Last weekend was our second week of Cher co-hosting Friday Night Spotlight on Turner Classic Movies. The theme was war movies. I have to say, four war movies in a row sent me right into a funk, especially when they only highlight how far we have not come 60 years later. Humans are still doing the same stupid shit and they probably always will. For this reason, I don't usually watch war movies, but in light of the fact that Cher is so supportive of our U.S. vets and due to the staggering fact that 22+ soldiers and vets are comitting suicde EACH DAY, I feel these movies deserve our attention. As Rachel Maddow writes in her book, Drift, Americans are disconnected from the wars our countrymen are involved in.
So Proudly We Hail (1943) - stars Claudette Colbert (to the left in a foxhole), Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, George Reeves and Sonny Tufts as my favorite character, Kansas. Cher remarked how she doesn't usually like Colbert in movies but likes a lot of movies Colbert is in. I feel this way about Tom Cruise. Cher likes Colbert in strong woman movies and here she is equal to a man and given respect, by being competent and not playing sexy and cute. In this story of U.S. nurses serving in the Philippines, the women all get separated from their new servicemen beaus as they move from one treacherous locale to another. Veronica Lake is great here as a surly nurse but she exits too soon and some of the movie's tension flags. Lake's look reminded me so much of a cross between Julia Duffy in Newhart and Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear. The leaders preach "faith to innocent young men" and the movie has both its nationalistic moments and its racist ones. When one of the girls talks to an Asian soldier in pigeon English he replies, "I'm Chinese not Indian" which is insulting to the Chinese and Indians. Veronica Lake's character is hell-bent to kill "Japs" but her monologue about her dead lover describes the very gory aspects of war, "Sixty bullets and his face was gone."
The bombing scenes are well done and tense. Colbert has an interesting line about "until we make he world a descent place to live in" and this was supposedly what the "war to end all wars" was going to achieve. Similar to modern US soldiers, these women are embarrassed to be called heroes. One says, I guess that means we're still alive. We never find out what happens to my favorite characer, Kansas.
After the movie, Robert Osbourne commented that Claudette Colbert and Paulette Goddard didn't get along during the making of the movie and asked if Cher ever had tension with her co-stars. Cher said she likes harmony and isn't sure if she could work in a situation with tension, that she wouldn't feel safe or free to make mistakes and do a good performance.
Since You Went Away (1944) - Another Claudette Colbert movie, co-starring Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple and Joseph Cotton, about a mother left on the homefront during World War II and how a family struggles after they lose their income earner and money is tight. Hattie McDaniel has a refreshingly interesting black maid character and Agnes Moorhead does what she does best. Cher loved the fact that Colbert played a mom holding everything together, how Jennifer Jones progressed from teen to adult nurse, and the performance of Joseph Cotton as the grouchy boarder, who at one point surmises with disgust, "I guess we have to have a Navy." I agree about Cotton. He was adorable. At first Jennifer Jones didn't want to take in a boarder, claiming, "Boarders! It's Communism!"
Cher also loved how the movie showed each generation's struggle with the war. This is an epic movie, 3-and-a-half hours long. Heck, the overture itself felt like 30 minutes had gone by. The card introducing the movie said this would be a story about "the unconquerable fortress--the American home" which you can't help but consider with irony all these years later. This movie had its own nationalism (our cause is just) and "Jap humor" complete with a parody of squinty eyes that is still offensive.
The movie had several scenes of party chatter, or overheard dialogue collaged together and the comments were like found poems, very poignant and well-done. We also saw an honest depiction of the struggles of rations, soldiers dying quickly in accidents, coming home without limbs, and the terror of dealing with having loved ones missing in action. The love relationship between Jane and Bill also showcases he pressure couples in the military suffer to experience what "precious time" they have to be together. I also enjoyed every scene with the family dog, who kept breaking the fourth wall by staring into the camera.
Cher said her favorite scene was when Jennifer Jones "drew down" on Agnes Moorhead. Cher said she always has these movies on for background noise while she's working, that she considers them her friends. Which is how I feel about The Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes.
The White Cliffs of Dover (1944) -Gee, I do love it when my obsessions converge. Today I was able to talk about this movie on my blog Big Bang Poetry. This movie is about an American (Irene Dunne) living in England during World War I and World War II and is a movie I've only ever heard of because it was one of Elizabeth Taylor's first appearances. The movie was based on a poem (or a "verse novel" as Poem Hunter calls it) by Alice Duer Miller called "The White Cliffs." The narration of the film starts out with Irene Dunne reciting the first stanza of Miller's poem and then flips over to poetry written for the film by Robert Nathan, who published 50 books of poetry and fiction in his day. Alice Duer Miller's original poem was influential in many ways. According to Poem Hunter:
The poem was spectacularly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, selling eventually a million copies - an unheard of number for a book of verse. It was broadcast and the story was made into the 1944 film The White Cliffs of Dover, starring Irene Dunne. Like her earlier suffrage poems, it had a significant effect on American public opinion and it was one of the influences leading the United States to enter the War. Sir Walter Layton, who held positions in the Ministries of Supply and Munitions during the Second World War, even brought it to the attention of then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Alice Duer Miller was also influential as a suffragette:
She became known as a campaigner for women's suffrage and published a brilliant series of satirical poems in the New York Tribune. These were published subsequently as Are Women People?. These words became a catchphrase of the suffrage movement. She followed this collection with Women are People! (1917)
The movie stars Irene Dunne, Alan Marshal, Gladys Cooper and both C. Aubrey Smith and Frank Morgan (none other than the Great Oz himself) as dueling old men fighting over the future of Irene Dunne. Cher loved the expanse of time covered in the movie. She and Robert Osbourne discuss a brief appearance by Van Johnson and a car accident he had just been in. Cher and Osbourne also admired the huge MGM sets in the movie and Cher loves Gladys Cooper who can play a nice or bad character with the same demeanor. The movie is actually a good commentary on the differences between American and British culture. Dunne is all-American and struggles with English customs. She resents their digs on Americans like, "She's such a nice little thing; not a bit like an American." Again, nothing has changed with Europe's perception of Americans as rude and boorish. The royal party scene is legitimately exciting and afterwards, John Ashwood takes her to where William Wordsworth once stood looking out over London.
Mostly the first half of the movie is a love story. We descend into tear-jearking tragedy as soon as the wars begin.The movie also co-stars Roddy McDowall who plays the young, charming son (left) who flirts with a baby Elizabeth Taylor, who looks very much like Lindsay Lohan and you can see, from watching this, why they cast her to play in Taylor's recent TV-biopic.
They're all just looking for "a peace that will stick" says Dunne and at the end she cries out that, "God will never forgive us if we break faith with the dead." Depressing.
Cher and Robert talk about how Irene Dunne could sing, do drama or comedy. Cher said back then "everyone got to stretch." Throughout the night Robert Osborne always introduces Cher as "Oscar-winning actress" and Cher says she never gets tired of hearing that. They talk about all the great actors who never won Oscars, like Cary Grant. Robert Osbourne notes that Grant was never even nominated for one.
Three Came Home (1950) - This is a gritty Japanese prisoner of war movie starring Claudette Colbert and Sessue Hayakawa. Cher says she was very touched by Hayakawa's performance and Robert talks about how the injury Colbert received during this film's rape scene cost her the lead in All About Eve. Again Cher loved the strength women showed during their harrowing prisoner experiences. Based on a book depicting the true events of the lead character, the movie follows Colbert while her family is stationed in Borneo working for the British. This is another tear-jerker. When the British colonists are left stranded, the Japanese inter them in prisoner camps. Although Colbert keeps her hairstyle, makeup and false eyelashes intact throughout the ordeal, the movie is surprisingly brutal and harrowing. There are long suspenseful scenes that broke me and I had to get up and make fudge rather than look to see what was going on (the sneaking out the meet the husband scene, the scene with the Australians, the reunion scene). At the end Hiroshima is referenced and the brutality of war deemed senseless for both sides. Colbert connects with her captor through their common love of their children. At the end of the movie, I felt compelled to remember the lyrics to "Russians" by Sting:
How can I save my little boy
from Oppenheimer's deadly toy?
There is no monopoly in common sense
on either side of the political sense.
Mr. Khrushchev says he will bury you.
I don't subscribe to this point of view.
It's such an ignorant thing to do
if the Russians love their children too.
Cher talks about her non-fandom of Claudette Colbert despite picking three Colbert movies in one night and how she prefers Ginger Rodgers and Ingrid Bergman. I have to agree after seeing her in all these movies. She's alright but a bit prissy and stiff. But of all these movies, I would recommend Three Came Home the most for it's ability to jerk you around in a reasonable amount of time.
All the TMC lists online included the movie The Best Years of Our Lives" on Cher's lineup so I taped it but Cher and Robert Osbourne did not discuss that movie. So I'll save that one for later. I'm depleted and depressed at this point. Again I'm left with the feeling that no matter how much things change, nothing changes. I'm looking forward to this Friday's set of movies on women at work. Like Loretta's grandfather commaned in Moonstruck, "Someone tell a joke!"
Read about Cher's First Week of TCM: Motherhood.