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

1946

Okay, World War II is in the rearview… which only means that movies about it can have some sense of closure, not that they won’t still happen. But first, it’s time for a movie about the war’s end… possibly the movie about the war’s end.

The Joint Champion

Air force captain Fred Derry, infantry sergeant Al Stephenson, and naval seaman Homer Parrish come home from World War II to the same small town, but find that settling into their old lives is harder than they expected. Al has trouble connecting to his children (who are at max three years older than he left them but sure), has no trouble connecting with booze, and finds that his new job with the bank he’d worked for seems to be turning down veterans in need of loans; Fred finds that dropping bombs on the Japanese doesn’t qualify him for any stateside job, something that doesn’t help him with his party-girl wife (a fact noted by Al’s daughter); and Homer lost both of his hands, and worries that his childhood sweetheart is only staying with him out of pity.

The difficulties soldiers have in returning home is an important part of military life that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Sure it got some third-act attention in The Hurt Locker, but also a complete hatchet job in American Sniper that did more harm than good, and The Punisher insisting that every vet is one sympathetic drink from being radicalized into a domestic terrorist. The Best Years of Our Lives, on the other hand, has a right-wing asshole try to convince Homer that he lost his hands for nothing because the US picked the wrong side in the war, and it gets his American flag pin torn off by a hook hand and his Nazi-loving ass punched through a display case by Fred.

Now it’s not perfect, from a modern perspective. Cast has some real peaks and valleys. The most it has to say about PTSD is Fred’s nightmares; Fred’s wife wanting to keep working is seen as a bad thing; we could have used a stronger rejoinder about the Allies being the “wrong side.” But for the 1940s, it’s a good, quietly powerful look at how a soldier’s burdens don’t end when they ship home.

That said, it’s ahead of modern Hollywood in one way. Having an actor who actually lost his hands in the war play Homer would be seen as a radical move in 2020, where the studio would no doubt say “instead, let’s find someone thirsty for an Oscar, preferably someone who has mass audience appeal, but failing that Eddie Redmayne I guess.” Hiring the guy from the official army training video for the hook hand prosthetics wouldn’t even occur to them.

How Green Was Their Valley? Astroturf Green. Seems like a perfectly Green Valley until you look close and realise it’s not real.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: This one comes in at 21/93. Not quite top twenty. I can respect that.

Other Events in Film

  • Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life premieres in New York in 1946. It tanks. The studio accidentally lets the copyright lapse and it becomes a holiday staple on TV, making it into an enduring classic.
  • Humphrey Bogart took on a second classic hard-boiled detective, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, in The Big Sleep.
  • Someone decided that Sound Pioneer and First Name in Blackface Minstrel Shows Al Jolson needed a goddamn biopic, and so The Jolson Story came to be, and I’m only mentioning it as sinister foreshadowing.

Next Page: The War at Home

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