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Thursday, November 12, 2020

In Those Good Old Vanished Days


One Sunday Afternoon Spawns Numerous More

Dirt path telling of a tale weaved twice again in the 40’s, neither time with such honesty and conviction, One Sunday Afternoon leaves much gay out of the 90’s to make us realize good moments of life, then as now, were rare and to be savored. The 1890’s were bronzed like baby shoes the further we got into a rapid-changing new century, more and more to represent a lost paradise. I get that. 2019 already seems to me like last of good old days. One Sunday Afternoon sings quaint songs, grapples with wire-rim collars and clip ties, all of what brought tear to 1933 eyes, but also there is meanness, cruel coquetry, and flash of a gun or fist to put a good man on rockpiles before he can finish a refrain of Sweet Adeline. The Strawberry Blonde (1941), then further 1948 re-do (again One Sunday Afternoon) had these necessary elements, but caramel-dipped, the 90’s forevermore stuff of stereographs in Grandma’s parlor. By the 1940’s, it seemed compulsory to present that past in glowing terms, as in yes to a Coney Island, no to The Magnificent Ambersons. One Sunday Afternoon was made closer to actuality, so focuses on drama rather than simpler-to-apply rose hues. For that, it is an austere treasure.

One Sunday Afternoon
missed the Paramount pre-49 boat to MCA in 1958, the property having been sold to Warners for the remakes, with 1933's original buried in pitch few knew about or cared enough to exploit. There have been articles, a book even, about movies we cannot see because of rights snaggle or internment due to updates. One Sunday Afternoon surfaced when Turner channels began using it, the print ragged because maybe that’s all there was/is left. Where seeming primitive before, now comes One Sunday Afternoon to favored status, though again that may be my gleaning values not evident before. Fresh wrinkles in a film can be vivid as those in a mirror, age a straightest route toward deeper appreciation. One Sunday Afternoon tries less to be funny than forthright about choices a man makes, then lives with. “Biff Grimes” (Gary Cooper) thinks he wants “Virginia Brush” (Fay Wray) more than anything in his world, but loses her to “Hugo Barnstead” (Neil Hamilton), whose snappier line wins the day. Biff marries plain “Amy Lind” on the rebound, but can’t get over Virginia. Past love lost is more a theme in real life, I suspect, than of movies, possibly because there’s never a fix for it, too many marriages spent with one partner while regretting loss of another. Not a high note to begin or end any story on, but there it often is, embedded in reality all too many know.

Films generally handled the theme, as does One Sunday Afternoon, with characters realizing they had it made all along, that whoever they imagined to be an ideal was, in truth, anything but that. For Biff it means seeing Virginia finally for what she is, and always was. But might Virginia have turned out entirely different married to Biff? A man truly hung up would tell himself that to maintain the illusion. I’ve known several who have. Movies avoid lost or unattainable love themes because therein lies stilled pace, dearth of action, too many seeing selves or spouse circumstance they’d rather not think about. We feel for wife Amy knowing Biff longs for another even as he lies down with her. A second anniversary feast she prepares goes awry because Biff has forgot the occasion, even as he relishes “scrapple” she has set before him. As if to drive nails further in, Hugo and Virginia invite the couple to a hotel suite feed, Biff raring to go because it’s Virginia asking. Cooper plays all this splendidly. He was an actor who could be awkward, inarticulate, yet knowing his attraction for women. There was a dangerous quality to Cooper, an unstoppable force if or when roused. To be catnip and register cool in Morocco was one thing, but where Cooper was obsessed by heart interest, as here and especially year previous A Farewell To Arms, he could be almost scarily determined. I wonder how easily that sat with his female following.

Toward definition of scrapple, here’s what I found: “Scraps of pork or other meat stewed with cornmeal and shaped into loaves for slicing and frying, especially characteristic of eastern Pennsylvania.” So how does that sound for eating? Anyone tried it? The Grimes’ table, laid with this and biscuits and blueberry pie, contents me as to life being gayer in the 90’s, so long as there was grub like this to tie onto. Downside, however: You didn’t get to keep teeth long. Biff as correspondence schooled dentist (his diploma dated 1900) sits Hugo down for molar extraction, latter bragging that seven teeth previously came out of the right side of his mouth, and five from the left. This, please note, was accepted way of life back then, and you don’t wanna know how many movie stars went more-less toothless, dentistry a catch as catch-can process. We read of bridgework damaged, emergency replaced, during Classic Era filming, teeth yanked out of actor-actress heads in favor of pearly, if obvious, substitutes. A dream factory, but also stuff of nightmare where you ponder what these people actually went through.

One Sunday Afternoon
was put down as a failure by boxoffice sum-up The New York Times did in early 1934. It was also noted as virtually the only Gary Cooper film so far to lose money. I don’t doubt some shunned Sunday for Cooper mooning throughout for a woman he cannot have. Who wanted that, especially from him? Story basis had been a play, well received on Broadway from February to November 1933, with Lloyd Nolan as Biff. Maybe stage viewers could better imagine Nolan letting a gal get so under his skin, but Coop? Not likely. Stars were early on victims of fast grown personas, a good thing where cast properly, less so when not. One Sunday Afternoon thereafter bore stain of a flop, that coloring Jack Warner judgment when he screened the 1933 version prior to go-ahead for The Strawberry Blonde in 1941. Memo from JL to Hal Wallis: “Dear Hal … I ran One Sunday Afternoon last night at my house. Of course the picture is very bad, but anyone who has seen the show or read the script claims there is a great picture in it. It will be hard to stay through the entire running time of the picture, but do this so you will know what not to do.”

Parsing Warner words: “Of course” the picture is "very bad"? Why, because it was made in 1933, or the fact a rival made it? I’d say this was backwash of JL having been told that One Sunday Afternoon flopped, everyone in the industry knowing low grossers for “bad,” and how can you blame them, as this was business they were doing, not art appreciation. “Hard to stay through the entire running time” I’ll attribute to Jack’s apparent low threshold for even 85 minutes, even as we wonder how he handled WB’s All This and Heaven Too and Anthony Adverse. He did see One Sunday Afternoon as a property from which a good picture could be made, and The Strawberry Blonde, aggressively Gay-90 and comedic to loss of focal issue Sunday dealt in, still gave greater value for spout-open 1941 fun seekers. Director Raoul Walsh saw Strawberry as evocation of an idealized boyhood, with barbershop quartets on every corner and guys getting slung regular through swinging barroom doors. There was enough by-now distance to reimagine the 1890’s on whatever terms were wished, the writing Epstein brothers born in 1909 and thus not eyeball observers of past days depicted. To them and most others that attended in 1941, this was an era of silly notions, dated ritual, and catch-phrasing no one would use again (“tell it to Sweeny,” reference to “The Wreck of the Hesperus”). Was the 1890’s a society of way-over-the-top Alan Hales? You’d think so watching him bellow in The Strawberry Blonde and Walsh’s close cousin follow-up, Gentleman Jim.

Something about the story clung, for Warners did it again. Titled One Sunday Afternoon as in ’33 yore, depart otherwise to extent of Technicolor and Dennis Morgan bursting forth in song as Biff Grimes, his less than star-bright support (Dorothy Malone, Don DeFore, Janis Page) reflective of WB marquee strength less strong by 1948. Raoul Walsh déjà vu directs, one he surely made for paycheck alone. How’s for glamour and reward of doing a rote job you know won’t turn out distinctive? Such plow-horsing was not necessarily to be envied. Still, Walsh had more good ones than bad, and you’d not call his Sunday an off day if unfamiliar with early and better versions. Did Warners expect us to have utterly forgot this yarn after only seven years? Maybe so, because that is after all how often Disney brought old stuff back, and their scheme worked. ’48 Sunday was more about music anyway, and evoking not prior treatments, but turn-of-century yearnings of Meet Me In St. Louis and Life With Father, both massive hits. By that reckoning, re-doing One Sunday Afternoon was a smart idea, though further out from the 90’s made it seem the more a candy-box of impossible dreaming, by now too remote for even Mom and Dad to recollect. Under heading of some properties never die, One Sunday Afternoon got done yet again, and again, and again, for television. These might exist on dinosaur kinescope they’ll let you watch on a tabletop at one of those broadcast museums, but who’s going to dig so deep into One Sunday Afternoon over a hundred years after an era it portrays?


Blogger Neely OHara said...

While doing a play in Lancaster, PA in the early ‘80’s, I sampled scrapple — it was an inevitability as it was on every menu. It tastes just like it sounds — scrapple. Sort of like a deep fried hash patty with “mystery meat” (I was told it contained pork stomach among other delicacies) and corn meal instead of potatoes. Truly disgusting. One bite and I was finished with scrapple.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Carlotta Monti recalled W.C. Fields rejecting her first breakfast in favor of scrapple.

I found both the Cooper and Cagney versions quite unexpectedly moving, Cooper's in particular. Warner's opinion of it being bad was likely jealousy, as well as it appearing old-fashioned to his 1940s eyes.

2:09 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Some other turn-of-the-century gingerbread: "Centennial Summer" (a clear "St. Louis" knockoff, with Jerome Kern for class), "Excuse My Dust" (Red Skelton toned down in a song-heavy comedy), "The Good Old Summertime" (backdated musical remake of "Little Shop Around the Corner"), "Summer Holiday" (Mickey Rooney meets Eugene O'Neill), and "The Music Man" (set at the tail end of the era). By the time you get to "Hello Dolly", it was period spectacle rather than nostalgia.

Disney's nostalgic takes included "Pollyanna", "Lady and the Tramp", "Summer Magic" and the television episodes of Gallagher the cub reporter (eventually relocated to a western town, I suspect for budget reasons). Of course his biggest serving of gingerbread was Main Street at Disneyland, an idealized vision that owed as much to Hollywood as to Walt's childhood memories. Disney's last big personal project was "Follow Me, Boys", 30s life in a small town seemingly unaffected by the depression. Maybe that's when the right distance was reached. The 60s were a time for parents of boomer kids to paint their own youths as hard, unspoiled and virtuous.

Now there's nostalgia for nostalgia: People embracring not their own pasts, but visions of the past they saw or read about. And many of those visions were themselves nostalgic re-creations, like "Strawberry Blonde" and "Grease".

3:32 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts considers Scrapple, Gary Cooper's Biff Grimes, and Warner remakes:


Scrapple makes you appreciate Spam (or even Taylor Pork Roll for that matter) and you apparently have to have Pennsylvania genetic structure to like it. It's sort of like Ohio folk who think Goldstar chili is real chili (I'm from where they make REAL chili, and I can guarantee you that it doesn't have cinnamon or chocolate in it, nor is it served on spaghetti).

We are going to have to agree to disagree on the 1933 ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON, I'm in J.L. Warner's corner on that one, Gary Cooper is downright creepy as Biff Grimes, and his pursuit of Virginia in that one comes off as basically stalking. I've used it as an example of a remake that is the classic over the original for years (along with THE MALTESE FALCON of course, Warner's was doing good remakes in 1941). If Raoul Walsh was unhappy in 1948 remaking one he had already done right before, he could go over to the Samuel Goldwyn studios and commiserate with Howard Hawks who was remaking BALL OF FIRE as A SONG IS BORN around the same time. Maybe doing them as musicals became the new challenge and kept it interesting for them, or the money was just too good.


3:56 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Looking at the calendar in 2020, maybe it's time for a new remake of this story; only this time round it'll be a nostalgic romantic tale set in those colorful carefree days of the past - the happy days of the 1950s.
On second thought, the 1950s already had their nostalgic rose-tinted revival in film and on TV back in the mid-1970s, didn't they?

6:55 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Regarding Walt Disney's stabs at nostalgia, don't forget his Carousel of Progress, a favorite since spending 90 minutes on line at the 1964 NY World's Fair. As an adult, I question the "progress" of moving from an idyllic farm to a crowded, noisy city but I guess the Carousel was mirroring Disney's life experience. A bonus of the original was Rex Allen doing the narration.

What was the deal with the piglet Gary Cooper won at the fair in "One Sunday Afternoon"? It looked like it started out alive but not so much after Coop was waving it around.

9:09 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Wonder if that piggy chase later inspired a memorable sequence in HUD.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

I'm a central pa. resident and I've never liked scrapple, which is TOO poor for me. A "poor
people's" meal I DID enjoy when my mom "Dutchie" made it was pig stomach. Like many people I was first introduced to it with an innocent name (like my mom: she did not like squid but loved calamari). If people eat testicles, goat eyeballs, pig's feet, and tail (do you know what that hangs under?), then I don't see why they wouldn't enjoy a nice clean pig's stomach fill with sausage, potatoes, carrots and other tasty ingredients. I've had groundhog--it tastes just like chicken......... just kidding.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

On third thought, I suspect that the Technicolor alone may have been enough to keep Raoul Walsh engaged on the 1948 remake, as he hadn't had much of a chance up until then to work using color.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Speaking of pig stomachs my father absolutely loved head cheese. Recipe here: .

After watching D. W. Griffith create the motion picture art and industry and then get no part of it after his first two sound motion pictures Walsh probably figured it is better to do what you are offered than to say it's not worth doing.

In MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL T. S. Eliot has Becket look coldly at what will happen after his martyrdom when after due time the generation arises that will dismiss both himself and his deeds. We studied that play my last year in high school. I'm amazed by how acutely accurate Eliot was in depicting the dismissal and tarnishing of the once held great.

2:04 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer looks back on Gary Cooper-Fay Wray teamings:

For a while, Gary Cooper and Fay Wray were “Paramount’s glorious young lovers!” They looked spectacular in their first three films together, but it became apparent that there was a decided lack of chemistry between them. Fay and Gary did not even have a private conversation during this time. Part of it might have been due to timing and circumstances. On their first picture together, “Legion of the Condemned,” Cooper was involved with actress Evelyn Brent, a notoriously possessive and jealous woman. On their second, “First Kiss,” Wray was involved with author John Monk Saunders, whom she married at the end of the production. So, their fourth and last picture together was this one, “One Sunday Afternoon,” where Cooper’s character is jilted by Wray’s and carries a torch for her afterwards, until he discovers what she has become during those ensuing years. Or as Simone Signoret wrote in her memoires, “La nostalgie n’est plus ce qu’uelle etait,” which is to say, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” Curiously, it was during the filming of “One Sunday Afternoon” that Cooper finally spoke to Fay, telling her, “You know, it must be wonderful going to bed with you.” But for her, a quite proper young married woman, if with some bohemian overtones, it was just too much to know.

9:22 AM  
Blogger EricSwede said...

I love the Cagney version, less so Cooper's version. On Broadway the show launched Lloyd Nolan's career. This story was done frequently on radio too. I made a list years ago.
The Fleishmann Yeast Hour (NBC 04/27/33) 60 min.
Rudy Vallee, comic Benny Rubin, singers Oliver Wakefield, Natalie Hall & Tullio Carminati. Lloyd Nolan and Francesca Bruning, performing their roles from the original Broadway cast, perform a scene from "One Sunday Afternoon."

The Lux Radio Theater (CBS 08/24/36) 60 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon" with Jack Oakie, Helen Twelvetrees & Alan Hale.

The Kate Smith Hour (CBS 01/05/40) 60 min.
Kate Smith, Abbott & Costello, the Group Theatre players present "One Sunday Afternoon."

The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater (CBS 10/05/41) 30 min.
"The Strawberry Blonde" with James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland & Jack Carson.

The Lux Radio Theater (CBS 03/23/42) 60 min.
"The Strawberry Blonde" with Don Ameche, Gail Patrick, Jack Mather & Rita Hayworth.

Romance (CBS 06/21/43) 30 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon."

Romance (CBS 05/09/44) 30 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon."

Academy Award (CBS 08/28/46) 30 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon" with James Stewart.

Romance (CBS 05/21/47) 30 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon."

Theatre Guild On The Air (ABC 09/04/47) 60 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon" with James Stewart, Haila Stoddard & Leon Janney.

The Electric Theater (CBS 10/03/48) 30 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon" with Henry Fonda, Francesca Bruning & Karl Malden. Script by Wladimir Selinsky.

The Screen Guild Theater (NBC 06/09/49) 30 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon" with Dennis Morgan & June Haver.

WGN Comedy Playhouse (WGN, WOR & Mutual Syndication 01/12/50) 60 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon" with the Gold Coast Players of Chicago.

The Lux Radio Theater (CBS 09/04/50) 60 min.
"One Sunday Afternoon" with Dennis Morgan, Patricia Neal & Ruth Roman.
Francesca Bruning also recreated her stage role of Amy on the Ford Theatre on TV in 1949.
▲ Top

11:40 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Fascinating list, Eric. I really like the idea of Abbott and Costello performing ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON.

12:04 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer reflects further on the marital fates of Biff, Amy, Virginia, and Hugo:

An infatuation is rarely an appreciation of the qualities a person has, as an investment of the ideals one wants to find. It can be the seeding of love, as each person is revealed to the other and loved for what is revealed. Or it can become something less than that, a mask for what should have been and never was.

Where there is no such denouement, however, it may become the ideal itself, preternaturally preserved and something to be compared to every person or experience thereafter, a standard before which, inevitably, the others will be diminished.

Biff was infatuated with Virginia but married Amy. The movie is at pains to justify that marriage, whatever its origin, for while the marriage vow is considered inviolate, it becomes harder to maintain this if it also seems have been mistakenly given. So, Virginia is shown to be bitter and unfaithful, while the sweet Amy is revealed as the woman Biff should always have preferred. He laughs in relief when he realizes this and sweeps Amy off her feet, the ardor he reserved for Virginia now released to her.

You were astute, however, in noting that Virginia might have turned out differently, had she married Biff instead of Hugo. For most people, happiness is not one, but two. A personality might have a certain essence, but what it becomes may depend on the circumstances in which it develops; or, in this case, who someone marries. The gay and charming Virginia marries the superficially attractive Hugo, only to realize day by day afterwards his lack of moral substance. Since her marriage as a marriage must be no less justified than Biff’s with Amy, she must endure it, however corrosive or hateful it becomes. And so, whatever she might have become, she is the desolate, despairing woman who meets Biff.

I wonder if, having encountered the distant, brooding Biff, she later looks upon Hugo with new eyes and sees how witty and amusing he really is? Will there have been the same sort of revelation as was given Biff, and for the same reason, to justify the marriage? Given that Hugo is presented as a wasted shell of a man, it seems unlikely. What it means is that a mistake remains a mistake, and some mistakes must be borne.

If this seems harsh, perhaps there is hope in the thought that, in Heaven, all things are made right.

1:50 PM  

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