This blog is dedicated to the memory of David Weintraub, who took on insidious astroturfers and won.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hollywood Censorship as an Indicator of Traditional American Fascism

scene from Waterloo Bridge

Donkeytale's going to be mad at me. For one, I don't think he likes my mentioning him in these entrees. Though I think deep down, he loves the attention. His biggest whine usually has to do with his thinking I am always pushing his dairies down to the bottom of the page, as soon as they are posted. To quote Steve Martin, "Well, excuuuuusee me!" In my defense, I have sent in nomination papers to Meta Magazine for him to be considered for blogger of the month. His new one is pretty good. It's directly below this one, which I admit is of the mail-in variety. He gave props to community activists from Milwaukee. It's pure leftier than thou material. That's the stuff. Now let's get back to my old movie fetish.

There's no getting around the fact that the Hays Code ruined much of Hollywood, and that it never fully recovered. Fascist, authoritarian tentacles reach into every facet of American society. Business, education, military, politics, media, those are the biggies. The world of cinema has not been immune.

A dumbass will not recognise this as truth. He or she will label it anti-American hyperbole. That is why society can be whittled down to two factions, piggies versus leftier than thous.

I thought I had a semi-original entry in the works concerning Waterloo Bridge. But then I found this link, The Tortured But Triumphant Saga of Waterloo Bridge by Mick LaSalle. Its thesis pretty much is the same for what I came up with. The 1931 version of Waterloo Bridge was pure brilliance, while the more well-known 1940 version was rubbish. Mick's first two paragraphs were almost word for word what I was going to present for my opening.
There are two film versions of the Robert Sherwood play, Waterloo Bridge, one made during censorship in 1940 and the other made before censorship in 1931. If you want to see what the Code did to movies, watch both. If you just want to see a good picture, watch the 1931 version....

The 1940 version is some nonsense about a ballerina (Vivien Leigh) who throws herself off a bridge. The 1931 version is about an American showgirl who gets stranded in London at the start of World War I and becomes a prostitute. Either that or starve. It's one of the earlier pre-Codes that presents a prostitute, not only sympathetically, but as romantically viable and someone a guy should want to marry.
It's a good article. Unfortunately, Mick got the 1940 ending wrong. Leigh did not throw herself off the bridge. I can't fault him too much. Great movie critics such as ourselves are prone to make some mistakes. I think in a previous entry, I theorised that Clark Gable gave up on having good breath when his love Jean Harlow died. I should've written Carole Lombard. Anyway, he continued:
The picture stars Mae Clarke, best known for getting a grapefruit in the face from James Cagney in a movie called The Public Enemy.

face meet grapefruit

I apologise for some spoilers in this blog entry. If you haven't seen the original yet and are into classic movies, see it first and then come back. Do not watch the remake, unless you want to to check out American censorship in action. Let's start by looking at the original.

The story was simple but powerful and openly hostile towards capitalism and war. Myra was working as a chorus girl right before the onset of WW1. When the show she was in closed, she and her friend Kitty were left in poverty with no prospects. They went into prostitution to survive. This is a similar theme to a Chinese classic I looked at months ago called The Goddess, prostitution as state induced victimhood.

Roy was a grunt in the British army and met Myra on Waterloo Bridge during an air raid. That was a hangout for women selling their bodies, if they wanted to cover rent and have food on the table.

In the original, Roy was an innocent 19 year old. He had no clue Myra was a hooker. He just thought she was poor. He was mad for her looks. He figured in war time, life decisions needed to be sped up. People need to fall in love more quickly out of necessity.

Myra felt dirty. Kitty told her to go for it. Her advice was for her to marry the kid, he gets blown up in France or wherever, and then she'll get compensated.

But despite her being a prostitute, she still had enough dignity left to not want to take advantage of Roy. She liked him. It turned out they were both Americans whose fates brought them to London. She's a few years older than him, and his innocence reminds her of how she used to be at the same age.

She's torn. Roy tricks her into spending time with his rich family. Bette Davis played his sister.

Davis later said she wanted the lead role, that she could have played it well. I am starting to come around to donkeytale's thinking that Bette Davis was mucho overrated. Mae Clark played the part in a very naturalistic manner. Davis would have emoted the role to no end. Bette Davis benefited from the culture of personality which has dominated Hollywood. It's an industry that crystallises the idea that it's not what you can do in front of the camera, but what kind of schtick you have which really matters. So a Peg Entwistle ends up jumping off the Hollywoodland Sign. A talent like It Girl Clara Bow got driven out for being too free-spirited. John Garfield's health fell apart after being blacklisted. His only crime was having a sweet spot for social issues.

The remake of Waterloo Bridge is the version most well-known and gets the acclaim except from movie aficionados. The whole premise of that romance was based on good looks. Robert Taylor as Roy became a Captain and not a grunt. He was older too. Myra was no longer a chorus girl but turned into a ballerina. Unlike in the original, when she turned to prostitution to make ends meet, it was completely sanitised. The original didn't mickey mouse around that topic.

Who was prettier, Leigh or Taylor?

One needs to see the endings of both to fully comprehend why the original was a masterpiece and the remake a dud. If you don't want those spoiled, stop reading.

In the original, Myra runs out on Roy because she doesn't feel clean enough to be his wife yet doesn't want to use him for his money. Roy tracks her down on Waterloo Bridge. He needs to get back to the war front and is pleading his case for them to be engaged. Myra's landlady had revealed to Roy that she was a prostitute and low life whench. I can't remember the exact words. To paraphrase Roy's response to the slum lady, he told her to shut up her stinking face.

On the bridge, Roy revealed to Myra that he finally knew she had been street walking. He told her he didn't care, that he knew she only had done it, because she had no other choice. He gave her money, told her to take care of herself, and that he would be returning soon. They kiss. Myra, for the first time in years, felt like a human being. Roy got on a truck with other soldiers. Myra squeezes the money tight and starts running with joy to get off the bridge towards safety.

Unfortunately, she got nailed with a bomb, and that's that. But she died knowing her big lie had been revealed, and her true love still wanted to be with her forevah. The ending was kind of a letdown at first. But after reflecting on it, I think it was groovy after all. There doesn't always have to be a perfect ending as in apple pie and good times. Her death signified that war destroys good lives indisciminately. The main point was that she wanted to live, when it happened. It wasn't God striking her down or anything stupid like that.

The ending to the remake, on the other hand, was pure crap. Myra threw her life away by running in front of a vehicle. She thus died while in a state of torment. She never got the closure the original Myra was afforded. She died feeling like pond scum. Her death had nothing to do with the horrors of war and so-called collateral damage. In the original, meeting Roy probably saved her soul. In the remake, despite it being pushed as a classic romance, Roy was responsible for Myra ending up in hell, if there is one.

In the original, Roy met Myra after she had already become a prostitute. In the remake, Myra became a hooker because of her hooking up with Roy. She got fired from her ballet job because she missed curfew. For reasons never explained, she was in love with Pretty Boy. So basically, the remake was all about fate turning a good person into dog meat. The second Waterloo Bridge was basically a cynical ploy by Hollywood to capitalise on two famous actors in their prime. The first one had a real plot, organic transitions, and a tight presentation concerning universal, moral dilemmas. There's a word for how the remake ended. It's called cheating.

I think one really needs to check this out for themselves. I was very moved by the original and disgusted by the remake. The first Waterloo Bridge was actually missing in action for many decades, until it was located in the Nineties. The article linked above explains.

Hollywood was severely damaged by the Hays Code, no doubt about it. A fatal blow was delivered by McCarthyism. It definitely wasn't television that destroyed the movies.


Anonymous said...

Not having seen the original in its entirety, I viewed it as two similar films with the same title. Vivien Leigh was spectacular in parts of hers, especially the luncheon with her future mother-in-law.

The "original" was more raw and intense. I would not dismiss the "remake" but Taylor seemed to "phone in" his portrayal. I would recommend both for different reasons.

socrates said...

I value your opinion, even if I still disagree. I haven't seen either in a while, so my memory of both are fading. I would never watch the remake a second time. I just might watch the original again, if the opportunity arises. It was that good a precode.

I will say this for a theory. A measure of a good movie is often reflected by how long the memory of it stays fresh.

I vividly remember Mae Clarke and I think his name was Douglas Montgomery. I don't remember one bit the portrayals by Taylor and Leigh, other than he was a debonaire elitist and she the shy artist. I concede some of that may be because Taylor and Leigh had such other vivid parts, while Clarke and the other dude weren't in that many more memorable pictures. Well, Clarke was playing the tomato sidekick to Cagney.

The female hero was a prostitute. That was crucial to the equation. The remake was a sanitised version, no doubt.

A lot of movies before US censorship and foreign flicks often have portrayed the truth of prostitution; Not that it was moral, but that it was a result of the social structure. What's her name was not a bAllerina. Without the hooker angle, I just don't see the movie being anything than a tv melodrama albeit with high prodction values and A stars.

Thanks for posting, whoever you are.