Classic Film · Film

The Reformer and the Redhead

Trigger warning, this movie starts off quite gruesomely. The villain of the film “kills” a lion on a hunting trip in Africa and you 1. see the lion, 2. see a gunshot and 3. see the man standing over a presumably dead lion in an image. It’s followed by much of the same, with the villain’s niece taking part in the ‘sport’, and includes: a leopard, a warthog, an elephant, and a rhino. It’s horrible, but that’s the point. And in 1950, when big game hunting was still a sport and quite a popular one among the elite, it’s a big deal. [Also, indicative of the time, a black man is actually the one skilled enough to kill the animals while the white man and his privileged niece get all the credit.]

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“For what possible reason could a sensible man get mixed up with a girl like that?”

The movie then transitions to a zoo where Commodore Parker (the aforementioned villain) and his niece Lily are presenting their trophy heads to the administration’s office as gift. Obviously, this makes no sense. Even if we also view zoos as less than ideal for the preservation of/care for wild animals nowadays, even in 1950 one would assume that it’s common sense that a place that’s a habitat for animals shouldn’t have the trophy heads of wild animals hanging in its offices.

Enter Kathleen Maguire (June Allyson), or Kathy, a zoo tour guide and daughter of the zoo’s superintendent Dr. Maguire, who learns from her coworkers that her father has just been fired on the very same day as the gifting ceremony of the trophy heads…because, surprise surprise, Dr. Maguire understands how terrible and hypocritical having them at the zoo is. It’s a stance Kathy shares quite adamantly, her face turning up in disgust and pity for the slaughtered animals being mounted on the walls. Of course, this is a movie about politics as much as it is social commentary so Dr. Maguire isn’t fired for his fight to get the heads taken down rather some other reason the commission has cooked up, all because Commodore Parker’s money talks louder than ethics or decency.

“Don’t be naive,” a journalist friend of the Maguires tell them in response to their confusion at how the commission could do such a thing. Over sixty years later, in a political climate where real news is at war with fake news; political corruption; and a lack of ethics or decency, this advice is still very accurate.

Quickly we see the stark difference between Dr. Maguire and his daughter. While they have the same passions and convictions, they have different approaches (explained later by Kathy as particular trait in their family). Dr. Maguire is the quiet, take the punches graciously, go through the civic process of filing a complaint, peaceful sort. Kathy has too much of a temper for that sort of thing. She wants things done and she wants those things done now. She wants her dad to fight back. She wants to take the political bull by the horn and effect change. And she’ll fight anyone who comes along that she believes deserves it, even Lily Parker herself.

Which is how she winds up in need of a lawyer and ends up crossing paths with Andrew Rockton Hale (Dick Powell), or Andy, an attorney general who has put his name on the ballot to run for mayor on the reform platform, even if he’s far from being a reformer and is currently trying to woo the Commodore Parker machine in order to secure his win – while also not wanting to give Parker any power over him (he wants to run his own machine, thank you very much).

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What follows is a political romantic comedy with animals thrown in for good measure, including a plot point borrowed straight from Bringing Up Baby. I won’t give away too much of the details, but I’m sure you can guess how it goes if you haven’t seen it.

This is my favorite film costarring Allyson and Powell, but it has nothing to do with their relationship in the film. In fact, the romance could be completely taken out and I’d probably like the movie more (for a few different reasons), but as it is, it’s not even a very central part of the film. Kathy and Andy don’t spend even half of the movie together, by my count – at least not directly interacting – which is one of the reasons I would enjoy it being taken out; it feels a little unnecessary. What I am here for is Kathy, the social commentary, and a different relationship in the film.

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I do so love feisty females who don’t conform to the more ideal gender standards (especially in old films) and June was a queen at playing them – even if it was the studio’s way of saying she wasn’t glamorous enough for other roles. This is very true of her turn as Kathy in the film. She’s a lovely lady with a big heart, who thinks animals should be treated humanely, that politics should be clean and open and fair (and playing the political game even for the right reasons/greater good tars you with the same brush, that reform should happen and those on the margins should be given fair shots (e.g. orphans and immigrants), and so on. But what I love about the film is that her goodwill towards animals and people has nothing to do with her being some overly-feminine type; it doesn’t utilize the stereotype that women are naturally more empathetic. The fact of the matter is, Kathy has been flying off the rails at injustice – particularly cruelty to animals – since she was a little girl. And, arguably, a major theme of the film is both aspects of her, that is both her rough edges and soft edges, rub off on Andy. He learns to actually care for the people and for animals and he grows a genuine backbone to stand up to others, including fierce lions.

“See, when I went to Sunday School I was taught thou shalt not kill. Well, as far as I’m concerned that also applies to elephants.” I agree, Kathy. I agree.

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Which brings me to the next thing I love about this movie, the social commentary. Sure, it’s still 1950 and the film plays it pretty safe. It’s nothing that hadn’t been seen before, in films such as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. But I like to think that in 1950, every film with a social conscience was one step closer to the approaching Civil Rights era and even more socially aware Hollywood of that era. Likewise, watching this film is a little bittersweet when examined side by side with the political chaos of 2017. We need Kathleen Maguires and lots of them because somewhere along the line the Parkers of this world regained the upper hand (ironically, I blame the world Reagan’s presidency gave birth to, which gets a little meta when you factor his relationship with Allyson and Powell into things). Also, the film isn’t perfect in this regards, but it does spend a small chunk of time on the importance of immigrants to America. It’s not perfect in the fact that, outside of Mexico, it focuses on white European immigrants (Hungarians, Swedes, etc.) and white-passing Mediterranean immigrants (Italians, Greeks) – and there is only the one black hunting guide at the beginning and a singular Asian-as-the-help stereotype present in the film. That said, it’s of note to consider that in 1950 even white immigrants were on the margins in white America, because the fact is when non-white people are already mostly in their place white people in power will turn against other white people they make up reasons to deem as “lesser” than themselves (and, more accurately, this happens simultaneously with their efforts to put people of color in their place, but it’s less overt so as not to lose their votes to a candidate that is not anti-poc).

Also, being an animal lover and someone who wants to see the banning of all hunting, wants to see zoos change in their formats, more wildlife reservations, etc. I one hundred percent adore any movie that takes the stance that animals deserve to be cared for.

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Lastly, there’s another relationship in this film that, in my personal opinion, outshines Kathy’s and Andy’s. And that is the relationship between Andy and his law partner/campaign manager Arthur Colner Maxwell, or Artie (David Wayne). Their bromance is so strong that, arguably, it’s actually intentional homosexual subtext. While Artie is Andy’s right hand man and support throughout the film (in fact, they get just as much, if not more, screen time together as Andy and Kathy) and that includes him supporting him helping him with his romance with Kathy, he also spends a good deal of the time playing jealous lover. He orders the “cheap and stubby” roses for Kathy on behalf of Andy. And when Andy is dropped off at the apartment the two men share, and shares a kiss with Kathy, Artie’s response is: “You can wake up now. You’re home, dear.” Followed by a questioning, “What was that? *panicked voice* What was that?”

While, of course, it could be just a very strong friendship, there’s one particular exchange between Kathy and Andy that leads me to believe something more than friendship was being subtly implied (which could make sense in a movie about reform, even if I disagree that Andy would need to be reformed of that too by Kathy). In the exchange I’m referring to, Kathy (very much like June did in her pursuit of Dick) asks why Andy has never been married; given his age, surely there’s been enough women in his life for him to have considered it. Andy confirms that he’s “a man of considerable experience.” But strangely, especially considering that this is 1950, Kathy outright asks, “Women?” Obviously, that’s the only option, right? In 1950? One isn’t going to outright as a man if he’s gay in a movie… And yet, she asks for clarification if it’s women. Maybe she means to clarify if he means he’s just experienced in other worldly ways – a drifter so to speak – to the point that maybe he’s never bothered with women. But Andy’s answer to her question is even more surprising: “Some.” Some. Again, this could be taken to mean, he’s experienced in a lot of different ways, some of which includes women. Or it could mean exactly what it sounds like at face value, especially considering that he sleeps in a single bedroom with another man who is waiting up for him following this exchange (as already described above), that he has experience with both men and women. Especially since Kathy follows that up by asking for clarification on the “some” by asking, “Many?” The final bit of this exchange makes it even more likely that more is being implied. Kathy, realizing he has had experience with more than enough women (all “standard equipment” as his only description when asked what they were like), wonders then why Andy hasn’t ever been married. Andy’s response is a flat, “They were either too standard or not enough equipment.” Kathy: “Oh. OH.”

Add to it a few more exchanges between Andy and Artie, such as Artie promising “Whither thou goest” and a lampshade engagement gag where Andy “proposes” to Artie, it’s no stretch of the imagination that this was slipping some homosexuality/bisexuality in past the Hays Code, even if – again – the underlying point is that Kathy comes along with her aggressive manner and offers Andy what other women couldn’t. But, hey, sorry Artie, if my theory is correct and Andy is supposed to be bisexual, I’d drop anyone for Kathy too if I were him. How could you not…

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Overall, I think this is a cute little movie, especially if you’re into movies like Bringing Up Baby, or a fan of June Allyson. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to give it a watch if you can. Again, look at how beautiful Junie is. How could anyone not want to watch it?

june-banner-3This post is part of the June Allyson Centenary Blogathon hosted by Simoa at Champagne For Lunch, in celebration of what would have been June’s 100th birthday! For more entries, click on the banner and if you enjoyed my post, you’re sure to enjoy the others even more!

XOXO Elinor Anne James

(All screencaps taken by me. Feel free to use if you’d like!)

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Reformer and the Redhead

  1. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!! The subtext, I can’t wait to rewatch this and actually pay attention this time. A very beautiful and precise write up on such a charming, lovely film. The political commentary, June’s amazing performance as a woman who fights against injustice, so full of fire & gumption even in that tiny frame.

    Excellent, perfect, amazing, etc. Thank you so much for joining, and for designing the banners too!

    Like

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