole business.  Laird, on the other hand, thinks those on the Earth and the moon can get along, just the sort of peacenik naiveté for which the right has contempt.  Laird wants everything done by the book, and he is always talking about science.  Those on the anti-intellectual right are skeptical about science and disdainful of the professional elite, and Kip’s contempt for Laird in this regard surfaces repeatedly.

And Kip has been suspicious of Helen too.  He gets rough with her, grabbing her hand and squeezing it until she feels pain.  It happens to be the hand through which the cat-women have telepathic control over her.  Released from cat-women control, she falls into Kip’s arms and confesses her love for him.  They kiss.

But once he releases her hand, she reverts back to the bad Helen.  She tells Laird she loves him to get the information she needs to pilot the spaceship.  When she tells Kip it is Laird she loves, he is disgusted.  But when he finds out from Doug what he has learned from Lambda, that Helen is just trying to get information from Laird before she kills him, he squeezes her hand again.  Whenever he hurts her like that, she becomes tender and compliant.  That’s the way you have to handle women.  And now that she is back to being the good Helen, she confesses the plot, as well as her love for Kip.  This angers Laird, and he and Kip get into a fight, which breaks up when they realize that Helen, no longer under Kip’s grip, has run off.  Lambda tries to stop Helen, Alpha, and Beta from commandeering the ship, but Beta bonks her on the head with a rock and kills her.  Kip uses his revolver to shoot Alpha and Beta, after which Helen is no longer under cat-women influence.  She and the rest of the crew, minus Walt, get back to the ship and head for Earth.

And so it is that Kip, the gun-toting astronaut, saves the day by killing these cat-women before they could take over the Earth.  He has won the heart of the woman he loves, not only getting the better of Laird, but also freeing Helen from the pernicious influence of those cat-women, who had been putting ideas in her head.

Queen of Outer Space (1958)

Whereas Cat-Women of the Moon was serious in tone, Queen of Outer Space is a light-hearted look at another world dominated by women.  Nevertheless, it too has a right-wing orientation.

When this movie begins, it does it’s best to look futuristic, because it is set in what at that time was years in the future, 1986, but you have to smile when you see the display of cobra phones, which I haven’t seen outside of a movie since the 1960s.  Three astronauts and a Professor Konrad blastoff into space in a futuristic 1950s rocketship, full of mechanical gauges.

They are headed to a space station because there has been some trouble lately.  Just before they get there, the thing is blown up.  They set their ship on maximum acceleration to escape the blast, and the next thing you know, they land on Venus, which turns out to be habitable.  That surprises the crew, since it is contrary to the theory that Venus cannot support life.

But it does support life.  In particular, it supports life in the form of beautiful, young women with ray guns, who are wearing makeup, tight-fitting garments from the waist up, short skirts, and transparent high-heel shoes.  The men are brought before Queen Yllana.  She and the councilwomen who accompany her wear masks.  One of the women watching this tribunal, Motiya, leaves and goes to tell Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor), leader of the resistance movement, what is happening.

Queen Yllana says the Earthmen are violent and want to invade their planet.  Larry, the womanizer of the crew, says, “Why don’t you girls knock off all this Gestapo stuff and be a little friendly?”  Yllana says they will all be put to death after they are tortured into telling the truth, after which they are led to the prison chamber.

Once they are alone, Professor Konrad and Captain Neal Patterson conclude that they did not wind up on Venus by accident, Neal saying that the beam that destroyed the space station and knocked them off their course may have originated from Venus.  Mike says, “Oh, come off it.  How could a bunch of women invent a gizmo like that?”  To this, Larry replies, “Sure.  And even if they invented it, how could they aim it?  You know how women drivers are.”

Talleah comes to the room, and we get a quick history lesson.  Ten Earth years ago, there was a war between Venus and Mordo, in which weapons of great power were used.  Mordo was eventually destroyed, but most of the cities of Venus were destroyed as well.  As a result of all this suffering, the women took over, led by Yllana, who said that men caused the ruin of their world, and it was time for women to be in charge.  They were able to do it because the men didn’t take them seriously.  After all, Yllana was only a woman, and the men were too busy preparing for war.  Most of the men were put to death, except for a few scientists and mathematicians she needed.  (So that’s who built the beam that destroyed the space station!)  These few men were banished to Tyrus, a satellite of Venus, and it has become a prison colony.  And because the men on Earth have been making a lot of scientific progress, Yllana wants to destroy Earth with the Beta Disintegrator before they are able to invade Venus.

Meanwhile, sex is on everyone’s mind.  Larry is excited to think about the ratio of women to men on this planet.  More particularly, both Talleah and Yllana are falling in love with Neal, which is why Talleah becomes angry when Yllana sends for him.  When Neal gets to Yllana’s boudoir, he tries making love to her, but she refuses to remove her mask.  He psychoanalyzes her.  “I understand you better than you do yourself,” he tells her.  “You’re denying man’s love, substituting hatred and a passion for this monstrous power you possess.”  He continues, saying, “You’re not only a queen, but a woman too.  And a woman needs a man’s love.”

Determined to give her the love she needs, he rips off her mask, revealing her horribly scarred face, which she says are radiation burns, caused by men and their wars.  She asks him if he will give her that love now, and he says he’s sorry, turning away in disgust.  This then is the root of the problem.  Deprived of the sexual fulfillment of giving herself to a man completely, she has tried to compensate by dominating men and destroying them.

He is sent back to the prison chamber, but women loyal to Talleah bring the men to her.  Except for Professor Konrad, each man ends up with a woman who goes with them to destroy the Beta Disintegrator.  The women say they have no life without love, without children.  Talleah’s plan, if they are successful, is to bring the men back from Tyrus and restore the old order, the one in which men run things, while women stay home and have babies.

On their way to the Beta Disintegrator, they end up having to hide in a cave.  Just as in Cat-Women of the Moon, the walls of the cave are full of gold, which the women regard with indifference because gold is so plentiful on Venus.  And just as in that other movie, they get attacked by a giant spider, which they manage to kill.

Soon after, they are recaptured.  Yllana prepares to destroy the Earth, but Motiya sabotaged the Beta Disintegrator, and it starts disintegrating.  Yllana tries to save it, but she ends up being burnt to a crisp.  Now there are only beautiful women on Venus, with no ugly women around to cause trouble because they can’t get a man.

The next thing you know, the astronauts are saying goodbye to each of their women, because duty comes first.  But then they get a message from Earth telling them it is too risky to return on the ship that got them to Venus.  They will need to stay there for about a year.  Each man is delighted, taking his woman in his arms.  The movie ends as we see Professor Konrad about to be part of a ménage à cinq.

Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962)

Invasion of the Star Creatures is a low-budget spoof of movies like the two we have just discussed.  In order to make sure everyone is in on the joke, the credits open with “R.I. Diculous Presents An Impossible Picture.”  It is filled with silly situations and corny jokes, but it is rather amusing, if you are in the mood for this sort of thing.

On an army missile base, Private Philbrick and Private Penn are normally in charge of such things as washing the garbage cans, but are assigned by Colonel Awol to be part of a team investigating a cave that opened up as the result of a nuclear test explosion.  The team discovers seven-foot-tall, plant-like extraterrestrials.  They look like trees with vegetables growing out of their heads.  However, these plant creatures are just slaves, their masters being two tall, beautiful women, Professor Tanga and Dr. Puna.  The two privates are captured by the vegetable monsters and brought before the two women.

Philbrick wonders aloud what Space Commander Connors would do, a variation on such radio and television characters as Captain Video, Captain Midnight, and Commander Corey of Space Patrol.  The women tell Penn and Philbrick they plan to return to their planet, after which Earth will be invaded and conquered.  Then they show the privates the room where they grow the plant men.  We see flower pots, most of which have a hand sticking up out of them.  When they prepare to leave the room, Philbrick says goodbye to the plant hands, one of which waves bye-bye.

Although there are warrior men back on their planet, the women don’t seem to know anything about love, so Philbrick teaches Dr. Puna what “kiss” means. She swoons, allowing Penn and Philbrick to escape.  They return to base and tell Colonel Awol that he must stop the spaceship from blasting off.  Awol does not believe them and orders them to be thrown into the guardhouse, assuming them to be drunk.  But when Philbrick swears on his Space Commander Connors’ secret ring, Awol asks to see the ring.  When Philbrick shows it to him, Awol shows Philbrick his.  They utter the secret code words and do the hand signal.  Then they discover they both belong to the same stellar squadron, and it turns out that whereas Awol is only a junior flight leader, Philbrick is a senior flight leader, which means Philbrick is now in command.

The three of them head back to the cave.  Penn says the three of them will not be enough to stop the space broads from taking off.  Just then, a bunch of Indians come along, whereupon it turns out that they also are members of Space Commander Connors’ flight squadron, only one of the Indians is the general flight leader of that squadron, and proves it with a badge pinned to his bare chest.  So now, the Indian is in command.

They all have a pow wow, during which the Indians and the colonel get drunk.  Penn and Philbrick go back to the cave and manage to blast the rocketship off into space, marooning the two women.  Professor Tanga is angry that their plans for conquering Earth have been ruined.  But Dr. Puna gets Penn to teach Professor Tanga what “kiss” means.  As both women are kissed, they swoon.  When it is explained to them that marriage is when a woman becomes a man’s slave, they think the idea sounds heavenly. They all get married and live happily ever after.

I saw this movie a couple of times in the 1960s on the late show, and I liked it so much that I bought my very own copy on DVD.  I was looking forward to one of my favorite jokes in the movie, when Penn and Philbrick try to get telepathic control of one of the plant men.  The way I remember it, Penn says, “Focus on his eye.”

But as the eyes of the plant men are spaced really far apart, Philbrick asks, “Which one?”

“The one next to the carrot,” Penn replies.

Imagine my disappointment when I found it was not on the DVD.  Then I noticed that IMDb says that the television version is ten minutes longer than the theatrical version.

I guess I’ll have to wait for the director’s cut.

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.  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.  His father says he wanted to “spare” Arthur the pain of being part of that decision.  This tendency to overprotect teenagers is one of the themes of this movie. The lack of communication between teenagers and their parents is another.  Unfortunately, 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.  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 by circumlocution of what biology is really all about, Arthur’s mother says she is glad Arthur is shaky in the subject, as if his ignorance of sex will keep him from getting into trouble.

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, on 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 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 about 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 after she gets in the car.  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 the movie version.

After Janet is 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 a 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.  Later in the movie, Arthur tells his mother that he can get a job working in a gas 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 has the baby and gives it up for adoption.  All I can figure is that in Blue Denim in particular, and in 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 immoral, and it is no more dangerous than giving birth as a married woman.  Moreover, this is exactly what a lot of people that are pro-life would advocate.  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.  Up till now, I had regarded Juno as just another pro-life movie, but now it appears that it was something of a breakthrough movie as well, the first to approve of giving up the baby.

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.  After all, Arthur’s older sister is getting married and will soon be moving out, so there would be plenty of room.  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, and to show its approval, the movie had to allow for some kind of happy ending for Arthur and Janet, one that is sentimental about love.  On the other hand, the movie needed to condemn premarital sex.  To that end, their life together must be one of economic hardship.

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, among other things, 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.  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 the 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 somewhat 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.  Who 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.  We are justified in inferring as much, since the scene would be pointless otherwise.  But given that this movie is about the double standard, we might ask why it wasn’t Amanda who was making strange sounds in her sleep as she dreamed of having sex with another man.  In other words, this movie is presuming the cliché that men are dogs, given to lusting after other women in a way that is not characteristic of the fair sex.  This is just one example of the way in which this movie is guilty of the very double standard it sets out to challenge.

Whatever the case, she spots the article in the newspaper about Doris shooting Warren, smiles broadly, and says, “Hot dog!”  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 an unfair 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 that the unwritten law also allows the husband to kill his unfaithful wife, and so that should apply to the woman as well, allowing her to kill her unfaithful 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 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 presumably do.  When asked by Amanda, “What do you think of a man who’s unfaithful to his wife?” the secretary says, “Not nice, but….”  But when Amanda asks, “What about a woman who’s unfaithful to her husband?” the secretary answers, “Something terrible.”  At the same time, the secretary seems to resent the very double standard she embraces, because upon hearing that a woman shot her husband, she says it serves him right, even before knowing any of the details of the case, including the infidelity.

So far, we have had three women express their attitudes about a woman shooting her husband:  Amanda, her maid, and her secretary.  Each has expressed a feeling of satisfaction that justice has been served, and each is on the side of the woman.  There are no women presented who express a contrary attitude.  The implication is that all women feel this way.  This drains the trial of suspense, because all Amanda has to do is make sure there are women on the jury.  Even one woman would be enough for a hung jury, leading to a mistrial.

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.  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 one-sided.  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.

This movie does not have the courage of its convictions.  If it really wanted to challenge the double standard, it would have had Doris kill either Beryl or Warren.  Instead, Beryl is left unharmed, Warren has suffered no permanent injury, and Doris didn’t mean to shoot him anyway.  Moreover, the movie could have made Warren out to be guilty of adultery only.  Instead, by having him be a man who beats his wife, the real justification for shooting him overwhelms the ostensible one.  Even those in the audience that might disapprove of a woman shooting her unfaithful husband are forced to be on Doris’s side because she has a husband who will knock her teeth out.  Essentially, the movie admits it would not be able to successfully challenge the double standard on its own terms.  It had to make the man guilty of more than just adultery, and it had to make the woman guilty of less than murder.

When it comes to the question as to whether women should be treated the same as men in such matters, the movie tries to have it both ways.  During the trial, Amanda calls to the stand three women who are seen to be equal to men, if not superior to them, 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, the woman 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 prejudice, one not made explicit in the movie, but which is definitely present nevertheless.  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, those making this movie 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.  I guess the idea is that only a woman can be a dumb blonde.

There is another aspect to the double standard that this movie accepts in the very act of supposedly challenging it.  Doris says she was just trying to scare Beryl into leaving her husband alone, and Amanda refers to Beryl as a “homewrecker,” the idea being that Warren was just a victim of her womanly wiles.  Women are seldom vouchsafed such understanding when they cheat on their husbands.

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.  As noted above, we are supposed to believe that their marital problems were really Beryl’s fault, and now that she has been scared off, everything will be fine.  I’ll bet Warren beats Doris as soon as he gets her alone, and I’ll give him a week before he starts cheating on her again.

Of course, the reason for their reunion is that a more realistic ending for them would have been unthinkable.  The audience at that time might have approved of a woman shooting her husband, but not divorcing him.  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.