Out of the Past (1947) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is one of the quintessential film noirs.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Robert Mitchum is Jeff Bailey, an auto repair shop owner living in a small town.  He has a girl, Ann Miller who is in love with him and a deaf-mute boy who helps him with his shop.  But he is hiding from his past.  He was Jeff Markham, a private detective that was sent on an assignment by underworld boss Whit Sterling (played with good natured panache by Kirk Douglas) to find a girl who stole $40,000 from Whit and shot him for good measure.  The girl, Kathie Moffat is hiding out in Mexico and while staking her out Jeff falls entirely in love with her and the two run away to live their lives far from Whit Sterling.

But Jeff’s partner Jack Fisher, hunts them down and demands the $40,000 to keep from telling Sterling about their double cross.  During a fistfight between Jeff and Fisher Kathie shoots Fisher dead.  While Jeff buries Fisher’s body Kathie skips out on him.  Jeff decides to take on the new identity as Jeff Bailey and settles in the small town of Bridgeport, California.

But now one of Whit Sterling’s men arrives in Bridgeport and recognizes Jeff.  He summons Jeff to Whit’s summer house on Lake Tahoe.  When Jeff gets there, he finds Kathie has reconciled with Whit and now it’s Jeff’s turn to square accounts with the underworld boss.  There is a complicated scenario where Jeff is supposed to recover some tax documents that Whit’s accountant is using to blackmail him.  But it’s really a set-up whereby Jeff will be the fall guy for the accountant’s murder.  And, of course, Kathie is part of the double cross too.  There are a number of reversals but finally Jeff arranges a deal with Sterling such that Kathie will be on the hook for Fisher’s murder and Jeff will be cleared of all the various crimes he’s been framed for in return for the return of the tax documents.

But Kathie decides to upend the deal by murdering Sterling.  Now she and Jeff are on the run for the various murders that have been committed and Jeff realizes that he’ll never have that small town life he tried to escape to.  He and Kathie die in a hail of bullets as he drives their car into a police ambush.

Interspersed between the action scenes we have the love story between Jeff and Ann.  She’s a gentle woman who believes that Jeff has a good side that exists beneath the tough persona that he projects to the world.  And her belief in him propels him to try and escape from the criminal existence that Kathie has drawn him into.  But fate eventually claims his life and leaves Ann to mourn him.

As with all good film noir, the plot is an awful mess.  All of their terrible choices propel the protagonists to their bleak fates.  But the movie is a pleasure to watch.  Mitchum is at the top of his game with a tightly knit plot and lots of great lines to toss off.  Kirk Douglas is an affable crime boss and adds a lot to the film.  Kathie is a wonderfully dishonest femme fatale and is constantly double-crossing everyone in sight.  And the rest of the supporting cast is fine too.  I highly recommend this movie for film noir devotees and basically anyone who likes a good story.

The Big House (1930) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Other than Wallace Beery who starred and Lewis Stone as the Warden I don’t remember ever having seen any of the other cast.  This is a very early “talkie” and so the acting is a bit broad.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

An upper-class young man, Kent, is sentenced to ten years in prison for killing a man in an automobile accident while driving drunk.  He is put in a crowded cell with the two toughest prisoners.  Wallace Beery is “Machine Gun Butch” and the other prisoner is a master thief named Morgan.

Kent gets into conflicts with most of the prisoners because of his soft upbringing so he joins up with one of the prison rats and agrees to give information to the guards in return for lightening his sentence.  Kent has a beautiful sister Anne.  Morgan sees her when she comes to visit her brother and falls in love with her.  Because of a frame up by Kent, Morgan loses his imminent parole chance.  When an opportunity occurs Morgan escapes from the prison and goes to see Anne.  She figures out that he is an escapee but helps him escape pursuit.  Somehow or other they strike up a romance and he even comes home to visit her parents!

But eventually he is recaptured and arrives back in prison just as Butch is plotting a major jail break.  But Kent rats them out and the escape becomes a riot with Butch and his men holding the guards as hostages and both sides blazing away at each other with machine guns.  Finally Butch declares that he will kill all the guards one by one if his men aren’t allowed to escape.  When Butch kills the head guard, the Warden calls for the Army to bring in tanks to break up the riot.

Morgan decides to save the guards by locking them in a cell with a solid steel door and throwing away the key.  Butch decides that Morgan is the rat and goes gunning for him.  In the melee Kent is killed in the crossfire and butch and Morgan wound each other in a gunfight.  When Butch discovers that it was Kent who sold him out, he and Morgan reconcile with Butch dying of his wounds.  The tanks overcome the prisoners’ resistance and order is restored.  Afterward Morgan is hailed as a hero for saving the guards’ lives.  He is pardoned and upon getting out he is welcomed out by his fiancée Anne.

This movie is a parody of prison.  Butch and most of the other prisoners and guards are caricatures of the stereotypes that we would come to expect in movies about prison.  But I found myself enjoying the movie mostly because Wallace Beery is an enjoyable comic actor in most of the movies I’ve seen him in.  And how can you dislike a movie that features the prisoners setting up and betting on and cheering for their favorites in a cockroach race.  Especially when we find out that the race was fixed by the favorite being glued to the ground with bubble gum!  I don’t think I can recommend this movie for anyone in particular except for fans of Wallace Beery.  Good old Long John Silver.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Okay this one is an oddball.  What we have here is a sort of morality play mixed into a fantasy.  In the first half of the nineteenth century in the southwest corner of New Hampshire there lived a farmer named Jabez Stone.  He has a wife and a widowed mother and not much else.  Bad luck follows him and prevents him from ever catching up on his debts.  One day when disaster strikes, again, he cries out that he’d sell his soul for some good luck.  And the Devil (played amusingly by Walter Huston) shows up and talks him into the deal.  He provides him with a pot of “Hessian” gold and seven years of guaranteed good luck for the price of his soul.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

And indeed, Jabez gets all the good luck for which he could ask.  When his neighbors’ crops are destroyed by hail, his are spared.  He loans money to his neighbors and when they can’t pay him back, he makes them sharecroppers working his fields.  He builds a huge mansion on the hill and alienates his wife and mother and all his old friends.

Jabez’s wife Mary is a good friend of the famous American statesman, Daniel Webster (played by Edward Arnold) and she finally calls Webster in when she decides that something terrible has happened to her husband.  Jabez has changed from an honest friendly religious man into a greedy, hateful sinner.  He’s driven away all of their friends and taken up with a Jezebel named “Belle” whom the Devil has sent to keep Jabez from repenting.

On the seventh anniversary of his contract Old Scratch (as the Devil is called in that neighborhood of New England) comes to claim Jabez Stone’s soul.  By this point Jabez realizes the wrong he’s committed and is repentant but he knows his contract is binding.  But at this point Daniel Webster confronts the Devil and demands a jury trial.  Webster will represent the defense and the Devil gets to pick the judge, and jury.  The jury is made up of notorious criminals of the early American era including Gen. Benedict Arnold the infamous traitor of the Revolutionary War.  But the Devil stipulates that if Jabez is found guilty Daniel Webster’s soul will also be collected.

Webster uses all his gifts as an orator and appeals to the jury’s remorse for not fulfilling their birthrights as free Americans and lovers of life.  He reminds them of the simple joys of living a virtuous life and how each of them regrets the road he has taken.

Finally, the jury asks the Devil to see the contract and when he hands it over Benedict Arnold tears it up and throws it away.  The judge and jury disappear into smoke and Daniel Webster gives the Devil the bum’s rush out of Jabez’s barn.  The two victors return to the farmhouse in time to enjoy a homecooked breakfast with Jabez’s wife and mother and young son.

His neighbors arrive to alert Jabez to the fact that his mansion on the hill is in flames.  He smiles at them and tells them he’s glad and that all their debts to him are cancelled and to prove it he tears up his promissory notes and invites them to breakfast.  The movie ends on a comical note with Old Scratch sitting on a country fence, finishing up a pie he stole from Ma Stone and looking into his little book of prospects and then peering out into the audience and smiling and pointing at you!

As I said this is an oddball film.  The bulk of the film is a melodrama about a good man going bad through greed and pride.  I suppose the supernatural story is meant to be a metaphor for how circumstances can make even good people lose perspective on the what’s really valuable in life and let the pursuit of money destroy the good things they have.  I don’t know if I can recommend this movie unless I compare it to something like the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  That movie also shares a supernatural framing of the dangers of losing perspective on what makes life worth living.  If you didn’t like that better movie then you probably won’t like this lesser tale.  That won’t guarantee you’ll like this one but it gives you an idea of what kind of movie this is.

The Westerner (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this western story Gary Cooper is Cole Harden a drifter passing through Vinegarroon, Texas on his way to California.  But Vinegarroon is the home of “Judge” Roy Bean, the only law west of the Pecos River.  Bean (played by Walter Brennan) is a hanging judge who hands out rough justice based on being an advocate for the cattlemen.  If the cattlemen stampede a herd of cattle through a corn field and the farmer shoots one of the steers he’ll be hanged by Bean for the offense.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When Harden appears in the movie, he’s being led to Bean’s court house (saloon) because one of the locals recognized Harden’s horse as one that was stolen from a local.  Naturally the jury will declare him guilty but Harden manages to convince Bean that he is a friend of the famous actress Lily Langtry whom Bean greatly admires.  Claiming that he has a lock of her hair Harden gets Bean to “suspend” his sentence while evidence of his innocence can be found.  While Harden and Bean cement their friendship over bogus tales of Langtry and Bean’s rotgut whiskey the real horse thief walks into the saloon and Harden punches him out and retrieves the purchase price of the horse from his pockets.  When the thief attempts to shoot Harden, Bean beats him to the draw and thus reinforces the bond between the drifter and the hangin’ judge.

After this the movie drifts off into other directions.  Harden leaves town and while travelling through the area ends up working as a field hand for the Mathew family on their farm.  A romance blossoms between and Harden and the daughter Jane.  But we find out that Judge Bean has been persecuting the farmers and intends to drive them off their land through harassment and judicial malfeasance.  The farmers organize and decide to go en masse and shoot Bean to end their problem.  When Harden hears this, he gallops to Bean’s saloon and warns Bean.  Harden and Bean stop the plot and send the farmers away.  But Harden convinces Bean to remove all the cattle from the valley where the farmers live in exchange for Lily Langtry’s lock of hair that Harden claims to have.  Harden manages to get a lock of Jane Mathew’s hair for the purpose and when Bean fulfills his promise to move the cattle, he ceremoniously hands over the hair.

Now the farmers are triumphant and have a celebratory feast.  But while it is going on the cattlemen set fire to the fields and homesteads of the farmers and destroy the whole valley.  Jane’s father is murdered by the cattlemen and she blames Harden for the deeds she attributes to his friend Bean.

Harden forces Bean to admit that he was responsible for the fire and Harden leaves town to get a warrant for the arrest of Bean for murder and arson.  Coincidentally Lily Langtry is in the area for a concert and Judge Bean buys up all the tickets so that he can enjoy a private audience with Miss Langtry.  And the performance becomes the site of a shootout between Harden and Bean.  Eventually Harden fatally wounds Bean but before Bean dies Harden carries him backstage so Bean can see Langtry before he dies.

In the final scene Harden and Jane are a married couple on a rebuilt farm celebrating the return of the other settlers that had been driven out by Bean.

By the description, you can tell this is a very strange western.  The way I can describe it is a comedy for the first half of the movie that switches over into a more conventional melodrama.  From my point of view the comedic portions of the movie are the better parts.  Cooper and Brennan have a weird funny chemistry that makes the movie interesting and enjoyable.  The later romance and drama are okay but clash with the comedic elements.  I’ll recommend the movie based on the scenes with Cooper and Brennan even though as whole the movie is sort of a mess.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are the newlywed couple Gil and Lana Martin.  They have migrated from the settled and comfortable area near Albany, New York to settle in the frontier farming community of Deerfield in the Mohawk Valley.  But this is during the American revolutionary war and the Mohawk Valley is the scene of conflicts between Americans and their Indian allies versus British troops, loyalist settlers and their Indian allies.  The movie starts off with Lana learning to accept the rigors of frontier life after her more affluent existence with her well-to-do family.  But once the young couple begin to prosper the attacks begin.  The Indians burn down their homestead and they are reduced to living as servants in the house of a rich old woman Sarah McKlennar (played by the irascible Edna May Oliver).  Gil is enlisted in the local militia and they participate in the Battle of Oriskany where they are victorious but at a cost of nearly half their men.

Meanwhile Lana gives birth to their daughter and the Martins find a happy life working for McKlennar.  But eventually war returns to Deerfield.  An overpowering war party of Indians is approaching.  The settlers abandon their farms for the relative safety of Fort Schuyler.  The settlers resist the attack for as long as their ammunition holds out but eventually Gil is sent out on a desperate mission to get reinforcements from Fort Dayton.  Three Indian braves chase him for hours through forests and grasslands until finally he reaches the fort and brings help.  Just as the Indians have occupied the stockade and a desperate hand to hand battle is under way, the militia from Fort Dayton arrive to save the settlers.  They quickly defeat the enemy and restore order.  The commanding officer informs the settlers that the war is now over and the English have surrendered to General Washington.  Lana and her child have survived the battle but Mrs. McKlennar was mortally wounded and as she dies, she leaves her farm and money to the Martins.

The movie is a semi-historical account and the action of the story is dramatic enough and the characters interesting enough to keep the viewers’ interest.  I found Edna May Oliver’s portrayal of the cantankerous Mrs. McKlennar as probably the dramatic highlight of the movie.  Fonda and Colbert do an admirable job as the young couple trying to survive the war and various character actors such as Ward Bond and John Carradine add substantially to the effort.  I would rate this movie as a diverting historical adventure story.  Perfect for a winter evening when you don’t want to go to sleep too early.

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 1

Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic.  So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees.  Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae.  I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three.  Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth.  Here goes.

Material that wasn’t in the book

A Christmas Carol was a novella.  It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.

For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly.  In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth.  And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred.  It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred.  In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented.  But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added.  What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible.  In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer.  Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child.  I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son.  So, this addition is spurious.  But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness.  And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred.  We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.

And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew.  I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.

In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later).  Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book.  In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor.  Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition.  It seems unwarranted.  I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.

In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions.  One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London.  And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge.  In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile.  When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.”  Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.”  Nicely played.

From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house.  What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene.  We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge.  Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls.  And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning.  In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being.  His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior.  When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting.  I find this addition to the story especially apt.  In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively.  But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth.  It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.

Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.

 

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 2

The Naked City (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this movie the star is New York City at the height of its prominence as the largest city of the most powerful country on the planet.  The tagline of the movie is “There are eight million stories in the Naked City.  This is one of them.”  And almost every shot of the film highlights the sights and sounds of New York.  Everything from the crowded subway cars and crowded streets to dizzying vistas on the tops of buildings and the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge.

The story begins with the late-night murder of Jean Dexter, a pretty blonde model.  It is followed by one of the two murderers killing his partner for being too soft-hearted.

The murder of Jean Dexter falls into the lap of police Lt. Dan Muldoon played with his best Irish brogue by Barry Fitzgerald.  Assisted by detective Jimmy Halloran played by Don Taylor they run down leads until they find Frank Niles, played by Howard Duff.  Every word coming out of Niles’ mouth, including “and and but” is a lie.  And when they find out that he is engaged to Jean’s close friend Ruth Morrison but that Ruth doesn’t even know that Niles was a close friend of Dexter they know they’ve found their connection.  At every step Niles shows himself to be tied to the murder and to a jewel robbery ring.  But at the same time all evidence clears him of Jean’s murder.

Finally, the clues add up to the fact that Jean Dexter and Frank Niles were the brains behind the jewelry theft ring.  They hired two burglars and used information from the husband of a society matron to rob the houses of the wealthy when it was known that they would be at a party.  But finally, the burglars decided to cut Jean out of the picture by murdering and robbing her.  Under threat that he would be indicted as an accessory to murder Niles confesses and provides the names of the two burglars.

The climax of the movie is a manhunt and a shootout between the police and the murderer while he is cornered at the top of one of the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge, hundreds of feet in the air.

In a lot of ways, the movie is a standard police procedural.  But there are enough secondary players to round out the story in a satisfying way.  We meet detective Halloran’s wife and young son and hope with him that he won’t have to obey his wife and spank his son for crossing Northern Boulevard by himself.  We meet Jean Dexter’s parents and watch as the mother goes from declaring her hatred for her prodigal daughter to crying over her “baby” and hugging Jean’s cold dead body in the morgue.  We even meet the murderer’s Lower East Side neighbors who know him as the friendly harmonica playing guy that all the kids like.

This is not a great movie.  It’s a good one.  I recommend it as what it is, an interesting police story.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This must be Charles Laughton’s most unusual role.  As the eponymous Marmaduke Ruggles, he is a gentleman’s gentleman in the employ of the Earl of Burnstead, (played by Roland Young) until his lordship loses Ruggles in a poker game with American cowboy millionaire Egbert Floud played by Charlie Ruggles (there’s that name again).  Egbert’s wife Effie (played by Mary Boland) is attempting to give Egbert and by extension, Red Gap, “tone.”  And her ace in the hole is Ruggles by whose knowledge of etiquette and propriety she hopes to reform Egbert and instill snobbish manners in the Old West town.  And with Effie’s annoying brother-in-law Charles Belknap-Jackson (played by Lucien Littlefield) as the villain and ZaSu Pitts as Ruggles’ love interest the movie is an absurd farce.

The plot of the movie, such as it is, revolves around Ruggles becoming an American.  The movie gets endless mileage out of the contrast between Ruggles’ proper English manners and the rough and ready ways of the residents of Red Gap.  But the movie is really a panegyric to normal good-hearted people regardless of their stripe or fortune.

I realize this sounds like a whole lot of nothing.  But the movie has great good humor and human warmth.  And any movie that has Lucien Littlefield getting kicked in the pants can’t be all bad.

I’m guessing that opinions on this movie will vary greatly.  All I can say is that it’s one of my favorite comedies.  Others will have to take their chances.

The Bells of St. Mary’s – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This week is Thanksgiving and that means we’ve reached the Holiday season.  And going hand in hand with that is my annual holiday movie watching and reviewing ritual.  In years past I’ve especially concentrated on versions of “A Christmas Carol.”  And rightly so.  It is almost a transfiguration of the generosity of the Christmas holiday into a mythic experience.  There is an actual catharsis associated with experiencing Scrooge’s repentance and rebirth.  So, without a doubt I will have something new to say about Dicken’s classic again this year.

But let’s return to the task at hand.

Tonight, I watched again “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”  I’ve seen it many times before.  First off, it’s not actually a Christmas movie.  The movie begins in the Fall and ends in the late Spring.  There is indeed a scene or two associated with Christmas as it relates to the eponymous Catholic grammar school that is the focus of the film.  But it is incidental, not central to the plot.  Strictly speaking, there is no holiday theme to the movie at all.  What there is, is a representation of an American Roman Catholic parish grammar school from the middle of the twentieth century.  And when I say it is a representation and not an actual reflection, I can speak with all the assurance of thirteen years of Catholic school experience to back it up.  Without a doubt, the priests and nuns that I encountered in school and church bore not the faintest resemblance to the kind, patient, loving and wise religious figures that exist in the film.  Quite the contrary, I know without a doubt that some of the priests, brothers and nuns that I knew were truly evil and committed atrocities for which they can never be forgiven.  So, I have no illusions as to the reality of Catholic education and those administering it.

Also, this is a movie from 1945.  America was close to defeating the Axis powers in World War II when the movie was being made.  The populace was united and determined and looking forward to winning the war and returning to normal life including marriage and children.  Everything about the movie reflects a societal view that was carefully orchestrated by Hollywood and the Federal government to maintain morale for the civilians at home and the troops abroad.  Wholesome entertainment and Christian values were the coin of the realm.  And they were especially important around Christmas time.  So, what we see is the Hollywood idealization of Catholic grammar school life.

Put all that together and you have to conclude that this movie is a lie.  A deliberate fabrication.  Shouldn’t it be derided for deluding the public?  Maybe.  After all, if the Catholic Church has been enabling predatory pedophiles for decades maybe movies like the present one are part of the front that allowed this practice to exist.  That may be true.

But if you watch this movie you see a story about people working together to raise children not only by educating their minds but also by nurturing their spirits.  The pastor and the nuns spend the time to find out what problems the children are experiencing and giving them practical advice and help to overcome their problems and face the real world they will soon be joining.

The portrayals by Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman are extremely enjoyable.  Both of them radiate warmth, intelligence, humor and vitality.  Bergman especially shows us a sensitive woman enduring an extremely confusing and demoralizing reversal in her life.  Some of the other characters and circumstances have some predictable tropes and stereotypes painted on but these do not greatly distract us from the central plot lines and some are quaint in and of themselves.

Overall, I found this movie to be a beautiful story.  Whether it’s classified as a story, a fantasy or propaganda it is emotionally powerful and very enjoyable.  For the Christmas season it provides an idealized version of what the Christian religious community is supposed to be.  If only it truly were like the movie.

Sergeant York (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Sergeant York” stars Gary Cooper as the eponymous WWI hero.  The story relates his pre-war life and shows how he overcame a wild youth to “find religion.”  He lives in a log cabin with his mother and younger brother and sister.  Being hillbillies, the soil of his family land is very poor.  When he finds a girl, he wants to marry he sets his mind to buying some “bottom land.”  But a rival in love frustrates this ambition and it was when he was set to settle this feud with his rifle that divine intervention steps in.  Lightning knocks him off his horse and damages his rifle and Alvin ends up at the church where Pastor Rosier Pile played by Walter Brennan, welcomes Alvin back to the Lord’s flock.

But when America enters World War I Alvin York has to somehow square his biblical aversion to killing with his duties as an American citizen.  This conflict and how the reality of the modern battlefield affects him is the climax of the film.  As was stated in his Congressional Medal of Honor citation Alvin single-handedly killed 28 German soldiers with his rifle and pistol and in doing so forced the surrender of 132 Germans and 35 machine guns.  In the movie York explains to the investigators of his actions that he killed the Germans to stop the guns.  As he explains it his actions were meant to save lives.

After the war Alvin returns home and to his great surprise a grateful nation hails him as a hero with a ticker tape parade down Wall Street in New York City.  But even more importantly his home state of Tennessee presents him with a beautiful house on fertile land in his hometown.

Sergeant York was made on the eve of America’s entry into WW II.  In fact, Pearl Harbor was attacked while the movie was still in the theaters.  It is claimed that thousands of young men went directly from the movie theater to the enlistment station.  It could be defensibly claimed that it is a propaganda film for the war effort.  Nevertheless, York’s war time actions were not exaggerated in any way.  Obviously, the supernatural basis of his religious conversion is pure Hollywood but doubtless the portrayal of Alvin York as a simple backwoods man was quite accurate.  The reality of poverty in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee was real and the importance of family and religion was true.

Gary Cooper’s portrayal of York is somewhat broad and even comical at times but I find that is one of the charms of the film.  The other actors in the Tennessee scenes equally play up the hillbilly stereotypical behaviors.  But recognizing those characteristics I still recommend this movie as a fascinating personal story that shows the collision of an older world with the 20th century.  Sergeant York was an American original.