Rob Edelman: Yesterday And Today

Jan 29, 2018

Several weeks ago, on a dark rainy morning, I watched a pair of vintage Hollywood films on Turner Classic Movies. The first was titled TOGETHER AGAIN, and it dates from 1944. TOGETHER AGAIN is a romance about a small-town Vermont mayor who is, horror of horrors, a woman. She is played by Irene Dunne, and I have to wonder: How many of you remember Irene Dunne? Anyway, in no way would this character ever enter politics on her own. It so happens that she is the widow of the now-former mayor, and she inherited the position upon his demise. But of course, now that she is no longer married, her one goal in life should be to find a new man quick, and remarry. And once she crosses paths with charming Charles Boyer, you know that, by the finale, she will relinquish her position all in the name of love, marriage, and a woman’s predetermined lot in life. 

TOGETHER AGAIN was followed by THE TOY WIFE, from 1938. The setting is the antebellum American South. Introduced at the outset are some happy, smiling slaves who uncomplainingly accept their Grade Z lot in life. Later on, a white man scolds a group of slaves by promising that, if they do not act in a certain way, they will end up being sold. However, the role of women also is presented in THE TOY WIFE. At one point, the following bit of dialogue is spoken. And that is: “Every woman should have a house, a husband, and children of her own.”

In relation to their depictions of women and black-Americans, TOGETHER AGAIN and THE TOY WIFE may be reflections of their eras: the pre-modern-day feminist and civil rights movements. But the events that recently have been occurring in our midst only can make one wonder: How much really has changed, regarding attitudes among certain Americans in relation to women and race? How many would readily accept these centuries-old views of blacks and women, and their roles within a white male-dominated society? 

And finally, one sequence in DARKEST HOUR, the current Winston Churchill biopic, clearly and obvious relates to our present culture. It’s the early years of World War II and Churchill, the British Prime Minister, is being pressured by some of his fellow politicians not to do battle against the Nazis. They would rather simply give in to Adolph Hitler, and shake hands with their aggressor. Now what’s a Prime Minister to do? Well, at one point Churchill abandons the company of his peers, makes his way into the London Underground, and converses with some average British nationals. And practically to a person, they declare that they would rather stand tall and fight the Nazis, and not capitulate to Hitler. This impacts mightily on Churchill’s decision-making and, while watching this stirring sequence, I only could ask myself: Why don’t we have more politicians in the present who are more like the Winston Churchill depicted in DARKEST HOUR?

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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