Everyone loves “Babies!” I got tones of entries — many thanks to all who tried to win the Blu-Ray or carseat. The winners are:
Car Seat: Amanda J., Phenix City, AL
Blu-Ray: Connie R., Bethesda, MD; Shawn G., Sherman Oaks, CA; Carrie V., Wayland, MO
To those who did not win — keep checking, as I have more giveaways coming soon!
I love catching up with old films on Turner Classic Movies, so when I saw one called “Third Finger Left Hand” starring two of my favorites, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas, released in 1940, I set my DVR. It turned out to be a delightful romantic comedy characteristic of the era. Loy plays a very successful woman executive who made up a fake husband to avoid distracting questions about her romantic life. She tells everyone he is traveling in South America. Douglas finds out what she has done and pretends to be the husband, back from his travels. The expected complications ensue.
But what is not expected is a scene near the end as Loy, Douglas, and the lawyer who hopes to marry Loy are on a train where what at first appear to be typical black porter is waiting on them. And then it turns out that Sam (played by Ernest Whitman) is not a typical porter; he has a law degree, and he knows more about the law than the lawyer he is waiting on. For 1940, in an era where movies often cut out the scenes featuring African-American performers for distribution in the South, this was remarkably progressive. Even though there was never a suggestion that perhaps Sam might want to leave his job as a porter and go to work in the firm of the white lawyer he outsmarted.
Whitman didn’t make many other films. In those he was listed in the final credits as “Nubian Slave” or “Black Man on Train” or not listed at all. In “Gone With the Wind,” he is listed on the Internet Movie Database as “Carpetbagger’s friend (uncredited). In this movie, even with a significant speaking part, he was not listed in the credits at all, which says more about the racial attitudes at the time than the character he played. In the 1930’s and 40’s, black characters were often the ones in the movie who told the truth or otherwise explained what was going on. This was not a political statement; it was a narrative convenience to put the writer’s voice in a marginalized character who could freely be ignored by the white characters. In a sense, Sam is such a narrative convenience; he shows up to help bring the couple together. But still, Sam and the man who portrayed him, Ernest Whitman, deserve some credit for a brief movie moment where a black man got to show a little bit of what he was capable of.
Roger Ebert has a superb rebuttal to Andrew O’Hehir’s review of “Secretariat” in Salon. Ebert is careful to say that he respects O’Hehir but that this review goes far beyond the usual disagreements about taste and aesthetics. O’Hehir read into the film a political and religious agenda that cannot be supported, simply because the director is a Christian.
Andrew O’Hehir of Salon is a critic I admire, but he has nevertheless written a review of “Secretariat” so bizarre I cannot allow it to pass unnoticed. I don’t find anywhere in “Secretariat” the ideology he discovers there. In its reasoning, his review resembles a fevered conspiracy theory.
O’Hehir criticizes the film for omitting other events of the era though an important plot element concerns the main character’s support for her daughter’s protest of the Vietnam War and a theme of the film is her struggle against the sexism of the time. He actually calls the film “a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl” and brings in references not just to Nazis but to the Klu Klux Klan and to the Tea Party and Glenn Beck.
It’s bad enough to criticize a movie for failing to address every single issue of its era (even if that were possible in a two-hour time slot, it would bury the narrative). It is preposterous to criticize the movie for giving an “evil” name to the rival horse when that was the actual horse’s name. It is offensive to attribute malevolent intentions to a film because the director is Christian. And it is even more offensive to claim that values like dedication and the pursuit of excellence are exclusive to any one religion or political party.
O’Hehir mentions that Randall Wallace, who directed the film, “is one of mainstream Hollywood’s few prominent Christians, and has spoken openly about his faith and his desire to make movies that appeal to ‘people with middle-American values’.” To which I respond: I am a person with middle-American values, and the film appealed to me. This news just in: There are probably more liberals with middle-American values than conservatives, especially if your idea of middle-American values overlaps with the Beatitudes, as mine does.
NOTE: O’Hehir has responded to Ebert, saying that “my review of the film was willfully hyperbolic, even outrageous, in hopes of getting people to look at a formulaic Disney sports movie through fresh eyes.” Because there is no easy way to link to his response directly and I believe he makes some good points, I am going to include the full text of his post and Ebert’s reply here:
The Online Film Critics Society has published our list of the 100 best FIRST films. Number one is, of course, “Citizen Kane,” which usually tops the list of best films in any category. The list includes some neglected gems by directors who went on to make more widely lauded films as well as “L’Atlante by Jean Vigo, who made only one full-length feature before he died at 29, and “Night of the the Hunter,” the only film directed by distinguished actor Charles Laughton. The Pixar stars are there, with John Lasseter of “Toy Story” and Pete Docter of “Monsters, Inc.” And there are critic’s favorites like Terrence Malick (“Badlands”) and audience favorites like Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker (“Airplane!”). Steven Spielberg is remembered for his low-budget TV film “Duel,” still a spine-tingler, about an ordinary man inexplicably hounded by a mysterious truck driver. The list includes classics from the earliest days of cinema (Charlie Chaplin for “The Kid”) and up-to-the-minute stars like Rian Johnson (“Brick”) and Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”). It has documentarians (Errol Morris of “Gates of Heaven”) and mockumentarians (Rob Reiner for “This is Spinal Tap”). Like all “best” lists, it will provoke arguments, but like just about all best movie lists, everything on it is worth a look.