52 Before 62 — #48 The Farmer’s Daughter (1947)

The Farmer's Daughter (1947 film).jpgDirected by H.C. Potter

Screenplay by Allen Rivkin and Laura Kerr, from the play by Hella Wuolijoki

Starring Loretta Young, Joseph Cotton, Ethyl Barrymore, and Charles Bickford

Here’s a new thing: let’s start this entry by just carrying on the discussion from the last entry on Mogambo.  But don’t you worry – I promise it will circle around to being about this entry’s film, The Farmer’s Daughter.  But first, let’s take a sidetrack into yoga.

The wife and I were doing yoga recently.  Picked a random video from Youtube and followed along to it – you might not know it, but Youtube has a large subcommunity of Yoga videos/users.  Anyway, the video ran us through a practice like many others – there were lots of sun-salutations, down-dogs, forward-folds, half-way lifts, and the vast array of warrior poses.  One pose new to us wasn’t really a pose at all, but just some ab thing where you expel all the breath from your body and hold your lungs empty for several seconds.  Sounds easy, I know, but it’s surprisingly difficult.  And part of the difficulty is doing it multiple times in a row such that, by the fourth time around I dreaded the fifth.

In a sense, that’s how I felt about trying to finish Mogambo – dread.  Every time I contemplated trying to finish it, I dreaded the process.  But just as you learn in yoga – you have to listen to your body and say ‘no’ to what your body won’t do.  So naturally, I eventually declined to go on with Mogambo.

Now, just as there are poses and things you do in yoga that you dread, there are poses to look forward to: I personally like the pigeon pose, and am HUGE into corpse pose/guided relaxation.[1]  In essence, those two things are the whole reason I do yoga.

Following the metaphor then, if Mogambo was the terrible dread you feel when expelling all breath from your body and holding it out, The Farmer’s Daughter was the refreshing feeling of sinking down into the pigeon pose, then following it up by laying on the floor like a corpse.

Let’s dig in!

Oscargasms: Loretta Young, The Farmer's Daughter

Loretta Young

What’s It About?

Katrin (Loretta Young) is fresh off the form to study nursing in the city.  Unfortunately, a shady man essentially swindles her out of her money and leaves her high and dry and unable to pay for nursing school.  As a result, Katrin winds up hired into the Morley home, serving the matriarch, Agatha (Ethel Barrymore) as a maid.  Turns out the Morley’s are a political family, with mama Agatha running the machine started by her long-dead husband, the Senator.  Also in the family business is her son, Glenn (Joseph Cotton), who’s doing a stretch in Congress.  Katrin turns out to be the bright light the Morley’s need – even their humorless right-hand-man, Joseph (Charles Bickford) is charmed by her.  When another Congressman suddenly dies the Morley’s put forth their own man, who Katrin objects to.  Turns out she’s more than a little bit of a proto-AOC[2] – more on the later – while the chosen candidate is not.  Well, in that way that things happen in the movies but never do in real life, Katrin winds up running against the chosen candidate, who also turns out to be a fascist or KKK member.[3]   In the end Katrin wins the seat, marries Glenn, and they go off to Washington together.

The Farmer's Daughter (1947)

Joseph Cotten and Loretta Young

Any Good?

To be clear, The Farmer’s Daughter is a slight movie, and almost naïve, about a woman going from maid-to-congresswoman in the blink of an eye, while also managing to marry another congressman in the process.  Far-fetched and silly are also appropriate ways to describe it.

Yet, none of those things should be read as criticisms.  Calling the film far-fetched and silly misunderstands what this movie is.  It’s failing to understand these are features, not bugs.  After all, this is basically a romantic-comedy, which is the silliest of the serious genres, and in this one the stakes are mostly low, there isn’t a great amount of conflict, and it’s got such a light and friendly touch you can’t help but love it.  Yes, it’s slight and naïve and far-fetched and silly, but it’s also refreshing, like a popsicle on a hot summer day.

But if we’re honest, calling The Farmer’s Daughter slight ignores the film has serious political underpinnings, and presents a fairly liberal worldview.  After all, though she aspires to be not much more than a nurse, Katrin is bright and forthright, and does not back down from challenging anybody intellectually when she disagrees with them.  Moreover, she does not challenge them in a facile, or pat way – she doesn’t merely recite talking points.  No, she presents actual arguments and reasoning.  For instance, at one point she debates the value of paying people a living wage.  As somebody who’s worked in lower-pay jobs up to that point, it won’t surprise you that Katrin has a different conception of what a living wage is than a trust fund chicken-heir might.  To put a fine point on it, she argues that what makes a living wage usually “depends on whether you’re getting it, or giving it,” which is certainly as true today as it was then.

But Katrin doesn’t merely stop there, because she goes on to chide another for closing breadlines, and stopping other services to help the poor.  At a time when women were only about three decades removed from getting the vote, she’s not thankful to be given the vote, she’s a woman who votes as birthright.  Like it wasn’t your’s to give her.  In it’s own way the film presents a fairly feminist story for it’s times, and which would still likely be labeled dangerous by the Fox News crowd today.

At the end of the day, this is a film in a genre that depends on the chemistry between the leads, and their relationship, to sell the story.  If they can’t put it across with any degree of believability, the whole thing fails.  And while the film is very low-key, Lorette Young and Joseph Cotton make it feel real and lived in.  In their hands it’s the story of two people working near one another who come to the realization they love one another, without needing any grand gestures to prove their point.  They sell the concept so smoothly it might as well be selling itself.

Loretta Young – Oscar Winner

Loretta Young won best actress for her performance here, her only Oscar and the first of just two lifetime Oscar noms for her.  This year she was up against Joan Crawford (Possessed), Susan Hayward (Smash Up, Story of a Woman), Dorothy Maguire (Gentleman’s Agreement) and Rosalind Russell (Mourning Becomes Electra).  Against that competition, Young’s victory was said to be an upset, with Russell favored.  I’ve only seen one of the other nominees – Dorothy Maguire – so while my view of things is obviously colored by ignorance, I can’t help but defend Young’s win.  After all, while it’s not the sort of performance we usually expect to win Oscars, because it’s comedy, and sometimes broad, that does not mean it’s unskillful.  Just as you need a charming set of performers to sell a love story with each other, they each have to be able to sell the story to us.  To that extent, Young succeeds.  Her Katrin is no dummy, and when given the right nudge by a supporting partner, she is a force to be reckoned with.

While Young would have just one more Oscar nom in her, she would eventually be nominated for eight Emmys in a row, winning three, for starring in/hosting her own 1950s TV anthology program, Letters to Loretta.

Best Actor: Best Supporting Actor 1947: Charles Bickford in The ...

Charles Bickford

Charles Bickford

I’m sure I’ve said it before, probably in the pages of this blog, but there’s a thin line between good-humor and menace.  That’s usually what makes villains so effectively villainous – their ability to lure us in, only to stab us right in the ribs when we get close enough.  Sure, some of the best villains are just straight-up villainous at all times – Darth Vader – but think about Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.  What makes him work so well is he’s so likeable.

This is all to bring us around to Charles Bickford, who plays here what the Wikipedia editors call a majordomo.  He’s the Morley’s jack-of-all-trades right hand man.  Which means he has to be both hatchet man and bagman alike.  To make this sort of role work an actor has to walk a really fine line, especially in a comedy, and if you’d asked me before this film if I thought Bickford had the juices to pull it off, I’d probably have said no.  I mostly remember him as the straight-ahead hateful, menacing figure in The Big Country, who would stop at nothing to destroy his rivals.  There he was pitiless and merciless.

Well, it was a bit of surprise to find him in this movie as a loveable and charming figure, even as he remains imposing.  One suspects that’s why you hire a guy like Bickford for this sort of film – because he carries a certain amount of preconceived weight that does half of your character building for you.  He shows up on screen, scowls once, and you know exactly who he is.  Of course, this also means he has to be able to depart from that and look natural at it, and Bickford does, showing us that while he’s capable of being a hatchet-man, he’s just a big loveable softie underneath it all.  And though Bickford received two other Oscar noms in his life, you have to believe most of what got him the nom for this movie was being able to show a little twist on his usual look.

As Time Goes By | Politics and ProsperityIt’s A Wonderful Life

It’s been many entries since we last saw a movie with an It’s A Wonderful Life tie-in, but here we finally come to one again.  If you will recall, in It’s a Wonderful Life a rent collector working for Potter comes to chide the man for basically building slums that nobody wants, while the Bailey’s are building houses.  “Your Potter’s Field is becoming just that!” is the kicker to the conversation the rent collector delivers, which is a mega-burn once you know what a potters field actually is.[4]

Anyway, the rent collector is played by Charles Lane, who died in 2007 at 102 years old, and had 374 acting credits in his career, according to the IMDB.[5]  Which is an artificially-low figure, given the IMDB does not really account for the multiple appearances he made in various TV shows.

Anyway, Lane also appears in The Farmer’s Daughter as one of the reporters covering the congressman and the election.

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[1] Anybody who does any amount of yoga knows that what I just said means my favorite part of yoga is being done with it.

[2] Alexandria Ocassio-Cortz

[3] The film never really says which, but he’s at least half one, 50% of the other.  Or, to put it clearer, he’s Donald Trump.

[4] It’s technically defined as: a burial place for paupers and strangers.  Which is a nice way of saying it’s a dumping ground for things nobody wants.

[5] Let’s have an argument here: is it fair to say he has 374 credits when so many of his credits are listed as ‘uncredited’?

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52 Before 62 — #47 ½ Mogambo (1953)

Mogambo.jpgDirected by John Ford

Screenplay by John Lee Mahin, based upon the play “Red Dust” by Wilson Collison

Starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, and Donald Sinden

A confession to start – I did not finish Mogambo.  I know how it begins, but not how it ends.  Although, because it’s a remake of Red Dust, which I have seen, I can probably guess how it ends.  This is how it went: I started it, watched about 35 minutes in the first sitting,[1] then spent three weeks slogging through the next 25 minutes.  And then, at roughly the 1 hour mark, facing down the possibility of having to watch another hour of the movie, I gave up.  That’s why this entry is 47 ½ and not 48.  And is also the why the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to quit things that no longer give you pleasure.  How ever you define pleasure.

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52 Before 62 — #47 The World, The Flesh and the Devil

World Flesh Devil 1959.jpgDirected by Ranald MacDougall

Written by Ranald MacDougall

Starring Harry Belfonte, Inger Stevens, and Mel Ferrer

Sigmund Freud was a famous proponent for the subconscious and imagery of dreams – he might not have been the first to subscribe to the idea, but he’s the only one most people know about, so he might as well be first.  Of course, being a proponent of symbols and the subconscious does not mean he thought everything was symbolic or a result of the subconscious – that reading just stands to reason.  After all, if everything is a symbol then nothing is a symbol.  Anyway, to put it the way Freud was purported to say himself: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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52 Before 62 — #46 Let’s Make Love (1960)

Lets make love.jpegDirected by George Cukor

Written by Norman Krasna, with additional material by Hal Kanter

Starring Marilyn Monroe, Yves Montand, Tony Randall, Frankie Vaughan, and Wilfrid Hyde-White

Several entries ago we tackled what was probably the first big hit of Marilyn Monroe’s career – Niagara.  Or, at least the first hit of her career that was attributable to her.  She’d been in other films before – All About Eve, especially – but the success there was not her’s.  She was merely incidental.  Niagara, though, was the first that succeeds off of her and part of the reason for that is because Monroe is so desperately beautiful and magnetic you can’t help but want to see her.  It would’ve been insane if it failed to make money. Continue reading

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The Best Picture Project – Parasite, dir. by Bong Joon Ho (2019)

The Official Poster of Parasite.Directed by Bong Joon-Ho

Screenplay by Bong Joon-Ho, story by Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin-won

Starring Song Kang Ho, Lee Sun-Kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun and Jang Hye-jin

The Oscars sure are an eclectic bunch.[1]   Usually when you describe somebody eclectic it refers to their tastes, specifically to mean varied tastes.  That they like serious drama as much as they like camp.   That they like arty films as much as they like populist films.  That they like John Wayne as much as they like the anti-John Wayne.[2]  Basically, it’s meant to say a person who likes both sweet and savory.

But when applied to the Oscars, the meaning should be more along the lines of having a lack of taste.  Or, rather, a lack of knowing what taste they have.  After all, some years the Best Picture goes to an artier film like Moonlight.  Other years it’s deadly serious films like Spotlight or 12 Years a Salve.  Then in other years still, middle-brow junk masquerading as high art wins the big prize, like Crash and Green Book.[3]  It’s all just so…erratic. Continue reading

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52 Before 62 — #45 The Vikings (!958)

Vikings moviep.jpgDirected by Richard Fleischer

Screenplay by Calder Wilingham and Dale Wasserman, based upon the novel by Edwin Marshall

Starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, James Donald, Frank Thring, and Janet Leigh

When Kirk Douglas died a couple weeks ago it was almost literally the final expiration of old-style Hollywood stardom.  That’s what happens, I guess, when you live to 103 — whether you like it or not, your death is literally the end of something.

Douglas made his name in films from the late-1940’s onward, just before the ‘method’ style of acting came into vogue and the traditional notions of who could be, and who could not be, a movie star gave way to a system dominated more by unique faces and character actors.  In other words, the age when guys with a sense of stylization to their acting stopped winning Oscars — see e.g. Laurence Olivier — and guys with a touch of naturalism started winning.  Guys like Ernest Borgnine. Continue reading

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Oscar Ballot 2019

Oscar StatuettesWell, it’s that time of year again for the Oscars, my loyal readers.  That one event we wait for all year.  Like Christmas – second Christmas.  Only without any gifts and double the disappointment.  And while I’m a bit late to turning my ballot in, timeliness means nothing.  It’s not like the Academy actually registers my vote for anything anyway, so who cares if I get my picks out now, or next year.[1]  Still, in the spirit of adding to the discourse and nothing more, here’s my Oscar picks for 2019[2]:

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52 Before 62 — #44 Heidi (1937)

Heidi (1937 film) poster.jpgDirected by Allan Dwan

Written by Julien Josephson and Walter Ferris, from the book of the same name by Johanna Spyri

Starring Shirley Temple, Jean Herscholt, Arthur Treacher, Mary Nash, Marcia Mae Jones, and Sidney Blackmer

Shirley Temple is probably the proto-child actor.  Her, or Jackie Coogan.  One of the other.  But really, just Shirley Temple, if only because she set the standard for how a child actor’s career tends to go.  Get in the business almost at birth, make it big at a young age, only to see that career stall irretrievably at the brink of adult hood, when puberty turns the cute little kid into something the general public can’t handle, i.e. sexual. Continue reading

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52 Before 62 — #43 Butterfield 8

Butterfield8 movieposter.jpgDirected by Daniel Mann

Written by John Michael Hayes and Charles Schnee, based upon the novel by John O’Hara

Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, and Eddie Fisher

Elizabeth Taylor is a rare thing in Hollywood history – a kid actor who grew up to have an adult career.  Most only fade away before then, or just drift into fitful employment – looking at you Henry Thomas.  Some, though, carry the fame forward.  Sure, the life of, and demands of, being an actress probably warped Taylor immeasurably – how else would you possibly explain her eight marriages – and probably led to her struggles with addition.[1]  But somehow, she managed to come out of that as well as one probably could. Continue reading

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52 Before 62 — #42 Niagara (1953)

Niagara poster.jpgDirected by Henry Hathaway

Written by Charles Bracket, Richard L. Breen and Walter Reisch

Starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotton, Jean Peters and Michael Showalter

Marilyn Monroe is a legendary figure.  I won’t say she’s legendary as an actress, because that’s never really what people think about when they think about her.  She’s really legendary for her sex appeal, and as a sex symbol.

On the one hand, it’s fair she’s a legendary sex symbol – you only need to look at her, and her onscreen qualities, to get a sense of the heat she generates.  On the other hand, it’s unfair she isn’t also venerated for her acting.  After all, being a screen presence is not an easy thing to do – lots of charismatic people come across as stiff when the camera points at them but no more.  More than that, it’s hard to come across as convincingly sexy on film, which Monroe can do.  Having presence, and the wherewithal to be convincingly sexy, are skills a good actress possesses. Continue reading

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