Art Vs Commerce: How Green Was the Golden Age? (1940s)


Switching up the format a little because guess who’s already back baby.

The Box Office Champ

That’s right, audiences demanded further adventures of Father Chuck, and they got them at lightning speed. Maybe it’s just my 2020 perspective talking, because currently the only way a sequel comes out a year later is if the movies were filmed back-to-back or it’s something easy to churn out like Saw sequels, but even the 19 months between the releases of Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s seems rapid. Guess I’m just mad that Warner Bros felt four years was a rational amount of time to make me wait for a second Aquaman.

Anyhoo, this time Father Chuck is joined by Sister Superior Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman, moving from success to success this decade) as he rolls into a new town to try to save a run-down Catholic school that’s in a standoff with a greedy developer. They love the fancy building he built over their old playground, he wants to buy their building, and is willing to use his position on the city council to get them condemned. But watch out, old man, ’cause Father Chuck is here to charm you into submission. But along the way, Father Chuck and Sister Mary butt heads over how to serve the girl of a single mother. Sister Mary wants tough love, Father Chuck, being Father Chuck, preaches compassion, including managing to reunite her long-estranged parents because that’s Father Chuck, babycakes.

This, to me, played like the perfect Hayes Code romance. A man and a woman who were quite fond of each other but could in no way have sexy times.

Bing Crosby has such a soft, easy charm that it’s hard not to like him, and Bergman is also excellent, so this is another simple, easy, calming movie that probably went great with its Christmas release date. I was not mad to watch both of these Father Chuck movies back-to-back.

How Green Was Their Valley? Oooo coulda been greener. Their Valley is a greyish, muted Green at best.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: A solid 85%, though the audience score only gives it 77.

Audiences still wanted sweet and safe in the aftermath of the war. The Oscars, however, went a different way this year.

And The Oscar Goes To…

It’s Billy Wilder, everyone! Director of classic comedies like Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch! Will this be one of those? No. See, Billy Wilder also directed Sunset Boulevard and Witness for the Prosecution, and this is more in that vein.

A so-called writer named Don is an alcoholic, so far gone that he has developed multiple strategies to have constant access to rye despite his girlfriend Helen’s encouragements to stay sober and his brother’s best efforts to cut off his supply of booze. He goes through multiple incidents that would qualify as anyone’s rock bottom, including a bartender reaming him out for bad behaviour, hitting his favourite call girl up for booze money, and needing to steal a purse to pay his bar tab, getting caught, and having the piano player at said bar improvise a song mocking him.

It tackles alcoholism with all the nuance and subtlety of Reefer Madness, 12 years after prohibition. Don calls himself a writer but he never writes a word during the course of the movie, and I’m sorry but being a drunk doesn’t automatically make you an artist. The amount of time and effort he’s willing to sink into always being drunk boggles the mind.

It doesn’t help that we live in a post-Trainspotting world. Trainspotting handled addiction without this aggressive heavy-handedness, and managed to make its POV character vastly more likeable. In this case, I spent an hour asking “How many rock bottoms is it going to take?” along with “Why is anyone invested in this man’s continued existence?” Towards the end of the first act, when Don’s brother is ready to give up but Helen loves him too much to let him die, it was hard to see Helen’s side of things. Its moral has all the nuance of that Star Trek episode where the aliens’ faces were half-black and half-white.

Here’s a Twitter thread of my reactions.

How Green Was Their Valley? Their Valleys were Zack Snyder-level grey and miserable.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: They find it blunt yet effective, ranking it right at the top of the second third, 33/93.

Other Events in Film

  • Actual musicals were still happening, including Anchors Aweigh this year.
  • Casper the Friendly Ghost made his undead debut in, appropriately enough, The Friendly Ghost.
  • Roberto Rossellini ushered in Italian neo-classicism with Roma Città aperta if any of that means something to you. It should, since foreign films were one of the things whittling down the Hays Code’s powers.
  • Time to Kill introduced the world to one Betty White.

Next Page: Home From War

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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