Monday, February 21, 2011

Born Yesterday

She could be wearing a Miss Liberty outfit

Last night the good people at TCM favored us with a viewing of "Born Yesterday."  The film stars Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, and William Holden.  Miss Holliday won the Best Actress award for the movie, winning over both Bette Davis in "All About Eve" and Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard."  That's some serious competition.  There probably should have been a three-way tie.  I can't say why Miss Holliday won, but my guess is, it had at least something to do with 1950.  1950 bears a lot of similarities to 2011.  There was a regime change on the way, and an unpopular war with a national hero (MacArthur) being fired by an unpopular President.  There was McCarthy, and the House Un-American Activities Committee, and a great paranoia about Communism.  The Ruskies had achieved an A-Bomb, and we electrocuted two Jewish Americans, the Rosenbergs, to make it clear that we were serious.  There was, I believe, concern about John L. Lewis and coal strikes and steel strikes.

Both "Eve" and "Boulevard" are dark movies--noirs in fact, even if "Eve" is so much else that its noir aspect doesn't get much mention.  "Yesterday" is a comedy, and it has a very happy ending, a triumphant resolution indeed.  Even the coda of a potential speeding ticket is brushed aside--Holden flashes his marriage license and the cop let's the honeymooners off with a warning.  Domestic fascism is defeated, and defeated not with Marx but with Thomas Jefferson and the Oxford Dictionary.

But along the way of "Yesterday" fascism is by gawd accurately depicted, and the slap Mr. Crawford gives Miss Holliday is the absolute center of the movie, the place where it stops being light and fluffy, where you find that hard, nugat and carmel center that you need to watch your fillings about.  Watching "Yesterday" last night wasn't easy.  It was too much about right now.  And I think that's why the Academy of 1950 noticed it as they did (nothwithstanding that all the performers give fantastic performances).  I said yesterday that the Governor of Wisconsin is that fat thug in the rusty pickup with the gun in his pocket, in "Harlan County."  The Governor of Wisconsin is also Broderick Crawford.  What he's saying to Wisconsin state employees is just what Crawford says to Judy in his last ditch appeal to her--"I don't hit you so hard."  Sign the fucking papers, bitch.

I don't disagree that unions can sometimes be overbearing.  But isn't it remarkable that an organization--the Tea Party--which just weeks ago was spouting about the tree of liberty and the dangers of government power--is today standing against people who are standing up to government power.  Isn't that just amazing.  The fantasy of right-wing double speak is this idea that in America we are all equal individuals, all with an equal opportunity to be the magnate on the hill, if we just persevere.  Congress is for sale; just make the dough.  But in the next paragraph the right is in a tizzy because of government's over-reaching power.  Like what?  Like outlawing collective bargaining with government workers?  To quote La Palin--WTF is that?

Mr. Crawford should have gotten an Oscar too.  He depicts exactly the fascist impulse.  "I love you; I don't hit you so hard."  The Republicans are offering all of us Mr. Crawford's bargain.  They've spent the decades since 1950 and the disgrace of McCarthy rebuilding their base of confused, afraid Judy Hollidays.  There is power in the world, and the double-speak only distracts people from that fundamental.  The Governor of Wisconsin has a lot more power than a school teacher.  It takes the balance of an organized body of school teachers--partcularly when the Governor of Wisconsin is playing a long game, when corporate power hopes to destroy the balancing power of organized labor when it comes to funding election campaigns.  And this is old stuff, all this lying muddle from the right.  In North Carolina, since the 1950s, we have something called a "Right to Work" law.  Back when I worked on the line laying bricks with a bunch of old time masons, the old guys marveled about how good things used to be in the mason's union, with health care and good wages.  And then they all went out and voted for Jesse Helms because he rang their bells about black people.  Jesse was famous for being real good to individual constituents.  "I don't hit you so hard."  

Thanks, TCM.  Thanks Mr. Cukor.

Update: here's you some historical context.  Kinda takes the breath away, doesn't it?

1 comment:

  1. i keep wondering when the tea party people will suddenly realize they are working passionately against their own beliefs and their own best interest.

    this is a great post.