Friday, November 25, 2016

Mount TBR #58

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960 - Jeanine Basinger

In mid-November Turner Classic Movies showed the woman’s movie Invitation (1953), giving us veteran movie buffs a chance to run down the melodrama checklist.

·         Deception, check: For the very best of reasons, a father and fiancé tell terrible lies to a wistful vulnerable woman. 
·         Setting, check: Upper middle class or lower upper class family, unspecified Northeastern town.
·         Check and double-check: No mother, but a doting father.
·         Love & marriage as central issue, check: Reconciled to being a spinster, Plain Jane blonde – indeed, we should all be as homely as Dorothy McGuire.
·         The bad brunette rival, check: Ruth Roman, of course.
·         Point of rivalry, the genial though fickle male, check: boyish Van Johnson, of course.
·         Lots of flashbacks, check:  to the point of maddening and pointless, in fact.

Anyway, poor Dorothy McGuire learns the secret why her husband married her. And selflessly accepts the reality of the situation. Melodramatic, but convincing. Our hard-pressed heroine comes to an admirable stoic conclusion, “It is not enough just to survive – at the end of our lives we have to be able to say that we lived.” She echoes Seneca in On the Shortness of Life: ‘Show me that the good in life does not depend upon life’s length, but upon the use we make of it; also, that it is possible, or rather usual, for a man who has lived long to have lived too little’.

Not Stella Dallas or Imitation of Life or Now, Voyager, but a worthwhile movie, I don’t demand the 90 minutes back again.

All in all, a worthy example of the “woman’s film,” a movie that was made to appeal to a female audience. Film historian Basinger argues it became a critically disrespected genre because many of the early 1930s movies for women really were trash. She also argues that modern film historians don’t like the genre because they think Hollywood movies supported anti-progressive views about women’s place at home, at work, in the world. Basinger makes the convincing argument that Hollywood made movies to make money so it tried to appeal to everybody and offend nobody. But, in fact, Hollywood writers and directors did manage to convey messages that all was not right with courting, marriage, the world of work, and motherhood.

In about 550 pages, Basinger provides plenty of plot explications to support her basic arguments. Because this book is for the general reader, not students at universities, it is written clearly, with humor and light-heartedness. I highly recommend this book to fans of classic Hollywood and others who tear up when, in Dark Victory, Bette Davis looks up at the bright noontime sky and says, “Goodness, getting darker, must be a storm coming….”

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