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Monday, August 28, 2023

Canon Fire #7

 


Among the One-Hundred: Rear Window (1954)


Time again to be honest re passage of time and taste. When does merely old become antiquity? Do I dare propose the eighties, even nineties? Look at You Tube and know this is happening, in fact has happened. Herewith quotes from a video clocking movies added of late to Amazon Prime and “Freevee,” as in separating bad from good, old from too old. Says the host on Hook (1991): “It holds up beyond your wildest dreams!” Then Kindergarten Cop (1990), which “still holds up to this day.” Of ancients lent to streaming, there is the venerable Breakfast Club from 1983: “Even though it’s quintessential eighties, so many of the themes and the things that people talk about in this movie are somehow still relevant today, even though we live in a vastly different world.” I’d ask all to ponder key words "somehow" and "vastly." Does somehow imply that things people talked about during the eighties are irrelevant apart from what’s talked about in The Breakfast Club? We might cede to the world being a vastly different place since 1983 --- heck, it's vastly different since 2020. To imagine human nature changes materially is the misnomer, whatever change in conditions. Much writing from the eighteenth century and before remains vital after all. I remember my mother in 1965 telling how she saw Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1932, “Movies were better then,” she said. “They certainly were,” I replied, having just come home from Zebra in the Kitchen at the Liberty.



Rear Window for so long seemed a freshest of AH output, “The People’s Hitchcock” you could show to crowd satisfaction, but what of now and seventy years going/gone since 1954? The YT videographer spoke of Hook in terms of nostalgia and wondered how his small child would react. Eureka! --- the kid loved it. There is urgency for what we long ago thought good to still be good. Are individuals judged by what they treasure as art? For most of life so far, I have thought Rear Window sure-fire, one to show civilians without fear of rejection. But think of all that has gone by boards. Were John Bunny fans still among us, they’d surely get feelings hurt by modern and culturewide kiss-off of the rotund comedian. Someday there might be no one left to defend Hook, or Kindergarten Cop, let alone Rear Window. There was time in early aughts (this century, not the past one) when Hitchcock on Greenbriar’s university screen was guarantor of seats filled. They knew him for entertainment coin of the realm. Psycho was Standing Room Only for four runs over a weekend. In fact, some did stand, and gladly. Rear Window was similarly socko. I'd hesitate to drive up the mountain twenty years later and try again. For being boon companion since seeing it first on NBC in 1965, there is no chance Rear Window will fade in my estimation (certainly not now in 4K), but how about we watch again, if possible through eyes of those who venerate The Breakfast Club, and at least guess how these might respond to Rear Window.



Rear Window
survives in a world of central air and storm windows with screens. My childhood lacked air-conditioning, at home or school, this an aspect of growing up less recalled as I prefer pleasanter memories. Do general states of ongoing discomfort fade with passage of time? Pall hangs over L.B. Jeffries that is fear and dread of marriage --- were his parents unhappy? --- Jeff, if the age of the man portraying him, would be forty-six. Maybe the broken leg reminds Jeff that life trotting a globe with cameras is done for him. Two broken legs at Rear Window’s finish further implies an end to that lifestyle. I’d say Jeff will remain in New York and do portraits as arranged by helpmate and inevitable wife Lisa. They will not know again such excitement as exposing the Thorwald killing, but life deals routine to all eventually, wisest of us accepting it. Jeff never exits his wheelchair to sleep or take physical therapy, latter not mentioned as necessary component to recovery. Sandwiches as prepared by “Stella” (Thelma Ritter) are bland in the extreme, ham on white with but glaze of mustard. Jeff should appreciate more a lobster dinner Lisa has delivered from Sardi’s. He thinks she is too “perfect” and says so to a point of being tiresome if not outright cruel. I still wait for Kelly/Lisa to exit his drab environs and get back to bed with Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, or Ray Milland. Jeff seems to have midlife issues. Does Lisa really want to marry into that? Plaster cast Jeff wears is like a piano tied about his leg. Casts were once oppressive as that. So were teeth braces and other things that were supposed to fix us. Perhaps too late for me to break a limb or rejigger the mouth and find out what strides have been made in such areas.



Jeff doesn’t show much sympathy or understanding for Miss Lonely Hearts. Doesn’t he realize that she represents much of viewership for this movie? Jeff laughs too at the songwriter who in drunken despair sweeps away a composition he cannot complete. Maybe it is Jeff who has had life too “perfect.” Miss Torso juggles “wolves,” pushing one away who’d force himself through her door after a date. Miss Lonely Hearts has the same experience with a pick-up she unwisely invites in, so beautiful Miss Torso is no more blessed than baleful Miss Lonely Hearts, though we are relieved to see both end happy, or seemingly so. The new-wed couple after vigorous and days-long consummation hit reality's brick wall as Jeff regards it (along with Hitchcock and writer John Michael Hayes?). She nags, and he’s jobless. Small cruelties are easy overlooked. Lars Thorwald lovingly tends flowers, places one on his invalid wife’s dinner tray, which she tosses away. Grounds for murder? No, but hint at least for how wedded life came to this, and a detail easy to miss w/o benefit of 4K, or at least Blu-ray. Mrs. Thorwald ridicules rather than attacks Lars for furtive phone calling just outside their bedroom. She knows he has an interest elsewhere and doubts his capacity to make anything of it, as mean an insult as one partner could hand another. We don’t hear words between Lars and Anna, only tones discordant. Are they what Jeff and Lisa will become? What if those two damaged legs devolve into full disability, and it is Jeff who assumes the role of Mrs. Thorwald? He figures any marriage will come to rancor and says so, but by Lisa's straightforward 1954 definition, if they can’t wed, then they can’t be together, for Lisa must have a “future” to remain with Jeff.




Rear Window
seems ideal to watch alone and late at night, an experience solitary and confined as L.B. Jeffries in his wheelchair. There is hypnotic sense of day turning dusk, then dark, slowly back, cycle repeated till denouement. Exposition is relaxed till maybe-murder is casually indicated, soothing background of Paramount songbook in seeming toto save Isn’t It Romantic. Rear Window is in that sense a cousin to also-1954’s Sabrina.  Jeff takes time realizing what may have happened and then persuading others to agree. It’s progress for us and him when Lisa buys the premise and decides to help. Her commitment to pitch in assures Jeff’s commitment to her. But must she expose herself to terrible danger to qualify as his life partner? Can she now join him in hazardous travel and exposure to conditions that laid him up and may well again? Jeff’s wartime buddy “Tom Doyle” of the detective division (Wendell Corey) casts jaundiced eye upon Lisa’s overnight case with its negligee loose within. “Careful, Tom,” warns Jeff. Is this Tom’s display of moral dudgeon? Jeff pointedly asks “How’s your wife” when he catches Doyle staring out the window at Miss Torso. Jeff pre-empting Tom’s notice of another woman is not something a man appreciates from another man, certainly not one he went through combat with and who is now doing a large favor for him. Would/should any man judge a friend’s moral laxity other than when it’s his own wife or girlfriend the other guy is trespassing upon?


Where It Matters Most to Make Nice: Vacationing Exhibitor and Wife Visit the Set


Raymond Burr had large expressive eyes. Nothing conveyed  menace like those staring into us, as when Lisa points at the ring on her finger for Jeff’s benefit and Lars looks across the courtyard to realize his real quarry is there, Rear Window’s supreme wordless moment. But if Jeff is playing for time when Thorwald confronts him, why bother about flashbulbs? Why not assure Lars that he can and will retrieve the ring, then seek help during interim? Less excitement perhaps, but Jeff is at least spared another broken limb. John Michael Hayes (w/Hitchcock above) did a splendid job adapting and improving upon Cornell Woolrich’s source story. Maybe too splendid in a long run, as Hayes got recognition for Rear Window and three features to follow, critics lauding “team” work of director and writer. Hayes started out on $750 per week as a nobody hireling that was Hitchcock’s favorite sort of scribe, but then won awards all his own after Rear Window came off so well, a thing you didn’t do where working with Hitchcock meant working for him and never toward your own advancement. Here emerged dark-side genius Spoto wrote of, Hayes recounting years later the brush-off he got for not bending to shared credit with Angus McPhail on The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), this as much to humble Hayes as to help Hitchcock's old friend, letting the younger writer know that berries can be given or snatched away. Fascinating is genius that will forfeit advantage to satisfy pique, human factor writ large. Would Rear Window have emerged as good without John Michael Hayes? Maybe not, but I doubt that occurred to Hitchcock one way or the other once he had enough of Hayes.




Monday, August 21, 2023

Ads and Oddities #3

 


Ad/Odds: The Dark Mirror, First Comes Courage, Daughters Courageous, and 1940's Swiss Family Robinson


THE DARK MIRROR (1946) --- Olivia DeHavilland as twin sisters, one sweet as was onscreen Olivia till then, the other psycho, stark depart from what this actress did before. Ads pulled a punch by calling bad sister “bewitched,” going fuller boar with art showing ODeH hovered over her victim with scissors which business end did the deed. 1946 was occasion to make with the unexpected by stars long threatening to go stale, though for DeHavilland, time was charmed for an Academy Award, then another, but few seasons off. Women wielding weapons was plum art for postwar lust after stronger meat, less likely the miscreant the better. Twins seemed inherently untrustworthy to movies … seems one invariably made deadly mischief. Director Robert Siodmak made industry of the sort, The Spiral Staircase and The Killers behind him, others to come. Co-star Lew Ayres was out of US Medical Corps where he received citations, conscientious objector status understood now and objections to same expunged. How far ads went toward ID of femme star as killer would vary according to showman nerve and blood-thirst. Sampling here is picked off the original pressbook and so represent approved technique to sell, but look below at how free-think exhibs ratcheted The Dark Mirror to near horror placement. Well, producers asked for it. They were by the way “International Pictures,” independent cartel of writer Nunnally Johnson plus moneymen who relied on his known capacity to deliver story goods. The company did not last, Johnson’s near-perverse inclination to not give his public what it wanted borne out by Casanova Brown and Along Came Jones, two of the worst ventures star Gary Cooper was ever attached to.





… AND THEN JAPAN! (1943) --- I hoped the short featured here, from The March of Time series, would be at You Tube, but no soap. Did more attend the Aztec for … And Then Japan! than for proposed lead attraction First Comes Courage? Latter is obscure, though I did locate it at YT and on bootleg discs. Aztec’s program was weighted with war, 1943 being peak of concern over outcome. Would … And Then Japan! answer questions put forth in this ad? The March of Time is today described as “didactic,” HBO said to own them. Citizen Kane’s newsreel spoofed The March of Time. Some of ones not about the war are entertaining, all about lifestyles, frolic of the era. Actuals during war must have upset many in the audience, those there for froth confronted instead by shorts grimmer than headlines fled from. War stories needed to be more about romance than battle, which is why Merle Oberon and Brian Aherne clinch in dominant art shown. Would viewers worry all through First Comes Courage if war with Japan would “drag on for years”? Or if licking Germany and Italy might make Japan softer for the windup? Imagine stress the US lived under for four long years … and think how movies supplied crucial relief. Was Axis film industry doing as much for their people? Our stuff was “propaganda” to extent, but nothing like what Germany evidently got, while of Japan, we know less. Did these folk go to shows a lot, or was it forbidden? Germans and Japanese surely missed our movie imports once they were blocked. Most say US film enabled victory for the Allies. I can believe that based on energy of what is still around and shown, many rightly celebrated. How much of what the enemy produced can boast of that?



DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939) --- There were three daughters each named Lane plus Gale Page, who looked Lane enough to pass for a fourth. A quartet featuring the foursome came between 1938 and 1941, returns diminishing after a first two that were good, Daughters Courageous not related story-wise to the others and maybe that’s why I like it best. The Lanes were potential times four for Warner stardom, though only Priscilla broke big, a qualified win as she never got beyond nice girl and fresh face parts, this not unlike male counterpart Jeffrey Lynn, introduced also in Four Daughters to accompany of promise for big future which never fully came. Bland were both players it seemed, balance of Lanes fading off Warner payroll or to character duty in support. Rosemary was wholesome interest to Cagney for The Oklahoma Kid, while Lola had hard enough expression to be hateful in Hollywood Hotel where she shows more promise than with sisses. Bigger noise from Daughters was John Garfield, trailer pushed second to Jeffrey Lynn, but look where fate left Lynn in comparison to Garfield, whose “Mickey Borden” was preview of rebellion to come postwar, a twist Garfield had for himself over short while before WB undercut him with vehicles misguidedly made off crime and gangster blueprint. There was something in Garfield not seen before, and it would be the fifties before manufacturers grasped the model sufficient to exploit it better (Dean, Brando, the rebel lot), Daughters Courageous meanwhile a best job Garfield was early put to. “Mickey” was not Mickey for having died at finish of Four Daughters, which was why Courageous offered a different family, one that for me appeals more.



SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1940) --- How important were serials to a program? I see Terry and the Pirates featured here with Swiss Family Robinson, a chapter-specific ad at lower right. Policy indicates Saturday-2:00 “only” play for Terry. I suppose the mention and art was figured to fit well with Swiss Family Robinson, a family-aimed attraction. Our Liberty Theatre relied heavily on serials to fill seats, two ongoing during peak of the format, one for Saturday, the other mid-week. Shorts were critical to any balanced show. By 1940, the only alternative to a double feature was front-loading with one and two-reelers. Appealing enough content could bring patronage indifferent to the feature. Maybe it was worth a dime of a child’s allowance or his parent’s wage to see a latest Popeye. Certainly they’d not discourage patronage. Benefit of signing season contracts for a small exhibitor was getting the best of short product. Did the Apollo Theatre have dibs for all the Popeyes in 1940, plus a deal with Columbia for four serials they’d release that year? Swiss Family Robinson often ran for kid shows through the forties, which itself may have stimulated Disney to do a remake. Either way, they bought 1940’s negative for 1960’s fresh version, after which the original largely disappeared. Swiss source novel was written in 1812, which I agree with the ad makes it sort of immortal. Was Space Family Robinson of the sixties comic books what became Lost in Space on television? The concept appears good enough to invite reimagining forever. The fact Swiss Family Robinson is itself public domain as a literary source assures re-makers to come. Could Terry and the Pirates be the same sort of evergreen? Interesting the properties we’ve grown out of or might again grow into.




Monday, August 14, 2023

The Parkland with Popcorn #1

 


Partners I Pick to Dine On and With


Is popcorn essential to the viewing experience? It never was for me at theatres. Wouldn’t touch it upon hearing of a boy who choked to death on errant kernels. That may have been urban legend, except where I grew up, there was no “urban.” Concession policy for most comes to salt vs. sweet. Mine was candy over corn, whatever supposed choke risk, Baby Ruth a lifelong confection of choice. My mother spoke of an airplane that once flew over her small town and dropped Baby Ruths. Hundreds of them. This she said was 1925 or 1926. I imagined myself exiting Kings Mountain’s Joy Theatre, having just seen Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera, Baby Ruths raining down against the setting sun, truly a vision of Heaven upon Earth. Current Ruth habit is their “Fun Size,” two bites in each, my limit four, taken after mouthfuls of corn. I pop from a 3.25-ounce bag, no need being hoggish, seldom eating entire content of the kettle in any case. The popcorn machine is a junior version of what they use in theatres and has served me faithful for over thirty years. Popcorn has long been the bastion of moviegoing. It is also sadly why films have not been accorded respect they deserve. Same for frivolous drinks, soda pop and such. My movie beverage is healthful Steaz Green Tea, in which I take pardonable pride for choosing over soda pop. I do not and never did gravitate to soft drinks. Glad in hindsight for that, for is it true that Coca-Cola is wont to rot one's teeth? Once a week is limit for my watch plus treats ritual. The elderly must after all limit sodium and sugar intake. I call my Fortress of Solitude the Parkland Theatre, imaginary venue for which I drew ads all through school (mostly during school). One must duck to enter the Parkland which is a former storage room seating but two. Years ago I showed a girlfriend White Heat there, after which she stopped being my girlfriend. One might call the Parkland a “mancave” if given to hackneyed terms. What plays at the Parkland with popcorn? Very often Region Two discs, for it is sole site with an accommodating DVD player. Also an only place I can watch true 4K. The Parkland which used to be an 8mm venue is now a flat-screen TV mounted to the wall, so streaming can be had. What gets watched is a mix of formats old and new, of which the following are recent and random samples.


THE ROCK HUDSON SCREEN LEGEND COLLECTION --- This is a Universal box set from 2006 containing five features, two of them (The Golden Blade and The Last Sunset) having been released since on Blu-Ray. I watched the other three, Has Anybody Seen My Gal, The Spiral Road, and A Very Special Favor. All looked fine. Seems to me people underestimate old DVD grab bags. eBay sellers want five dollars or barely more for the Rock Hudsons, a bargain for those partial to “physical media,” which by its name implies a thing obsolete. The Spiral Road doesn’t stream anywhere I could locate, HD or otherwise, so DVD remains an only way to see it. Same applies with Has Anybody Seen My Gal and A Very Special Favor. My being a Universal-International disciple makes them matter. Douglas Sirk directed Has Anybody Seen My Gal, a comedy by design, less so by execution. Tycoon Charles Coburn, bored by his accumulation, decides in late life to track down the family of a love he lost years before and make their humble lives better with a gift of $100,000. Gal is set in the twenties when such an amount was better than a million now. Has Anybody Seen My Gal uses such setting to forefront music, racoon coats, hip flasks, more of what was presumed to represent gone era as of 1952, even if but a quarter-century gone. Could we have such fun spoofing 1998? Story came from authoress who gave us Pollyanna. Has Anybody Seen My Gal proposes that the poor are often, if not generally, better off staying poor. Well, maybe not poor exactly, just a working middle class as natural and proper state for most … enough for a roof, groceries, and a couple trips per week to the movies, preferably Universal movies.



Coburn spreading his wealth does no favors, the family corrupted by influx of cash and lacking judgment to handle it responsibly. The older and wiser man realizes this and acknowledges error of having enriched them. What begins as bucolic small-town life takes a downward turn as modest folk social climb, gamble recklessly, and all but prostitute daughter Piper Laurie for the sake of placing her within a still richer household. A soda jerk boyfriend played by Rock Hudson is no longer good enough for Piper, while Mother (Lynn Bari) alters into someone distinctly unappealing. Comedy represents thin surface of Has Anybody Seen My Gal, our guided response to disapprove of whatever circumstance rains riches upon common clay. Money here is presented as something best done without, at least excess of it. For once, I’d like a wrap where overnight fortune-getters learn lessons, but still get to keep their windfall. Answer this: If one had resource to own mansions and yacht, travel anyplace at will, would he/she also attend dime and quarter theatres? I thought not, and maybe that’s mentality behind preachment like Has Anybody Seen My Gal. No sentiment was stronger than self-interest among studios, theirs not to begrudge the rich staying rich, for film tycoons presumably understood proper administration of wealth. Who is entitled to what has not been earned? Nobody, it would seem. Coburn got his pile via hard effort and in exchange for family life and personal happiness he might otherwise have had. Despite absorption into a newfound brood and satisfaction living among them, he knows there is no place for him here. For all of assets they suddenly found, then lost, Coburn's host family is better off staying at square one. We in the meantime are reconciled to outcome for all concerned, the visiting benefactor’s withdrawal from Eden eased by riches he'll keep, even if alone in doing so.



Ten years after joining Gal’s ensemble, Rock Hudson was lead noise for The Spiral Road (1962), occasion for him to enact drama with D capital. Based on a 1957 novel, adaptation was by three writers of Universal employ. Assuming U still owned the property, and I were given carte blanche there, Spiral would seem a cinch to take up anew for 2023, provided there was such thing as a male film star under the age of sixty, which from all evidence, is not the case. Rock was thirty-seven for The Spiral Road, and at summit of his starring career. He acquits fine as a doctor with ambition to be a famed doctor, getting there with help of crusty medico Burl Ives. Central crisis is one of faith lost as result of stern religious upbringing that alienated him from the church. Much dialogue is expended on that issue. It is in fact the central conflict between Hudson and Ives, Hudson and wife Gena Rowlands, Rock and himself, latter entering his own heart of darkness to survive amidst natives almost supernatural in their ability to be everywhere and nowhere. The Spiral Road was said to be shot in South America, but some of it smacks of Universal's own Amazon, so what if unseen threat was Gill-Men that Carlson, Agar, or Jeff Morrow forgot to load up and carry home? I wonder how viable a Spiral Road redux could be. Evidence of a recent hit called Sound of Freedom suggests such an idea might float, Freedom labeled a “Christian movie,” but so far outgrossing (in the US) Mission: Impossible --- Part 7 and the latest Indiana Jones, latter which Freedom overtook this past weekend. I should like to do what producer Frank Ross did with The Robe and earn millions with a remade Spiral Road. Something tells me it would be a major clicko. Watch the '62 original if you can locate a disc. By the by, did any interviewer ever ask Gena Rowlands what it was like working with Rock Hudson? They have intense scenes together, a meet of acting styles opposite if not opposed, yet both are excellent, and I hope they shared a mutual respect.



About A Very Special Favor I’ll say less. This was 1965 and Rock’s run of sex comedies was low on steam. Still a capable farceur, his were situations familiar for having been reprised since ball rolled first with Pillow Talk. Co-writer of the latter Stanley Shapiro made cottage industry of these till his well ran dry, but consider how in demand he must have been as Pillow Talk reimagined adult comedy for late 50’s viewership ready for something (many things) saucy. Did Stanley imagine such party would ever end? I noticed A Very Special Favor at the Liberty and not for a moment considered going, but came the dawn of following year’s Seconds and curiosity to see what that oddity would say or do, surely nothing Rock Hudson had said or done before. He sensed thinning ice and was ready to chance a total departure. One can read Rock's Special Favor mind and feel the discontent. Comedy had come easier with Doris Day as opposed to Leslie Caron who seemed severe to me, as though she did not enjoy involvement here. A recent book by her aired complaints re the Hollywood star sojourn. Favor comics in support come off best, lean and hungry Dick Shawn, Nita Talbot, and Larry Storch, trio of which would have viewed A Very Special Favor as opportunity to earn plenty of TV jobs 
at least, whereas for Rock it was more of by now dispiriting same. Still good from clinical standpoint and there are spots to amuse, Charles Boyer in for cheerful father part to Caron. Now it remains for me to watch Kino’s Blu-Ray of Strange Bedfellows. How painful can that be?



Tom Cruise is among few assets left to a dwindling industry. He bades us enjoy our popcorn and offers movies as once they were, pleasurable and no regret for having watched. He did a trailer for his new Mission: Impossible while hanging off a plane in flight. Thus appears a man born to showmanship. He is also sixty-one years old, rather far along to hang off planes. Imagine if Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, or Errol Flynn had lived long enough to attempt stuff like that. I mention these for Cruise being very much an old-style sort of film star, in all ways a good thing. I am lately catching up with his Missions: Impossible. There are seven including the recent one, my so-far menu Four, Five, and Six, in reverse order. It doesn’t matter if you see the Missions backward. For all of outward sameness, they are remarkably polished, and plenty entertaining as each sets out to be. I enter understanding what goes on, but by a second act invariably lose the thread, my simple mind requiring spoon-feed where topic is espionage or spies swapping nuclear detonators. Such things confused me even before Thunderball came out. What pleases most about Missions is overlay of humor and relax of need that we fully grasp what these people are chasing and why. I know CGI covers multitude of sinning, Cruise stunts beyond human capacity, but sources swear it's him. Various You Tube videos convince me that Artificial Intelligence will soon take over the entertainment business in any event. Has it already? What are we really seeing in movies now, actual people or not? Missions Impossible make James Bond superfluous claim some, 007 too morose, a joyless doer of things hardly worth doing. Worse is suspicion that “rebooting” him would make conditions worse. I suppose this goes under heading of nothing lasting forever. For a meantime however there are Missions Impossible which we may assume will be as precious to latter-day generations as Bond was for mine, provided Tom Cruise does not drive his motorcycle off a thousand foot ravine and never come back.





Monday, August 07, 2023

Love is a Many Splattered Thing

 


Flynn Finds Out That Everybody Plays The Fool


Someone please enlighten me as to what sort of expectation people brought into theatres back in the day. Who can say now that witnesses from 1936 are stilled? Even three-year-olds then would be ninety in 2023. All any of us can do is guess, so here goes mine with regards The Charge of the Light Brigade. I propose, if not educatedly (surprisingly, that really is a word), that many of patrons were put off by a love story gone afield of what happy resolution to previous year’s Captain Blood foresaw for overnight team Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland, here together again, yet separated by perverse narrative that will see her loving Patric Knowles rather than heroic, likeable, altogether qualifying Flynn. I was surprised at first-time seeing Charge in 1972 and wondered if first-run audiences were put off. Ads pledged the pair in love again. Canvas of fan magazines from the era may have addressed such riddle, readers wont to express displeasure with publicity that misled them. By all account, studios listened when patronage spoke. I address The Charge of the Light Brigade largely to ponder fifty years rock in my shoe and ask if others saw tragedy of Charge not in loss of 600 who perished nobly at Balaclava, but Errol’s loss of Olivia to unworthy Knowles, who is no sort of reasonable alternative, least of all to our man Flynn. I’m hanged if I’ll endorse such a pair coupling-up ever after as heartbroke EF rides to certain death. Does this make me a slave to narrative formulae ordinarily applied by Classic Era Hollywood? And yet here may be what fascinates most about The Charge of the Light Brigade. It is history, if distorted, spectacle upon grand scale (the whale of a charge), but what we really get is chronicle of love frustrated and how oblivion at the hand of one’s enemy may be preferred to life without the partner you so desperately want. The Charge of the Light Brigade may be Hollywood’s most eloquent statement on a theme not often explored.



This is stuff of life barely easier to take onscreen than off. Everyone gets gulp of loss at romance and who likes ruminating over it? We want role models to succeed where we fail, or so I assume that’s the case, now as in 1936, but was it, is it? Again, I may be underestimating my forebears as well as ones who’d watch today. Maybe they/we saw satisfaction in such stalwart as Flynn utterly defeated by an affair of the heart. If even Errol can lose at love, shouldn’t that be balm to the rest of us? The Charge of the Light Brigade may be read as masterful meditation upon what is so often the hopelessness of love, and no, I’m not being flip or sarcastic. What makes a classic seldom lies upon its surface. Charge opens with Major Geoffrey Vickers (Flynn) leading troops plus a visiting diplomat to the palace of Surat Khan, an enemy to Her Majesty till now disguised as a friend. Vickers handles delicate maneuvers with elan, him a man of no visible weakness. His brother meanwhile at Chukoti meets furtively with Elsa Campbell (DeHavilland), daughter of the fort commandant, the two declaring love for one another. Captain Perry Vickers (Knowles) is weak and hasn’t combat experience like his brother, being “a mere diplomat of sorts” as described by Elsa’s father. That she would prefer him to Geoffrey is like Scarlett choosing Ashley over Rhett, a thing that bothered me plenty where watching GWTW for ninth, tenth, times in 60/70’s theatres. Olivia DeHavilland plays her end with such conviction as to make us know Elsa means it and will not be persuaded otherwise, whatever Geoffrey says or does once apprised. Here is his sadness writ large, for we know she is what he desires over glory, promotion, whatever achievement in the field, emotion Flynn conveys beautifully in what was only his second starring part in American films. I’m regularly astonished by what an assured player he became upon limited screen experience. Argument toward Errol Flynn as among the Classic Era’s finest actors advances farthest here.



Perry seeks to confess his love theft but is put off by his brother’s eagerness to embrace Elsa who he presumes will wed him.  Geoff declaring ardency to her shut door is Hollywood romance in reverse gear, us and Elsa in the know, Geoffrey the fool any men or woman dreads to be where a partner won’t play your hand or her/his by telling the hurtful truth. Geoffrey has larger issues in any case, having saved Sarat Khan from a leaping leopard, latter assuring him that “my debt will be eternal.” Perry finally spills facts of love and the brothers quarrel, Geoff having lost his temper and calling Perry a liar. Being the last to know undermines confidence and authority as embodied in Geoff. Even Elsa’s father (Donald Crisp) is wise thanks to her porch embrace with Perry the older man interrupts at a dance reception for the Khan. “You deserve a good thrashing,” he tells Perry, and we are inclined to agree. Dad advises Elsa that she “cannot wantonly hurt” Geoffrey, thereby assuring she’ll extend the subterfuge and endure unwanted affection when Geoffrey visits the next day. It is one thing when Olivia DeHavilland is soured on a Flynn character and fiercely resists his advance, as in much of Captain Blood and later Dodge City. This is expected combat on mutual ways to romantic union, but The Charge of the Light Brigade holds out no hope that this couple will unite, and it bothers us (at least me) to see her so ill at ease and him so clueless. These are “love” scenes uncomfortably like what too many enact in real life, and I wonder if then/now viewers recognize themselves in similar plight. It was one thing for Bogart to forfeit Bergman for the greater good in Casablanca. She after all had a husband, the war was on, and Bogie/Bogey will probably get more excitement diving into the scrap with Claude Rains. Besides, he’s had the goodies, recently as the night before, so no wondering for rest of his days what that would have been like. For Flynn/Geoffrey, there are none such consolations. He’s left behind simply because Olivia/Elsa does not love him, prefers his weakling brother, and that's that. Harsh medicine for Errol and us.



Senior officers who support Geoffrey triangulate to separate the lovers, Perry dispatched one place, Elsa another. Meanwhile the frontier is seething, and Chukoti succumbs to cruel onslaught by Sarat Khan, his massacre complete but for Geoffrey to whom Khan squares his debt of gratitude. Geoffrey saves Elsa’s life in the melee, but she’ll still not come round to realizing he is the better man. Perry meanwhile remains sullen at safety’s remove and will not accept his brother’s apology for sounding off, “We’re not friends so why pretend we are?” pouts he. Geoffrey resigns finally to being odd man out, and he and Elsa share a touching farewell, a scene splendidly enacted by Flynn and DeHavilland. She tells him he is “the finest man I ever knew,” variant on “you’re such a nice guy, but …” or “It’s not you, it’s me.” There is nothing left for Geoff but supreme sacrifice and ignoring written orders so he can avenge the outrage at Chukoti, final act of a man who otherwise has nothing left to live for. We are meant to embrace his falsifying a commanding officer’s signature and leading 600 men to their shared fate. None of this is history of course but for fact a charge did take place, and 600 or thereabout souls died in the doing. The Charge of the Light Brigade stands for the screen’s oldest proposition that all conflict must be personalized ... wars, nations, and populace of secondary concern. Imagine if Elsa had come to her senses and chosen Geoffrey. 600 lives might have been saved. As it is, only Geoffrey’s despair and anxiety to get even need be considered, loss of his true love eased by mass killing of the opposition and total loss of his own regiment. Their fall might mitigate his own, at least in the minds of viewership unaccustomed to Flynn or personas of his stature being handed rejection slips by their leading lady.

grbrpix@aol.com
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