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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

  • Last year I attended the Hawks program at Il Cinema Ritrovato, and it was really interesting to compare early films written by Hawks (for example A Girl in Every Port, Fig Leaves, The Dawn Patrol) with later films where Hawks doesn’t get -explicit- writing credits (Gentleman Prefer Blondes, I Was a Male War Bridee, Only Angels Have Wings). Somehow you have the feeling he had fully developed his themes and his characters in his first films as a director/screenwriter, and then he simply started looking for stories, plays and screenplays containing these Hawksian features…

  • On the subject of Hawks,
    here is a segment from a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of “Rio Lobo” which I think is worth sharing.

  • Shawn Stone

    And in an example of newspaper yin and yang, the Daily News devoted a number of pages to the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s passing without mentioning the Fox Blu-rays.

    Really intrigued by Dave’s description of the restored color scheme of SHOW BUSINESS. Grape and taupe!

  • David Cohen

    Did anyone else think it was strange to see so much attention focused on the 50th anniversary of her death? It’s not like, say, marking the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, given that that event had all sorts of important ramifications. I got the sense that some folks felt like if they kicked up enough dust, some new detail about her death would pop up.

  • Robert Regan

    David Cohen, During the sixties and seventies, practically every woman I knew remembered exactly where she was and what she was doing when she learned of Marilyn Monroe’s death.

  • Noel Vera

    I was a freshman in college when Louise Brooks died.

  • In MAD MEN there is a moving sequence about the day at the office when women hold back tears having learned about MM’s death. There were Marilyn inspired suicides even in Finland at the time. Finnish poets have written poems referring to her. The 50th anniversary of her death was a big media topic even here. MM fought a long and terrible battle against her self-destructive urges. Great stars who inherited roles perhaps intended for her, Doris Day (MOVE OVER, DARLING), Shirley MacLaine (IRMA LA DOUCE), and Kim Novak (KISS ME STUPID), have enjoyed long careers and plenty of admiration during the 50 years after her death. I would prefer to celebrate the life force in them – and Marilyn.

    I agree with Dave about GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. It’s Marilyn’s greatest film, and Marilyn and Jane were a terrific team. I admired already Fox’s THE DIAMOND EDITION ten years ago, and now I look forward to the blu-ray edition. In THE DIAMOND EDITION I liked the bonus documentary THE FINAL DAYS with Dr. Hyman Engelberg among the interviewees. There was an important 40 minute reconstruction of SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE, proving that it would have probably become a comedy on the level of LET’S MAKE LOVE. Among the outtakes there was one from SEVEN YEAR ITCH where the plumber (Victor Moore) actually drops his monkey wrench into the bottom of Marilyn’s bubble bath tub.

    My favourite Marilyn quote (when she was asked about Jayne Mansfield): “There is room for everybody”.

  • Oliver_C

    Many of Stan Laurel’s letters from the last decade of his life have been made available to browse online, and Monroe’s passing prompted a note of sadness from him:

  • Marilyn Moss

    I can think of no one in the history of “Hollywood” who was more USED by other people than Marilyn was during her short life — by those on the west coast and more shamefully by “friends” in New York and Washington DC. To consider all the ravenous “biographers” is another sad story. I agree with Antti; I prefer to think of the life force in Marilyn and am not surprised by her words about Jayne Mansfield. How fortunate we are to have this new edition of some of her work: GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES especially, where Marilyn’s generous spirit and great comedic talent are on full display.

  • “Many of Stan Laurel’s letters from the last decade of his life have been made available to browse online”

    Thank you Oliver for this. Stan’s last dwelling place on Ocean Ave. still stands, now a hotel. He had his name and address in the phone book and welcomed visits from fans.

  • Alex

    I’m less sure that GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES is Marilyn’s greatest film –e.g., there’s competiton from SOME LIKE IT HOT and (if the accents on FILM, and a cameo is sufficent to establish a link) ALL ABOUT EVE (or for some wags,perhaps, ASPHALT JUNGLE), but GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES is certainly a GREAT film, more fully realized, I’d say, than such more conventionally regarded Hawks classics as TWENTIETH CENTURY (with a grating barrymore) and HIS GIRL FRIDAY (suddenly not so magical when Earl Willams gets center stage).

    Great characterizatIons and the energy never flags nor is less than perfectly orchestrated by Hawks.

    (THE MISFITS is a dog, THIOUGH AS MUCH Miller’s mutt as Huston’s, not to speak of the methods craze)

  • Oliver, thanks for posting the Stan Laurel site. Very interesting; a goldmine for comedy enthusiasts. X, didn’t know you were one of us.

    As Mal St. Clair (director of the first version of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES) began his career in short silent comedies, this is relevant. So did Hawks (a surprising discovery when reading Peter Bogdanovich’s interview collection. Monty Banks, his comedy star, was actually quite talented, although you wouldn’t know it from Hawks). Famous directors who started in the field like Capra, McCarey and Stevens are of course well known, but I doubt most of us know that Alfred Werker was an A.D. for Buster Keaton, or Archie Mayo was a scenarist for Lloyd Hamilton. (Discovered these facts reading the fine print in old trade magazines.)

    Leo McCarey’s work as an Assistant Director for Tod Browning is an item in his filmography, but the two men really don’t seem to have much in common with each other as artists. Given the recent thread on Browning on this site, this news item from the trade paper “Camera!” (7/15/1922, page 8) is striking:

    “Leo McCarey jumped with joy when he was told that he was to return to his old boss, Tod Browning, for his present picture. Tod was just as pleased as Leo, for they are a sort of ‘united we stand and separated we fall’ combination.” The film in question is probably UNDER TWO FLAGS (released in November 1922). There’s a story here as McCarey was back A.D’ing at Universal a year and a half after his failed directorial debut at the same studio, SOCIETY SECRETS (1921). He talks a bit about its failure in his Bogdanovich interview. Public humiliation and failure are themes in McCarey, to be sure, but not to the spectacular degree of Hawks… or Capra. In terms of what he could have learned from Browning, a potentially missing limb is a source for humor in the brilliant McCarey-Charley Chase short HIS WOODEN WEDDING (1925), released well before THE UNKNOWN.

    Happened to see the recent feature TAKE SHELTER this evening. Thought of Hawks after thinking of how Ray (whose BIGGER THAN LIFE has thematic parallels) or Hitchcock would have handled this story. Hawks’ comment about Hathaway’s FOURTEEN HOURS came to mind though: he would have made it a comedy. So I spent the last half of TAKE SHELTER reimagining it as a comedy.

  • Barry Putterman

    Dave’s observation that Fox insisted on casting “weak tea” types opposite Monroe underscores what I have always thought to be the general strategy at that studio. Allowing for the expected protests from fans of John Payne, Victor Mature and Dan Dailey, it seems to me that they, along with George Montgomery, Cornel Wilde, Mark Stevens, William Lundigan et. al, paired with the Alice Faye-Betty Grable-Marilyn Monroe troika constituted a running series called “The Blonde and the Bland.”

    Hawks all but fetishizes this tendancy in GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES. But then again, one of the central things that Hawks did was to take “what is” and turn it into “what is his.”

  • “Weak tea”, yes, and too few credible male romantic leads, yet also virile co-stars including Groucho Marx, Cary Grant, Yves Montand, Keith Andes, Don Murray, and Laurence Olivier, and nervous terms with Richard Widmark, Joseph Cotten, and Clark Gable.

  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of several Hawks films set in France or French territories such as Martinique (To Have and Have Not). Hawks seems especially interested in French officials: police, Army officers, judges and courtrooms.

    In her early shipboard scenes, Jane Russell’s character seems mannish. She wears a jacket like a man’s sport jacket, and has a blunt, tough, direct way of talking. She reminds one of other Hawksian women who seem man-like, such as Paula Prentiss’ character in Man’s Favorite Sport?. Like Prentiss and her fishing contest, Russell hangs out and is right at home in a sports context: all the Olympic athletes and sports facilities on ship.


    The dressing room and corridor outside (near the start) are in green. This is contrasted with the heroines’ red dresses. The green walls and overall look of the area reminds one of the backstage region in A Song Is Born. So does the red-and-green color scheme.

    When Jane Russell sings with the Parisian crowd on the street, a woman flower vendor has more of the yellow flowers that run through Hawks. See also:
    Danny Kaye’s table at club with Mayo: A Song Is Born,
    yellow yarrow flowers near Confederates and train robbery: Rio Lobo

    See also the stylized gold “trees” by the entrance to the revolving bar in Man’s Favorite Sport?. They are covered with spherical gold “fruits”. One suspects these are ancestors of the stylized “trees” in Perceval (Eric Rohmer, 1976).

  • Since our commentators not ogling the Olympics have dwindled to a few, laurel-less, hardy souls, let’s pivot to another Hawks film and cast back to an exchange between Mike and Barry in the previous thread. On August 6 at 8:16 am Mike posted “So much current American ‘culture’ (????) is so lowbrow, that it casts a pall over the much better culture of the USA’s past. For all its acclaim, junk like THE DARK KNIGHT even fails to tell a story, in the traditional meaning of plot or story. This sort of plotless violence wouldn’t have been accepted as a B-Movie script in 1933, let alone hailed as a some sort of ‘classic’ (????)”

    To which Barry replied, at 9:09 am: “For instance, what we are now choosing to call “classic” American films were, for the most part, dismissed as the same lowbrow, hyperactive common denominator crap that we now see being applied to contemporary American films. I think it would be interesting to compare Mike’s assessment of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES with a batch of 1932 reviews of Hawks’ SCARFACE.” I haven’t checked the reviews of Hawks’ SCARFACE but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they paralleled Mike’s dismissal of THE DARK KNIGHT. (For the sake of discussion, let’s also overlook the references to two different films, between Mike’s reference to 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT and Barry’s to the now-in-theaters DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. As panels 2 and 3 in Nolan’s take on the Batman, they’re arguably more of a piece than say Coppola’s first two GODFATHERs, which were allowed to combine votes as if they were one big picture in the 2002 Sight & Sound balloting.) Most of Nolan’s reviews have been raves, but Mike might ascribe that to a coarsening of American sensibilities. I’ll focus not on these works’ reception but on the actual films.

    1) Are they comparable? Gangster films were a myth of the early 1930s, a way of dealing with the social dislocation, and gangland crime in particular, of the era. Superhero films (or at least Nolan’s Batrilogy) serve the same function today. DARK KNIGHT is overtly about social responsibility, and DK RETURNS is larded with patently obvious inspiration from the 2008 financial breakdown, Occupy Wall Street, et al. (Also, the vital issue of kidnapped princesses.) (Note: the somber DK RETURNS is to be distinguished from the joy of “Dave Kehr Returns” as when he did from his summer vacation a few weeks ago.)

    2) But the parallels begin to break down when one directly sets SCARFACE against the DARK KNIGHT films, for while many films in the gangster cycle of 1930-32 are overtly about the same issues Nolan flags, Hawks has but minimal interest in social issues, and unlike other films in the cycle – by Wellman, LeRoy, Rowland Brown et al – SCARFACE is not any kind of social commentary but rather a perverse fairy tale, with its title character a frog king.

    3) Still, one could make the case that Nolan’s social commentary is incoherent. Incoherent as in attempting to make Statements, but not being able to do so as his mind is fuzzy. Nolan is clearly a highly intelligent filmmaker, and I will contradict Mike by praising his story telling ability; the creator of the clever narrative machines MEMENTO and INCEPTION keeps several storylines going in his Bat movies, tying them together with a neat, almost classical, bow in the final frames of DK RETURNS. And the new film does leave itself open to charges of being a right wing attack on OWS in particular and anarchic social protest more generally; only an idiot would find the coincidental name of the villain, Bane, and Bain Capital to be anything more than a fluke. (Or if the idiot is Rush Limbaugh, a Sandra Fluke.) But while I fully expect to see some negative commentary on this aspect of Bat fever in journals like “Cineaste” or “In These Times” in a month or three, the reality seems to me that Nolan has no clear idea of what’s saying about OWS, the Wall Street crisis, or as the game theory exercise with the boats in DARK KNIGHT demonstrates, any thing else of any real social/political weight. His portrayal of life under anarchy would probably be found insulting by any card carrying Wobbly or Communard (and you know who you are), but it’s so patently silly a commentary that the Bat films make the HAROLD & KUMAR series look like Francesco Rosi by comparison.

    4) Thus, a key difference. Hawks (mandatory patriotic speeches in his wartime films aside) is apolitical in his work, not because he’s a right wing libertarian in his heart (as he probably was) but because he’s more interested in the politics of everyday human interaction, of the individual in the group, and the play of the group’s demands on the desires of unique individuals. That’s easy to see in works like ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and his westerns, but comes across in films like SCARFACE or GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES as well, despite or perhaps because of the more cartoonish quality of the bestial Scarface or the two little girls from Little Rock. Nolan, by contrast, seems to want to say something profound – about politics, or about the nature of reality itself, as in INCEPTION – but when you try to parse his work you can see the slight of hand. And when one does pin him down, you have the sour reveal of the final scene of MEMENTO: the amnesiac chooses to kill someone he dislikes, out of spite out of mind.

    5) To return to the films as films. Hawks’ nightmarish city, in SCARFACE, an urban hell where it’s always dark, finds its parallel with Nolan’s Gotham City, so patently Manhattan you can read the subway signs and know exactly where you’re supposed to be. DK RETURNS’ big plus for me is Nolan’s insistence on using film, and using 2-D, when all other sfx films have gone over to digital and 3-D, mediums I find (with all due respect to our host) quintessentially anti-cinematic. Nolan DOES have an eye, and his glossy but depressing urban landscape is I guess a suitable backdrop for his caped crusaders and villains. Nolan eschews the stylized cartoon Gotham of Tim Burton’s Batman films, which is probably for the best, and his villains are similarly human scaled, unlike Burton’s weirdos; even the Heath Ledger Joker of the second film could exist in the real world, although not with the same success. But we must admit that Muni’s Scarface in the Hawks film is as powerful and outlandish a figure as any supervillain in the three Nolan films put together, but unlike the Scarecrow, Joker or Bane, Scarface maintains a living human soul that Nolan never approaches.

    To conclude by returning to Mike’s complaint, Nolan’s Batrilogy is neither “lowbrow” or “junk,” and they’re certainly not “plotless violence,” but while they do have some real merit, someone else will have to be advanced as a better candidate for superhero director of this genre.

  • Gregg,

    Some quick thoughts.
    Is Hawks “a right wing libertarian”? I emphatically think not. Where is the evidence for this?
    RIO BRAVO is about a group of government officials (John Wayne, Dean Martin and crew) who are attempting to “regulate” a group of rich villains and bring them under the control of the rule of law. This is about as anti-libertarian as one can get.
    The contemporary US figure who most resembles John Wayne in RIO BRAVO is Elizabeth Warren, the would-be financial regulator. Go, Professor Warren, go!

    I loathe libertarianism. It is as radical a philosophy as Stalinism. And its constant denial of Global Warming is eventually going to kill as many people.

    On storytelling and THE DARK KNIGHT: First the Joker attacks people or Batman. Then Batman attacks the Joker. Then the Joker attacks Batman. Then Batman attacks…
    This is not a plot or a story in any traditional sense. It is just an episodic string of incidents.

    When I contrasted Nolan to B-movies of the 1930’s, I’d just seen MURDER ON THE CAMPUS (Richard Thorpe, 1933), a strongly plotted whodunit. This film has almost no budget. But it has a real plot, unlike THE DARK KNIGHT.
    However, Hawks is different.
    I agree that quite a few Hawks films de-emphasize plot, in favor of character and attitudes towards work. Hawks stretched and violated popular culture norms of his era, which most typically emphasized strong plotting.

    I do like some current superhero films. Superman Returns (Bryan Singer) is the best. Singer understands that Superman is a mainly non-viiolent figure, both in the comics and his movie. Superman rescues a crashing airliner in the first half. A non-violent but thrilling action. And he battles against a thinly disguised version of Global Warming in the film’s second half.
    In addition to good storytelling, Superman Returns has strong characterization and relationships.
    Fantastic Four (Tim Story) and Krrish (Rajesh Roshan) are also fun.

  • Alex

    “I loathe libertarianism. It is as radical a philosophy as Stalinism.”

    Well, libertarians don’t execute many people; they just leave folks to unfettered markets, starvation and crime and imprisonment. (Though our pe capita imprisonment rate now exceed the Russia of Stalin –Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, January 30, 2012.)

    And isn’t the Western’s vision of the West, mostly libertarian with even the communitarian strain mostly Militarist and local (i.e., part of the arms and umpire state)?

  • Alex,
    GUNSMOKE is on TV every night. Isn’t Matt Dillon a US Marshal? He’s a Fed, just like Dennis O’Keefe’s modern day lawman in T-MEN and Glenn Ford in THE UNDERCOVER MAN.

    The politics of Westerns as a whole is a vast subject. It needs a rigorous Bordwell-style statistical analysis, which unfortunately I can’t provide.
    But my impression is that rule of law versus rich villains is one of its most persistent themes.

    One suspects that Westerns as a whole are more liberal than right wing.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, I’m not quite certain what it is that the gentlemen in this discussion prefer, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be blondes. Just a couple of quick observations:

    I think it would be fair to consider Hawks to be essentially conservative in his viewpoint, but not libertarian. The self-contained interior worlds of his films are very much dominated by laws and rituals which are presented as both necessary survival skills and moral guideposts. Part of Hawks’ transcendent genius for me is that when the structure of that interior order breaks down in the comedies, and Robin Wood would include SCARFACE here, Hawks can embrace the chaos which ensues.

    These interior worlds sometimes center on groups of people whose objective is some kind of enforcement, such as police (19th century sheriffs and marshals) and soldiers who, technically speaking, are part of the government. However, that does not mean that they are endorsing any particular social policy. Which is to say that the cop on the beat is not the representative of Obamacare. You can claim that John T. Chance is parallel to Elizabeth Warren in enforcing the law, but you could just as easily find the same parallel with Nazi agents herding Jews into cattle cars for transport to concentration camps.

    All narrative works have stories. Some stories are tightly wound plots, others are seemingly loosely strung series of incidents. Choices regarding how to structure the story will have a deep impact on the social, philosophical and moral orders being assumed within those interior worlds. Rejecting one form of story organization on the grounds that it simply isn’t another form of story organization seems to me to be a failure to meet each work on the terms on which it presents itself.

    Finally, my original comment regarding the Batman movies and SCARFACE was intended only to compare the cultural reactions to “pulpy” violent movies from different time periods. But consider this. RIO BRAVO was made in Los Angeles and released in 1959. The star pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels in the early 1960s was named Dean Chance. Coincidence? I hardly think so.

  • Gents, I have a full day ahead of me, but may possibly RISE to the occasion of a full reply later on; RISE and *not* RETURN. (ahem)

    I think DK RISES conjures up the story of a film critic taking Manhattan, not a vigilante rodent, but that’s just me.

  • dm494

    Gregg wrote: “Most of Nolan’s reviews have been raves…” I wonder if that isn’t because the critics reviewing it are afraid for their jobs if they pan this film. The fans of the Nolan franchise can be pretty intolerant of dissent–as Glenn Kenny noted in an interesting post about fans of the current crop of comic book adaptations and their attitude towards criticism:

    Mike, your comparison of John T. Chance to Elizabeth Warren, which seems exceedingly far-fetched, moves me to ask if there is any director you admire whose politics you would concede to be on the right-wing end of the spectrum. I get the impression from you that, in your eyes, a talented director is automatically someone who more or less shares your liberal politics.

  • “The Dark Knight” was Frank Miller’s right wing libertarian re-boot of the Batman comic books in the 1980s. The character ran out of gas in the 1970s and Miller revitalized the series with his new take on Batman as vigilante. Burton’s Batman harks back to the 1940s Gil Kane Batman.

    I can’t comment on Nolan’s version of Miller’s version since I haven’t seen any of the movies, but it sounds like Nolan has stood Miller on his head much as Preminger did to Allen Drury with his version of “Advise and Consent.” Or at least muddied Miller’s waters.

    I don’t see the right wing libertarianism of Hawks because of the way he shows group solidarity. All the characters in his groups are individuated but they act collectively when necessary, whereas the catharsis in right wing libertarian narratives comes when the individual defies the group to pursue his vision (think of Howard Roark in “The Fountainhead” for example.) “Rio Bravo” is even anti right libertarian in as much as John T. Chance ultimately has to accept help from the group to fulfill his mission.

    I suppose “Hatari!” is the most loosely plotted of Hawks’ movies. Scene and incident follows scene and incident within the frame of a limited season of capturing animals. That’s all there is in the way of plot in a movie that’s entirely character driven before the phrase was invented.

  • As a general rule, IMHO US popular culture of the “classic” period 1891-1967 is far more left wing than it is generally given credit. Books, radio, comic books, film and TV often were drenched in liberal attitudes.

    Today’s right wing libertarianism is grounded in hatred of government. Libertarians want to destroy all government in the US except the military. It is a very, very radical movement.

    By contrast, older popular culture routinely glorified the US government.
    Films like T-MEN and THE UNDERCOVER MAN nearly deified the US Treasury Department.
    Examples like these can be multiplied by the hundreds.
    These films had a world view that today would be considered left of center.
    RIO BRAVO really is about heroic government officials battling the evil rich.

  • “RIO BRAVO really is about heroic government officials battling the evil rich.”

    Only Chance is a professional government official. The others are temporary deputies or ordinary citizens like Feathers. And it’s the death of another capitalist (Pat Wheeler) who sets the story in motion.

  • Barry Putterman

    Mike, culture which routinely glorifies the U.S. government is left of center only if the policies of the U.S. government it glorifies are left of center. An assumption you seem to make without any serious consideration of evidence to the contrary. One could just as easily claim that culture which routinely glorifies the U.S. government is authoritarian and totalitarian.

    Your interpretation of what RIO BRAVO is really about is, shall we say, singular.

  • “One could just as easily claim that culture which routinely glorifies the U.S. government is authoritarian and totalitarian.”

    You said it Barry.

    Some other exhibits in the case against Hawks as a right libertarian are the characterizations of Dunson in “Red River” and Dr. Carrington in “The Thing From Another World.” From the libertarian perspective of ultra individualism Dunson and Carrington would be morally right in their decisions, and while Matt and Capt. Hendry emerge as natural leaders they lead with the consent of everyone involved, with the exception of the men possessed by their vision and who are willing to risk all in the pursuit of it.

  • In general I much like Nolan’s films, but I felt that THE DARK KNIGHT RISES had major weaknesses such as
    a) the Nolan (and his brother) had too much he wanted to say but was not able to do organically, so he had to insert scenes with the only purpose of bringing forward a message by explicit dialogue.
    b) with so much plot points to go through most scenes were too short and underwhelming. Take for instance a scene when commissioner Gordon is forced to walk on thin ice. It had the potential to be an exciting scene. But he was rescued after about two steps so no excitement had any time to develop. There were many examples of this.
    c) there were also a number of things going on that made no sense or was not explained. I often wondered “Why did he react like that?” or “Why did he say that?”. This is not because of so called “plot holes” but because I felt Nolan’s script was still in a post it notes phase. Which brings us back to what I said under a), the lack of things coming organically from the story and the story telling. It instead felt clumsy. THE DARK KNIGHT was better but still had similar deficiencies. BATMAN BEGINS is by far my favourite of the three.

    I have a question. It seems Bane was filled with a deep hatred of Batman. Other villains mostly saw Batman as standing in the way of their devious plans, but it seemed to be personal for Bane. Why? What did Batman do to him?

  • dm494

    Mike, you’re right that T-MEN glorifies treasury agents, but your claim that most popular culture in the “classic” period was drenched in liberal attitudes doesn’t answer my question. So again, is there any filmmaker you admire whose politics are, in your opinion, much to the right of your own? I assume you have a high opinion of the artistry of Boetticher, Aldrich, Siegel, Hathaway, de Toth, Ford, Keaton, King Vidor–do any of these directors strike you as right-libertarians or social conservatives?

  • alex

    Hard typing on kindle (from beach). Don’t watch Tv westerns ever. But sheriff strand of wright’sclassical. Western is with INdian War western most likely not to be libertarian though as likely to be conservative as progressive liberal and as latter minimally progressive and close to libertarian.

  • Brian Dauth

    Slightly off-topic (but I will try to tie it in): saw the DCP restoration of IL GATTOPARDO at the Museum of the Moving Image today. I found it an amazing experience. The politics are neither right not libertarian (tie in) and coherent unlike Nolan’s (2nd tie in). There is another screening Sunday at 2:00. Catch it if you can.

  • alex

    Neiither Friedman nor Nozick is hostile to the policing functions of the nation state though anarchists may be. Nolan’s narrative uses of the inter-elite elite-mass antimonies of an oligarchic society and BM as vigilante (and thus libertarian) cri
    Crusader are about as politically. Enlightening and coherent as “Inception’s” uses of intention-guided dreaming are psychologically instructive. (At least “Inception” is fun.)

  • Regarding art and politics Friedrich Engels may have had a point with his view about “the triumph of realism”: a great artist, despite his personal political views, in his art transcends them. Balzac was a reactionary, a Royalist, yet his view of the contradictions of society was rich and visionary, while a well-meaning, “politically correct” artist may remain on a pedestrian level.

    Howard Hawks was a conservative, but in his movies his view of a society glorifying money and wealth was profoundly satirical. In GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES there is an affinity between Hawks and Monroe (“I don’t care about money, I just want to be wonderful”). Hawksian values include professionalism, dignity, mutual respect, and camaraderie (also between Lorelei and Dorothy), but not wealth in itself.

    Fredrik (August 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm), why Bane hates Batman: because (in BATMAN BEGINS) Batman burns down the temple of the League of Shadows and kills Ra’s Al Ghul, their mentor, having learned that the goal of the League is to destroy Gotham City in order to liberate it from evil.

  • alex

    Nothing wrong with art because the artist is conservative. Balzac’s a great example and Faulkner’d provide another example. But a thorough going conservative like the Tolstoy of W&P will serve too.

    IL GATOPARDO is an interesting example of ideology in art as in it Viscontl’s Marxian attentiveness to socialist structure becomes mere background and aid to V’ s expression of the powerful aristocratic nostalgia evoked by Lampedusa’s material.

  • “a great artist, despite his personal political views, in his art transcends them.”

    Thanks Antti. I was going to make that very point, though I would say that the artwork exceeds the ideology of its creator rather than transcends it.

    When you say that Hawks was a conservative in the sense of being a man of the Right I’m guessing that you’re inferring this from his interviews or maybe Todd McCarthy discusses Hawks’ politics in his biography (I haven’t read it.)

    But if you’re coming to that conclusion on the basis of his films, what is it that Hawks is conserving other than “professionalism, dignity, mutual respect, and camaraderie”?

  • Brian Dauth

    Alex: not quite sure that Visconti’s attention to socialist structure is ever reduced to “mere background.” What is so powerful for me is how his characters are depicted as embedded in history and react to their material environment. Visconti then sets this aspect of his art in dialectic tension with an opulent sense of melodrama and narrative contrivance. The Prince may be nostalgic, but is the movie itself nostalgic? I would argue that Visconti’s films are neither as nostalgic or decadent as has been alleged in much Visconti criticism. There is a moment in the ball sequence when the Prince is suffocated by nostalgia (the first shot in the film from his POV I think. I am going back today to make sure). Visconti also shows the Prince realizing that his whole world is a facade covering up a room full of chamber pots. I think his films show characters capable of appreciating a beauty that ultimately kills them when they allow themselves (or choose to allow themselves) to become too attached to it — the Prince, Aschenbach, Ludwig and the Professor.

  • David Cohen

    speaking of filmmakers with complicated political visions, today is Sam Fuller’s 100th birthday. (If I smoked cigars, this would definitely be worth lighting one up for.)

  • “today is Sam Fuller’s 100th birthday”

    His daughter Samantha is working on a documentary about her illustrious father called “A Fuller Life.”

  • All of this talk about Fuller is making me wish that his autobiography “A Third Face” was in still in print, though it was recently published in French. And there is a new Samuel Fuller book that recently came out, in hard-cover, “Samuel Fuller: Interviews” (Mississippi).

  • David Cohen

    Christa Fuller is quite active in Facebook – I’m sure she could tell you where to find a copy of the book.

  • alex

    Yeah. “Mere background” is badly put. But I think “aristocratic nostalgia”lends the film a power beyond any other of V ‘s films.

  • David C., thanks for the heads-up. But I more meant it in terms of ordering it to sell in a store. I’m sure you can still find it in used-books stores and on Amazon.

  • mike schlesinger

    Dave, why are you blaming Wilder for MM not having “a name” in SEVEN YEAR ITCH and not George Axelrod? Even in the original Broadway play she’s billed as “The Girl.”

    (And FWIW, Ewell was repeating his Broadway role.)

  • Brian Dauth

    Alex: I think you are right about the nostalgia which Visconti seems to get out of his system with IL GATTOPARDO. It is never as powerfully presented again in his work. I will say his later films have other sources of power which surpass that of nostalgia.

  • IL GATTOPARDO is about realizing with grace that the times are changing.
    SEVEN YEAR ITCH is in François Truffaut’s The Films In My Life – his funny review for Cahiers du Cinéma. The friends in the new wave were great Marilyn aficionados. Truffaut admired especially the Rachmaninov sequence (“Good old Rachmaninov – the second piano concerto never misses!”).

  • I was as busy as I thought I would be this weekend, but am glad to see my little commentary on Hawks and Christopher Nolan got something going on this site. Of course, discussion has moved on (I like Wilder, but SEVEN YEAR ITCH has got to be one of my least favorite of his films, in part for the reasons Dave suggested. In his Times essay Dave also criticized the Huston-Monroe films, which no one has brought up, but fwiw my take on THE MISFITS is that its problem is Miller’s script, which laboriously spells out everything Huston’s camera eye on his actors makes perfectly clear. As usual, Huston was too respectful of his literary source, even when he commissioned it).

    A few stray comments on Hawks and Nolan. I was surprised about the debate over Hawks’ politics; it’s been a while since I read McCarthy’s biography but I’ve long had the impression that in his private life Hawks was an exemplar of the “virtues of selfishness” Ayn Rand wrote about. 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 have no idea if he voted for Truman or Dewey, or if he’d vote for Elizabeth Warren or vote at all. If there’s a group consensus that Hawks is a conservative, we must carefully define his particular brand of conservatism as one which places more weight on the individual over at least a formally organized group, as will be seen below. His films’ characters – more than those of most Hollywood films – seem to be built around heroic, self-sufficient individuals for whom self-respect (for following a code of moral conduct) is a primary virtue. RIO BRAVO exemplifies this worldview at its most appealing (just as a film like CRIME DE M. LANGE represents a collectivist worldview at its best … it’s the Anti-DARK KNIGHT RISES, and Jean Renoir is the Anti-Chris Nolan!). Of course RIO BRAVO also proves even the noblest individualist needs the help of his fellow human beings. It’s Vidor’s FOUNTAINHEAD (which taken just as a film is very good) that is the purer example of fetishized individualism. Boetticher’s Ranown cycle films fall somewhere between Hawks and Vidor, for while a Scott hero or Lee Marvin/Richard Boone villain can ride nobly or ignobly alone, Boetticher is always willing to show the heavy toll this isolation takes.

    But then of course Ayn Rand’s sociopathic brand of psychotic super-individualism (which I would like to distinguish from libertarianism, whose adherents include leave-me-alone liberals like Bill Maher) should be further distinguished from the nuanced demand for self-respect on offer with Hawks or Boetticher. Matt Taibbi in “Rolling Stone” has already called DARK KNIGHT RETURNS “Batman Shrugged,” in honor of billionaire Bruce Wayne’s 8-year absence from society; maybe someone can do a full scale comparison of Rand and Nolan. How about Paul Ryan (who supposedly assigns “Atlas Shrugged” as reading matter to his staffers) as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Robin”? Mitt Romney makes for a pretty poor Dark Knight, though.

    Hawks can further be distinguished on libertarian/conservative individualist v. conservative/right collectivist lines by comparing him with John Ford, who is all about aligning oneself with tradition and placing oneself inside a group hierarchy. Exert your individualism too much within the group, and you’re damned like Fonda’s Col. Thursday in FORT APACHE or self-exiled like Spig Wead in WINGS OF EAGLES; if you place yourself outside the community then you can be Ethan Edwards, Tom Doniphon or even Liberty Valance.

    X (August 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm), Adam Haig’s WSW commentary (and that of Taibbi in the current “Rolling Stone” – the one with the stars of BREAKING BAD on the cover) is pretty much what I expected when I predicted what I would be reading in progressive journals in a couple of months. Such essays practically write themselves (although I missed the detail of it’s the environmental activist who turns out to be the arch villain). My take is a little different – when DKR is coherent, it’s right- wing, but the totality of Nolan’s social/political thought is incoherent. It makes simply no sense, just for starters, how the back stories of the two major villains square with their careers as revolutionaries.

    DM (August 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm), this board escapes the notice of diehard comix fans, so I think we can all say whatever we want about Chris Nolan. However, I’m afraid I miss the vast majority of Glenn Kenny’s cultural references in the link you offer… there appear to be hot and cold running soreheads in the new media community… who they are and what they want escape me… although do gather Kenny doesn’t like BREAKING BAD. Now there’s a depiction of a libertarian society… the world of meth labs and all-against-all capitalism.

    DM (August 11, 2012 at 7:27 pm), my eyebrows rise at Don Siegel or Andre deToth as “right-libertarians or social conservatives” but I will really only ask you about putting Buster Keaton in this category. Make your case, I’m very interested.

    To conclude, then, strictly as a maker of images, Nolan is talented, and I found DKR much more interesting than the previous two Bat stanzas; Mike, you might have to relax your strictures about Nolan’s inability to tell a story if you caught up with the new installment. You just wouldn’t like the story he tells.

  • Gregg,

    You and I define politics differently.
    IMHO libertarianism is an organized, radical right wing political movement. Since the 1970’s right wing billionaires have financed a vast array of think tanks, foundations, radio shows, TV networks, and taken control of the US Republican party (including Paul Ryan). Hundreds of millions of dollars have literally been spent. Goals: destruction of the US Government, labor unions, social security and Medicare, safety nets, environmentalism, living wages for the working class.

    What has any of this to do with Howard Hawks or Budd Boetticher? Nothing!

    What libertarianism is NOT:
    A concern for moral codes of conduct.
    Individual initiative.
    Personal responsibility.
    Hard work.

    These are all values shared by many political positions, left, right and center.
    I’m a liberal and I believe in all of them.
    So do most liberals.
    I also believe in government regulation, public schools, state universities and labor unions.

    If you brand Hawks, Boetticher and every filmmaker who believes in personal codes and hard work a libertarian, you are putting a far right wing “brand” on a bunch of artists who have nothing to do with the Right.

    This leads to a massive distortion of film history.

  • Film, TV, and comic book Westerns of the 1950’s and 1960’s were full of macho, tough cowboys who expounded liberal social positions. THE RIFLEMAN tv show is an archetypal example. The Rifleman, as acted by Chuck Connors and directed by Joseph H. Lewis, sounded off week after week on left of center causes. The Rifleman was also a tough, macho man who looked as if he were carved out of granite.

    I suspect that many people are looking at cowboys, seeing that they are tough as nails, believe in hard work and get-up-and-go, and immediately pegging Westerns as somehow being “conservative”.

    Actually, these films are expressions of liberal values.
    Liberals, like many other political groups, believe in responsibility and work.

  • On Boetticher and politics:
    Boetticher made a number of what sure look like liberal films.
    SEMINOLE is a pro-Native American Western that glorifies a liberal leader, Osceola.

    DECISION AT SUNDOWN and the MAVERICK pilot WAR OF THE SILVER KINGS look at crusaders who clean up dictatorial towns run by evil rich men. Mainly non-violently. The doctor in DECISION AT SUNDOWN and Maverick in WAR OF THE SILVER KINGS look like archetypal liberal or non-violent social crusaders.

    Related: Critiques of dictators in HORIZONS WEST, BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE and THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND. Films that share similar social criticisms with the crusader films, but with more focus on the bad guys.

    Also, the cleaning up of civic corruption hiding out at the microcosm of the asylum in BEHIND LOCKED DOORS.
    And the negative portrait of the Confederacy in HORIZONS WEST and WESTBOUND. Boetticher is emphatically a Union sympathizer.

    Boetticher loves the protagonists played by Randolph Scott in the Ranown cycle.
    But these men are also seen as tragic heroes: noble men who are fatally flawed, as defined by Aristotle.
    Scott in DECISION AT SUNDOWN is the catalyst who causes things to happen. But he cannot participate in the community or advance positive social values. It is the liberal doctor who organizes the community to revolt in DECISION AT SUNDOWN. It is the doctor who embodies Boetticher’s political values.