Sunday, January 14, 2024

Five 2023 Films

 SPOILER ALERT! The plots will be discussed.

I thought I would make some brief comments on five 2023 movies:

BARBIE:

Greta Gerwig’s film was a critical and very big commercial success. She was able to present a funny movie that was also heavy on theme. The opening is an enjoyable reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the evolutionary progression moving away from girls playing with one-dimensional versions of dolls to the multifaceted menu of Barbies. However, as the story moves forward, those versions are shown as creations by men who are trying to cash in on women adopting various professions in the modern world.

In the real world, women are still not respected for their roles, so there is disenchantment that their lives are not living up to the ideals presented in Barbie World. This disillusionment is represented by Gloria (America Fererra). Her unhappiness affects Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie), who shocks other Barbies by ruminating on death, and travels to the real world to explore the problems there.

She has a stowaway in her Barbiemobile. It’s Stereotypical Ken (Ryan Gosling). In Barbie World he is just an accessory, as are the other Ken dolls. In the real world he learns how to be macho, and he brings that attitude back to Barbie World to share with the Kens. Barbie must return to set things straight before revisiting the real world at the end.

The thrust here is that neither gender should dominate, and that women must become empowered by way of their own identity, and not by what is prescribed by men.

The film is accomplished at bringing the world of Barbie to life, and the performances hit their marks. Great last line, when Barbie says she is in an office to see her “gynecologist.”


 OPPENHEIMER:

Christopher Nolan dazzles again in this story about the scientist who created the atomic bomb. In this film, unlike some others by Nolan, it is not that difficult to follow the different timelines. The story jumps between Oppenheimer in his early years associating with the Communist movement and his early brilliance as a physicist. There is the time period when he works on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb. When he refuses to continue work toward developing the even more devastating hydrogen bomb, the government persecutes him for his early association with Communism. Eventually, the film depicts his acquittal.

We discussed this film in an online forum that the Bryn Mawr Film Institute presented. I asked about how the instructors viewed Nolan’s attitude toward science in general, mentioning his films, Inception, Interstellar, and his Batman trilogy. The instructors stated that Nolan appears to view people as flawed creatures who are not equipped to handle the fallout (pun intended in this case) from their technological advances. Inception shows the psychological devastation of delving into the dreams of others. Interstellar, although optimistic in the end, shows the need to leave Earth because of how humans destroyed the environment with technology. There is the section in the Batman stories where Bruce Wayne can listen to everything that the citizens are saying, totally invading their privacy. He allows that technology to be destroyed, but the fear is there if unscrupulous individuals used that system. In Oppenheimer, the ethical question that torments the main character is if he doesn’t develop the nuclear bomb, then Hitler might dominate the world if he is not stopped. However, by developing the A-Bomb, he opens a nuclear Pandor’s Box that threatens the existence of the world.

Great performances by Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer, and Robert Downey, Jr. as the scientist’s eventual nemesis, Lewis Strauss (both Golden Globe winners).


KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON:

The title of the movie refers to an Osage Native American ceremony that cherishes the blossoming of flowers each year. During the ritual they discover oil on their land and the tribe becomes rich. However, they are surrounded by the enemy, the white man, who cherishes the land for profit. The whites exploit the Natives by marrying into the tribe and then bringing about the deaths of the Osage community to inherit the land’s wealth. They even have some declared incompetent while living to gain control of the assets.

The Native population is somewhat to blame for being seduced by the white culture’s love of materialism. Martin Scorsese’s film suggests that the desire for oil destroys the soul of the people who were its initial residents and pollutes the land with whom the Osage people were joined. One image that backs up this theme is when the natives have visions of their ancestors, they are covered in the dark liquid coming from the gushing oil, suggesting a blackening of their souls.

The film is very much about being in denial. The best example in Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Ernest Burkhart (The “Earnest” name comes off as ironic, since he deceives his wife and himself). He comes to Oklahoma seeking financial help from his uncle, William Hale (Robert De Niro), who is a deputy sheriff and big landowner. On the surface he appears as a benefactor to the Osage community, but appearances are deceiving in this film, and he orchestrates the deaths of Osage natives for the personal gain of the whites. Ernest marries Mollie (Lily Gladstone, Golden Globe winner for her role), and fools himself into thinking he is helping her treat her diabetes when he is actually poisoning her. Mollie herself also deludes herself by not seeing how the man she believes she loves is attempting to do away with her. She finally comes to her senses after personal losses and is strong enough to get the Federal Government to investigate the many killings of Osage natives. The self-denial is general here, as the white people act as if they are helping the Native Americans while actually ruining their way of life.

Scorsese employs the camera to good effect when he places it at ground level and makes the audience feel as if it is a character walking with the film’s characters in rooms in houses. There is a smart image of Ernest swatting flies on two occasions. It brings to mind Beelzebub, the “Lord of the Flies,” and generally acts as a symbol for decay and corruption.

We discussed this film in a Zoom class. One instructor thought, given the length, that there should have been more of the story told from the Native American perspective. It seems a valid observation. This movie, and exceptional films such as Dances with Wolves and Little Big Man, tell the stories from the perspective of the white man, and not from that of the Native American.


 MAESTRO:

Bradley Cooper does it all here, writing, directing, and starring in this biopic about musical conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein, who composed the music for West Side Story. The movie is stylized, as it moves at the beginning from one location to another without breaks, which stresses the artistry of the filmmaking and thus can be distancing for the audience to invest emotionally. There is not a great deal of background information about Bernstein’s early life. Some may find the lack of exposition admirable while others may again find it difficult to understand the main character’s passion for music. But that passion is undeniable, and Cooper is submerged in the character, energetically demonstrating his conducting ability. Along with the makeup, Cooper inhabits Bernstein, and it is a virtuoso performance. I did, however, find his voice distracting, since he constantly sounded like he was suffering from a cold.

The film focuses on his marriage, and the conflict between his love for his wife and his homosexual orientation, and the homophobia of the time period. Carey Mulligan plays the spouse, Felicia, and she shows her love for and frustration with her husband. She displays emotional depth as she battles the cancer that ends her life.


 THE HOLDOVERS:

While the above films stress moviemaking artistry and theme, this film by Alexander Payne is very much about character. Paul Giamatti reunites with Payne after previously starring in Sideways. He is Paul Hunham, a sarcastic ancient history teacher at a boys’ boarding school who bemoans the lack of educational accomplishment of the privileged students who attend the school by way of their affluent parents. There is a School Ties and Dead Poets Society feel as to the locale of the story.

Hunham is stuck with having to babysit a few of the students over the Christmas holiday period because the boys’ parents are otherwise engaged. One of the fathers eventually arrives, literally as a helicopter parent, and whisks all but one student to a ski getaway after the child emotionally blackmails the patriarch. The one remaining boy, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa, in a wonderful performance) has shown his anguish about the demise of his parents’ marriage.

The story is set during the beginning of the Vietnam War, and the cafeteria worker, Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), has lost a son who was a student at the school. She took advantage of her employment to allow her boy to attend. There is a definite class antagonism here as Hunham’s background is more in tune with the workers at the school.

There is a great deal of witty and insightful dialogue in the movie. Hunham’s pessimistic attitude is shown when he says, “Life is like a henhouse ladder: shitty and short.” He tells Tully at one point the need for learning about history when he says, “history is not simply the study of the past. It is an explanation of the present.”

As the film progresses, secrets about the lives of both Hunham and Tully come to the surface, and they find that there is more to each of them than appears on the surface. This film says that you don’t understand people until you take the time to really get to know them. Preconceived stereotypes don’t always conveniently fit into one’s world view.

Both Giamatti and Randolph deserved their Golden Globe wins.

The next film to be analyzed is Badlands.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Foreign Correspondent

 SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

I haven’t discussed an Alfred Hitchcock film in a while so I decided on reviewing Foreign Correspondent (1940). The opening credits have a revolving globe of the Earth above a newspaper building to show the universal need to gather international information. The beginning notes pay tribute to foreign correspondents, saying they were out there investigating dangerous situations while the rest of us were watching “rainbows,” an obvious reference to the Wizard of Oz and the isolationism noted in Casablanca.

Powers (the man who is in charge played by Harry Davenport), who is the city editor of the New York Globe (like the Daily Planet?) says he is not getting enough info from his foreign correspondents. He remembers that Johnny Jones (an everyman name) is a tough reporter. Joel McCrea plays the character and excels in the role. Jones has been proficient in solving criminal activity and Powers wants to find out about the “crime” that Nazi Germany is hatching. He notes that Jones beat up a policeman working on one story, which most likely refers to Hitchcock’s well-known fear of cops.

Jones is ripping up newspapers and making them into snowflakes, showing his cynicism about the profession. Powers doesn’t want a stereotypical foreign correspondent, but instead a “reporter,” someone who has no preconceived ideologies and who can be objective. Powers wants Jones to use an Englishman, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), head of the Universal Peace Party, who can help Jones get to a Dutch diplomat named Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), to find out what’s going on in Europe. Powers wants him to use the name Harvey Haverstick which sounds more important. At this point the practical Jones just wants an expense account.

Jones travels by ship to London and meets Stebbins (writer Robert Benchley who contributed dialogue to the screenplay), who is an American journalist who is stationed in England. His character is funny as he complains that he has been drinking alcohol too much and now must drink milk, not the drink of tough newsmen.

Jones sees Van Meer getting into a taxi taking him to Fisher’s dinner in his honor. He gets a ride with Van Meer who dodges questions and then shows he is shrewd because he knows Jones is a reporter. He does admit that he feels helpless about the oncoming possibility of a war, which stresses a tone of pessimism. In contrast, Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day), argues with others that people say we stumble into war but never into peace. She implies people can embrace peace just as much as war.

Jones encounters Carol at dinner, not knowing she is Fisher’s daughter, which adds to the humor of the film. His cynical ways about whether Fisher is legit miffs Carol, who says her name is “Smith,” which is a counter to Jones’s generic last name. She will not sit with him even after he sends her thirty notes. Fisher announces that Van Meer can’t attend, which surprises Jones, since the man took him to the affair. Fisher reveals that Carol is his daughter, and Jones looks at her with an adoring stare which throws her off her speech. When she looks for her notes she encounters all the messages that Jones sent, further adding to the unnerving chemistry that is developing between them.




Van Meer went to a peace conference in Holland and Jones receives a message to follow him there. Jones confronts Van Meer as he is entering the building where the gathering is to take place, but Van Meer appears not to recognize Jones. Then a supposed reporter (one of many deceptions in the movie) asks to take Van Meer’s picture but he has a gun next to his camera and shoots Van Meer. The scene shows how appearances can be deceiving as Jones, the true journalist, is contrasted against the phony one. It is raining and Jones chases the shooter through a sea of umbrellas. The umbrellas show how the surface can cover the reality beneath and add to confusion for someone seeking the truth. The killer shoots other as he makes a getaway and has help from a man in a car, suggesting a conspiracy is at work. Jones happens to hop into a car which contains a smiling Carol, happy to see the handsome Jones, and Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), a stereotypical unflappable Britisher, and another journalist. He says the wife of an ancestor who Henry VIII beheaded dropped off the capital letter at the beginning of his name to commemorate her husband (Benchley’s witty dialogue is apparent here). They chase after the car transporting the murderer, who fires shots at them, as the police follow. However, they mysteriously lose the killer in a flat plain near some windmills. The wind causes Jones to lose his hat for the second time (think of the Coesn Brothers film Miller’s Crossing where losing a hat makes one seem unsure and foolish). However, after chasing it he notices that a windmill’s blades reversed their motion, and he suspects that the killer is inside. He sends the other two to retrieve the police.

There is a plane flying by and the smart Jones realizes that the windmill is signaling the plane to land. He goes inside and hears men speaking a foreign language. Those from the plane join them as Jones hides on stairs leading toward the top. He discovers the real Van Meer, who is alive but drugged. He tries to stay coherent, saying that there was an attempt to make it look like he was assassinated by using a double. He becomes mute after scribbling something on a piece of paper. Again, we have appearances being deceiving, as represented by Van Meer’s double and the fake assassination. Hitchcock builds suspense by having Jones’s raincoat getting caught in the mill’s mechanism. But he removes it and grasps it before it can be discovered. In addition, Van Meer looks upward, possibly revealing Jones. Instead, he hides, and the foreigners only see a bird and light coming in from a window. Outside of the latter, Jones holds on, trying to prevent a fall, and escapes. (Light becomes a metaphor in the story, especially at the end).

Later, Jones tries to explain what he has observed to the authorities. They go to the windmill and everyone and the car are gone. There is a man sleeping where Jones found Van Meer and he says he has been sleeping there all day and there were no others. We have here a further example of deceptive appearances, and an attempt to discredit Jones. The police and even Carol doubt his story. Hitchcock often has a truthful man being doubted by others, and he again exhibits his distrust of the police.

Jones is quite observant as he notices that the wires to his hotel room have been cut when two men pretending to be policemen say they need to take him to headquarters. He is cool and funny under pressure when one of the men says they all speak English. Jones says not everybody where he comes from can make that claim, obviously referring to some uneducated Americans. He realizes that he knows too much, and these conspirators are out to get rid of him. He pretends to take a bath and goes out the window to Carol’s room. As he goes along the edge of the building he touches a light that extinguishes which leave a sign that says “Hot … Europe,” a reference to the Nazi threat. She is there trying to get support for her father’s peace movement, and she does not believe his story after what happened at the windmill. Jones continues to be the honest man who others do not believe. He is a true journalist because he says, “There’s something fishy going on around here. There’s a big story in this. I can smell it. I can feel it and I’m going to get to the bottom of it if it’s the last thing I do. And nothing’s going to stop me.”

He persists and wins Carol over. He is shrewd again as he asks for several people to go to his hotel room for assistance as a diversion as a valet gets his clothes. Jones and Carol escape and head for a ship. The humor continues as they both profess their love for each other and the desire to marry. With a wink to the audience Jones says, “Well that cuts our love scene quite short.”

In London, Jones meets Fisher and Krug (Eduardo Ciannelli), and recounts that he saw Van Meer killed, but does not mention the double because he recognizes Krug as one of the men at the windmill. When Krug leaves the room, he tells Fisher what he knows. Fisher talks privately with Krug, and we realize that Fisher is one of the conspirators. Krug leaves and Jones is upset by this act and says he wants to spill the story now. Fisher convinces him to keep his story quiet so as not to endanger Van Meer. He also says Jones can have a private eye to protect him since he is in danger. The man they will use is really an assassin. We have more deception as people who seem friendly are deadly. Fisher almost seems admiring when he describes how the supposed enemy is quite cunning, since he is really talking about himself. However, he almost hesitates to go forward with the plan, since he sees how attached his daughter is to Jones.

Rowley (Edmund Gwenn) is the private eye who is supposed to protect Jones, but pushes him in front of a truck. Jones is not hit, and Rowley covers by saying it was safer to push than to pull. Pretending (deceit again) that they are being followed, Rowley gets a reluctant Jones to go into a church and up to the top of the tower. He tries to push him off. We see a man fall to his death, but there is a delay which heightens the tension until we learn that Jones stepped aside, and it was Rowley that fell. (Hitchcock will kill off a lead character quickly in Psycho, but not here. He also likes cliffhangers as he has falling from heights, for example, in North by Northwest, Saboteur, and Vertigo).

Because it was Fisher who hooked Jones up with Rowley, Jones now knows Fisher isn’t the upstanding man he pretends to be. ffolliott shows up at Stebbins’s office and says he suspected Fisher because of his own investigating. He says that there was some memorized section of a peace initiative that the real kidnappers are trying to extract from Van Meer. He suggests that Jones and Carol hide under the guise of protecting Jones, but ffolliott will say that Carol was kidnapped, as a way to invent leverage over Fisher (false fronts erected all around). Even ffolliott schemes involving his allies as he called Carol earlier to suggest hiding (and he doesn’t tell her about her father), and ffolliott does not tell Jones of the ploy. Everybody here twists the truth.

Carol hears Jones setting up a separate room at a hotel for her to keep her away longer so ffolliott can contact Fisher. She leaves for home when she discovers Jones’s secret scheme and believes he is just using her to get at her father, and spoils ffolliott’s attempt to get Van Meer’s whereabouts. ffolliott follows Fisher after hearing him say the address to a cab driver and tells Stebbins to bring Jones later. He is hoping to discover where Van Meer is. Carol answers the phone and recognizes Kruger’s voice, which make her wonder why that man is calling her father.

ffolliott is caught at the place where they are keeping Van Meer just as Fisher pretends he is still Van Meer’s friend to get the clause of the treaty out of him. The journalist says that Fisher is not his friend, and it is enough for the drugged Van Meer to realize the deception since there are no police to help him. He says there is “no help for the whole poor, suffering world.” Van Meer’s assessment is an accurate prediction of the Nazi onslaught that will follow.

The captors off screen torture Van Meer and he starts to divulge the information. Ffolliott breaks the window, and unlike Rowley, his fall is broken by an awning. However, the bad guys escape as Jones arrives. Van Meer is unconscious and not able to corroborate ffolliott’s story. Thus, Scotland Yard is reluctant to pursue Fisher due to his respected, but false, position. As the conspirators head for the United States, England declares war on Germany.

Carol is on the plane with her father and reveals her knowledge of Fisher’s connection to Kruger. He confesses his deception as a spy for Germany. He feels ashamed now for what he has done. Jones and ffolliott are also on the plane. Carol is still devoted to her father even as Jones says he didn’t come to take down her father, it was only where the story led.

At that moment a German ship shells the plane, mistakenly thinking it’s a bomber. The fog of war is taking hold. Now even the pilots lie to prevent panic, saying that it was target practice and the firing is an accident. Luckily, Carol distributes life vests, realizing lies will not protect anyone. The plane goes into the ocean and Fisher sacrifices himself so others can stay afloat on a wing, gaining some redemption for himself.

An American ship rescues the remaining main characters. Jones does not want to soil Fisher’s name because of his love for Carol. She grants him leave because, as Rick from Casablanca says, their story isn’t that important compared to the rest of the world. The captain of the ship says no information should be released while onboard. Here, Jones uses deception to get the truth out by pretending to talk to his “uncle” while letting the phone stay off the hook as he details the story to his boss, Powers, by arguing for its release to the captain.

The once reluctant foreign correspondent now reports the war from various places in Europe in the epilogue to the story. His broadcast speech over the radio at the end is an argument against isolationism as he reports while bombs rain from the sky. He tells listeners in the United States to rally against the darkness of fascism that is coming when he says it’s, “as if the lights were all out everywhere except in America. Keep those lights burning … they’re the only lights left in the world.” It is a plea for truth to combat lies, which has become an ongoing battle.

The next film is Badlands.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

My Darling Clementine

 SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

A neighbor of mine loves Hollywood Westerns and that inspired me to write a post on one of director John Ford’s most famous films, My Darling Clementine (1946).

The title of the movie refers to the character Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs). The song that shares the same title, and which plays in the film, is about loss, and that sets a tone of sadness for this story.

Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is herding cattle to California with his brothers, Virgil (Tim Holt), Morgan (Ward Bond, who would star in the TV series Wagon Train), and James (Don Garner). Wyatt runs into the elderly Clanton (Walter Brennan, three-time supporting Oscar winner and later star of the TV show The Real McCoys) and his son Ike (Grant Withers). Clanton tries to buy the scrawny animals, but Wyatt doesn’t want to sell, although he acknowledges the roughness of the land that is depriving his herd of food. That dire observation fits in with the feel of the movie, and so does the name of the nearby town, Tombstone. Despite the welcoming comments by Clanton, the look on his face and that of his son are hostile as they watch the departing Wyatt.

Young James, who is to marry soon, stays with the herd as the other brothers go into Tombstone, which is quite rowdy in the evening. Wyatt goes to get a shave. The barber (Ben Hall) calls his place a “tonsorial parlor,” for which Wyatt needs a translation. When the barber lowers the back of the customer chair, Wyatt nearly topples backward, showing how he is in a precarious position since the chair is a newly acquired acquisition from metropolitan Chicago, an invader from the settled East. Later he is not sure about the city-slicker hair styling he gets and the cologne the barber sprays on him. He may be allowing himself a different look for his attempt to attract Clementine as the story progresses, but this social space is not an area in which he is adept at navigating.

The threatening nature of the locale becomes very immediate as random gunshots bring bullets into what is supposed to be a safe place for male grooming. Indeed, the town of Tombstone is still on the frontier with only a few civilized elements. Wyatt shouts, “What kind of town is this?” and that phrase is repeated by Wyatt when the marshal doesn’t want to confront the drunk man firing his weapon. Wyatt goes into the saloon, punches out the inebriated Native American and kicks him out of the place. The Mayor (Roy Roberts) offers Wyatt the job of Marshal, but Wyatt refuses. The people discover Wyatt’s name and realize he was the marshal of Dodge City, but Wyatt makes it clear that he left that life behind.

But, it appears that past life will not leave him. When the Earps return to their camp they find their cattle gone and their brother, James, dead, shot in a cowardly manner in the back. Wyatt visits the Mayor and says he will be Marshal as long as his brothers are his deputies. He learns from the Mayor that Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) runs the gambling and that Clanton and his sons deal with the cattle business. The film has set the stage for a battle between families, making the conflict very personal. The Clantons arrive in town and Wyatt confronts them, saying his cattle were stolen. Wyatt knows it was the Clantons who are guilty and tells them he is now Marshal. Clanton’s bemused attitude changes when he hears Wyatt’s name, and it’s obvious that Wyatt’s accomplished reputation has preceded him. The darkness of the time of the day and the pouring rain add to the feeling of gloom shrouding the events.

Alone at the grave of his eighteen-year-old brother, James, Wyatt says to his departed sibling that he will be staying there for a while, and “maybe when we leave this country young kids like you will be able to grow up and live safe.” Wyatt hopes that he can achieve that goal, but the filmmakers may be commenting that it is a futile wish since violence has continued into the future.

While at the saloon playing cards, Wyatt avoids the attentions of the saloon showgirl Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), who is the girlfriend of the currently absent Holliday. In retaliation, she sings lines from the title song, stressing the loss of cattle and money, while Wyatt, fittingly, throws in his winless cards. She has helped a gambler discover Wyatt’s hands. Wyatt realizes that, takes Chihuahua outside, and after she slaps him, he dumps her in the horse trowel. The scene shows that Wyatt is no fool and is smart enough to know that a pleasant surface may hide unethical intentions beneath.

Doc shows up and kicks the cheating gambler out of the saloon, which shows that he runs a straight-up game. Wyatt and Doc have a tense conversation which reveals they know about each other’s pasts. Wyatt mentions that Doc has left a trail of graveyards behind him. Doc counters with the observation that there is the largest one right there in Tombstone, and adds, “Marshalls and I get along much better when we understand that right away.” The implication is that there will not be any trouble if the law leaves Doc alone. Wyatt notes Doc has already broken the law by usurping Wyatt’s authority in the town. Doc says they are in “separate camps,” and pulls out his gun, showing how fast he is with the weapon. Wyatt points out his two deputized brothers who are already at the bar with their guns. Wyatt doesn’t arrest Doc, so, it seems there is an understanding, and they seal the deal with a celebratory drink of champagne. But beyond this agreement, Doc’s deadly tuberculosis (symbolically representing the corruption of his soul?), the highlighting of graveyards, and possibly the suggestion that west of the Rocky Mountains can be one huge graveyard, add to the atmosphere of death and loss looming over everything.


That stress on death continues when the visiting drunkard actor, Granville Thorndyke (Alan Mowbray), delivers the “To be, or not to be,” soliloquy from Hamlet. The words ponder the hardships of life, and the possibility of even suicide to escape them, along with the questions of what may follow the end of one’s life. One of the cowboys even addresses the actor as Yorick, Hamlet’s dead court jester, which points to the absurd combination of laughter and loss inherent in mortal life. Thorndyke can’t finish the speech, and the educated Doc completes Hamlet’s words, followed by a coughing fit, reminding us, as does Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, that “we’ve all got it coming.”

Wyatt is there to acquire the actor for the show at the theater, but the Clanton boys try to stop the Marshal. Wyatt cracks a bottle over the head of one and shoots the gun out of the hand of another. Clanton shows up, and after Wyatt leaves, he beats his boys, telling them if you pull a gun, then you better kill the other guy. There is always a threat to one’s life here.

Clementine arrives on the stagecoach. She is Doc’s former love interest, but he is out of town. The relaxing Wyatt jumps up from his porch chair when he sees Clementine, as if struck by a love lightening bolt. According to Tag Gallagher in his essay, he resides in a different “sphere” than Clementine. That separation is stressed at their first meeting, as he is on one side of a post and she stands behind a rail, the physical objects suggesting how they inhabit different worlds. Wyatt is in black since his road is a dark one that must combat evil. Ford’s heroes are passing through the places they visit, so Wyatt is a wanderer, because he can’t have the comfort of a settled existence as he fights his antagonists.

Gallagher says Ford stops the plot to let us soak in the images of the characters, how they use their eyes, how they walk. Wyatt escorts Clementine to a room opposite Doc’s. She enters the absent man’s place, and the scene is like a nostalgic trip. There is a picture of Doc with a mustache and there is a photo of her there, too. She asks if Wyatt thinks Doc is a good surgeon, but Wyatt says he wouldn’t know. It’s as if they are looking at a photo album of a life that no longer exists.

That idea flows into the scene where Clementine goes to see Doc when he is again in town. She searched for him for a long time after he left Boston. He is coughing and she believes he fled from her because of his ill health. But he says he is no longer the man she once knew. She thinks he is being self-destructive, and she appears to be right, as he is moving away from those who care about him and engaging in dangerous activity. He later looks in a mirror and then smashes it (once again I’ll mention that mirrors can reflect another part of ourselves, mostly negative). Doc goes to the bar and acts surly with Wyatt and the barkeeper, who tells him that drinking will kill him as he grabs a bottle from him. Doc rejects Chihuahua’s attempt to change his mood with a song and a kiss. He tells her to go away, further isolating himself.

Wyatt tells Doc he is a fool for rejecting someone as wonderful as Clementine, and his complimentary statements show that Wyatt is attracted to the young woman. Wyatt also points out Doc’s dangerous drinking habits given his TB. Doc pulls out his gun to indulge his self-destructive tendencies by challenging anyone who confronts him. Wyatt basically accuses him of attempting suicide by attracting those who would boast of killing the infamous Doc Holliday, which would, he says, be easy given his drunken state. Doc shoots down a candle chandelier which starts a small fire. Wyatt knocks Doc out, at least temporarily preventing his demise.

Later Doc is recuperating in bed, but still drinking, and seems to have changed his mind about Chihuahua, saying he’s going to Mexico for a while and is willing to have her come with him as his bride. He learns from her that Clementine is packing to leave and is most likely relieved that he will no longer inflict his current decrepit state on Clementine. The fact that he is willing to attach himself to Chihuahua shows he doesn’t have the same strong feelings toward her if he is willing to expose her to his decline.

Clementine is in the hotel lobby and Wyatt enters singing “My Darling Clementine.” The song is Wyatt’s “yearning,” for her, according to Gallagher, and his hopeless hope for an average prairie life. When he hears she is leaving he says she is giving up too quickly to get Doc back as her love interest. However, he most likely wants her to stick around for himself. He wasn’t planning on going to the church service, but he is happy when she asks him to go with her. (The church is in the process of being constructed, which may imply some hope for a peaceful life in the future). Wyatt tosses away his hat which symbolizes his discarding his detached lawman role, and dances with Clementine, to the surprise of his brothers. Wyatt even seems happy joining in on the supper that follows the church dedication, smiling while carving the meat. Doc interrupts Wyatt’s moment of social joy when Doc yells at Clementine, saying he told her that if she didn’t leave town, he would. Wyat, resuming his attachment to the law, confronts Doc, saying Doc doesn’t have the authority to run anybody out of town. Doc’s adversarial response is that Wyatt should start carrying his gun, which implies that Wyatt isn’t cut out for a peaceful social life. His words also imply the rivalry between the two concerning their feelings for Clementine. But they also remind Wyatt that he can’t escape his role as an agent of justice.

Doc leaves town in a hurry to escape his physical, and thus emotional, proximity to Clementine, throwing a bag of gold to Chihuahua as he darts by. She is devastated since she thought they would leave together after getting married. She runs off to confront Clementine, blaming her for Doc’s leaving. She doesn’t want to accept that Doc doesn’t really love her. As Chihuahua throws Clementine’s clothes out of the closet to ensure her departure, Wyatt arrives and realizes the medallion Chihuahua is wearing belonged to his dead brother James. She says Doc gave it to her.

 Wyatt leaves to confront Doc about his possible involvement in the death of the young Earp. It’s a furious chase as Doc’s extreme driving of the horses reveals his inner drive to escape his circumstances. The extended chase shows the large expanse of the western territory, the hugeness of the land that dwarfs the individuals trying to deal with it. Wyatt catches up with Doc, who refuses to return to the torment he feels in Tombstone. He draws his gun on Wyatt who shoots it out of his hand.

Wyatt and Doc go to confront Chihuahua, who has Billy Clanton ((John Ireland) in her room. After he slips outside, the other men enter, and Doc says he didn’t give her the jewelry that belonged to James Earp. Doc will be charged with James’s murder, so she is persuaded to say that Billy gave it to her after Doc left her lonely and vulnerable. After the divulging of his name, Billy shoots Chihuahua through the window. Wyatt urges Doc to operate on the woman. In a way, Doc is forced to try to revisit his past life before its decline, and is now called “Doctor,” referring to his profession, and not just as a nickname. After the surgery, Wyatt watches Clementine walking out of the saloon, and asks the bartender if he has ever been in love. Wyatt is, but he, like Doc, is clueless as to how to deal with that emotion.

Wyatt wounded Billy as he tried to escape, and he sent his brother, Virgil, to go after him. Virgil shoots Billy as they ride, and Billy dies just outside the Clanton ranch house. The Clantons bring Billy’s body inside and then invite Virgil in after he pulls up. Again, in a cowardly manner, Old Man Clanton shoots Virgil in the back, killing him.

The Clantons drop Virgil’s body in the town, and Clanton says to meet him and his boys at, you guessed it, the O.K. Corral (an ironic name given the situation). Although other townspeople are willing to help, Wyatt tells them, “This is strictly a family affair.” It’s personal, because a son and brothers are dead, and it is now a family feud. But not quite, since Chihuahua dies, and Doc wants his revenge, but he is also feeling like he’ll never revisit his past status as a respected physician. He may be suicidal going to the shootout, but, in a way, he becomes an adopted Earp brother.




The sky has threatening, black clouds, fitting in with the dark deeds happening in Tombstone. Ford builds suspense as the opponents maneuver for position. Wyatt tries the legal way, telling Clanton he has a warrant for his arrest, and asks him to surrender. Clanton admits that he killed the Wyatt brothers, and vows to kill the remaining sibling. Wyatt, his brother, Morgan, and Doc shoot and kill the rest of the Clanton sons. Doc is betrayed by his current disease as he coughs, causing him to drop his guard, and is shot. Clanton surrenders, voicing his pain at the loss of his sons. Wyatt will not kill him, or spare Clanton the relief of an execution. Instead, he says, “I hope you live a hundred years, so you’ll feel just a little what my pa’s gonna feel. Now get out of town, start wandering.” Wyatt knows first-hand about the emptiness of being a wanderer. He wants to condemn Clanton to a childless, homeless existence. But not Morgan. He shoots and kills Clanton as the old man slowly rides away. The clouds are now white, possibly reflecting the eradication of the evil that had infested the town. However, Gallagher says Wyatt’s victory here comes at the price of a high body count, so justice is not triumphant.


Morgan and Wyatt are no longer lawmen, and they begin to ride out to tell their father what has happened. Wyatt encounters Clementine, who will stay on as a schoolteacher. She symbolizes putting down roots. He says he may return and resume his original plan of owning some cattle. He kisses her on the cheek (originally a handshake, which producer Darryl F. Zanuck discarded after a negative response from a test audience) before riding away, suggesting some hope for an eventual happy ending, at least for these two, which he underscores by saying how much he likes the name, Clementine. It is an ironic ending because they can’t be together given their separate worlds. His statement is followed by the words of the title song, bookending the film, which declare eternal love. The feeling of love may be everlasting, but it will not be consummated here.

The next film is Foreign Correspondent.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Satisfactory Movie Endings

 A friend of mine complained that she has watched many movies and streaming TV series that did not provide satisfactory conclusions to the stories. She urged me to write about ones that ended well. So, before analyzing the next film, here are a few well known motion pictures that have noteworthy endings.

The Shawshank Redemption

I’m not talking about how Tim Robbins’s character Andy escapes from Shawshank Prison and acquires the corrupt warden’s money, although that is something the audience has reason to cheer about. I want to focus on the very end of the film when Morgan Freeman’s Red has finally received his release from incarceration. He has become what he calls an “institutionalized” man, meaning he has spent so much time behind bars, he doesn’t know how to deal with the outside world. But, Andy left him a note and some money so he could join him on a beautiful beach in Mexico, restoring boats for tourists. Earlier, Red spoke about how dangerous it was to hope in prison, because those dreams would just be crushed. Now he can finally allow himself to look forward to something. He says, “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.” Some of the best lines ever spoken at the end of a movie.

Casablanca

How could I not include the ending to this movie. It’s not just because of the rounding up of the “usual suspects” line that allows Humphrey Bogart’s Rick to escape arrest for shooting Major Strasser. And yes, the surrendering of Ingrid Berman’s Ilsa to Paul Henreid’s noble Victor as Rick gives his “hill of beans” speech is a wonderful scene of romantic aching. But the ending filled with baptismal rain is a scene of redemption for Rick and Claude Rains’s (appropriate name give the scene) Louis Renault. United now, their “beautiful friendship” will go on to symbolically point toward the movement away from isolationism to battling the Nazi threat before them.

The Maltese Falcon

This film contrasts fantasy with reality, as film noir characters dealing with the seedy underbelly of life seek escape by acquiring an almost mythical object that they hope will transport them away from their dark realm. When Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), Cairo (Peter Lorre), and Brigid (Mary Astor) realize that the black bird they have sought is a fake they come crashing back to the real world. Brigid must take “the fall” for her crimes, and she boards the elevator, going down, of course, to be arrested. The elevator grating looks like prison bars, so she already appears imprisoned. Humphrey Bogart’s private detective, Sam Spade does not buy into the delusionary vision of the others (his last name reminds one of calling “a spade a spade,” a saying that appreciates facing facts). The quote he uses to describe the phony falcon is perfect for the film. He borrows it from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as he says the object is, “the stuff that dreams are made of.” The stress here is on the imagined ideal world versus the harshness of transient mortality.


When Harry Met Sally …

At the end of all Hollywood romantic comedies, one person either runs, takes a cab or airplane, whatever, to reconnect with that individual’s love interest, leaving the audience with the fairy tale “They lived happily ever after” ending. This film is no different in that way. Harry (Billy Crystal) is alone on New Year’s Eve and finally decides he wants to be with Sally, so he runs to the party where she is. What’s great is the speech, by screenwriter Nora Ephron, he gives that finally wins her over, which, in my opinion, is the best dialogue about loving another person. Harry delivers it not in a sweet manner, but like he’s delivering an argument to make a point. It’s almost like he wishes the illogical truth weren’t so, but he can’t escape it. He says, “I love that you get cold when it’s seventy-one degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle right there when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you’re the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely. And it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Doesn’t get much better than that.

The film actually ends, appropriately, on the couch where throughout the film couples briefly state how their long relationships began. Harry and Sally now are included among those others.

The Graduate

This whole film appears to be about protesting the false values of the white upper-middle class, with Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) realizing the banality and hypocrisy of his world, and revolting against it. The conclusion of the film has him driving and running (there it is again) to unite with his love, Elaine (Katharine Ross). He is a Christ-figure, presenting a crucifixion image as he bangs on the glass partition of the church’s second floor as Elaine is about to be wed to a clone of the established order. When she calls out to him he springs into action, wielding a crucifix (director Mike Nichols stressing the Christian symbolism). They run off, supposedly toward that fairy-tale ending.

But wait. Despite taking action here, throughout the film, Benjamin looks like he is passive, letting the world’s current carry him along. We first see him on a conveyor belt at the airport, and he exits the building through the wrong door. He floats in the family pool, and later appears to be running in place as he approaches the church. Is he really able to escape the forces around him holding him back? When he and Elaine get on the bus to take them away, the looks they present are not joyful, but appear to show what is to follow is a letdown. They may be wondering: What do we do now? They are leaving on a bus (again, passively being carried forward), but Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” plays, as it did in the beginning, repeating its pessimistic message, implying that, in the long run, no progress has been made.