“FRICKIN’ HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD! JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH! POPE PAUL VI AND ALL THE SAINTS! AND DEAR GOD WHY ARE ALL THESE WOMEN IN EXPENSIVE ULTRASUEDE DRESSES RUNNING UP AND DOWN THE AISLES SCREAMING THEIR FOOL HEADS OFF???!!!!!”
I posted this elsewhere and on Twitter first, but it also belongs here on the Anon-a-Blog.
Why my pew has been empty since 1982: A long thread for anyone who may be interested, et al.Perhaps someone may relate or need to hear. Inspired by @C_Stroop and #EmptyThePews on Twitter.
It starts in 1975. I’m 12. A budding little gay boy. At the C. of the Naz., we get a spiffy little sermon, which runs like this: “Speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession!!!” Amens, claps, whistles, “Kill the Devil!”
Fast forward a week later. Someone in charge of our family’s spiritual development decides to follow info bestowed by the Holy Spirit Fairy, an entity which seems to act rather … impetuously. Or at least that was my experience with Him.
The Spirit has moved someone that we must immediately abandon the C. of the Naz., where, remember, I’ve just been told on the authority of the church into which I was born and raised that speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession.
[An aside: 12-year-old me had memorized the 1960 Church Manual so I could know how to perform weddings and funerals because … get this … I thought I would become a C. of the Naz. preacher.]
Given a choice about which church to attend would have been lovely. Alas, it was not to be. I was the young, stupid child who couldn’t possibly be trusted to know what was good for him, spiritually speaking. At best, a “baby Christian.” (These buzzwords sound familiar?)
Actually, after just one hour of being exposed to the new church’s … shall we say, bizarreness and cultish overtones … I’m confident I would have scurried back underneath the skirts of the mother church (of the Naz.) if I had a driver’s license and a car. But I didn’t.
So I wasn’t given a choice. Remember the previous sermon, supposedly delivered by a stern God to CotN Leaders possessed of “Utter Sanctification” and who are therefore qualified to speak on subjects Most Weighty: “Speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession!”
Again, I was 12 years old. Puberty was dawning. Teenage outrage, hatred of hypocrisy, self-righteousness, inflated sense of injustice, and general all-around questioning and boundary-pushing are imminent. I needed constancy. But the Spirit had spoken and must be obeyed.
The next Sunday, we don’t drive over to be with the sanctified who hate devilish tongue-speaking. Instead, we head straight for the new church, an Assembly of God knockoff/alleged “non-denominational.” “We’re going here from now on,” says Parental Dearest.
What happened the first Sunday at the new church to which we had been led by the Holy Spirit? Well, I’ll set the scene one more time: The previous week, the church of my birth told me speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession.
This week? FRICKIN’ HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD! JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH! POPE PAUL VI AND ALL THE SAINTS! AND DEAR GOD WHY ARE ALL THESE WOMEN IN EXPENSIVE ULTRASUEDE DRESSES RUNNING UP AND DOWN THE AISLES SCREAMING THEIR FOOL HEADS OFF???!!!!!
Then: The kicker. If I am to understand the main belief point through hours of gibberish, a complete lack of any catechism, no orderly service of any kind, no regular communion, and a multitude of other things, a central belief is this:
“If you do NOT speak in tongues, God is withholding His greatest blessing from you and therefore there is something wrong with you if you don’t immediately babble in tongues in ‘the presence of the Lord.'”
In other words, NOT speaking in tongues was evidence of God withholding his greatest gift from you & you were opening yourself up to … you guessed it, demonic possession. As soon as I hit 16, my pew began to be empty. By 18, only bribery could get me in it. So…bye!
It would take a long thread to describe coming out (yeah, the Spirit got involved there, too), getting away & being an adult in charge of myself & the joys of life since I got myself to #EmptyThePews. Thanks for the inspiration, @C_Stroop and thanks to everyone who read!
“The attraction here isn’t really the cultural relic/curiousity value, it’s the variation of the old man meets woman, they hate each other, they clash with sparkling dialogue and then end up together ’til death they do part. This bit has been done to death in Hollywood’s 100+ year run, but it can be freshened and redeemed if the scriptwriter is up to the job.”
From 1932, it’s the second of six films Jean Harlow made with Clark Gable: Red Dust. (21 years later, it would be remade as Mogambo, the setting moved to Africa, with Ava Gardner in the Jean Harlow role and Grace Kelly in the Mary Astor Role. It stank. Red Dust is superior, like most Hollywood remakes, to its later imitator. The six films Gable and Harlow did together were: The Secret Six (1931); Red Dust (1932); Hold your Man (1933); China Seas (1935); Wife vs. Secretary (1936); and Saratoga (1937). Harlow died during filming of Saratoga.)
The « synopsis » according to The Movie Database (TMDb) runs thusly:
“Dennis, owner of a rubber plantation in Cochinchina, is involved with Vantine, who left Saigon to evade the police; but when his new surveyor, Gary, arrives along with his refined but sensual wife, Barbara, Dennis gets infatuated by her.”
“The owner of a rubber plantation becomes involved with the new wife of one of his employees.”
Way to drain flavor completely out of a synopsis, Amazonians!
Red Dust is pretty much everything that cancel culture despises today. There’s racism, sexism, slavery, the patriarchy time 100, misogyny, misanthropy, animal abuse, cuckolding, adultery, (and behind the scenes, homophobia and violence) and probably a few other things I can’t even identify off the top of my head right now. But even if cancel culture would like to burn this film, it’s rather juvenile to think adults can’t look, read or watch something from earlier periods of our history and gain some understanding of a time in the nation’s life and adopt what we’ve just seen as our own outlook. In other words, watching Red Dust won’t make you go out and slap blond women on the butt or enslave coolies in Vietnam or any of the other multitudinous sins.
We have been wondering if a boycott TCM movement will start; pretty much everything they show is a reminder of the really evil or tawdry foundations of this country. And pretty much everything they show is also a pointer to a better future, even if that future is on hold right now while Trump, Bolsonaro, Johnson, Orban, Netanyahu, Erdogan and various ayatollahs hold power.
But all that is a digression. The film itself should be considered in context. It has it’s funny moments in the banter of Gable and Harlow, but it is a drama with a twist ending. It’s the tale of what happens when a rubber plantation owner hires a surveyor, Gene Raymond, who brings along his pretty wife, Mary Astor. While Raymond writhes on the bed with malaria, Gable and Astor spark up some flames. And in the middle of all this lands, Harlow, a brassy blond hiding out in the jungle after some unspecified misunderstandings with the gendarmerie in Saigon (pronounced, inexplicably, as “Say-gone”). There’s some business with a local tiger, some difficulties with not being able to trust the local coolies, a caricature of a cook, Willie Fung who does the grinning, giggly “so solly” bit, and inadequate bathing facilities.
The attraction here isn’t really the cultural relic/curiousity value, it’s the variation of the old man meets woman, they hate each other, they clash with sparkling dialogue and then end up together ’til death they do part. This bit has been done to death in Hollywood’s 100+ year run, but it can be freshened and redeemed if the scriptwriter is up to the job. In this case, the writer wasn’t really up to the job with the majority of the script, but for some reason, excelled with the dialogue as long as it was between Harlow and Gable. And that’s where it shines.
Of course, anything Harlow did shined, especially Dinner at Eight. Gable gets first billing here, and the movie is supposedly about him, but it’s Harlow who does the best job. The proof is in the difference between the Harlow/Gable exchanges and those of Astor/Gable. Harlow wins hands down every time she’s onscreen. Gable may have dominated the 1930s cinema with his star power, culminating in 1939’s bullshit “Lost Cause” revisionist rebel/traitor masterpiece, Gone With the Wind, but Harlow was superior in every way, at least when she was given half a chance.
Sadly, Harlow was suffering from nephritis and died of uremic poisoning during the filming of her last Gable vehicle, 1937’s Saratoga. Remarkably, she was just 26 when she died, having such an amazing career in such a short time that it’s mind-boggling to think of what she might have done with a longer life. This would be repeated in the case of Judy Holliday in the 1950s, who was an awesome actress whose life ended too soon. It would have been incredible for Harlow and Holliday to have done a film together at least once. Ah, what might have been (at least if they had been given a great script and director).
We at least have Harlow and Holliday on film fairly easy to access. Red Dust is on TCM as well as DVD.
What did reviewers have to say about Red Dust?
And that behind the scenes homophobia violence? Well, that’s the Gene Raymond story, who married Jeanette McDonald (of “Nelson Eddy and” fame), but had a rather interesting life. Producer/Director George Sidney once called Raymond “the most gorgeous thing the world has ever seen.” Seems a bit far fetched for me, but he was pretty. And therein lay the problem. We’ll let Wikipedia take over:
“Biographer Sharon Rich reported in her Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald biography, Sweethearts, that Raymond and MacDonald had a rocky marriage, with Raymond physically and emotionally abusing MacDonald, and having affairs with men. This began on their honeymoon [in 1937] when MacDonald discovered Raymond in bed with Buddy Rogers.”
I’m sure that would have been pretty frickin’ hot, the most gorgeous thing in the world in bed with the equally hot Buddy Rogers. But go on:
“Rich reported that Raymond had been arrested three times, the first in January 1938, as verified by a court document, and also in England during his army service, for his behavior. Raymond’s wedding to MacDonald, orchestrated by Louis B. Mayer forced MacDonald to become Raymond’s beard and the 1938 arrest resulted in Mayer blacklisting him in Hollywood for almost two years.”
It gets better:
“Biographer E. J. Fleming also alleged that Eddy had confronted Raymond for abusing MacDonald, who was visibly pregnant with Eddy’s child while filming Sweethearts which ended with Eddy attacking him and leaving him for dead, disguised in the press as Raymond recovering from falling down the stairs.”
Both Rogers and Raymond, like most queers of their day, went on to other marriages with women and spent their remaining years deeply in the closet. It needs to be pointed out that:
“Raymond publicly refuted the allegations of abuse, neglect and details of his marriage to MacDonald, which were published during his lifetime.”
That quote construction seems to leave out things like affairs with men and romping in bed with Buddy Rogers, but who knows.
Critics at the time were fairly kind and the movie made a $400,000 profit (around $6.8 million in today’s dollars). The New York Times left a review up to a writer only identified by his initials, M.H., who basically recounted the plot and, while they liked Harlow, were a little snide about Harlow’s admirers in the audience at the screening at the Capitol:
“Life on a rubber plantation in French Indo-China receives attention in “Red Dust,” a pictorial adaptation of a play by Wilson Collison which is now at the Capitol. It is a far from pleasant spot, with its heat and sudden deluges of rain, its blinding sand storms and jungle beasts. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of this tale is more interesting than its story, especially the glimpses of the men at work. “Dennis Carson, played by Clark Gable, who is in charge of the plantation, avers that so long as people in other countries want balloon tires and hot-water bottles such toil must go on. The natives are indolent, which causes Carson to use the lash on them, but no sooner have they settled down to labor than they are forced often to seek shelter from a sand storm. To this uninviting area comes the immodest Vantine, a woman from Saigon. She at least makes existence more lively for Carson, who who is not precisely hospitable to her. There is trouble on all sides for Carson. … [There is a recounting of the Gable/Astor entanglement and Harlow’s involvement.] … “… Barbara and her husband eventually leave the plantation and Vantine takes up her abode in Carson’s comfortless shack. “The dialogue is not especially bright or strong, but some of the lines spoken by Vantine, who is impersonated by Jean Harlow, aroused laughter from the audience. Miss Harlow’s presence in the picture apparently attracted a host of other platinum blondes, for on all sides there were in the seats girls with straw-colored hair. Miss Harlow’s performance suits the part. Mr. Gable is efficient in his rôle. Miss Astor offers a striking contrast to Miss Harlow. Tully Marshall makes the most of a minor rôle, as does Gene Raymond, who appears as Willis.”
M.H., The New York Times
I’d agree about most of the dialogue (see choice quotes below for yourself). But it’s a pretty spot-on review from the original screening.
Anyway, regardless of its content and the soap operas behind it, Red Dust is a worthwhile, entertaining history lesson and should be taken as a positive sign of just how we’ve come in almost 90 years. Or, you know, you could ignore such Pollyanna-ish constructs and, I don’t know, burn it.
Dennis Carson: Why’d you get off the boat at all? You know it doesn’t stop here again for four week, don’t you? Vantine: Sure I do. Think I’m overjoyed about it? But, its just got to be, that’s all. Dennis Carson: Well, then? Vantine: I left the boat here for the same reason I took it at Saigon. Dennis Carson: What reason? Vantine: I got mixed up in a little trouble and I thought I’d stay out of town ’til the Gendarmes forgot about it. Dennis Carson: And what a cast iron nerve you’ve got. Vantine: You have to have in my line. But, don’t worry, big boy, I’ll stay out from under foot. I’ll even pay for my board if you insist on it nicely.
Dennis Carson: Come on, lets have it. Who are you? Where’d you come from? Vantine: Don’t rush me, brother. I’m Pollyanna, the Glad Girl.
Dennis Carson: Here you are kid. [stuffs some bills in Vantine’s cleavage] Dennis Carson: It isn’t half enough, but, when I get down to Saigon, there’ll be more. Keep your chin up. [pats Vantine twice on her behind]
[The bath scene] Dennis Carson: [naked, Vantine jumps in a rain barrel] Get out of there! Say what’s the idea? Vantine: What? Dennis Carson: Getting in that barrel? Vantine: Oh, I don’t know? Maybe I’m goin’ over Niagara Falls. Whoop!
Vantine: What’s the matter? Afraid I’ll – shock the duchess? Don’t you suppose she’s ever seen a French postcard? Dennis Carson: You’ll let those curtains down if its the last bath you’ll ever take!
Vantine: Hey, where’s the reception committee? It’s been a nice little walk. Did you hear that hungry pussy cat back there? Dennis Carson: Now, listen. This woman’s decent. You watch your language and stop running around here half naked. Vantine: I’ll stay as comfortable as I like.Red Dust
Vantine: [sarcastically] What a pleasant little house party this is gonna be.
Vantine: [sarcastically] I thought we might run up a few curtains and make a batch of fudge while we were planning on what to wear to the country club dance Saturday night.
Barbara Willis: That’s a… a very polished little speech for a… barbarian.
Vantine: Don’t mind me boys, I’m just restless.
Gary Willis: [eating dinner] Those coolies are tough to handle, aren’t they? Dennis Carson: Didn’t I tell you they were a lazy bunch? Gary Willis: Well, I mean, I didn’t know they were so sneaky about it. The minute you turn your back on ’em, they’re up to something or other they shouldn’t be doing. [Dennis and Barbara look at each other] Gary Willis: Are they always like that? Dennis Carson: I’m afraid so. McQuarg: I was telling him about that time that Malay tried to knife you in the back. Vantine: Its a great country for that sort of thing.
Barbara Willis: I won’t stand for this! Do you think you can treat Gary like – like one of your coolies?
Barbara Willis: We shouldn’t have done that. Dennis Carson: We did.
Barbara Willis: Do you mind if I stay here with you? Vantine: Think you can stand the company?
Barbara Willis: It’s stupid of me to be so frightened. Vantine: This storm isn’t the only thing that has you worried around here, is it? I saw him kick the door shut. He came out with rouge all over his mouth. I suppose he asked to use your lipstick? [lights a cigarette]
Barbara Willis: Oh, it’s too silly. What do I mean I’m scared? It was just one of those exciting little moment things. Vantine: Well, watch out for the next moment, honey. It’s longer than the first.
Barbara Willis: I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t do anything. He didn’t have any reason to believe that I’d… Vantine: I didn’t hear any cries for help. Barbara Willis: Oh, I don’t know what came over me. I should have stopped him. I tried, but… Vantine: But you couldn’t. Even when you tried, could you? Barbara Willis: No. That’s why I’m scared.
Dennis Carson: All those lame cracks won’t help you any if I come back and find you’ve been annoying her. Vantine: Oh, I wouldn’t touch her with your best pair of rubber gloves!
Dennis Carson: What’s the matter with you? Are you crazy? Vantine: Just a little nauseated. This rain seems to have uncovered a pile of garbage around here. Dennis Carson: Stop looking through key holes. It’s bad for the eyes.
Red Dust. 1932. TCM. English. Victor Fleming (d). John Lee Mahin, Wilson Collison, Donald Ogden Stewart (w). Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Mary Astor, Gene Raymond, Donald Crisp, Tully Marshall, Forrester Harvey, Willie Fung. (p). Harold Rosson, Arthur Edeson (c).
“Regardless of whether you saw it then as scandalous that such perversions were being exhibited in public theaters or whether you see it now as being stereotypical, offensive and overly focused on white, male, straight actors and queer panics and Italian stereotypes, to wit … offensive!! … there is much to actually be loved here.”
[Like Jack Weston in The Ritz, we sat with our mouths open the entire movie.]
From 1976: What’s the hell is this thing?! Antonio Salieri as a gay, towel-clad habitué of … a gay bath house? The Four Season‘s Jack Weston as a mob family son-in-law on the run who hides in … a gay bath house? Treat Williams doing a high-pitched voice “thing” running around in a towel in … a gay bath house? Rita Moreno as the drag-queen-esque singer in … a gay bath house? Ben Stiller’s Jewish daddy playing a pissed-off Italian mobster running around in aa towel and garters trying to find Jack Weston for “offing” purposes … in a gay bathhouse? Kaye Ballard screaming and fainting … in a gay bathhouse? Paul Price as a chubby chaser … in a gay bathhouse?
Yes, it’s all those things and more in «The Ritz» … a gay bathhouse … with the aforementioned Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, Treat Williams, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard, Paul Price and in what was for me, a performance better deserving of an Oscar than that Amadeus thing: F. Murray Abraham. For 1976, this thing was pretty advanced. Major stars or soon-to-be stars (Abraham’s Oscar came a mere eight years later.)
But so much to write about here. Regardless of whether you saw it then as scandalous that such perversions were being exhibited in public theaters or whether you see it now as being stereotypical, offensive and overly focused on white, male, straight actors and queer panics and Italian stereotypes, to wit … offensive!! … there is much to actually be loved here. Ahead of its time, groundbreaking, unheard-of and un-mentionable, we laughed out loud a lot, even at the corny bits. But I guess that could be that we are, after all, two fags of a certain age (I was 12 1/2 when this thing came out, but seem to have no memory of it, largely because the churches of Duncan, Oklahoma, would have collectively LOST. THEIR. SHIT. and burned down the theater which dared to satanically show this reeking pile of offensive (there’s that word again) spitting in the face of the Christ child … ergo, I didn’t see it, it was only moderately successful and many of its reviewers were clueless about what it all meant.
So yes, there are problems.
“On his deathbed Carmine Vespucci’s father tells him to ‘get Proclo.’ With ‘the hit’ on, Gaetano tells a cab driver to take him where Carmine can’t find him. He arrives at the Ritz, a gay bathhouse.”
IMDb, one of the many tentacles of the suffocating Amazonia totalitarian state in which we live, has «a slightly longer way of putting it»:
“On his deathbed, Carmine Vespucci’s mobster father tells him to ‘get Proclo’ – Carmine’s brother-in-law Gaetano. With ‘the hit’ on, Gaetano tells a cab driver to take him where Carmine can’t find him. He arrives at The Ritz, a gay bathhouse where he is pursued amorously by ‘chubby chaser’ Claude and by entertainer Googie Gomez, who believes him to be a Broadway producer. His guides and protectors through The Ritz are gatekeeper Abe, habitué Chris, and bellhop/go-go boys Tiger and Duff. Squeaky-voiced detective Michael Brick and his employer Carmine do locate Gaetano at the Ritz, as does his wife Vivian, but family secrets come out.”
“One of the character’s problems, though — and it becomes the movie’s problem as well — is that he’s so unbelievably dumb, so slow to catch on. Forty-five minutes into the movie, he’s still doing incredulous double-takes and mouthing forbidden words as he discovers what his fellow patrons are doing in their cubicles. I don’t know if we’re supposed to identify with his endless state of shock — or laugh at it — but after a while we wish the movie would be funny about something else. And, just in the nick of time, it does. Weston runs into two of the denizens of the Ritz: The unflaggingly ambitious would-be singer Googie Gomez, and the indefatigable Claude. Each has a personal reason for pursuing Weston: Claude has a fetish for fat guys, and Googie thinks Weston is a big-time Broadway producer who will discover her and hire her for — who knows? — maybe a bus-and-truck tour of “Oklahoma!” Googie, played by Rita Moreno, has some of the funniest moments in the movie. To the incongruous accompaniment of a poolside orchestra in black tie, she butchers several song-and-dance numbers, loses a shoe and a wig and winds up in the pool. She is also ferocious in her ambition, tossing rivals down the laundry chute and promising Weston the hanky-panky will start after her second show. …
“And yet ‘The Ritz’ never quite succeeds. Its ambition is clearly to be a screwball comedy in the tradition of the 1930s classics and such recent attempts as ‘What’s Up, Doc?‘ and ‘Silent Movie.’ But it lacks the manic pacing, and the material grows thin; Terrence McNally’s screenplay (based on his own play) depends so completely on comic material dealing with homosexuality that other opportunities are lost. And Richard Lester’s direction is a little erratic; the movie lunges forward and then hits dead spots, and the final 10 minutes seem to take forever to dispose of various plot points. Still, ‘The Ritz’ has, its moments. When again will we see Jack Weston as an Andrews sister?”
When again indeed? Well, uh, never! Which is the conceit, although by the time he appears as an Andrews Sister, he looks a lot like George Wendt of Cheers fame. But that’s an aside.
This one could open up cans upon cans of works about the way we see old cultural pieces through the lens of today’s culture wars. The intersectionaled, cisgendered lesbian womyn of today probably wouldn’t appreciate this one. There’s some disgusting stereotypes with Googie as Rita Moreno playing up her New York Puerto Rican accents (example: “One of dees days ju is going to see de name of Googie Gomez up in lights and you gonna ask to juself, ‘Gwas dat her?’ An den ju gonna answer to juself, ‘Jes, dat gwas her!’ Well, let me tell you something, Mister: I gwas ALWAYS her, jus dat nobody knows it!'” That’s sure to make the next generation’s SJWs all go into a tizzy.
Except they won’t because ultimately, this thing is being shown on Retro or TCM or something and
Terence McNally knows how to write ’em:
Gaetano Proclo: “Listen, there’s something I have to tell you.” Chris: “You’re not gay?” Gaetano Proclo: [relieved] “No!” Chris: “What, are you a social worker or something?” Gaetano Proclo: “No, but I didn’t know that everyone in here was …” Chris: “GAY! See? It’s not a bad word. You might try using it sometime.” Gaetano Proclo: “You mean to tell me that everyone in here is gay?” Chris: “God, I hope so. Otherwise I just paid ten dollars to walk around in a towel in front of a bunch of Shriners.”
The Ritz (1976)
Gaetano Proclo: “We used to have a guy like that back in the army. We called him ‘Get away from me Claude.'”
Patron With Cigar: “Crisco.” Gaetano Proclo: “What?” Patron With Cigar: “Crisco Oil Party. Room 419. Pass it on.” Gaetano Proclo: “Pass what on?” Patron With Cigar: “Bring Joey.” Gaetano Proclo: “Who’s Joey?” Patron With Cigar: “You know Joey. Don’t bring Chuck. You’ve got that?” Gaetano Proclo: “Crisco Oil Party. Room 419. I can bring Joey but not Chuck.” Patron With Cigar: “Check.” Gaetano Proclo: “What’s the matter with Chuck?”
Gaetano Proclo: [absolutely horrified] “Chuck is definitely out!” Patron With Cigar: [walking away] “Hey, you won’t be disappointed.”
Googie Gomez: “Think of a tropical night. Think of a beetch.” Gaetano Proclo: “What bitch?”
The Ritz. 1976. TCM. English. Richard Lester (d). Terrence McNally (w). Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard, F. Murray Abraham, Paul B. Price, Treat Williams, Dave King, Peter Butterworth. (p). Denis O'Dell (m). Paul Wilson (c).
“Thieves’ Highway is a classic Noir tale of truckers and apples and greed and sex and San Francisco and California and highways and death.”
["Let me smoke your butt, Nick!" Valentina Cortese and Richard Conte in Thieves' Highway. Take that Bogie and Bacall!]
From 1949: «Thieves’ Highway». We weren’t really planning to watch, but were drawn in immediately. I think we had seen it before, but it’s been a long while. Glad we watched. Ironically, Valentina Cortese just passed away on 10-Jul of this year. Watching her performance here was fitting, and showed just how big of a loss was her passing.
Thieves’ Highway is a classic Noir tale of truckers and apples and greed and sex and San Francisco and California and highways and death. Besides the fabulous Valentina Cortese and Richard Conte, it features Lee J. Cobb in a dress rehearsal for his role in On the Waterfront, Jack Oakie and Millard Mitchell, who would be seen six years later in the classic Singin’ in the Rain, as the movie producer R.F. Simpson.
“Nick Garcos comes back from his tour of duty in World War II planning to settle down with his girlfriend, Polly Faber. He learns, however, that his father was recently beaten and burglarized by mob-connected trucker Mike Figlia, and Nick resolves to get even. He partners with prostitute Rica, and together they go after Mike, all the while getting pulled further into the local crime underworld.”
“Like the movie’s rattletrap trucks lurching down the highway as they carry way-too-heavy loads, the characters in Jules Dassin’s brilliantly volatile Thieves’ Highway struggle under psychological and moral baggage until they can lay their burdens down. Working from a novel and script by A.I. Bezzerides, Dassin made this swift, fluid melodrama in 1949, after Brute Force and The Naked City. … it has a rich sensuality all its own.
… “All the symbols in this movie are rock-hard and understated. The white military star on Nick’s truck makes a mute, omnipresent comment on postwar disillusion. And each time you hear “Golden Delicious,” the image it conjures of Olympian delight contrasts sardonically with the perils of the road and the savage competition of the San Francisco marketplace.”
Michael Sragow, The Criterion Collection
(I love how Sragow introduces Nico: “Garcos … has sailed around the world without ever getting worldly.” HA!)
He then notes the inner workings of the film and places it in context:
“Dassin … is just as deft as Kazan in Boomerang! (1947) or Panic in the Streets (1950) at using real locations for knifelike verisimilitude, then catching their most far-out and surprising emotional repercussions.” … “Dassin begins scenes with compositions that border on cliché–whether of a cheerful Fresno suburb or the bustling streets and crowded pier-side haunts of San Francisco’s marketplace. But each time, he punctures the cliché with cascades of complex details emerging spontaneously from the conflicted drives of the characters and the life-or-death stakes of their situations.”
Sragow, writing 1-Feb-05, then notes something that is culturally a hot button right now: toxic masculinity:
“Under Dassin’s direction, Conte here minted a fresh leading-man archetype-a rough-edged, virile naïf, containing equal amounts of violent distrust and gallantry. And Mitchell brings deep-grained orneriness to Ed, a summa cum laude from the school of hard knocks, willing to rook others to satisfy his sense of justice. What gives this movie its charge isn’t just the physical danger of the road and the injustice perpetrated when fixers like Figlia use dirty tricks on truckers and buyers—it’s the psychological drama of men tossed off balance by want and need as they strive to achieve equilibrium.” … “Ed pulls Nick out from under his truck after Nick botches a tire change and gets his face buried in sand. When the older man bandages his neck, and these two finally forge a bond, Nick mutters that passersby might get the wrong idea.”
Pretty advanced for 1949, but like the ending, it gets set right: Nothin’ but manly man hetero stuff … 1949’s equivalent of “No Homo.”
And just so we’re clear that Conte/Mitchell and Oakie/Pevney are just no homo bros, in comes Rico to keep the men manly. Curiously, she’s rather butch, both in her toughness and her physical, trenchcoat-wearing appearance. In fact she’s sporting a short Italian haircut (which would be the focus of an I Love Lucy episode in a few years), which accentuates her Italian “earthiness,” (also the focus of an I Love Lucy episode in a few years). AND her character was originally named “Tex.” (See the paragraph about Hope Emerson below for more on this stuff.) Sragow sums it up:
“Played by Valentina Cortese with dazzling emotional clarity and erotic warmth, she’s at once this film’s beating heart and the center of its existential concerns–she dares Nick to trust his instincts and trust her, despite her shady deal-making and background.”
The review is also interesting because it delves into the writing:
“Bezzerides’ writing at its peak boasts a dynamic blend of iconoclasm and bitterness–an ideal combination for the intersection of kinetics and moodiness that is film noir. … “Bezzerides objected to several alterations to his book and deplored the casting of Dassin’s then-girlfriend Cortese in a role originally called “Tex.” But in movie terms, he was incorrect on every count–to use his phrase, the only truly “chickenshit change” was a studio-inserted scene in which cops berate Nick for taking the law into his own hands. Cortese’s sometimes comical, sometimes poignant, always live-wire oomph makes this proletariat adventure unique and gives it the ravaged soul and earthy glamour of a demimonde romance. No gal in movies has ever looked sexier or more good-humored drying her hair after a shower. When Nick says Rica has “soft hands,” she says she has “sharp claws.” She uses them only to play tic-tac-toe on his chest–a fitting game for a film in which one false move can turn ethical and commercial triumph into disaster.”
In a shorter review, «John Chard» agrees with Sragow, and adds that the chicken shit ending, tacked on to appease the Production Code’s moralists, is ridiculous:
“Revenge, hope and desperation drives Dassin’s intelligently constructed noir forward. It’s a film very much interested in its characterisations as it doles out a deconstruction of the American dream. … Dassin and Bezzerides push a revenge theme to the forefront whilst deftly inserting from the sides the devils of greed and corruption of the California produce business. “The trucks’ journey is brilliantly captured by the makers, both exciting and exuding the menace of the hard slog for truckers. … [once in San Francisco] underhand tactics come seeping out and the appearance of prostitute Rica (Cortese) into Nico’s life adds a morally grey area that pings with sharp dialogue exchanges. Real location photography adds to the authentic feel of the story, and cast performances are quite simply excellent across the board. “The code appeasing ending hurts the film a touch, inserted against Dassin’s wishes, and there’s a feeling that it should have been more damning with the economic tropes; while the fact that Nico’s father is more concerned about being robbed of money than losing the use of his legs – is a bit strange to say the least. However, from a graveyard of tumbling apples to the fact that more than money is stolen here, Thieves’ Highway is sharp, smart and engrossing stuff.”
John Chard, TMDb
Sharp, smart, engrossing … and for us LGBTQ+ viewers, chock full of forbidden fruit.
We loved this one. Having spent many years in the Bay Area, we could relate to much of the scenery and sensibilities and subtext.
And speaking of subtext again, worth noting is the appearance of the wonderful Hope Emerson, a career character actor with a long list of credits, including Adam’s Rib in the same year as Thieves’ Highway. In Adam’s Rib, she played a very talented gymnast in a courtroom, in a role that noted both how big and butch she was, in an era when that kind of thing was invisible. She is somewhat the same in Thieves’ Highway, minus the gymnastics, as a very tough female fruit buyer. Dassin pretty much broke the Code in multiple ways throughout the movie; although the Code had the last say with its smarmy cop platitudinal lecturing about not taking the law in your own hands, the weight of his film said, “Nuts to you!” to the Code.
A good pairing for this would be The Grapes of Wrath, which starts with starving Okies hitting Route 66 in search of fruit picking work. Follow that with Thieves’ Highway and you get a clear picture of what it takes to get an apple off a tree into the teeth of someone wanting to cheat a doctor a day.
Sadly, much is unchanged in this process, except the grower, the picker, the trucker and the distributor-to-grocery-stores are all corporate behemoths and conditions may, if anything, be worse than 1940’s Grapes of Wrath and 1949’s Thieves’ Highway. We’ve let much slide since Reagan, who married anti-New Deal propaganda with our generation’s laziness and produced massive rollbacks of workers’ rights (and the current occupant of the White House), and our grandchildren will have to fight three times as hard as their ancestors between 1870 and 1950 did for decency, living wages, respect, clean air, clean water, and safe working conditions. Whether they will do it remains to be seen.
Nico ‘Nick’ Garcos: [to Rica] “You look like chipped glass.”
Nick: “Hey, do you like apples?” Rica: “Everybody likes apples, except doctors.” Nick: “Do you know what it takes to get an apple so you can sink your beautiful teeth in it? You gotta stuff rags up tailpipes, farmers gotta get gypped, you jack up trucks with the back of your neck, universals conk out.” Rica: “I don’t know what are you talking about, but I have a new respect for apples.”
Thieves Highway. 1949. TCM. English. Jules Dassin (d); A.I. Bezzerides (w); Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Lawrence, Jack Oakie, Millard Mitchell, Joseph Pevney, Morris Carnovsky, Tamara Shayne, Kasia Orzazewski, Norbert Schiller, Hope Emerson (p). Alfred Newman (m). Norbert Brodine (c).
I just caught this from two years ago on The Guardian‘s website. Two years behind, that’s about my speed. But it is a fascinating document of Elizabethan paranoia and skulduggery.
“A controversial document in which the playwright Christopher Marlowe reportedly declared that Christ was gay, that the only purpose of religion was to intimidate people, and that “all they that love not tobacco and boys were fools” is to go on show online for the first time [in 2017. Like I said, I’m two years behind].
“The so-called ‘Baines note,’ a star item in the British Library’s Renaissance manuscript collection, offers tantalising evidence about the private life of Marlowe, one of the most scandalous and magnetic figures of the Elizabeth period.
‘Baines added a personal note, apparently aimed at watching government officials: ‘All men in Christianity ought to endeavour that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped.’ A few days later, Marlowe was stabbed to death in Deptford, south London, in circumstances still regarded as suspicious.
Yeah, that’s the way to stop some member’s mouth: stab him to death. And lest we think this is anything new, remember, Italian police just found a body of a man who was killed by the Mafia and sealed up in concrete in the column of a building under construction. He had been there for awhile. Fun side note: The Mafia sometimes puts a rock in the mouths of stoolies after they’ve been offed.
But back to Elizabethan England: Christopher “Kit” Marlowe was quite a character. Just practically begged for offing.
“In the centuries since his violent death, Marlowe has been celebrated as gay icon whose works explored the realities of homosexual desire while it was still deeply dangerous to do so. Alongside the Baines note, the British Library has uploaded scans of the director Derek Jarman’s notebooks for his avant-garde film of Marlowe’s Edward II (1991). The play focuses on Edward’s love for his favourite male companion, Piers Gaveston; Jarman’s take on the story is nakedly political, featuring references to contemporary battles over gay rights.”
The Jarman film, which badly needs the Criterion treatment, is a rather confused mess, just like the decade in which it was made: the 1960s. But if someone would, while this manic mania for remakes in Hollywood goes on, shoot Edward II as written (mostly), you’d really have something. Mr. Marlowe is pretty incredible for doing what he did at the time he did it. I’m surprised he lasted to the ripe old age of 29. The Guardian has lots of writing about him and his works and the performances thereof; some good reads in those articles.
Here’s the Baines spy document text, with notes from The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Because, in case, you know, you don’t know what Sodomy, papists and pimps are:
“Richard Baines to the Privy Council
“Shortly before Marlowe’s death, the informer Richard Baines made the following accusations against the playwright in a note to the Privy Council, the group of advisors who worked closely with Queen Elizabeth.
“[One Christopher Marly]
“A note containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly concerning his damnable judgment of religion, and scorn of God’s word:
“That the Indians, and many authors of antiquity, have assuredly written of above 16 thousand years agone, whereas Adam [Note: Adam; other copies have ‘Moses.’] is proved to have lived within six thousand years.
“He affirmeth that Moses was but a juggler, [Note: Juggler: cheater, deceiver.] and that one Hariot [Note: Hariot: Thomas Hariot, mathematician and author of A Brief and True Report of the Newfound Land of Virginia.] being Sir Walter Raleigh’s man can do more than he.
“That Moses made the Jews to travel 40 years in the wilderness (which journey might have been done in less than one year) ere they came to the promised land, to the intent that those who were privy to many of his subtleties might perish, and so an everlasting superstition reign in the hearts of the people.
“That the beginning of religion was only to keep men in awe.
“That it was an easy matter for Moses being brought up in all the arts of the Egyptians to abuse the Jews, being a rude and gross people.
“That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest. [Note: Dishonest: unchaste.]
“That he was the son of a carpenter, and that if the Jews among whom he was born did crucify him, they best knew him and whence he came.
“That Christ deserved better to die than Barabas, [Note: Barabas: Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:7; Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40.] and that the Jews made a good choice, though Barabas were both a thief and a murderer.
“That if there be any God or any good religion, then it is in the Papists, [Note: Papists: Catholics.] because the service of God is performed with more ceremonies, as elevation of the mass, organs, singing men, shaven crowns, etc. That all Protestants are hypocritical asses.
“That if he were put to write a new religion, he would undertake both a more excellent and admirable method, and that all the New Testament is filthily written.
“That the woman of Samaria [Note: Woman of Samaria: John 4.] and her sister were whores and that Christ knew them dishonestly.
“That Saint John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom; that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma. [Note: Sinners of Sodoma: See Genesis 19. In Tudor England, the term ‘sodomy’ applied to a wide range of proscribed sexual practices, including homosexual activity.]
“That all they that love not tobacco and boys are fools.
“That all the apostles were fishermen and base fellows, neither of wit nor worth; that Paul [Note: Paul: cf. Epistle to Romans (King James Version) 13:1-2. ‘1. Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Note, however, that Paul continues, “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’s sake.’ (verse 5).] only had wit, but he was a timorous fellow in bidding men to be subject to magistrates against his conscience.
“That he had as good a right to coin [Coin: mint money.] as the Queen of England, and that he was acquainted with one Poole, a prisoner in Newgate, who hath great skill in mixture of metals, and having learned some things of him, he meant through help of a cunning stamp-maker to coin French crowns, pistolets, and English shillings.
“That if Christ would have instituted the sacrament with more ceremonial reverence, it would have been in more admiration; that it would have been better much better being administered in a tobacco pipe.
“That the angel Gabriel was bawd [Bawd: Pimp.] to the Holy Ghost, because he brought the salutation to Mary.
“That one Richard Cholmley hath confessed that he was persuaded by Marlowe’s reasons to become an atheist.”
The British Library; Notes from The Norton Anthology of English Literature
Fascinating. And very highly effective. It’s a laundry list that ticks off every box in the “How to get yourself killed by Christians” guidebook. Baines must have had great fun with this. He got to offend everyone from Indians to the Holy Ghost, have another man killed for it, and probably pocketed some nice change for his trouble. Fabulous.
• Comedian Louis CK and Crusading Crazy Ass Roy Moore were accepted into that venerable old boy’s club, that newly-open-to-didlers-from-outside-the-church institution, The Ancient and Venerable Order of Priests Expecting Complete, Knightly Exoneration; Rewarded With Oodles Of Dancing Students (a.k.a. “P.E.C.K.E.R.W.O.O.D.S.”) Golf and Country Club. Greeting them at the door was the Ancient and Venerable Third Assistant Vice President Clarence Thomas, who treated the new initiates to pubic hair-laced Coke cans and asked Roy Moore if Moore was interested in buying him, because living conditions in “free” Washington D.C., are highly overrated.
• Corey Feldman is still alive. And also Corey Feldman knows lots of Hollywood people who will be applying for membership at Peckerwoods G&CC very soon. This has Corey quite frightened.
• 150-year-old former presidents need help to take a piss, but are still able to feel up female reporters and tell them dirty jokes, both of which are done in front of former First Ladies.
• White gay men are no longer welcome in the gay rights movement because the whiteness of their skin means they are privileged, cisgendered and non-intersectional. Henceforward, when we’re getting the shit beaten out of us at school; can’t afford college; get harassed or beaten or shot by the police for kissing our boyfriends in public parks; gulp down the handful of toxic drugs we fought to get in the 90s while watching our mothers scour the kitchen sink after getting a glass of water lest God’s disapproval in the form of the AIDS plague will be visited on her house and infect her innocent grandchildren; spending the 54th year of life with our families berating us for our lifestyle choice and allowing demons to inhabit our bodies; well, we cannot possibly have any contribution or role in the LGBTQ community. Because our skin color is white. And that means we cannot participate, question, discuss, converse and sure as hell can’t culturally appropriate anything from anybody. No alliances with us are welcome. No matter how many suicide attempts we committed during our teen years because we are total fags, it counts for nothing. You must be black, female, lesbian, transgendered before you are allowed to participate in efforts to secure civil rights for LGBTQ, etc. Your skin color is white, so you must be a white supremacist Nazi dedicated to keeping people of color down. “Intersectionality is a bitch, white boys; paybacks are hell and Karma gonna bite you in your lily white highly privileged asses.”
• That Kathy Griffin is a bit off her nut though, isn’t she?
• John Hillerman is dead at 84. Yet, Justin Bieber and Joel Osteen still walk the earth. Osteen’s Mercedes-bestowing god sure has a wicked sense of humor.
• There seems to have been some baseball played. Something about a World Series won by perennially losers the Houston Astros. We wouldn’t know, we weren’t paying attention.
• New England Patriots player and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez’s brain was dissected and shown to be the worst case of NFL of the brain ever recorded. Oh, this just in, it was CTE of the brain. We regret (not) the error.
• O.J. Simpson will continue to haunt our lives even if he actually dies. This week: Tossed out of the Cosmopolitan in Vegas for being … the only intoxicated person in the casino. The Juice owes the Cosmo a favor; that place is a cesspool of skeezy. Getting banned from it for life probably will save his life (or perhaps a few courses of penicillin). We were at the Vdara/Cosmo complex in 2014. The swimming pool still gives me nightmares. And hives.
• They’re remaking/updating/relaunching a lot of old 90s TV series for no apparent reason than, like the Simpsons, the creative well in Hollywood dried up decades ago, probably about the time Carol Burnett packed it in on her variety show, which was was always packed with incredible talent. A Roseanne reboot and a Will and Grace reboot we did not need. Also, The Simpsons must die; each episode is worse than the previous, a race to a bottom we cannot make out but we know it’s there. Family Guy is suffering while its creator is buzzing around the universe, so it’s probably also time that James Woods whips out his AR-15 and ends the show’s life for good and all as well. Bobs Burgers is still reasonably fresh, but it may be peaking now. (And by the way, just ’cause I’m a white faggot does NOT mean I should have to watch the Will and Grace reboot. My intersectionality about class, wealth, New York City snobbery and poor body image means this show deeply oppresses me, even if it may have influenced some people decide not to shoot our faggoty white asses when we got legally married by the U.S. Supreme Court. Whatever may be, I’d still prefer old Lucy Show episodes to most of this dreck.
• Tuesday’s election seemed to be a case of buyer’s remorse, wherein the guy who bought a pink Ford Fiesta with the undercoating package and Scotch-guarded seats wakes up after a long nightmare and wants to toss the Pink Fiesta off the nearest cliff, but knows there’s just no way that’s going to happen. So instead, he settles for going to the nearest Ben and Jerry’s and consuming 23 different punny flavors, coincidentally imbibing enough “RoundUp” (TM) to shrivel his gonads to the size of B.B.s And while waiting for his blood glucose numbers to fall below 1000, stares at the Pink Fiesta and thinks, “I hate this fucking century and this fucking country and powerful people who diddle powerless people and get away with it. Every. Single. Time.” And then, feeling better and on the way home, the wheels on his pink Fiesta fall off for the 45th time that week.
• Speaking of Pink Fiestas, the anniversary of Trump’s ascendance to power is appropriately the same as Kristallnacht and the infamous “Stab in the Back,” whereby leftists and Jews back home knifed German troops on the Western Front in the back just right when they were about to end the whole damn war victoriously, causing the Kaiser to abdicate and the nation to find itself in need of rescuing by an Austrian corporal named Adolf Hitler. Putting the facetiousness aside for a moment, the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht should be looked upon as an abject lesson about what happens when you allow hate, ignorance, false equivalency, and frat boy snark mindsets to take over entire countries. But that would require Americans to actually absorb reality and study history, two things we are adamantly refusing to do at this moment. Gott Strafe Amerika! And he’ll do it too.
[Text by HawkEye. Photo by Dawn Armfield via Unsplash.]
“Alan Turing, the Enigma codebreaker who took his own life after being convicted of gross indecency under anti-homosexuality legislation, is to be given a posthumous pardon.
“The government signalled on Friday that it is prepared to support a backbench bill that would pardon Turing, who died from cyanide poisoning at the age of 41 in 1954 after he was subjected to “chemical castration.”
“The announcement marks a change of heart by the government, which declined last year to grant pardons to the 49,000 gay men, now dead, who were convicted under the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act. They include Oscar Wilde.
“The government threw its weight behind the private member’s bill, promoted by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, after a debate that featured a contribution from a peer who worked at Bletchley Park. Lady Trumpington told peers: “The block I worked in was devoted to German naval codes. Only once was I asked to deliver a paper to Alan Turing, so … I cannot claim that I knew him. However, I am certain that but for his work we would have lost the war through starvation.”
“Turing broke German ciphers using the bombe method, which allowed the code-breakers to crack the German Enigma code. His colleague Tommy Flowers built the Colossus computer. Ahmad described Turing as “one of the fathers, if not the father, of computer science.”
“Sharkey said: “As I think everybody knows, he was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency and sentenced to chemical castration. He committed suicide two years later. The government know that Turing was a hero and a very great man. They acknowledge that he was cruelly treated. They must have seen the esteem in which he is held here and around the world.””
The arc just bent a little more towards justice, in this case, only taking 70 years.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
[Meanwhile, his “gay brothers and sisters” tap their feet, waiting impatiently. Well, then, hurry it up already!]