Monday, August 27, 2007

John Wayne: His Private Secretary (1933)

Making love like a Romeo. Drinking like a fish. -Wallace, Sr.

If you are a John Wayne fan, please watch this film. If you are not a John Wayne fan and can claim a physical aversion to Westerns, please watch this film. If anything, watch it for its novelty as an atypical John Wayne film. Wayne plays Dick Wallace, a rich, young skirt-chaser whose father is frustrated with his son's antics and is desparate to make him a responsible young adult. When the right woman comes along, Dick Wallace quickly changes his tune, but it's up to his new love to convince his father that he's changed his ways for good.

This film is on DVD but if your some type of visual purist, you may be frustrated with the grainy and out of focus shots. Much wasn't done to restore the original print. If you love bonus materials, you may also be disappointed as they are rather strange and vaguely related to the movie. (For example, one of the extras is a clip of a psychadelic, 70's choreographed dance to protest pollution. Weird...) If you can overcome the poor visuals and the other DVD strangeness, you may find yourself enjoying watching a very young and very handsome John Wayne light up the screen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Breaking the Code: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

All last summer, Sebastian was famished for blondes... fed up with the dark ones - Catherine

If I had to chose the one film that represented Hollywood's rebellion against the Hays Code, it would most definitely be Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). This film is as explicit as it is coy. It is in the throes of desperation - wanting to tell the viewer what it wants to say but having to hold back. The story is bursting from the seams, although it is mostly contained, some secrets find a way to ooze out the sides.

After viewing this film recently for the first time, I wondered how much of the story is representative (or at least symbolic) of the fight against the Code? Take for example, Elizabeth Taylor's character, Catherine. The previous summer she had witnessed the most utterly grotesque sequence of events that culminated in the horrific death of her manipulative cousin, Sebastian. After her return from Europe, the story is held inside her tormented mind and she is consquentially punished for the danger the truth she holds represents to others. Katharine Hepburn plays Violet, Sebastian's mother, whose incestuous relationship with her son lends to her desperate need to keep Sebastian's image alive and well - one even may say "pure". Catherine threatens to tarnish the image with the tale of Sebastian's last summer in Europe and Violet wants to literally rip the story out of her brain, by means of employing Dr. Curkowicz, played by Montgomery Clift, to perform a lobotomy.

[potential spoilers ahead]

Catherine is the owner of a story that needs to be told and encounters a long and difficult path to become the story's teller. When she is finally able to give birth to the story, the experience is painful, ensuiing in screams and sobs but in the end healing. Violet, the censor, the person still alive who is most threatened by this story is not capable of handling it after repressing it for so long.

Catherine - Story - Hollywood

Violet - Censor - Hays Code

Does anyone see the connection? I tend not to think this was in any way on purpose but it was probably a subconscious for of rebellion. It could also be the English major in me just looking for something to analyze. Who knows? What I do know is this film is unquestionably part of Hollywood's break from the code.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Breaking the Code

It is no coincidence that my favorite classic films find themselves situated before and after the Hays Code's reign of power over the film industry. (The Hays Code being the set of statutes imposed upon filmmakers to promote a particular form of morality.) Firstly, there are the pre-Codes, most notably those talkies from the early 1930s that were often playful and jovial even when they dealt with difficult subjects. Although the Hays Code was already in place during this time, it generally wasn't enforced and leaving filmmakers more carefree to explore a broad range of subjects and themes. After 1934, the Code held its grip on the industry for a substantial amounf of time. It wasn't until the late '50s, when television proved to be a dangerous competitor to cinemas when the Code began to lose its power. Films started to come out in spicier flavors to lure back those customers who had begun to hibernate in front of their televisions. Filmmakers broke more and more of the Code's statues over the next decade or so until the industry moved permanently onto a less-restrictive ratings system in 1967.

I find the films I most enjoy and relate to are ones from 1930-1934 and 1955-1960. (Even though one might consider the latter half to be early to mid 50's into the late '60s, I find that the 60's was a decade upon itself and I always view it as it's own entity.) These two timeframes represent moments of rebellion from repression. I want to take the opportunity to discuss those particular films that defied the code individually because they are so powerful and they boast the potential to shatter the people's preconceived notions of classic films.

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