The Invention of Lying (2009)

I just barely made it through The Invention of Lying (2009).  It struck me as a one-joke movie.  In the world in which this movie is set, no one can tell a lie.  At first, this might sound like a good thing, for when we think about lying, what usually comes to mind are the lies that are immoral, the ones in which you deceive someone for your benefit but at his expense.

But while focusing on these forbidden lies, we sometimes forget about the lies that are permissible, the ones in which there is nothing immoral about telling such a lie, but neither would it be immoral to tell the truth, as when someone asks us a personal question. We are may lie to protect our privacy, or we may share that information as we see fit.  And then there are the obligatory lies, the lies we tell when being honest would be immoral, as when we lie to keep from hurting someone’s feelings.

The first part of The Invention of Lying emphasizes what life would be like if no one were capable of telling lies that are obligatory.  People in this movie go around insulting other people, saying things that are hurtful.  Of course, even in a world where lying was impossible, people could still avoid hurting others simply by not saying anything.  So, in this parallel universe, people are not only incapable of telling lies, neither are they capable of just keeping their mouths shut.  Apparently, there is a compulsive component to this inability to lie.  By not telling someone he is fat and has a snub nose, by just not commenting on his looks at all, that is apparently a form of deception itself.

The same can be said for the permissible lies.  When Mark (Ricky Gervais) arrives for a date with Anna (Jennifer Garner), she just blurts out that she had been masturbating, even though unprompted by any question as to what she had been doing just before she opened the door.  So, just as no one can refrain from insulting others by merely saying nothing, neither can they protect their privacy by saying nothing either.

All movies in this world are documentaries because stories that are fiction consist of sentences that are not true. Making disclaimers to the effect that the story in a movie is completely made up is something the people in this world are incapable of.

But listening to people insult each other or reveal personal information just wasn’t that funny.  And I thought, “I can’t watch much more of this.”  But then it turned into a two-joke movie, as could be expected by the title.  Presumably through some kind of genetic mutation, Mark finds he is able to lie.  At first, he tells lies of the forbidden kind, as when he lies to the bank teller about how much money he has in his bank account, and then withdrawing more than he really has on deposit.

At this point it should be noted that in a world where nobody is capable of lying, that does not mean no one is capable of being mistaken, which is to say, people might inadvertently say things that are false.  We even hear conversations where people disagree about something that may or may not have happened.  At the very least, the teller at the bank had to conclude that the computer was wrong when it said Mark had less money in his account than he claimed.  For this reason, the words “true” and “false” should still be a part of their vocabulary, even if the word “lie” is not.

And yet, the fact that someone might say something false, either because he misheard what someone else said or because his memory is faulty, never seems to occur to anyone.  Therefore, the people of this world are gullible, believing whatever anyone else tells them.  And that leads to the third joke in this movie.  When Mark’s mother is dying, it occurs to him to tell her a pious lie (sometimes called a noble lie), the lie we tell others for their own good.  He tells her that she has an immortal soul that will go to Heaven when she dies, and that she will be with God.  He does not, however, use those words.  He speaks of the “man in the sky” and a place where everyone will have his own mansion. Whether a pious lie is one that is forbidden, permissible, or obligatory is debatable.

The lie about the mansion is interesting. There have been a lot of conceptions of Heaven throughout the centuries, but I have never before come across one where someone can go into a room and close the door behind him. It’s almost as if a desire to be alone would be some kind of sin. So, this movie gets credit for allowing solitude and privacy to be part of the eternal reward, even if it is a lie.

Word gets out about what he told his mother, and this leads to his becoming the founder of religion.  Not merely another religion, mind you, but religion itself.  In a world where no one can lie, religion is impossible and everyone is a de facto atheist. At least, that is the underlying assumption of this movie. But it is too cynical to say that the founders of religions were lying. More likely, they were just delusional.

Because people are gullible, they don’t half-believe in God and Heaven the way most religious people do.  Instead, they believe all the way.  A lot of people lose all interest in this world, just marking time until they get to live in their mansion.  And while the man in the sky gets credit for all the good stuff that happens, he also gets blamed for the bad, for infecting children with AIDS, for example.

Anna does not want to marry Mark because their children will have half of Mark’s genes, which means they will probably be fat and have snub noses.  But she finally realizes that she loves him, which matters more than having genetically superior offspring, and so they get married.  The final joke of this movie is that Mark is the one with the superior genes, in particular, the gene that allows one to tell a lie, which is passed on to his chubby, snub-nosed son.  As this lying gene spreads through the gene pool, and more and more people start telling lies, the world will become a better place.

When the Production Code was in force, a movie like this would never have made it to the big screen, being regarded as sacrilegious.  Once the Production Code came to an end and was replaced by the ratings system, blasphemy in the movies showed up almost as quickly as pornography, starting with Bedazzled in 1967. But while that movie was something of a shock at the time, The Invention of Lying is able to pass as a harmless comedy. If you look for them, you can find religious critics that are offended by this movie, though one senses that they have long since resigned themselves to the secular, unbelieving world in which they live.

God’s Little Acre (1958)

Unlike the movie Tobacco Road (1941), which is as unfaithful to the 1932 novel by Erskine Caldwell as it is pointless, God’s Little Acre (1958) is a pretty good rendition of that author’s 1933 novel, although it varies significantly from the novel at several points.

The novel is pretty raunchy, which is why efforts were made to censor it.  Naturally, that made it a best seller.  Sex is mesmerizing, which is why it is the sexual themes of this novel that readily come to mind when someone refers to it. The movie cleans up the sex, although it was still regarded as unsuitable for minors when first released. On the other hand, there were those who were concerned about the subplot of workers taking over a factory, especially since this country was still obsessed with communism at the time.  But the title directs us to the most essential idea of this novel, to the way people regularly adjust their moral and religious views so that they can do whatever they want.

As we watch the opening credits, we see a creek with a bridge crossing over it.  Then the camera pans to the right, and we see a farm.  Where crops should be growing, we see barren land that is pock marked by large holes.  In one of those holes, about ten feet deep, we see shovels rising up and tossing out dirt, as Ty Ty Walden (Robert Ryan) and his two sons, Shaw (Vic Morrow) and Buck (Jack Lord), proceed to dig deeper. Then part of the hole collapses, undoing much of their labor.

Shaw says they should start a new hole, since they’ve been digging this one for two months.  Ty Ty tells him and Buck that they don’t have his patience, that he’s been digging these holes for fifteen years, and he intends to dig another fifteen, if that’s what it takes.  Buck says that they don’t need patience.  What they need is a diviner.  Ty Ty dismisses that as superstition, priding himself on being scientific about it all.

Pluto Swint (Buddy Hackett) stops by to tell the Walden family that he is running for sheriff.  When he asks what they are digging for, Ty Ty tells him that they are looking for gold coins and other fabricated forms of gold.  He says that “grandpa” told him that there was buried gold somewhere on the farm, and that he willed it to Ty Ty just before he died.

Pluto says that his grandfather might have been mistaken.  “Are you makin’ my dead grandpa out to be a liar?” Ty Ty asks, furious with indignation.  One way to win an argument is to make it personal, turning any disagreement into an insult.

Pluto deflects from this, saying that what Ty Ty needs is a diviner.  Not just any diviner, but an albino. They have a special power to see right through the ground.  Ty Ty becomes convinced, allowing that with an albino to do the divining, it would be scientific.

As they prepare to go catch the albino that lives in the swamp, Pluto makes the offhand remark that the albino might find the gold anywhere, even over in that field, he says, pointing to a section of the farm with nothing growing on it but a bunch of weeds.  In the middle of that field is a cross.

Ty Ty gets a worried look on his face.  He starts pulling the cross out of the ground. Pluto doesn’t understand, thinking that the cross marks the spot where Ty Ty’s grandpa was buried.  But Ty Ty explains to him that the cross is there to mark God’s little acre. The day he got married, twenty-seven years earlier, he promised that acre to God. Anything that comes from it, cotton, corn, and the like, goes to the church. Of course, nothing comes from that acre because it has been completely neglected.  In fact, that is why it is the one part of the farm where no holes have been dug.

If the albino points to that part of the farm as being where the gold is, Ty Ty would have to give all that gold to a preacher.  Worse yet, he might keep the gold for himself, which would be sinful.  So, he moves the cross to the corner of his house, marking the new God’s little acre.  He takes a knee and asks God to forgive him. But he is sure it will be all right because he knows God wouldn’t want him to give in to temptation.

While we watch this scene with complete cynicism, it would be a mistake imagine that Ty Ty is likewise being cynical in moving the cross.  He was sincere when he first dedicated part of his farm to God on the day of his marriage, and he is just as sincere in his belief that God approves of his moving God’s little acre beyond the reach of temptation.  The sincerity is evident from his use of the word “little” as a modifier of the word “acre.”  The area indicated by the word “acre” is fixed, so the word “little” is not being used to say something about the size of that sacred piece of land, but rather as a diminutive, expressing Ty Ty’s affection for the land he has dedicated to God.

Ty Ty and Uncle Felix (Rex Ingram) set out to capture the albino. Uncle Felix is one of the sharecroppers, the only ones producing any income on that farm so that Ty Ty can keep digging holes. They capture the albino, Dave Dawson (Michael Landon), hogtie him, and bring him back to the farm.  Dave says he doesn’t know anything about divining for gold, but after being threatened by Ty Ty and Uncle Felix, he takes hold of the willow fork.  Suddenly, it seems to come alive, almost as if it is pulling Dave to go here and there.

Of course, there is no surprise about what happens next.  Dave starts heading straight for the corner of the house where the cross is, indicating the new God’s little acre.  Ty Ty makes him stop, pulls up the cross, and then lets Dave continue.  Right where the cross had been stuck in the ground, the willow fork points straight down, indicating where all the gold has been buried for a hundred years.  Ty Ty is so excited about finding the gold, he says, “Praise the Lord.”

Uncle Felix says, “Amen.”  And then, realizing that the house sits right in the middle of God’s little acre, he says, “Maybe, Mr. Ty Ty, you’ll stop diggin’ and start farmin’!” No point in digging for gold if God is just going to get it all.

Ignoring that remark, Shaw starts digging furiously.  Buck tries to stop him, saying that the gold belongs to God because this is now God’s little acre.

“I can’t honestly say it is,” Ty Ty says, who apparently has had an epiphany. “The minute before Dave found the gold, something come over me.  And I decided to change the location of God’s little acre. Just about in time, I reckon.”  Griselda, who is married to Buck, asks him where God’s little acre is now.  Ty Ty says that the Lord hasn’t told him yet.

Ty Ty takes the cross to the creek near the bridge, the same spot we were looking at during the opening credits.  Ty Ty sticks the cross into the ground right at the water’s edge, marking the third God’s little acre. He reverently speaks to the Lord, saying, “Now, God, I don’t aim to cheat you none, but with this unseasonable weather and all, you won’t mind to have your acre in a cooler spot.  If you don’t like this, if you don’t approve of what I’m doing, Lord, then strike me down dead right here where I stand!” God gives Ty Ty the sign of his approval by not striking him dead.  “Thank you, Lord,” he says.  “Glory be.  Amen.” That being out of the way, Ty Ty and his two sons start digging under the corner of the house, which has to be propped up so it won’t collapse.

Interspersed with all this digging for gold is a lot of hot, steamy sex.  Pluto is obsessed with Darlin’ Jill, one of Ty Ty’s daughters, who teases him.  She says she won’t marry him because he has a big belly. But without the big belly, she says, he could never get elected sheriff.  And if he can’t get elected sheriff, she won’t want to have anything to do with him.  But after driving him crazy with that talk, she has sex with Dave because he’s an albino.  His divining rod pointed right to the spot.

And then there is Will Thompson (Aldo Ray), who is madly in love with Griselda.  He is a union leader, determined to turn the power back on in the cotton mill, shut down by the owners rather than meet the demand of the workers that their pay not be cut. When he breaks into the mill, Griselda has sex with him in hopes of making him forget about turning on the power, so he won’t get into trouble. This temporarily distracts him, but when they start to leave the mill, Will sees half the town outside the fence, waiting for him to turn on the power.  It’s too late to back down now.  But as he turns on the power, the security guard wakes up.  The guard is an old man, afraid of losing his job if he doesn’t do something, and he ends up shooting Will, killing him.

After the funeral, Buck, who knew all along that Griselda and Will had a thing for each other, is now furious with his suspicion that they had sex that night at the mill.  Just as Ty Ty is managing to calm things down with a little homespun philosophy about love and understanding, which is what God wants, another of his sons, Jim Leslie, a rich cotton broker, invites Griselda to come live with him right in front of Buck.  He and Buck start fighting. Ty Ty accidentally gets hit in the head, but gets back up just in time to keep Buck from pitchforking Jim Leslie.

Maybe that blow to the head knocked some sense into Ty Ty, because he tells God he’s going to go back to being a farmer.  “God,” he says, “give me the strength to spread out my arms to the end of my fields.  Let me fill up the holes and make the land smooth. You spared my sons.  I’ll never dig another hole again, except to plant seeds for things to grow.”

Time passes, and in the final scene, Pluto arrives at Ty Ty’s house, all decked out in a sheriff’s outfit, greeted by Darlin’ Jill, who has agreed to marry him.  All the holes have been filled back up.  Ty Ty, Uncle Felix, Shaw, and Buck have hitched up the mules and are plowing the land.  Buck and Griselda appear to have reconciled.

But then Ty Ty’s plow hits something.  He pulls it out of the ground.  It is the head of an old shovel. Ty Ty becomes convinced that this is the shovel that was used to bury the gold a hundred years ago. He immediately stops plowing and uses that shovel to start digging.  Slowly, the camera pans to the left, returning us to the same shot of the creek as in the opening scene, where we see the cross sticking out of the water, not ten yards from where Ty Ty is digging.

Now, you don’t need me to supply you with examples of people that take a position in the figurative sense, believing it with all their heart, and then change that position when it becomes inconvenient, much in the way Ty Ty changed the position of the cross in the literal sense when that became inconvenient for him.

My personal favorite is that of a friend of mine who, back in the 1970s, asserted that abortion was wrong because a fertilized egg was a human being, and therefore killing it was murder.  Like Ty Ty, she said she was being scientific, because the fertilized egg has a complete set of genes. Thirty years later, for reasons we need not go into here, her daughter and son-in-law availed themselves of the services of a fertility clinic.  They removed several of her eggs, fertilized them with her husband’s sperm, and grew embryos in vitro.  One of them was selected and implanted in her uterus.  The rest of the embryos were frozen.  She had a healthy baby as a result.  A couple of years later, she instructed the fertility clinic that she had no more need of the remaining embryos, and they were destroyed.

I asked my friend if her daughter and the people in the fertility clinic were guilty of murdering those snowflake babies.  With complete sincerity, she said that her daughter was not guilty of murder because the embryos had not been implanted in her uterus, so they did not count as human beings. In other words, she pulled a Ty Ty.

But not all such adjustments in position are a bad thing.  Just as God’s little acre could be moved as the situation warranted it, so too could the Promised Land be moved. Perhaps we could buy the Israelis a portion of Texas, call it New Israel, and move the Jews presently living in Israel to this new location.  The Arabs could keep the land no longer occupied by the Jews and call it Palestine.  All the fighting over that piece of land would come to an end. And what we would save in no longer having to give Israel billions in defense would more than pay for the cost of buying that piece of Texas many times over.  Moreover, we could then get out of the Middle East altogether, saving billions more.

Dear Lord, if you disagree with me about moving the Promised Land to Texas, then strike me dead as I write this.

Thank you, Lord.  Glory be.  Amen.

From The Most Dangerous Game (1932) to 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 the 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 that 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 person hunting another.

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 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 are preserved.  Rainsford (Joel McRea) 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, the 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 sank.  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, an allusion to the 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, 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.

Widmark’s plane gets off course and runs out of gas, forcing him to land in the jungle near the house of two men, Trevor Howard, who is British, and Peter van Eyck, a German who claims to be an archaeologist.  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.  The third feature, that of the most-dangerous-game theme, is present, for he is hunted by wealthy men of various sorts for the pleasure of the kill.  There are no women of any significance in Surviving the Game, which is just one more mark against it.

In some movies, women are more than just a companion for the man being hunted, but rather play the role of either the hunter or the hunted.  In Hounds of Zaroff (2016), there is a male 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).  As another variation, the hunt sometimes takes place in the city rather than in a jungle or the woods, as in the last one just mentioned and in Hard Target (1993).

And then there are the movies that are so good that they stand on their own, apart from any connection they might have to the original story by Richard Connell:  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 perfectly anticipates 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.

There is a television series entitled Most Dangerous Game (2020).  It seems to involve some new kind of broadcasting technology that made me tired just reading about it.  It appears to be in the same category as Surviving the Game, in which the protagonist is not a hunter, let alone an arrogant one lacking in empathy.  Rather, he is pitiful, having just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  He has only a few weeks to live and must worry about supporting his pregnant wife and future child.  So, he agrees to be hunted through the city, and the longer he stays alive, the more money that is put in his account.  I haven’t been able to see it.  I’m almost glad.

Finally, we come to 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 get on a roll one day, texting each other about how they are looking forward to the Hunt at The Manor, where they will slaughter a bunch of deplorables, alluding to Hillary Clinton’s phrase, “basket of deplorables,” which she used to denigrate those Trump voters that have views that are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic.”  Athena (Hilary Swank) later explains that she used the word “deplorable” in texting as a polite term for “fucking rednecks,” “gun-clutching homophobes,” “academically challenged racists,” and “tooth-deprived bigots.”  It was all a joke, but it leaked and was posted on the internet, fomenting a conspiracy theory known as Manorgate.

As a result, the liberal elites that participated in the thread of text messages 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 Crystal (Betty Gilpin), the only one of the hunted to survive, 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,” 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 the deplorables.

In most of the previous versions or variations of The Most Dangerous Game, the men that hunt other men are on the far 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 fascists.  But we are regularly reminded of their leftist attitudes as they admonish one another when someone says or does something that is politically incorrect:  failing to use gender-neutral words, being guilty of cultural appropriation, 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.  He says they will become famous, “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.