IMPEACH TRUMP.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Drive-in Movies - Ape Shall Not Kill Ape


I went to a drive-in movie recently. The last time I went to a drive-in movie was, I think, in 1970, around 47 years ago. What a shame this delightful experience is so little known today.

My thanks and a nod of acknowledgement to the Mansfield Drive-In in Mansfield, Connecticut, where my twin brother John and I relived the experience of our eight-year-old selves.  Back in 1970, we saw a double feature of Doris Day in With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) and The Boatniks (1970), which I mentioned in this previous post about drive-in movies.

The Mansfield Drive-In has three screens, with double features playing on each.  Our double feature was War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) and Wonder Woman (2017).  We didn’t finish the second movie as it was getting into the wee hours and we had an hour drive home.  By that time, I confess, I was a little weary of violence and simplistic characters that would entertain a child or someone with the mind of one.  Not that I don’t applaud Wonder Woman’s getting her due on the big screen—hurray for the girls—but she’s still no match for Tracy Lord, Stella Dallas, Ilsa Lund, or Mildred Pierce, if you get my drift.  Margo Channing would have chewed her up and spit her out.  Heck, so would Birdie.

As for the Apes, I noticed that though the makeup and CGI combined had made the ape creatures incredibly realistic compared to the original series, the script was much more inferior when it came to dialogue or any kind of message, or indeed, any kind of point at all.  There was actually very little dialogue.  The new movie follows the ape leader Caesar on an act of revenge with no purpose.  It is left to others with more sense to save the ape colony.  The original Planet of the Apes (1968) I had blogged about last summer when it came to the big screen at the local cinema as part of the Fathom Events partnership with Turner Classic Movies was not as sophisticated technologically, to be sure, but it had a far more literate and intelligent script.  This is from my blog post on that experience last year:

The other thing that surprised me was how the themes in this much-parodied pop culture movie-turned-“franchise” have remained relevant: the ape council’s rejection of science because it threatens the power of a fundamentalist government, the refusal to acknowledge truths that are not politically convenient, the cycle of prejudice and subjugation. Rod Serling wrote the script based on Pierre Boulle’s novel, and Serling's introspective and intellectual imprint is all over this movie.  There is a late 1960s feeling of the exhilaration of rebellion, without all the tired dystopian bilge we are beaten over the head with today.

When Charlton Heston comes upon the half-buried Statue of Liberty and screams his last lines, I’m sure all in the theater were quite familiar with the end of the movie, but there was still an awed silence, then the audience erupted in applause.  

I am still tired of dystopian bilge.  I find its parallel with the current fascist regime in the White House and Congress to be appalling, and yet is somehow something we have allowed to happen by our lack of meaningful entertainment, our shallowness, and lack of a true spirit of adventure, despite our ape leader trudging through the snow to kill his enemies, and despite Wonder Woman leaving her island paradise to save mankind.  As a society, we have gotten lazy and stupid. Instead of taking charge and defining our era, we have sat back and allowed it to define us.

Hey, TCM, hey Fathom Events...what I'd love to see is some classic films on the drive-in screen.  Can you do that?

What I found totally unexpected and quite charming in this drive-in movie experience was the pre-movie 1950s and 1960s music on the FM frequency we were to hear the sound from – no more speakers on your car door (we brought our own radio so as not to drain the car battery) –and also the classic TV commercials that reminded us Boomers of the heyday when drive-ins could be found pretty much anywhere.  There are no more drive-in theaters in my area – the closest are the one in Mansfield, Connecticut, and another in New Hampshire—but back in the day there was one in my town and several more within probably five miles.  They are all shopping plazas now.

Next on the screen, another totally unexpected delight, was the classic “Let’s all go the lobby…” promo cartoon and the audience in their cars and lawn chairs erupted in cheers and applause.  It was not for the quality of the grainy 70-year-old cartoon urging us to go to the refreshment stand “and have ourselves a treat” that they applauded.  It was for the memory of simpler joys and being too young then to really appreciate them.  

I did see a little girl in her jammies, and that was cute.  I remembered those days, and having to be carried into the house by my father when we got home because I had fallen asleep in the back seat.  

But I also saw a grown woman in pajama bottoms.  Well, I’ve seen people wearing them at the post office, too, so I don’t know if she expected to fall asleep or that was just what was in her closet.

Between the two features, we got another ten-minute burst of a “Let’s all go to the lobby….” adventure with the well-dressed, white, middle class American family who ate refreshment stand goodies like goats eating the lawn, and large hot dogs and cups of soda coming to life and dancing for us.  It would have been surreal, except that it was so comfortingly familiar and innocent.  It was the kind of stupidity that didn’t make one angry; it made one smile.

Interesting that nobody clapped for the science fiction characters who had adventures in our place—not representing us but substituting for us; the audience applauded the dancing popcorn cartons and the voracious cartoon family that could not get enough treats.

Perhaps more than the apes and humans seeking revenge on each other, I enjoyed the black sky full of brilliant stars.  The Big Dipper hung just over the top of the screen.  The summer night air was heavy with scents from the woods nearby and freshly cut fields, and maybe bug spray.

We left before we got too tired because if we had fallen asleep, nobody was going to carry us into the house.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

George M. Cohan's movies


Independence Day wouldn't be the same without Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).  Fortunately, Turner Classic Movies seems to agree.  James Cagney might well be inextricably linked to George M. Cohan, to the extent that Cohan's career in theatre far outstrips his handful of film appearances.  Cohan did, however, make a few movies.

His first, Broadway Jones (1917) transferred his stage persona to screen, though a silent film is obviously not the best showcase for a musical star.  It was based on his stage show and filmed by his own company, Cohan Feature Films Company.

His play Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917) was his next try at films.  Hedda Hopper was his co-star.  This and his next film were produced by Famous Players.  That was Hit-the-Trail Holliday (1918), a comedy about a temperance crusade --  before Prohibition.

The Phantom President (1932) is interesting for its election year subject, and especially that his co-star was Claudette Colbert and Jimmy Durante.  This was produced by Paramount.  Have a look at a clip here.


Gambling (1934) was George M.'s last movie, for Fox this time.  Films were not his forte -- like some stage actors, he preferred the live audience reaction -- but his prodigious theatre career is remembered mainly by Cagney's movie about him. 

photo by JT Lynch

The statue on Broadway is, like Cohan himself, larger than life.
photo by JT Lynch


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mini posters from the flea market



Someone discovered the two small posters, mounted but unframed, at a flea market.  My Little Chickadee (1940), starred Mae West and W.C. Fields, as pictured, in the comedy western.  These two stars were old vaudevillians. Their skits were polished from decades of performing their well-known characters live in theaters across the country.  The movie is less an amusing look at the nineteenth century American West as it is a revival of early twentieth century popular entertainment...and a spoof by both stars about their own stage personas.

The poster is modern souvenir kitsch, such as you may find on the walls of any home of a classic film fan.  The art department of Universal Studios would marvel at this.  



Stanley and Livingstone (1939), from 20th Century Fox, was made the year before My Little Chickadee, and likewise looked back on a more innocent if more adventurous era as the reporter played by Spencer Tracy attempts to track down the missionary in the wilds of Africa.

We were on the brink of entering World War II when these movies with old-fashioned themes became hits of the modern era.  The posters are in public domain, copied and copied, and put on mugs, magnets, and any other handy item that will hold a brightly colored illustration.  The merchandizing is not publicizing the movie anymore, however; it's publicizing the art department of the studio.  Unsung and forgotten, but whose work is still appreciated, and apparently, still just as marketable as the movie.
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My thanks to Gail Watson for these posters and her knowledge of collectibles.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A salute to two classic film bloggers

I'd like to shine the spotlight today on two fellow classic film bloggers and their splendid achievements: Raquel Stecher, and John Greco.

Raquel pens the Out of the Past blog, which is celebrating a ten-year anniversary. Have a look at her anniversary post here.  I've been a regular reader of her blog for many years, and probably among my favorite posts are about her annual participation in the TCM Classic Film Fest.  Her exploration of classic movies has brought her on a wonderful journey, which she shares with us with eloquence and enthusiasm.

John Greco, who writes the Twenty Four Frames blog likewise shares his passion and knowledge on classic film in very entertaining and informative posts, but John also has other talents: he is a professional photographer (you can peruse and purchase some of his work here at Fine Art America), and also a writer.

John's latest eBook is a collection of short stories called Devious Tales.  With a decidedly noir streak and some very surprising endings, this book of dark tales will intrigue and fascinate fans of mysteries.

Classic film bloggers seem to enjoy a wide range of interests and excel at many talents, and my admiration for Raquel and John is not only for their blogs, but that their blogs have led to other adventures.  Well done!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

March of Time: Teen-Age Girls - 1945


The March of Time short subject Teen-Age Girls (1945) is a window on a societal ripple in postwar America that is, unusually, both dated and prescient.  The documentary examines the emergence of teens as a new and important demographic, particularly females in this case, with a lighthearted and even amused attitude, but with a curious reservation—perhaps not unlike the way a parent first notices that a child isn’t a child anymore.

This is our final post in this series about how Hollywood depicted children during World War II.  The March of Time apparently felt, and perhaps not wrongly, that the dawn of the Teen-Age was as likely to be as influential a force in American society as the nuclear age.  The narrator begins:

Of all the phenomena in wartime life in the United States, one of the most fascinating and mysterious…has been the emergence of the teenage girl in her own right.

This was not something Hollywood evidently considered earlier in the war, when the worldwide emergency seemed to put children’s needs secondary and yet led to a future where teens would dominate the culture and even the economy.

In almost a spoof of an anthropological study, a group of sociologists and psychiatrists sits around a conference table while a teenage girl narrates her world for them in an authoritative interview.  We are shown scenes of empowered bobbysoxers in sweater sets and pearls, rolled up jeans and oversized white Oxford shirts, loafers and lipstick, and she tells them about her tribe.  The narrator concurs:

Where once teenagers were without group identity, lingering diffidently in the uncertain period between childhood and womanhood, today they constitute one of the most highly individualized and acutely noticeable groups in the nation.

Acutely noticeable perhaps, but individualized?  The teen girl authority emphasizes just the opposite—an almost authoritarian attitude of fitting in.

If a girl doesn’t dress right, the way everyone else is dressing, she’s just out…You want them to think I’m different or something?

They want their own rooms, their pinups, their pin money.  There is also a rather proud and defiant desire to not be, or even appear to be, intellectual.  

We don’t have time to read newspapers much.

When the teen authority announces that her tribe thinks about serious and important things, and even discusses them in a radio talk show with other teens, we are seen a circle of them around a microphone discussing whether they should go steady with just one boy, or more. 

They gather at slumber parties and like it when boys catcall at the windows.  Despite this,

We’re not in a hurry to grow up—get all serious and morbid like older people.

The documentary notes that the music and fashion industries were already starting to pay attention to this new demographic, though it would be another decade before the cultural and economic scales would tip irrevocably to young adults.  Perhaps their elders were rendered meek, fatigued and demoralized by what they had endured during the war years to the point of not being able to keep their teen girls from hogging the phone.  What the enemy didn’t get out of them, their own American teens finished them off.

However, the complaining and impertinent squeak from the girls would be child’s play indeed compared to the revolt by the next generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which would in turn be considered mild compared to today’s cell phone zombies whose interaction when pulled away from their texting is frequently one of rude disdain minus the revolution.  Did their evolution begin with the bobbysoxers in their sweater sets and “keep out” signs on their bedrooms?  

The kids with latchkeys on strings around their necks, coming home to an empty house because the folks were at the war plant and big brother was in the Marines became, in their twenties in the 1950s, the Silent Generation.  If they were conformists and uninvolved politically, nevertheless their buying power would change American society, though after their first declaration of independence in 1945, they appeared to lose steam.  Feminism would come to their daughters before it came to them.  Would Hollywood ever really pay attention to them?  In the late 1950s and early 1960s they would be parodied as company men and housewives, (indeed, unlike their Rosie the Riveter mothers, this generation might have been the first where most of them did not work outside the home, or become involved in a home business) consumers of washers, dryers, and tranquilizers.  The flower power generation’s revolt was geared at World War II era parents, so the Silent Generation even missed the prominence of being defied.

How ironic, to form the vanguard of this new dynamic force in society—the teenager—to be “acutely noticeable” as teens in 1945 and yet to fly under radar for decades to come.  March of Time’s Teen-Age Girls was released this day, June 15, 1945.  The war in Europe had ended, but there was still fighting in the Pacific.  A pause at the beginning of the last summer of the war brought a reflection on what the postwar world would be—and a brief thought to the teens among us who had collected scrap for the war effort, and wrote to servicemen, and wanted, somehow, to matter.

This is the end of our series on Hollywood’s depiction of children during World War II.  Previous posts in this series are:




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The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.








Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Search - 1948


The Search (1948) is tenderly filmed.  The plot of the story carries the weight of the world and the eternal suffering of children during war, but lifts our hearts, though they may be breaking, as if on wings of angels.  Those angels are UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation) workers, and a young GI, and even us, if we have taken this movie to heart and take something away from it.

This is the fourth post in our series on how Hollywood depicted children during World War II.  This time, we leave the well-fed American kids behind, and step back to Europe in the aftermath of war.  It is said that the first casualty of war is truth.  The final byproduct is refugees. 

We encounter a small boy, one of the millions of refugees after World War II who have been released from concentration camps.  He is brought with nameless others to an UNRRA central tracing bureau to be processed and, if possible, reunited with relatives searching for them.  The movie takes on documentary-like qualities as we follow the children upon their arrival, sleeping in a boxcar on top of each other, ragged, sallow, starving, and sick—and terrified of the UNRRA personnel in uniform.  It is how they began their journey to the concentration camps; it is how the war ends for them.

Aline MacMahon, one of Hollywood’s finest and most valuable players, is in charge and interviews the kids in many languages.  Ivan Jandl plays Karel, a boy who was separated from his mother at Auschwitz.  His father and sister are dead.  He does not speak, only automatically repeats, “Ich weiss nicht,” (I don’t know) to answers put to him.  He is like a zombie, wooden, haunted, and barely able to function.  He also suffers from amnesia from the trauma of the concentration camp.  His number is tattooed on his arm.

In a moment of panic, he and another boy escape and wander the ruins of this German city.  Attempting to cross a river, the other boy drowns.  Though director Fred Zinnemann crafts a gentle telling of the story, it is nevertheless unblinking in its frank observations of the tragedies we witness.  Karel loses only his knitted cap in the water, and when that is recovered by UNRAA staff, they believe him to have drowned as well.

Alone now, Karel wanders aimlessly, until he meets Montgomery Clift, an Army engineer, part of the army of occupation.  Clift feeds him, takes him back to the building he shares billeting with Wendell Corey.  In days to come, the boy is cleaned, dressed in new clothes, and Clift teaches him English by naming objects in pictures torn from magazines.  Karel seems contented, but he still cannot emotionally or by memory connect with his past.  Clift wants to take him back to America.

That involves tremendous red tape. 
Eventually, he will take him to the UNRAA camp to help facilitate his adoption of Karel, whom he calls Jim.  This was Montgomery Clift’s first film, and he is a marvel of natural and riveting screen presence.  Many of his joking remarks and responses to the boy seem ad libbed and he has a wonderful off-the-cuff and in the moment delivery.  He is a lighthearted young man, quick with a funny quip, but the deeper he becomes involved with the boy the more sober he becomes.  (And his character may remind us of his role in The Big Lift-1950, which we covered here.) When he tries to form a plan to get the boy to the U.S., Wendell Corey counters that it is impractical and the rules impeding this are necessary: “We’d have all of Europe in America if we didn’t have those rules.”

Clift responds, “So what?”

“You’re the one who used to make cracks about those filthy DP’s, remember?”

“I did?"

“Yes, you did.  Not so very long ago, either.”

Clift answers, “Well, now I’ve learned something.”

Indeed he has, and we still struggle with that argument today.

Mr. Clift has a nice, easy rapport with the Ivan Jandl, who was from Czechoslovakia and only made a handful of films.  He is a splendid interpreter of this role: unaffected, natural, and perhaps wise beyond his years in his intuitive relationship with the camera.  It is also a wise choice on the part of director Zinnemann to follow the boy with long scenes of no dialogue.  We see deeper into the child’s world if we are allowed to adopt his mindset and we can do this more easily if we take on his silent observation of the world around him.

One of the most affecting scenes in the movie is when Wendell Corey’s wife and young son arrive to share their housing.  Clift will be rotated back to the U.S. very soon, but Corey will be part of the army of occupation for a while yet.  Karel observes Corey’s son interacting with his mother.  At one point, the son cries and the mother comforts him.  This triggers a long dormant memory in Karel.  He asks Clift, “What is a mother?”  Charmingly inventive, Clift points to one the magazine photos thumb tacked on the wall of their room that he has used to teach the boy English.  It is a photo of a long-eared funny-looking bloodhound sitting next to a smaller pup.  Presumably, he has used this photo to teach the boy the word “dog.”  Now Clift points to the bigger dog and says, “This is the mother.”  Then to the puppy, “This is the child.”

Karel chews on this a while, and grows distressed. Looking at the photo, his expression becomes pained, and he struggles with a scene that remains in his mind of a woman who had been with him in the camp.  As he sits and almost like an automaton, draws lines on a paper, he suddenly remembers the pattern of the chain link fence in the camp.  Earlier in the film, we are given a flashback scene of when his mother was taken from him, separated into a different camp.  She calls to him, and kisses him through the small opening in the chain link fence.

It all comes back to Karel now, and he sobs, and he demands that Clift help him find his mother.  “Where is my mother?  I have a mother.  I know I have a mother.  Where is she?”  Clift believes Karel’s mother is dead, and tries to distract him with talk of going to America.  Karel is angry, and sneaks out in the night.

We follow him again across the ruins of war-torn Germany, until eventually; Clift finds him and takes him to the UNRRA camp where he hopes to begin the paperwork of adopting Karel.

Earlier in the film, we are shown that Karel’s mother, played by celebrated opera singer Jarmila Novotna, whom we also saw here in The Great Caruso (1951), has survived and is searching for him.  In a nail-biting series of circumstances, they continually miss each other.  Aline MacMahon helps to put together clues, and we are given the gift of finally seeing mother and son reunited.  I don’t know if we could take this movie if that didn’t happen.

The Search is really a very simple story, simply filmed, about very complicated geopolitical issues, and that is the wonder of it.  It allows us to see a large picture on a very small scale and connect with it in a personal way.  The movie was filmed, at least in part, in Europe so the location shooting is stark and genuine.  We do not have the optimistic and jingoistic approach of helping children in wartime as we saw in The Piped Piper.  We were still fighting the war then.  We are in the aftermath now, where at least as far as the mind of a child refugee is concerned, the world is borderless, without nationalities or allegiances—but it is not free.  It is a nightmarish maze of confusing obstacles.  Every grownup who displays compassion is a monumental hero.  

Come back next Thursday when we finish our series with a look at another March of Time short subject, a world away and back to America with the dawn of a new age—not the nuclear age, but the Teen Age.

Our previous posts in this series are:






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The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.





Thursday, June 1, 2017

Youth Runs Wild (1944) and Youth in Crisis (1943)



Youth Runs Wild (1944) and Youth in Crisis (1943) show us American teens led into juvenile delinquency during World War II.  For children on the home front, the war means neglect – and danger.

This is the third post in our series on how Hollywood depicted the experiences of children during World War II.  Have a look at The Piped Piper (1942) here, and On the Sunny Side (1942) and You, John Jones! (1943) here.

Youth Runs Wild, directed by Mark Robson, features Glen Vernon and Tessa Brind as star-crossed pair of teens successfully navigating their awkward years and the nation at war. They are left behind and left out.

We are shown even in the film’s first moments the message that, in the wartime emergency, we are not taking proper care of our children.  Jean Brooks walks down a city street with her three-year-old son, while a truck plows over a sign cautioning drivers about children at play.  As she proceeds through a working-class neighborhood, she stops at one rundown workers’ row house. Her parents live here with her fifteen-year-old brother.  Miss Brooks is returning home to live with them while her soldier husband is away.

Art Smith and Mary Servoss are her folks, who both work the night shift at the local war plant and sleep during the day. Their son, played by Glen (or Glenn) Vernon, is in trouble at school, skipping class to work in a local garage to earn money for a present for his girl.

Tessa Brind, literally the girl next door, is the oldest of three daughters of a couple who also work at the war plant. Her parents are even more neglectful, they go out to bars after work, or bring friends home to play cards (one friend openly leers at their teenage daughter) leaving the housework and the care of their younger daughters to Tessa. (Using her birth name of Smylla Brind, she was Ann Blyth’s understudy in the Broadway drama Watch on the Rhine in 1941, and went on to play the role of Babette in a touring company.  A writer and an artist as well, Brind would later take the name of Vanessa Brown in her acting career.)

Glen and Tessa have a sweet, rather innocent relationship, a stark contrast to their rough surroundings and rougher companions. Interestingly, they carry the story, unlike more established stars playing supporting roles including Kent Smith, who plays the soldier husband of Jean Brooks, discharged from the military hospital; Lawrence Tierney, a shady guy (he’s Lawrence Tierney, what else?); and Bonita Granville, who is a smart-talking tough moll for Tierney.  She provides the only gloss for this B-movie.

The neglected teens – seemingly thrown under the bus by their parents – will have unlikely support from Kent Smith, Tierney, and Granville, adults on the periphery of their lives and with no responsibility toward them, but who actually help them turn their lives around. Tierney, at first leading Tessa Brind astray, helps Glen get away from the cops when he and his buddies (including Dickie Moore) are committing a crime.  He regularly sends kids to the war plant at night to steal tires off the cars in the parking lot to sell on the black market in his garage.  Tires of course were rationed during the war.  This time, he doesn’t want Glen involved because he’s such a nice kid from a nice family.  (The car the boys are robbing has a toddler in the back seat crying.  This is probably the most heart-wrenching scene of the movie, but it actually happened that parents busy in war plants locked their children in their cars, having no other place to put them and no babysitters. There are no comments made about the baby in the car, we just see it and so the effect and our shock is far more profound.)

Bonita Granville takes Tessa under her wing when her folks kick her out of the house and she gets her a job in a dive. Ultimately, it is up to Kent Smith to put things right, taking Tessa to his in-laws house to live where she will be safe and protected; taking the boys under his wing and being responsible for them when they are paroled for stealing the tires; and helping his wife run a daycare in the small backyard of the company row house.

Things we may wonder about but which are never discussed in this movie: fifteen-year-old Frankie smoking openly in front of the grown-ups and no one seems to mind (cigarettes were rationed too.  Where did he get them?) And the fact that Kent Smith never gets to have a reunion scene with his wife and baby.  It’s all about the teens.

Not every kid can count on a Kent Smith in his life and so the message of Youth in Crisis (1943), an Academy Award-nominated March of Time short subject is quite important in wartime.  More terse and blunt, this interesting documentary carries the same message about the tension and anxiety of children during war and the teens going astray.  We begin with a line of young men stripped to their shorts undergoing examination at the Army induction center.  Most of them look no older than teens themselves.  We are told that many men are being rejected because of mental and emotional problems and the documentary explores what could be long-lasting effects on our society from these young people who are so troubled during the war years.

Teens without supervision are shown flaunting authority, getting in trouble, smoking marijuana, and the girls are portrayed as being the easy prey of servicemen on leave.  There is a mixture of frankness and delicacy in the delivery of the message of sexually transmitted disease and the alarming statistics of the sharp rise in crime since 1941 in burglary, rape, and prostitution.  Crime rates had actually dropped during the Depression.

Latchkey kids are seeing coming home to a house of dirty dishes and no mom.  Women are seen at war plants.  As a remedy, we are shown teen clubs and with a positive message and image of an articulate African-American youth speaking his mind in front of a group of white peers, and a roster of boys letting out their pent-up energy in the gym with the names showing variety of ethnicities.  There’s a lot packed into this short documentary: toddlers needing daycare, rising prices, rationing, race riots, and teens growing up too fast.

What happened to this generation of wartime excitement and angst?  They began smoking early, drinking early, and suffered growing pains like perhaps no other generation before.  Not old enough to fight in the military, they still felt the fallout of the world at war.  They were told they had to do their bit for the war effort, but there was apparently no assigned role, or not enough for them to do.

The documentary, though showing parents at the war factories, particularly women, does not indicate that women workers are to be blamed for the delinquency of the children.  It was still 1943 and moms were still needed the war plant.  But one wonders if, upon the end of the war, when so many women were let go from the factories, even ones who wanted to keep their jobs, their being forced out of the factories was a result of messages in such films as Youth Runs Wild, and Youth in Crisis?  Teens developing too much autonomy for good or ill was a concern during wartime, but it was a necessary evil when our hands were tied fighting a bigger evil.  The 1950s would see a return to what was considered a woman’s traditional place in the home. But the teens?

That did not stop the teenager from becoming a new force in society.  The genie was already out of the bottle and there was no putting it back.  We’ll take up that topic in a future March of Time documentary.

Come back next Thursday when we take up the plight of a child concentration camp survivor in post-war Berlin with Montgomery Clift in The Search (1948).

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The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

On the Sunny Side (1942) and You, John Jones! (1943)


On the Sunny Side (1942) and You, John Jones! (1943) give us a look at the wartime experience of children, as the movies viewed it, during World War II, particularly acknowledging how fortunate American children were compared to their counterparts in war zones.  We were encouraged to be both grateful as well as compassionate.  If there was also sometimes a sense of pride thrown into the mix, well, genuine humility is unfortunately not always our strong suit as a nation.  Still, we might imagine that much of the pride in our relative safety was borne of overwhelming relief.

This is our second entry in our series on childhood during World War II.  Roddy McDowall, whom we saw last week in The Pied Piper (1942), stars as well in On the Sunny Side, made in the same year.  Roddy had made a great impression on audiences in How Green Was My Valley (1941), and became one of the most recognizable, certainly one of the youngest, members of Hollywood’s “British Colony.”  He, his mother, and sister left Great Britain in 1940, an era when Dunkirk, the Blitzkrieg, and what appeared to be imminent invasion by the Nazis brought many Brits to the conclusion that London was no longer safe for their children.  Roddy knew something about the role he was going to play next.


In On the Sunny Side, Master Roddy is an English boy sent to live with a family in the United States for the duration of the war.  In the company of a group of other child evacuees, all traveling without their parents, he arrives on a ship to New York, bound for the Midwest home of husband and wife Donald Douglas and Katharine Alexander, and their boy played by Freddie Mercer, who is nearly the same age as Roddy.  Their parents were acquainted from a previous trip to England, good enough friends to be trusted with the care of their child.  His father is an RAF officer, and his mother is played by Jill Esmond, who also played his mum in The Pied Piper.  Jane Darwell is their housekeeper.

Much of the story is a fairly routine plot of a boy in strange surroundings who makes friends and becomes part of the family/community.  Freddie Mercer lets Roddy into his gang, which, with a clubhouse in the woods that is an old abandoned bus, seems a lot like the kids from the Our Gang series, but less scruffy, and not as funny.  Indeed, they are a rather serious and doleful group of youngsters, but the grownups writing and producing this story are perhaps projecting their own seriousness on the nice American squeaky clean world they’ve set up for the kids.  But, like the Our Gang kids, they even have a bully to fear: Stanley Clements, whose tough wise-guy talk made him the leader of the pack in Going My Way (1945) and in future Bowery Boys films.   Ann Todd plays a classmate who, like most of the girls in the class, fancies gallant Roddy.  A guy with an English accent can really clean up in this town.


The climax occurs when Freddie gets fed up with everybody’s fussing over the new kid, so much so that he becomes jealous and wants to run away from home.  Freddie, who came to Hollywood on his singing talents as a noted symphony and choir soloist, also had a bit part in Going My Way.  Here he’s funny as he sputters about the tea-drinking English kid ruining his life, but he draws our sympathy, and Roddy’s.


Though the grownups are firmly in charge, the story is really presented from the viewpoint of the kids, and they have the most screen time.  Though we might wish for a deeper story less focused on report cards, bullies, and gosh-gee-whiz dialogue, it is true that the prosaic troubles faced by the kids in the story really do reflect what’s important to children.  The adults may be reading the war headlines, but the kids—at least in the U.S.—are more driven by the realities of their world of making friends, doing chores, and worrying about what others think of them.  We might note that the boys’ teaming up and eventually conquering the bully is a parallel to the U.S. and Britain teaming up to fight the fascists.


The movie does give us a few quite poignant scenes that hit on the broader crisis: The British kids on board ship, gathering at the rail to watch the Statue of Liberty slide by as they enter New York.  Roddy’s panic and nightmares when he hears a police siren, as it reminds him of the air raid sirens and emergency vehicles of the Blitz back home.  Most especially, the scene where a group of British kids are gathered in a New York radio studio, Roddy among them, to speak to their parents in a London studio via short wave.  The anxiety on the faces of the separate shots of kids and parents, their hesitancy to be too personal on the radio, their brave front of trying to give cheerful messages, and the cruel brevity of the time they are allowed create an image of both tenderness and anguish.  Tears are fought back.  Roddy, who even from a very young age was so good working before a camera, shows a myriad of feelings with the just the slight flickering of expressions on his face, in his lovely dark eyes.  He is nervous, then he warms up and excitedly tells his mother about his new life and friends, comically using American expressions he has learned that he must translate to her.  When his time is up, he realizes he has forgotten to use the notes he made beforehand of all the things he really wanted to say.


The evacuation of children from the London area had them seeking refuge in other parts of the U.K., in many dominion nations, including Canada, and also in the U.S., and involved children of every class.  Vera Brittain, noted British writer whose memoir of World War I, Testament of Youth, perhaps is more well known, at least in this country, than her other works, sent her two children away from their London home to stay with friends in Minnesota during the war.  Her son John was twelve at the time, the age of the boys in On the Sunny Side, and her daughter Shirley (a future member of Parliament), was not quite ten years old.

In excerpts from her diary, published as Wartime Chronicle – Vera Brittain’s Diary1939-1945, Brittain notes that the decision to send her children was a difficult one, “There seemed no right decision to be made, whichever course I took would involve bitter regrets.”

Her children left from Liverpool after Dunkirk, just missing the start of the Blitzkrieg and bombing of London by a matter of weeks.  They remained in the U.S. for three years, coming home, separately, in 1943.  She writes in her diary of the anguish of not receiving letters, then receiving them and learning her son has grown taller than she, and they are changing, experiencing new adventures in summer camp and in school where the curriculum is different.  Missing birthdays and Christmas.  At one point, Vera Brittain notes that her husband urged her to go to the movies to take her mind off their troubles.

“G. persuaded me to go to the new Disney film Dumbo, but it depressed me very much by reminding me of the children.”

Her children became teenagers while they were away.  Their mother drilling in firefighting practice to help after the bombing raids.  “One of the odd incongruities of this war to think that John—who must now be a fairly vigorous boy on the verge of 15—is safely in America while his middle-aged mother scrambles round in trousers fighting fires (or learning to).”

She remarks of her son’s return, “I did not recognize him, but it will take time to get to know him again.”  Her daughter arrived home, after a delay in the Atlantic due to perilous naval battle action, near the end of the year.  (Brittain’s husband, who was a university lecturer, had traveled to the U.S. for a part-year post and on returning, was on a ship that was actually torpedoed.  Twenty died, but he and some others made it to lifeboats and were afterwards picked up by a freighter and returned to England.)

When the family was reunited, a visit to Grandmother brings a comic conclusion to the adventure:

“Children uproarious over tea, Mother blames their manners on America.”


The children who remained in war zones with no avenue of safety were the subject of You, John Jones! (1943) a short subject about ten minutes long, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, starring James Cagney as an All-American dad who works as a supervisor in an airplane factory during the war, and also does his bit at night as a volunteer air raid warden.  Ann Sothern plays his wife, and their daughter is Margaret O’Brien.  When he arrives home from work, little Margaret is practicing her speech for an elocution contest, soberly delivering President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address while perched on the living room window seat.  There are politicians who can’t deliver a speech as well as Margaret.  Perhaps they never “stumped” on a window seat.

Cagney leaves for his night watch, dressed in his trench coat with the Civil Defense armband and his helmet.  He sits on a park bench for a little plane spotting and considers how lucky he is to be living in a land where he is not likely to see an enemy bomber tonight.  The omniscient narrator, presumably his conscience, and ours, addresses Cagney (or John Jones), reminding him that if they were in other lands, his little Margaret, “Your baby, John Jones, your baby!” would be in danger.

Then we have a montage of scenes of Margaret as an English girl in the Blitz; as a Greek girl, her leg amputated, trudging with an amputation along a line of refugees; of a girl from Yugoslavia sobbing over a dead mother; from “Australasia” – quite a stunning image of Margaret looking hollow-eyed and shell shocked, then as the camera pans back, we see she is a prisoner of war behind barbed wire.  Margaret, as a Russian girl, lies dead in the ruins of a bombed out house.

To perhaps remind us not only of our good fortune in being spared these experiences in our own country (with the exception of the Americans of Japanese descent being held behind barbed wire in concentration camps), we are reminded, too, of the debt we owe our allies who are carrying the brunt of the war.  The narrator remarks, “If conquered people collaborated, your side couldn’t win this cruel war—did I say your side?  Our side.”

Then an attack occurs, but Cagney realizes it is only a dream.  (Sleeping on duty!)  He returns home, and Margaret finishes her speech with earnest, one may say almost fanatical delivery.   You can have a look at You, John Jones! here.


Kids here in the U.S. may have largely been spared the scenes little Margaret faced, but they were not without trauma caused by the war.  Come back next Thursday when we discuss the March of Time documentary Youth in Crisis (1943), and the Youth Runs Wild (1944) starring Bonita Granville.
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Wartime Chronicle - Vera Brittain's Diary 1939-1945, eds. Alan Bishop & Y. Aleksandra Bennett, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1989.
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