What happened to movies?
wherein he points out that the anti-American movies Hollyweird is putting out these days are bombing at the box office.
That's as nice a segue into this theme as I could hope for - and a great piece of synchronicity. Thanks Bob!
In my apartment here on Capitol Hill, I've got a wall-mounted flat-screen TV with the basic cable package. Included are a few channels that specialize in old movies.
I love old movies. There was, of course, a lot of dreck made way back when, and a few generations back there seemed to be a style of acting that was, well... overacting. This probably came from the influence of the stage on acting style when movies were young and they hadn't quite caught on that the audience was almost in the actors' laps.
But damn! they made good flicks back then. I'm sure that both scholars and ordinary folks hundreds of years from now are going to be watching them for enjoyment, inspiration and insight into the creative process.
What is wonderful to see in old movies is the confidence America had in itself back then. Last night I caught the end of 'I Remember Mama' about the struggles of a Norwegan immigrant family on their way up the ladder in America. The film made it plain that it was a tough row to hoe, but never doubted that it was possible for people to come here, become Americans and make it on their own, just given the chance.
So I'd like to tell you about an old movie, and an old TV series I first saw when I was a pre-teen. The movie was 'Princess O'Rourke' (1943) with Bob Cummings, Joan Fontaine, Jack Carson, and Jane Wyman, the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan.
The plot is hardly original, and has been recycled many times. A European aristocrat escapes into American society incognito, meets a stalwart American guy who thinks she's a maid and falls in love with him. It was very well done again in 1952 with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and Ann Blyth in 'The World in His Arms'.
In 'Princess O'Rourke' the resolution comes when all is revealed - and the princess' guardians decide that marriage to a respectable young American is just the thing for their country, which is counting on the US for their liberation.
Just one catch, they want the future Prince Consort to give up his American citizenship.
He says "No way!" and declares that he always thought he was a lucky guy to have been born an American. Marriage plans in tatters. He asks if he can stay in his room at the White House for the night, and then he'll move out and find himself a room in town, before he's due to report for the Army Air Force.
However, that night the princess comes to him and asks if he'd marry a poor refugee from occupied Europe. They are married in a quicky ceremony in a White House room and escape into their future as a more or less ordinary American couple - with the obligatory comic relief. Seems the guy has tipped the witness five bucks, only to be told that he's tipped the President - and he took it!
Fun movie, not a great one but still fun to watch even after all these years.
Now notice that point made in the movie, that (in the words of Voltairine de Cleyre) "to be an American was greater than to be a king."
Back then folks could take it for granted that of course the American boy would prefer to remain American and the beautiful Princess would chose to become American. (By the way, in hindsight this would in fact have been the right choice, given what happened to so many European monarchies after the war.)
Nowadays it stretches credibility. A while back in the offices of a right-wing publication I described the plot, and a lot of folks found it hard to believe even there.
How many American girls do you think would object to marrying Prince William if the price was only their American citizenship? And does anyone even remember that Grace Kelly negotiated a deal to keep hers when she married Prince Ranier of Monaco?
Now I'll tell you about the TV series, Whirlybirds which ran from 1957 to 1959. In particular one episode, 'If I Were King' in the second season.
Now note this, I was seven years old when I saw it and still remember it to this day. Unlike 'Princess O'Rourke' I haven't seen it in the years since, so you can bet it made a powerful impression on me and who knows how many other kids.
Whirlybirds was about two guys who own a helicopter company, played by Kenneth Tobey and Craig Hill, both of whom still have moderately successful careers.
In this episode they are hired to fly a young man who gives his name as "John Frederick" to a small town in California where he grew up, to see his dying foster-father.
Pretty quickly you get the idea that all is not as it seems. The guy's old girlfriend confronts him tearfully and asks why he left without a word of explanation. His foster-father tells him that he took too big a risk coming back, and then an extremely incompetent would-be assassin confronts him and tells him that he must kill him "so our country can be free." You can guess where this is going.
Fortunately, the Whirlybirds come in and disarm the fellow while he's trying to nerve himself up to do the job. "John Frederick" then tells them to let him go.
So, the old man dies. John says goodby and they climb into the chopper to go back. After some musing in the copter, the young guy says, "Turn around and go back."
"OK, it's your flight," says the pilot. "Just one thing. Who are you?"
"My name is John Frederick. And I'm going home."