Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

09 July 2017

Visions from 1964: Part Two

Arthur Hiller's The Americanization of Emily is an excellent movie that I absolutely loved. I guess I should've expected to love it, since it was written by Paddy Chayefsky (the writer of my favorite movie Network), but I had been stalling on seeing it, I think because Julie Andrews was in it, playing a bit of a prude, and I was concerned that it was some kind of break-down-the-woman's-stiff-upper-lip sort of thing. It is nothing like that! Instead, what The Americanization of Emily is is a brilliant anti-war satire. The Americanization of Emily aims directly at pro-war propaganda that makes dead soldiers into heroes. It makes fun of the way we praise the young men we send off to be killed in other countries, and it mocks and criticizes the fat-cat Americans who think (for example) that a goal such as preserving the distinct branches of the military is a worthy cause for sacrificing the lives of men. James Garner is the star of this film and he is at his absolute sexiest and most interesting. Even better, his romance with Andrews works nicely, even if she is a bit stiff as an actress still in 1964.

This is a funny movie that actually hits quite hard – although the hit is not an emotional one; it's an intellectual one. Garner has a monologue midway through about how he would much rather stay alive than die for his country, and anyone who doesn't think that same thing is a liar. It is an excellent scene and his costar in the sequence – Joyce Grenfell – is superb. Imagine if we didn't glorify soldiers and instead were angry about their deaths. Imagine if we treated governments that wished to send men and women to die with suspicion. The Americanization of Emily asks us to imagine precisely this.

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The film about the famed madam Polly Adler, A House Is Not a Home, is out of print and not available on DVD. You can, however, watch the entire film on YouTube, which is what I did. But... A House is not a Home is nothing to write house or home about. And while I'm making puns, let's simply note that this title really hasn't a thing to do with famed New York madams writing tell-all books. But oh well.

This film is not terrible, really, but it is very moral, and it has this idea that prostitution is the absolute worst thing in the world. The film does articulate, at least briefly, the difficult economic positions of the mostly immigrant women who become prostitutes in the movie, but it spends the majority of its time showing us images of "the fast life" for our pleasure and then telling us how sinful it is. No thanks.

I will say one really positive thing about A House Is Not a Home, though. At the beginning of the movie, innocent Shelley Winters (who plays Polly) is just a Polish immigrant working in a factory. She is taken out dancing by the supervisor at the factory and then when he makes a pass and she rebuffs him, he won't take no for an answer. In a surprising scene, she gets out of the carriage and makes a run for it into a copse by the side of the road. He gets her down in the mud and violates her. The film is very clear about this. She's running and screaming; he's pursuing violently. Then she comes home to her aunt and uncle's house terrified and with her clothes messed up. Her uncle and aunt, predictably, behave abominably toward her. They say they didn't know she was that kind of girl. They tell her she can't stay in the house any longer: the sort of victim-blaming to which we have become accustomed when we hear about rape. Viewers are supposed to know what really happened but also supposed to understand what the adults think, as well. We are supposed to see this as a kind of insurmountable problem of shame in the household. But A House Is Not a Home does not fade out after presenting us with this problem. Instead, Shelley Winters says quite clearly for her foster parents and the audience to hear: "I was raped!". It is a great, defiant moment, and an honest surprise for a USAmerican movie from 1964.

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Jack Arnold's The Lively Set is also out of print, and with much better reason than A House Is Not a Home. The Lively Set is a really stupid and extremely dated comedy about car-racing undergraduates in 1960s California. We mostly follow a young girl (Pamela Tiffin) who has designs on a young man (played by pop singer James Darren) who only has an interest in cars. This is an old joke and is supposed to be quite funny. She wants to make out and all he wants to do is take apart an engine and put it back together again. Ha ha ha. 

There isn't much more to this picture in all honesty. There is some plot about the invention of a car that doesn't pollute the universe, and then there is an important race where they test this new invention – this race is the eleven o'clock set-piece, of course.

But for twentysomethings in 1964, these kids are ridiculously tame. They are apparently not having sex of any kind, and barely even think about it, even though the movie is filled with revving engines and loud exhaust (an obvious if poor substitute for sex). This seemed like a kind of Hollywood version of reality that was trying to give college students the idea that normal people wait until they're married.

Still, James Darren is pretty cute, and car racing is sort of inherently high-stakes. It was hard to hate this movie even if it was outrageously silly.

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A romantic comedy I really fell for, on the other hand, was Dear Heart, a film by Delbert Mann, starring Geraldine Page and Glenn Ford. Page is a postmistress from some tiny town who is attending a conference in New York City and Ford is a businessman who has decided to settle down, stop sleeping with random women, and get married to a woman he just met. (See why I think it is crazy to portray twentysomethings from Los Angeles as "waiting" for marriage in 1964?) Anyway the two meet. Page's character is a total loon – rearranging her hotel room, learning everyone's name, trying to make friends. And Ford's character is dealing with his new "son", who is actually 18 and drove down from college to see his new dad. Hilarity ensues.

But the two people fall in love and it is very sweet and both of them are compelling. I fell hard for Glenn Ford, who is the sort of perfect 1960s combination of hard-bitten and sensitive, and I've always loved Geraldine Page.