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Something’s Got to Give

Here’s a piece on Marilyn Monroe — specifically, on the excellent new Blu-ray box set of Monroe films from Fox — that does not contain

a) any reference to the fiftieth anniversary of her death

b) the word “iconic”

You’re welcome!

Above is a lobby card from Malcolm St. Clair’s lost, 1928 version of the Anita Loos-John Emerson stage play, with Ruth Taylor as Lorelei and Alice White as Dorothy. In the New York Times, Mordant Hall found it “an infectious treat,” and it seems safe to assume that the young Howard Hawks (whose “A Girl in Every Port” would come out one month later) saw it and paid his usual close attention. As the IMDB likes to say, check your attic . . .

75 comments to Something’s Got to Give

  • dm494

    Gregg, I wasn’t claiming that I myself think those directors are right-libertarians or social conservatives. However, they all strike me as having some characteristics which might lead one to classify them among one or the other of those groups, and I was wondering if Mike would agree with such a classification for any of them. Other potential candidates might include McCarey and John Farrow, but I can’t recall if Mike admires those filmmakers, and I wanted to list only directors whom, so far as I recall, he has expressed positive views about.

    The only reason I listed Keaton as being POTENTIALLY on the political right is that the Confederates are the good guys in THE GENERAL. As for Siegel, I was thinking of his declaration that the pods in BODY SNATCHERS are Communists, and, more importantly, of the reactionary qualities of DIRTY HARRY–not least the fact that the killer played by Andy Robinson is a (somewhat) long-haired hippie. In de Toth’s case I had in mind the anti-hero played by Robert Ryan in DAY OF THE OUTLAW; he’s been unhinged by his “open range” libertarian values, and there’s no reason to believe that de Toth endorses those values, but someone might be tempted to conclude that the director sympathized with the attitudes of his protagonist.

    Mike, in your latest post you seem to be saying that conservatives support dictators. That at least is your implication when you argue that HORIZONS WEST, BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE, and THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND are all liberal movies because they criticize dictators.

    Two points about your portrayal of libertarianism. First, libertarians tend to be isolationists–they want to eliminate our military presence abroad, and some of them want to cut the military budget significantly, so I don’t know what you mean when you say the armed forces is the one branch of government libertarians don’t wish to destroy.

    Second, you’re probably right that organized right-libertarianism dates back to the 70s–I think that’s when the Cato Institute was launched. However, libertarianism (which used to be called liberalism!) has a long history–you can trace it back to Locke, Montesquieu, the English Whigs, to James Madison and maybe Jefferson, and to the “Austrian School” of economics of Ludwig von Mises and Hayek in the 20s and 30s.

    Brian, what’s your take on the nostalgia in CONVERSATION PIECE and THE INNOCENT?

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, if you are arguing that Hawks is a libertarian because his protagonists are self-reliant individualists, I would say that you have a rather thin case; particularly if you actually look at the films.

    In the first place, self-reliant individualism is a core value of our American mythological national character. It can be found as a centerpiece of all politcal philosophies from the dawn of the Republic when liberalism was yoemanry and liberty (Jefferson) as dm points out, and conservatism was unity through central authority (Hamilton) to the present. The self-reliant individualist as hero is a given in a majority of American films, and I see no evidence that it is particularly stressed in Hawks. Indeed, as that great philosopher Jerry Colonna would say; “On the CONTRARY!”

    For the most part, Hawks protagonists are employed as representatives of organizations; the law in RIO BRAVO, the military in THE THING, the Dutchman’s carrier service in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS etc. He defines his self-worth in relation to how well he does his job in representating the organization. John T. Chance has nothing against the Burdette family in terms of how they live their lives or how they run their business. He only opposes them, against great odds and at great personal risk, because they are preventing him from performing his duty representing the community which employs him. By contrast, the conflict in HIGH NOON is strickly a personal matter between Will Kane and Frank Miller, and Kane spends most of the film pleading with the community to support him as their representative.

    Even when the Hawks protagonist is a free-lancer, as in the Bogart films, he defines his work in terms of the objectives of his employers (the Free French in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, General Sternwood in THE BIG SLEEP) and defines his code of ethics in relation to the people he works with (Eddie’s neediness in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Jonesy’s gallantry in THE BIG SLEEP). Indeed, Bat is shunned in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS not primarily because he cracked under pressure, but because he acted to save himself at the expense of his fellows while doing so.

    I also have no idea who Hawks voted for as a private citizen, although McCarthy’s biography informs us that he was anti-Roosevelt and supported the Vietnam war. However, the case for Hawks as libertarian filmmaker will need a lot more evidence than what I’ve seen here to date to persuade me.

  • Brian Dauth

    dm: For me, CONVERSATION PIECE is a film where Visconti says: “Here is how far I have gotten in reconciling a deep love for beauty/art with an equally deep belief in the need for radical/progressive societal change. I was able to reconcile these two desires only so far. Maybe you can do better. Please accept this voluptuous/meager inheritance I offer.” Visconti does not claim success and is abandoning the project (with regret) only because death is imminent. In my experience of the film, this position is not an expression of nostalgia as much as a) an acceptance the fact of not reaching the goal before time ran out; and b) a choice to renounce neither the objective nor the beauty experienced/created along the way.

    I would need to see L’INNOCENTE again to post anything about it. I saw it many years ago and remember feeling it was a look back in coldness on an earlier time and, at the same time, a turning away from the openly queer work Visconti had been doing in the years just previous — it appeared a strong critique of male privilege. I have not read many good things about the DVD release of the film, so I have refrained from purchasing it.

  • Gentlemen, and blondes, I think a lot of our issues are definitional, as terms like “liberal,” “conservative” and “libertarian” are defined differently; if we said Fred Zinnemann believes A, B, and C, and then said that ABC comprises membership in the Porridge Party, we’d all agree that Fred sure likes his Quaker Oats. Those political terms however will burn our tongues.

    This said, Barry makes some excellent points about the Hawksian hero as Organization Man. (There are such things as corporate conservatives, and some libertarians at least celebrate the sanctity of business contracts.) But I don’t agree what you say about that gruel-loving gormand Herr Zimmermann. Marshall Kane, in HIGH NOON, appeals as I recall to a higher morality than the town’s self(ish) interests in attempting to rally the citizenry. But I would need to see the film again to fill out this in any detail.

    Keaton said he took the side of the Confederacy in THE GENERAL, simply because they lost the war. He actually got some static from 1920s “southern patriots” for making a comedy about the historic Andrews Raid, notably when he went south in early 1926 to scout locations. His film at once celebrates the losing cause and mocks it, in its bleak jokes about the casualties of war; at one point he strikes a heroic pose with the southern flag and then he and it are both knocked to the ground.

    I’ve missed the interview where Siegel says “the pods in BODY SNATCHERS are Communists.” I recall from an interview I read many years ago that he said that they can stand for any conformist group. I’ve always read his film in just this fashion, and resisted readings that the film is Cold War propaganda. It can just as easily be read as anti-McCarthyite (Joe, not Kevin).

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, “higher morality” will burn your tongue just as surely as any political definition. Like any other conflict, the facts relating to the situation faced in HIGH NOON could be framed in many ways. The way that I framed them is closer to the way that he townspeople saw the situation. The way that you remember them is, I suspect, closer to the way that Will Kane frames them. Whether Kane’s view constitutes “a higher morality” is open to debate.

  • Brian Dauth

    I have always regarded Hawks as one of the least political of filmmakers. There is some attention paid in his films to gender/sex politics, but beyond that, I do not see much attention paid to politics.

    Also, to try and draw a line from an artist’s work to her personal politics in the real world seems a difficult task. In the specific case of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, I can attest that the effort to correlate his personal politics to those found in his work is a fruitless endeavor.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘libertarians tend to be isolationists–they want to eliminate our military presence abroad, and some of them want to cut the military budget significantly, so I don’t know what you mean when you say the armed forces is the one branch of government libertarians don’t wish to destroy.’

    Isolationist is describing libertarian position (I do not know so much about this ideology, is it specific to American politics?)but closing overseas base is anti-imperialist for left, not isolationist. American retired CIA analyst Chalmers Johnson has written book EMPIRE OF BASES, arguing against American bases in Asia, especially Okinawa.

    People in Asia know about hardship of having American base. There is much crime, rape of women by American soldier.

  • Peter Henne

    “Self-reliant individualism” is no more pronounced of a core American trait than tolerance, integration, helping the needy, and serving country are. All of these traits are in American films a million times over.

  • Barry Putterman

    Peter, which is why it is “A” core American trait rather than “THE” core American trait.

  • Mike, have been meaning to get back to your three comments on the bottom of the preceding page and offer you the courtesy of a reply. I doubt if Budd Boetticher (or Hawks) ever heard the word “libertarian” in their lifetime, or bothered to investigate if they did. The key point for Boetticher at least is that his characters’ value system is not dependent on a government to nurture or enforce it. He regrets, like many western filmmakers (Ford, Peckinpah) the closing of the frontier; his depiction of twentieth century urban life (as in THE KILLER IS LOOSE or THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND) is toxic, and his last film (A TIME FOR DYING) is so bleak as to approach nihilism. If there are liberal qualities in his early films I would look to the screenwriter/s before I looked at him.

    A “libertarian” take on the world, as I’ve defined it, loosely, through the practice of certain filmmakers, is far from the contemporary capital L- Libertarian movement.

    Brian’s comments (at 1:14 pm yesterday) are wise: most filmmakers have not a worked out ideology but rather have a particular sensibility which may lend their work to certain interpretations about their implied political views.

  • Gregg,

    Thank you! I always find your comments really informative.

    The reason I made such a big deal of this, is that one keeps reading articles that claim “all Westerns are right wing”. This point of view seems dead wrong, and I was glad of a chance to argue the opposite point of view.

    I wish film critics in general wrote much more about Budd Boetticher. His films are full of politics, social observation, imagery and film techniques that are rarely discussed.

  • Johan Andreasson

    “I wish film critics in general wrote much more about Budd Boetticher. His films are full of politics, social observation, imagery and film techniques that are rarely discussed.”


    Here’s a very fine piece by Glenn Kenny:

  • Brian Dauth

    Gregg: thanks for compliment (though I am both embarrassed and pleased at my iPhone tappings being considered wise). This discussion has stayed in my mind, and in the shower this morning I thought of Hitchcock (insert joke here) and reflected that while ROPE can be seen as experimental in terms of both form and content (with the radical use of form forcing upon the audience a queer understanding of the Brandon/Phillip coupling – and yes, as is often the case, I dissent from the view that in ROPE Hitchcock is just showing murderous gays — I believe it is a more subtle movie regarding sexuality and societal attitudes/realities than has been acknowledged). But then three years later he makes STRANGERS ON A TRAIN which tacks away from ROPE and toward a more typical murderous-queers approach. So what are Hitchcock’s politics? Is he pro-queer or homophobic?

  • Mike, you’re correct that westerns are considered a “right wing” genre, but they come in all shades and flavors, which helps make the genre inexhaustably rich. There are liberal westerns, socialist westerns, radical westerns… the latter two largely made in Europe in the late ’60s! You might enjoy a book written in the late 60s in the Cinema One series (not by Jim Kitses) where the author rattled on about “Kennedy Westerns” and “Goldwater Westerns.” Politics — as defined by questions of how societies are organized and “civilized values” institutionalized — are a secondary but important part of what makes the genre tick, after all, and are foregrounded in such key films as THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.

  • Barry Putterman

    And speaking of ‘Kennedy westerns” and westerns made in Europe during the late 60s, there is Tonino Valeri’s THE PRICE OF POWER (1969), which is about the president being asassinated in Dallas, Texas by rifle shots from an open window as his carriage paraded through town. Of course, the president (played by Van Johnson!) is identified as James Garfield, who was in fact assassinated in 1881, only….

  • Johan Andreasson

    A good socialist western: the Italian A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1966).

  • “I appreciate the arguments by Barry, X and others that Hawks was really more of a conservative, but we really need to define our terms.”

    I don’t know what Hawks’ politics were, but I’m fairly certain he’s not a libertarian, whether as one who agrees with the platform of the Libertarian Party or in the sense of being a super individualist. It was Antti who described Hawks as a conservative.

    “It’s Vidor’s FOUNTAINHEAD (which taken just as a film is very good) that is the purer example of fetishized individualism.”

    Vidor’s Howard Roark is a softened version’s of Rand’s Roark who she describes thusly, “He was born without the ability to consider others.” Vidor’s Roark is not nearly as sociopathic.

    And here’s Zizek on “The Dark Knight Rises”:

  • “three years later he makes STRANGERS ON A TRAIN which tacks away from ROPE and toward a more typical murderous-queers approach. So what are Hitchcock’s politics? Is he pro-queer or homophobic?”

    Maybe the difference can be found in the respective screenplays (a queer screenplay from Arthur Laurents for “Rope”) and the fact that “Rope” takes place within a queer milieu from the beginning. Bruno is an outsider in “Strangers on a Train” but the party guests are the outsiders in “Rope.”

  • X, thanks for posting the Zizek piece (note the furious debate in its comments about whether it is genuine or cobbled together by some nefarious Zizek imposter). Zizek handles the film’s incoherence, which he readily perceives, with psychoanalytic jiu-jitsu, per his final line: “the Event – the “people’s republic of Gotham City”, dictatorship of the proletariat on Manhattan – is immanent to the film, it is its absent center.” What I read as incoherence in DARK KNIGHT RISES (a lack of clear thought on Nolan’s part, cruelly emphasized by the mushy Nolan quote included in Zizek’s text) Zizek reads instead as the film’s “absent center” – a blank space that his reading fills. This is always the problem I have with ideological critiques of cinema: a movie, any movie, can always already be made to demonstrate any thing you want. It can be read against the grain, it can be counter-interpreted, it can be vacuumed until a hole forms in its intended meaning, which hole can then be filled with anything. This is why I still regret the displacement in literature and in film studies of the New Critical close readings of the mid-20th century with the theory-driven readings of the late 20th century. In order to figure out what a film or book is saying we first have to understand how and what is said. When the text at hand is a pile of fragments, we should resist the temptation to think it’s a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces won’t necessarily fit, and we’ll be tempted to fill in the missing pieces with material that wasn’t there in the first place.

  • alex

    What a wacko (League of Shadows) gangster like Bane can seriously br said to have to do with the interests or championing of the 99% — Nolan’s. Pompous intellectual garnishings and critical pandering aside- boggles my mind.

  • Brian Dauth

    X: You have hit on an important point. In 1948, Hitchcock could perform the daring act of setting a film in a queer couple’s penthouse. ROPE is made during that brief period which fascinates me between 1945 (WWII ending and the moment of America’s peak) and 1950/51 when the Pink and Red Scares reach high gear and the slog of the 1950’s sets in for those who fail to conform and/or are Othered) — for a brief moment, Hollywood films had some breathing room before the Eisenhower Straightjacket was imposed. Farley Granger goes from strangling the normative in ROPE to strangling the symbol of non-normative desire in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. In ROPE, both screenplay and mise en scene keep the queer front-and-center (reflecting the fact that gays and lesbians who had been brought together by WWII were now more visible in society as many settled in certain cities and did not re-disperse across the continent. In a way, ROPE is Hitchcock’s contribution to neorealism).

    For me, Hitchcock’s wonderment before Truffaut about why he ever made the film in the first place is not just about the stunt of using extremely long takes, but also about the way in which he challenged the conventions of what could be shown on screen. He would — as he liked to say — run for cover (and many auteurs did just that), but ROPE is the amazing result of the confluence of Hitchcock finally being his own producer with an instance when Hollywood strictures relaxed for a little while.

    Gregg: a close reading of ROPE shows that the pieces do not fit (e.g., Stewart is miscast — which he admitted — and Hitchcock even has him invoke the actor he wanted for the role. But I would argue that the way the role is created, no one could play it, and Stewart’s failure is more expressive than any success could have been), but it is by regarding both the pieces and the caesurae between them which allows interpretation to flourish. ROPE is not so much an incoherent text as one which utters more than one discourse which results in the movie feeling fragmented (TDKR is just plain incoherent). The problem with the New Critical approach is that it ignores the fact that different spectators — all practicing close readings — can have different experiences of the same formal properties and content. With ROPE: the film is often claimed to be made up of seamless connected 10-minute takes, where in fact a) no take lasts 10 minutes; and b) there are both concealed and standard edits in the film. Also, Hitchcock telescopes the action of the movie which covers a longer period of time than the running time of the film (there was an article in Scientific American about it!). But many critics wrote about the film as if the edits were all concealed and the running time of the film corresponded to the duration of its action.

    So while close readings should be maintained, I think there needs to be acknowledgement that a) some close readings will be queer; b) some will be non-queer, and c) some will be neither a nor b. This understanding does not open the door to any and all readings (incoherence should never be misunderstood as multivocality), but corrects the punitive normative approach of the original iteration of the New Criticism (which in turn is validated by the fact that to distinguish between incoherence and multivocality requires an effort of seriously close readership).

  • Brian, I thought your reading of ROPE is perfectly coherent; a close reading informed by theory, or even Theory, need not be fictional. Pace Popper, theories should be freely proposed and then rigorously tested.

  • mike schlesinger

    It’s worth considering that the reasons westerns are considered conservative (especially by non-cineastes) might be:

    1) The most famous western star is John Wayne, who’s still an icon to The Right despite his legendary boozing, infidelity and ducking WW2 service.

    2) Most plots are settled with “the right people” getting shot (i.e., guns are necessary).

    3) They center on manly men who drink and fight, while the women–with a few exceptions, notably Hawks–are there only to serve them with whatever they need (food, liquor, sex), and minorities are subservient and/or untrustworthy and/or downright imbeciles.

    4) They provide a “nostalgic” look back to the days when everything was seen as black or white and violence was the answer–even though that “world” was largely a fantasy. (It’s also why they mostly hated the Italian westerns, which were perceived as un-American (apart from the obvious sense) and even–sometimes correctly–as Socialist in nature.)

  • x359594 (August 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm): I wanted to say that a great artist transcends the limitations of his/her personal views in his/her works. What an artist thinks as a private individual and what s/he expresses in his/her work are not the same, because in creating a novel, a play, a movie, a tv series s/he is dealing with the contradictions of life and creates characters who start to breathe and live their own lives if s/he really is a great artist. Un film à these is a different matter, and it is usually not great art. “Never trust the artist, always trust the tale”.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘a great artist transcends the limitations of his/her personal views in his/her works. What an artist thinks as a private individual and what s/he expresses in his/her work are not the same, because in creating a novel, a play, a movie, a tv series s/he is dealing with the contradictions of life and creates characters who start to breathe and live their own lives if s/he really is a great artist.’

    Critical situation different in Japan. After war, artist, intellectual, philosopher was expressing personal view in their works, because personal view was suppressed by authoritarian society unless conforming.

    Western Romantic poet and artist was studied because their art was subjective and non-conforming. After war there was genre of I Novel, author expressing personal view of life, society, politics through protagonist. There was theory that story was like dream, everything happening in dreamer’s mind, so even different people appearing was personal expression of author, contradictions was also included, because human individual has contradictions of personality.

    To me what you say is more true of viewer or reader of art, because viewer may have to transcend personal view to appreciate art. Different convention, different value, different way of representation to be appreciated from different culture, viewer must suppress personal view. Example, when first seeing Japanese movie some Western critic was saying acting is bad, but there was different acting convention that was good by Japanese standard, and to appreciate Western critic must suppress personal view to understand different convention.