Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Two swell movies, and one mediocre

I don't have cable up in Milton, so last weekend's trip to Amherst supplied me with the first viewing of TCM I've had in years! I saw two good movies: "Grapes of Wrath" (the 1940 one, of course) and "Tokyo Joe," (1949) with Humphrey Bogart and Sessue Hayakawa (he was the featured star that night). Oh, and I also saw "The Farmer Takes a Wife" with a very, very young Henry Fonda, which was just goofy, but what are you going to do? Don't you prefer the Erie Canal to a farm?! Only if you've seen this movie will that sentence not seem like a non-sequitur.

Now, lots of people have seen "Grapes of Wrath," so I won't comment at length, but seeing it was a good reminder of what is fine filmmaking. And oh-so-timely. Also, I felt a little guilty about complaining about losing capital on the house. After all, I've never been bludgeoned by union busters or had my farm plowed under. And I was pleasantly surprised by Casy, who I felt I recognized, and for good reason: he was played by John Carradine. The scene near the end when Casy is explaining why he could no longer be a preacher--it took my breath away.

But--I found "Tokyo Joe" rather more fun--even though it was clear 10 minutes into the movie that it could not possibly end well. It features a real-honest-to-goodness "postethnic" moment (re: my last post) when, while the Japanese insurgent/mobster/criminal is being interrogated in Japanese, the [Asian-American] interrogator stops, sighs, and says something like, "I just don't get these goofy Orientals!"

"Tokyo Joe," is pretty fair to the Japanese in this postwar drama--Bogart goes back to Japan to resurrect a nightclub he was forced to leave during the war . . . and after having fought, he returns to find his old buddy Ito (Teru Shimada) tending the bar, and they have a good old judo session to renew the friendship. Of course, an old wife of his (now remarried) re-enters the picture, and some shady business besides, and you know Bogey is going to have to die. But not before saying the one dated line in the whole movie; something about the American presence in Japan being there so that the people will be able to "stand up on their hind legs" against oppressive leaders. So, I cringed of course, but smiled a little too, on the inside. I am, after all, a great believer in American democracy.

By the way, nobody steal that line about "Tokyo Joe" being postethnic! It's going in my book.

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