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Posts Tagged ‘Born Yesterday’

Independence Day: Characters Count

The fourth of July has become somewhat of a bittersweet holiday for me, as of late. Although the birth of our nation was founded on inclusive, democratic ideals, the current climate of the American political system can be, well, downright depressing. Although I want to show patriotism for my country on the day of its birth, how can I celebrate the spirit of America when those in the public sphere are not exhibiting it? Well, I’ll tell you how: through the movies.  Yes, there are certain classic film characters that have stuck out in my mind as embodying the true sprit of America. Armed with integrity, a strong sense of democracy and a tenacious, spunky attitude, the following three classic movie characters all represent the best this young nation has to offer.

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James Stewart as Jefferson Smith from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:
American Integrity

At the start of the film, to call Jefferson Smith naive, is to call the kettle black. Of course he’s naive — that’s why he was chosen, so to speak. He so genuinely believed in the American Spirit, in the American Way, that it never even crossed his mind that the government, let alone a trusted friend and politician, could be rife with greed and corruption. His disillusion is something, in my opinion, that every observant, patriotic American citizen will one day endure. I only hope that we can all endure it with the same dignity and integrity as Jefferson Smith.

Much like the forefathers of the United States, Jefferson would not sit idly by and watch as corruption and lies ruled the American (or in the forefathers’ case, Colonial) landscape. To be honest and loyal to the people of a government — and not simply to the government itself — was of the upmost importance. So what did Mr. Smith do? Well, he fought for what he thought was right. He stood up to the government in its own building, surrounded by those whose biggest wish was to see him fail, and through the discourse of the American Spirit, reminded the most corrupt of the American people (the politicians), the meaning of what it is to be American.

“There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”

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Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird:
American Ethics

To me, Atticus Finch (just like Gregory Peck) is seemingly too perfect to be true. Intelligent, compassionate, and oh-so gosh darned good looking, I can only wish a man that perfect, that dignified, could really exist. But, as of now, I am willing to accept him for what he is: a representation of American Ethics.

What always stuck out to me about Atticus was, not simply the fact that he was willing to defend Tom Robinson, but rather, what the trial meant to him. The trial was not simply a job; the fate of single man in a racist, small town. For Atticus, the case represented something more. He was not just fighting for the innocence of an individual; he was battling the precedent of an unfair, unjust legal system. He was fighting for the American people and arguing for the responsibility each American has for his fellow man. And even if the battle was uphill, even if failure was imminent, and we all know it was, that was not the point. The point was to do what was right; to work towards equality and democracy even if the outcome is already prescribed.

“In our courts, all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system – that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality! Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review, without passion, the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of GOD, do your duty.”

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Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday:
American Tenacity

Stubborn, crass, with a great capacity for learning, Billie Dawn’s narrative arch is not unlike that of the United States. Kept as a prize by a larger domineering entity, the only thing the United States and Billie Dawn needed was a little education and a little push to break away from their oppressors.

The reason I chose Billie Dawn to represent American Tenacity, as opposed to another, how shall we say, more couth character, is because America isn’t always very couth — and I don’t consider that a bad thing. Billie is rough, Billie is tough, but most of all, when given a fair chance, Billie is smart. Her hard edge and simple disposition may fool those around her, but deep down, Billie is as capable of learning the highest concept of the American Ideals as any Harvard Graduate. And once she became aware of her own power, nothing could stop her.

“Because when ya steal from the government, you’re stealing from yourself, ya dumb ass.”

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Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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6. All About Eve (1960)

Other Nominated Films:
Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, King Solomon’s Mines, Sunset Boulevard

14 Academy Award nominations. Four female acting nominations. #28 ranking on AFI’s Top 100 films. One of the first 50 films to be registered into the U.S. National Film Registry. It’s safe to say that All About Eve is one of the greatest films to ever hit the silver screen. Based on the short story The Wisdom of Eve, by Mary Orr, All About Eve begins with an awards dinner celebrating Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), one of Broadway’s brightest new stars. Attending the event is theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) who recounts, in a voiceover, his interpretation of how Eve rose to stardom as quickly as she did. A year earlier, the biggest star on Broadway was Margot Channing (Bette Davis). On the night of one of her performances, Margo’s close friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) meets Eve Harrington in the alley outside of the theater. Karen recognizes Eve since Eve has waited in that alley many nights trying to catch a glimpse of her idol (Margo) leaving the theater. Karen takes Eve backstage to meet Margo, and at that time Eve also meets Margo’s entourage — Celeste’s husband and the play’s author Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe); Margo’s boyfriend Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) who is also a director; and Margo’s maid Birdie (Thelma Ritter).  Eve gushes on about how she’s followed Margo’s last theatrical tour and then goes on to tell about the difficult life she’s led being an orphan and losing her husband in the war. Margo takes an immediate liking to Eve and hires her as her assistant. From this point on, we witness some of the greatest acting of all time, as well as one of the most ruthless on-screen betrayals in a long time. In my opinion, All About Eve was way ahead of its time. I plan on finding and reading the script at some point because the dialogue is some of the wittiest I’ve heard in any movie. The film portrays the entertainment industry as brutal; one day you’re on top, the next day someone younger and better looking steals the spotlight from you and you are forgotten. It all depends on who has the more driving ambition, and if you can’t keep up, you’re going to get knocked out of the way. Nominated for 14 Academy Awards, All About Eve held the record for most nominations of any film until James Cameron released one of the most expensive melodramas in history, Titanic. To this day, All About Eve is the only film to receive four female acting nominations (Davis and Baxter as Best Actress, Holm and Ritter as Best Supporting Actress). All About Eve also brought us one of the earlier important roles for a certain young up-and-coming actress who would forever change the movie industry — Marilyn Monroe. I’d also like to give a shout-out to Sunset Boulevard, which was the main competition for All About Eve. Sunset Boulevard was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, exceeded only by All About Eve.

 

Nominated for 14 Oscars, Winner of 6
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – George Sanders (WON)
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White – Edith Head, Charles Le Maire (WON)
Best Director – Joseph K. Mankiewicz (WON)
Best Picture – 20th Century Fox (WON)
Best Sound, Recording – 20th Century-Fox Sound Dept. (WON)
Best Writing, Screenplay – Joseph K. Mankiewicz (WON)
Best Actress in a Leading Role – Anne Baxter
Best Actress in a Leading Role – Bette Davis
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Celeste Holm
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Thelma Ritter
Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Black-and-White – Lyle R. Wheeler, George W. Davis, Thomas Little, Walter M. Scott
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – Milton R. Krasner
Best Film Editing – Barbara McLean
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture – Alfred Newman

Margo Channing: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

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