Films

Even the Emasculated Version Beats the Hays Code

I gripe about the Hays Code a lot here on Classically Educated, and with good reason. The Code was the dumbest thing ever. While I understand that the movie industry adopted it in order to avoid government censorship from a prudish, adolescent nation, the sheer cowardice involved is staggering. I think a lot of the US tendency to act like children even today (the current “social discourse” with its childlike black-and-white extremes is clearly a fight between groups of coddled adolescents who grew old but never grew up. Cancel culture is another excellent example of people who never outgrew their teen immaturity and need for extreme definitions and inability to see grays or comprehend context) probably stems at least partly from this act of cowardice from the media.

But sometimes, a film comes along that, even though it had to appease BOTH the code and the Army, is still suitable for adults. Such a film is From Here to Eternity.

It’s wonderful to see a film from the 1950s has so much adultery in it without moralizing whether it’s good or bad and with at least one of the adulturers going scot-free at the end of it; even if he didn’t manage to keep the girl, it’s nice that nothing bad happened to Burt Lancaster’s character. I was sure he’d get killed by the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Briefly, the story follows the careers of two soldiers–one a man who refused to bend to the pressure of his superiors and one who bedded his CO’s wife, and both are portrayed sympathetically (which, especially in the second case was specifically against the Code).

Of course, the novel didn’t make it to the screen even remotely unscathed. One of the bad guys had to be punished, references to homosexuality were suppressed and a prostitute was changed to a “hostess”. But the lack of judgment passed against what in the 1950s would have been immorality bordering on the criminal (and actually prosecuted if you went far enough) was more than enough to set this film apart. It thumbs its nose at the censors.

Numerous Oscar nominations followed, a sign that someone other than me thinks the Code was stupid. More importantly, though, the Code was cracking… and From Here to Eternity was one of the first hairline chinks in the armor. The sixties, and their utter demolition of the childish morality of the fifties were, after all, just around the corner.

Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction quite clearly has no regard for the Hays Code, artificial moralities or any other consideration except how realistic characters would react in specific situations. His literary collection Love and Death, a series of linked short stories that tell a single long tale about multiple characters unaware of how they’re interacting, can be purchased at Amazon.

The Bigamist was a Great Film… Except for the Title

I suppose the fact that the title spoils one of the ‘Aha!’ moments of the 1953 film The Bigamist, should bother me less than it does. But even though this reveal comes early in the film, audiences already knew it was coming… and it would have been a wonderful moment.

I suspect that this bad decision was caused by either the marketing folk sacrificing a delightful moment for a lot of box-office prurient interest (the film was on shaky financial footing pre-release) or the director wanting to stop the shock of the reveal from becoming the most important part of the film so audiences could focus on the human interest story behind it. Whatever the reason, it led to my main disappointment with this one. I would have loved to be shocked by the discovery that the main character was a bigamist instead of knowing exactly why he was worried in the first scene before it was revealed.

The other disappointment was knowing it would end badly. The Hays Code (which we hate) meant there could be no unambiguous (miraculous, seeing the mess this dude was in) happy ending allowing people to leave theaters uplifted. I don’t mind unhappy endings, but I prefer not to know it’s coming from the off. When that happens, it weighs on me all the way through the movie, the dread of bad news to come.

And the prophecy comes to pass, even if the ending isn’t as awful as some of the crime movies where everyone ends up dead.

Joan Fontaine is utterly charming in this one–an actress in her mid-thirties who was much more attractive than she herself was in her twenties, unusual as that may sound.

Anyway, you already know what the guy’s crime is, and you know it won’t end all that well… but watch it anyway. It’s a good psychological study which goes right to the heart of human emotion and is just as relevant today (perhaps more in our alienated world) as it was in 1953.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose own look at human emotion is a book entitled Love and Death, a novel told in short story form following a cast of characters whose lives, unknowingly intertwined, form a single coherent narrative. I won’t tell you whether it has a happy ending, but you can check it out here.

The Golden Coach and Renoir Weirdness – in English

The Golden Coach (1952) is a gorgeous film. The color, the acting, the homage to the theater… it’s all wonderful. And make no mistake, this is an homage, unlike All About Eve’s colder, more realistic take on life on the stage.

I use the word “romp” quite a bit, but I don’t use it lightly. So many of the films that stay alive are ones that entertain in a somewhat over-the-top way that they can’t really be described any other way.

Well, this one is a romp. It concerns a fascinating actress, the headliner of a troupe that travels to a South American capital in early colonial times only to find that… well, they’ve traveled to a colony that is far from being a European capital of the time.

That, of course, doesn’t stop this actress from obtaining three different suitors, each of which exerts a different kind of fascination. It ends about as well as situations of that kind do, but we’re never heartbroken because the color and the action are much more farcical than dramatic. It’s a fun film as well as being gorgeous (it’s easily as beautiful as The Red Shoes, except with no serious dance).

Other than the film, what I found most interesting was that the only version I was able to track down was in English when I was expecting a French film befitting director Jean Renoir. In the end, I settled for the English-language version, thinking how well dubbed it had been… I only learned that it had originally been filmed in English when researching it for this post. Interesting.

I recommend this one. Watch it without expectations and you’ll be entertained in parts, and delighted in others.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose latest book, Test Site Horror, is also a romp, but one with monsters and Russian special forces soldiers in it. Whether that makes it better or worse than The Golden Coach is a question left to the reader. But you can check it out here.

Umberto D., or the Redemption of Vittorio De Sica

After suffering through the awful, political Ladri de Bicicletti, I’m actually quite grateful that I only learned that today’s subject, Umberto D. was directed by the same man after I watched it.

If I’d known they were both directed by Vittorio De Sicca, I would probably have suffered through Umberto D’, waiting for something unspeakably awful to happen to one of the two sympathetic characters (or to the dog).

But if you go in blind, the film feels strangely positive. Despite the suffering of the old man (the film’s main character) and the pregnant teenage maid who knows she will lose her position and income once her patroness learns about her condition (the film’s most sympathetic character, even if she isn’t the smartest), it somehow feels like everything will be all right in the end for some reason. There’s a certain fatalistic determination to be as happy as the situation permits and not to brood on the troubles that lifts this one above the usual socially conscious films of the time… and makes it enjoyable.

Of course, the message is still there, but as we always say here: there’s nothing wrong with a message, the problem is when the message is ham-fistedly delivered (if you want to learn about ham-fisted messaging, you can look here or, conversely, pick up any diversity-politics-obsessed science fiction book from the 21st century. You won’t enjoy it, but I did warn you.

This one is done well, however, and is easy to enjoy. Just let yourself be transported to postwar Italy and let your mind wander and just enjoy the texture of the place. The plot is simple enough that you won’t miss much. I linked to the film on YouTube above (that one has English subtitles). I recommend it.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a wild romp through the Ural mountains pursued by monsters. Genetically modified dinosaurs, mutant giant arachnids and monsters in human form make it a deadly adventure. You can check out Test Site Horror here.

High Noon is the Perfect Cowboy Film

We’ve reviewed a lot of Westerns here on CE, most recently The Big Sky. They’ve increased in frequency over the past few months because the 1950s, the era we’re currently watching, is bigger on Westerns than other eras.

Now many westerns are similar. The actors spend a considerable chunk of the film traversing the majestic landscape, whether it be on horseback or, as in the case of The Big Sky, on a boat. There are a couple of gunfights–either with outlaws or with indians–and the boy gets the girl.

High Noon dispenses with all of that. The guy has the girl from the opening of the film, no one rides across majestic landscapes for interminable periods of time and the action sequences are contained in the last ten minutes of the movie.

And yet, it’s about a hundred times more entertaining than most of the slow-paced Westerns I hated as a kid (and enjoy now, but not quite as much as other kinds of films).

Loosely, this film, produced in “real time”–an hour in the film is an hour in real life–tells the back story of the departing Marshall we see getting married in the first scene, and the cowardly way most people discard loyalty when their lives are on the line.

It’s about one man against the world… and, this being a Western, that man wins.

It’s the best Western we’ve watched since My Darling Clementine.

I don’t want to spoil it for you by telling you the details (many people have seen it, but the new generations might not). Just track it down somewhere and watch it. You will enjoy it.

The only jarring note is actually the opening wedding scene, in which a visibly aging Gary Cooper (looking so similar to Tommy Lee Jones in face and gesture) marries… the angelic vision of a very young Grace Kelly in her first major film role. Even great actors have a hard time making that one believable.

A genre link in this one is the presence of Lon Chaney Jr, but my hopes that he would become a cowboy wolfman and take this film in an unexpected direction were sadly dashed.

Still recommended, though.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is an action-packed creature-feature entitled Jungle Lab Horror. You can check it out here.

The Bad, the Beautiful, and Another Film About Hollywood’s Obsession with HollyWood

Wow, we already knew Hollywood was fascinated with itself in the early 1950s, but we seriously didn’t know how much or how badly. But we probably should have after watching, Sunset Boulevard, In a Lonely Place and Singin’ in the Rain in such quick succession.

The Bad and the Beautiful takes up the subject matter once again, and once again, we get a good film (unlike the other 1950s Hollywood obsession, westerns, I find these films to be interesting and well-paced… and find Westerns glacial and a bit flat). Maybe there actually is something in the old “write what you know” saw.

While this one is as self-indulgent as Sunset Boulevard, it goes about it in a very different way, with a much lighter-toned story, far less dense than the earlier film. This makes it a fun film; even if it’s essentially a drama plot-wise, building it from a connected series of entertaining episodes never allows the emotional weight to overwhelm the action–much to its benefit.

The pacing is likewise brilliant, keeping audiences entertained with shenanigans and incidents… while never losing sight of the central driving force which is how hyper-creativity and living for one’s art often cause people to forget how other humans actually work.

This film made me notice something else about Hollywood, and that is that they seem to have discovered Kirk Douglas. We’d seen him starring in another role that looked at the media business, but now (and more of this in future posts) he seemed to be showing up in significant films almost as often as Cary Grant, playing a bit of a bad boy counterpoint to Grant’s Mary Sues.

If I had to rank Hollywood on Hollywood, Id do it as follows:

1. Singin’ in the Rain – it’s just good on so many levels that it transcends the subgenre.
2. The Bad and the Beautiful – I enjoyed this one more than Sunset Boulevard when I watched it.
3. Sunset Boulevard – I originally had this one in a tie for second place, but eventually decided to avoid cop-outs of that sort. It’s a little denser, but it has more chops, in my opinion as a great film that B&B. I will likely remember it more clearly ten years from now.
4. In a Lonely Place – it was good, but the others on this list are great.

All of these are films I’d recommend without hesitation. And I’d add Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to the list if you enjoy them. It’s the modern equivalent of these movies, and well worth your time.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His own look at the media industry can be found in Timeless, a fast-paced and sexy thriller that follows journalist Marianne Caruso as she uncovers a smuggling and drug ring in Southeast Europe. You can check it out here.

In The Quiet Man, John Wayne Proves he is About More than Just Westerns

I admit that, when I saw John Wayne’s name in the opening credits of The Quiet Man, I was a bit bummed.  I wasn’t in the mood for a western that night.

But the first scene, in technicolor brought hope: a glorious green landscape and a some Irish accents.  This was most certainly not Tombstone…

The Quiet Man Film Poster.jpg

No, it isn’t a western.  Not one gun is fired at another human being in the entire movie… and yet it still manages to be an entertaining romp where John Wayne can be at his macho best without ruining–in fact in the service of–the love story at the center of the film.

In a nutshell, this film is a take on the “boy meets girl but her family opposes the marriage” plot.  The fun part–and it is very fun–is the way the problem is resolved.  That, in particular, is not traditional at all, and it’s really fun.  Any time you need professional boxers as extras… you know it has to have some good scenes.

The best prat of this one, perhaps is the way it shows how village life can be… idiosyncratic in large ways, and how even the village priest can be complicit in the hijinks.  In that sense, it reminds me a lot of Whisky Galore.  And that is a good thing.

Anyway, this one has my unreserved recommendation.  Find it and watch it.  It’s an enjoyable film.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose collection Love and Death follows the lives and loves of a group of characters whose fates are intertwined, usually without their knowledge.  It’s a study of the truly important things in a world that so often seems indifferent.  You can check it out here.

The Greatest Appearance of Penises in Film – A Classically Educated List

Editor’s note: Those who’ve been following along from home know that we at Classically Educated truly believe in keeping things eclectic, which is why, along with out usual book and movie reviews, we have also looked at things like secular faith and stamp collecting.  

We also don’t flinch from slightly er… adult… topics, so I suppose it was only a question of time before someone addressed the thorny issue of penises in film.

As I am not an expert in the topic, this one was written by Violett (who takes a page from our regular columnist Scarlett for her nome de plume).

We hope you enjoy it.

 

I’ve seen all the complaints and read the rivers of words spilled about the objectification of women in popular culture.  Fortunately, this trend seems to be, if not reversing itself, at least becoming more balanced.  Anyone who watched the Marvel Cinematic Universe knows that, while some of the female costumes are tight, if you want to see skin, you need to wait until Thor takes off his shirt (which he does once per film, leaving no dry seats in the house).

But what about when you want to see a little more… Full frontal isn’t just for men, but then again, it hasn’t been for a while.  The porn industry is run by women for a reason: the superstars are the gals, the guys are just there to provide something to stick them with.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here.  We’re talking about penises in film that actually mean something.  Not necessarily as sexual items, but definitely something that makes us smile.  Ranked in ascending order of importance.

5.  El Lado Oscuro del Corazón (The Dark Side of the Heart).  This one is a sleeper, but when the characters spend a decent chunk of a film wheeling an enormous stone penis around one of the world’s larger cities, you have to give them a nod.

Dark side of the Heart Penis.jpeg

Honorable mention in the stone penis category goes to The Naked Gun for the immortal accusation, in a list of charges, of “…assault with a concrete dildo.”

4. American Gigolo.  A young Richard Gere bares all, which is a lovely way to continue this list.  A-list actresses are always showing their stuff, and this one brings some balance to things.  Not much, but for 1980, this is a good one.  Sorry for the incomplete (ahem) pic, but we’re building a list of films, not necessarily doing the reveal of the more interesting stuff here.

Richard Gere in American Gigolo

Honorable mention in the A-List actors being naked in films with the word “American” in the title goes to Amercian Psycho’s Christian Bale.

3. Caligula.  This one declares its intentions from the second scene: to be the first mainstream movie with real actors to also feature sex as it really is (well, that last bit may be a stretch considering the fact that we’re dealing with one of the crazy Roman emperors here), but at least the stuff that is supposed to be erect is erect, and everything is used as various deities demanded.

It’s a classic for a reason.  Probably because it shows the adults in the audience sex the way it really looks and pretty much how it will be once they get home after the dinner and the movie.  It treats adults like adults.  (If you watch this, make sure you see the full-length version as there were a couple of cuts intended for Americans who would have fainted if they saw a real movie with real erections in it).

The ultimate irony of this film, of course, is that Peter O’Toole is the major star in it, and that’s not a porn actor’s stage name (I hear that Helen Mirren also became important and actually learned how to wear clothes in later films).

Caligula 1979 film

Honorable mention has to go to 9 Songs, another mainstream film with unsimulated sex that looks real because it is.

 

2) John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut.  This one probably classifies as the medical miracle of porn films, but it brings balance to people tired of seeing women as the medically enhanced participants in adult entertainment.

For those who don’t know, Bobbitt’s pee-pee was sliced off in a fit of rage by his wife and then reattached in a nine-hour operation (Lorena would have been well-served to use the blender, one thinks).  Acting in a porn film after that probably counts as the greatest cinematic comeback ever.

John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut

Also, best DVD cover blurb ever.

Honorable mention in the straight porn flick category goes to El Satario as, apparently, the first ever pornographic film (some scholars of the medium dispute this claim, but then, if watching a bunch of dirty movies could ever make you a scholar, every guy I know is a post-doctoral genius).

 

1) And the film which puts a penis reveal not only in front of the audience but also puts it at the center of the plot is…

Drumroll for those who haven’t guessed it yet…

The Crying Game, of course.

Now, I’ve been told by the editor of this blog that we can’t give spoilers here, but those of you who know how this movie plays out will know that it earns its place at the top of the list the hard way (no, not that kind of hard.  You are obsessed).

The Crying Game

Honorable mention?  How about any version of Murder on the Orient Express.  They contain no penises (why isn’t it peni?), but they share the limitation that they are movies that can really only be enjoyed, as they then lose any semblance of suspense.

So, that’s my list.  Any suggestions for expanding can be made in the comments – I’ll try to answer quickly!

 

Violett didn’t let us give a real bio of her other than to say she owns a cat and does not, despite rumors to the contrary, collect films featuring penises.  As for the site, the editor is Gustavo Bondoni, a novelist and short story writer who doesn’t collect penises either, but who sometimes allows his protagonists to do so (figuratively if not literally).  Marianne, the main character of his novel timeless knows exactly what to do with one when she gets a hold of it.  Of course, that’s when she’s not being chased by international criminals.  You can check the book out here.

Ace in the Big Carnival

Here’s an interesting entry in the 1001 Films list–a movie with two different titles.  Apparently, the studio changed the name from Ace in the Hole to The Big Carnival upon release and then Turner Classic Movies arbitrarily changed it back.

Ace in the Hole - Kirk Douglas - Movie poster

More interesting still is that this one completes Hollywood’s media attack trifecta.  They clobbered the theater, cinema and now the press.  All three are fascinating in much the same way as a car crash.  A cynical view of modern cultural icons as they were back then.

Though it continues the list of films that show media people in unattractive light, this one is particularly cynical because Kirk Douglas‘ character (too bad he died this year as it would have been awesome to give him a shoutout) plays someone who isn’t just battling internal demons but also corruptly putting others at risk.

The important element of the ending is one you can see a mile away and, worse, though the character does come to see the error of his ways, the Hays Code means that it ends well for no one.

It’s another bleak Wilder vehicle after Sunset Boulevard and The Lost Weekend, and our estimable director apparently wanted us never to forget his previous unfortunate characters, as evidenced by the fact that the insurance company man from this film works for the same fictitious company featured in Double Indemnity.

Anyhow, this one is for people who enjoy a good suffering melodrama.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose dark fiction is collected in the 2020 ebook Pale Reflection.  You can check it out here.

Greek Myths, Death, Rockers and Mods

OK, so the rockers and mods were still a decade away when Jean Cocteau released Orphée (Orpheus) in 1950, but the film gives a rockers and mods vibe, with the poets playing the mods and the sinister motorcycle cops cum Death’s assistants playing the rockers.

Orphee Film poster.jpg

Deepening the mod and rocker theme, the different factions are represented by their choice of different exotic vehicles.  The main character, a successful poet that is beyond the “mod” phase of his peers (played by Jean Marais, who looks like he could walk out of the film and into a modern day Lacoste ad with no updating whatsoever) drives English cars while Death and her minions prefer French machines.

Of course, anyone who’s seen this film knows that Death steals the show.  Played by María Casares, she is both sinister and tender in her portrayal of an elemental force.

Normally, a semi-surrealist, existential retelling of one of the less pleasant Greek myths would be something I’d run from at breakneck speed, but since I’m on a mission to watch the 1001 films list, my hand was forced.

And I’m glad it was.  This is not just a great film,  it is a good film.  Wonder of wonders, the artistic sensibilities don’t get in the way of a compelling, emotionally gripping story.

We enjoyed this one enormously, even if it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending (when death is dressed as a dominatrix half the time, you might expect other kinds of happy endings, but it doesn’t have one of those, either).

It also exudes a sense of moving into a more modern era, foreshadowing the sixties before anyone imagined the sixties were coming, but in a very different way from On the Town.  While the American film seemed to break tradition, this one simply drags the art film into the present and even pushes it into the future without breaking the central tenets of the genre.

Recommended to pretty much everyone, but especially to serious cinephiles who will be appreciative of the nuance (look at me, pretending to know about cinema!).  A good one.

Also, shouting out to ons of the stars of this one, Juliette Gréco, who is still among us.  Thanks for being a part of this!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work often goes off in strange directions.  His collection Pale Reflection is a great introduction to his writing which should appeal to people who like Orpheus.  You can buy it here.