Friday, July 03, 2015

You Can Change the World

You Can Change the World. Finally Bob Hope is caught via telephone, but Jack Benny gets nervous about the phone bill.
US 1950. D: Leo McCarey. C: Padre James G. Keller, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Jack Benny, Ann Blyth, Bing Crosby, Paul Douglas, Irene Dunne, William Holden, Bob Hope, Loretta Young (se stessi). P: William Perlberg per Christopher Films. 16 mm. B&w. 27’. English version. From: UCLA Film & Television Archive.
    The duration of this screening was 33 min.
    Viewed at Cinema Lumiere - Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) (Seriously Funny. The Films of Leo McCarey), with earphone translation in Italian, 3 July 2015.

Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website): "Father James G. Keller was a charismatic Catholic priest whose message of personal responsibility for social justice and of America as a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles found surprising resonance in the early years of the Cold War, as a “compassionate conservative” response to Communism."

"The media-savvy priest attracted many followers among Hollywood’s religious community, including McCarey, who apparently saw him as a real-life version of Going My Way’s Father O’Malley."

"This intriguing 30-minute film, produced by William Perlberg (The Song of Bernadette) for Father Keller’s charity, The Christophers, was distributed without charge for television and theatrical showings, and represents McCarey’s principled response to the Red Scare: before an unlikely group of celebrities gathered in Jack Benny’s home, the good father lays out his method for achieving an America free of racial and religious prejudice, where poverty will be eliminated by individual acts of kindness (as in Good Sam) rather than a radical redistribution of wealth. McCarey had testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, but declined to ‘name names’ on the eminently democratic grounds that, while the Communist Party was clearly a malignant agent of a foreign government, party membership was not against the law. A fascinating companion piece to McCarey’s 1952 My Son John, shown in Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2006. This is a rare, uncut print which includes Bing Crosby’s performance of the song Early American."
(Dave Kehr)

AA: Leo McCarey's grandeur of spirit is unmistakable in his entire oeuvre: in the profound sense of joy of his comedies, and in the unique tact in his stories about human relationships (Make Way for Tomorrow, Love Affair). His religious films (Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary's) are deeply spiritual in a rich register from comedy to elegy.

The sincerity in McCarey's Cold War films is unmistakable, and he went beyond the call of duty in making them. My Son John and Satan Never Sleeps are key anticommunist films which reveal an unhinged emotional foundation with which we are asked to identify. They are not far from being unintentional parodies.

Good Sam and You Can Change the World are also exhibits for a discussion about the trouble with the message movie. It is hard to believe that anyone would be convinced by them. In You Can Change the World the main spectacle is about the cast of famous stars being put ill at ease.

The film takes place at Jack Benny's house, but Benny acts like he is a stranger at his own home. This is a film of lost looks, being incredulous, and hamming one's trusted routines (Benny's "being stingy"). I was thinking about Joseph Tura playing Colonel Ehrhardt and complaining to his fellow theatrical conspirators that "I'm running out of dialogue", having had to repeat his single line "so they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt, ha ha ha" one time too many.

A weird experience.

No comments: