Sunday, May 21, 2017

The original and the remake

Is it that I am necessarily a big fan of old movies? No. It is more a that I am not a fan of new movies. There are some old films that I love. There are some old films that I find interesting. Thinking that you may love or find them interesting as well, I want to bring some films to your attention so that you may catch them some time and hopefully enjoy them as much as I do.

This time around I have an opportunity to discuss an old film that I enjoy – another one that I watch just about every chance I have. It is also a film that was remade in 2015 that is a great example of why I am not a big fan of most newer Hollywood movies.

The old film of which I speak is one that I touched on briefly seven years ago (we’ve been at the Table for seven years already??).     

It is an MGM film from World War II – 1943 to be exact. The film, based upon a William Saroyan novel, was called The Human Comedy. The story concerns a teenage boy named Homer Macauley, played by 22 year old Mickey Rooney. Now don’t roll your eyes when you read the name Mickey Rooney. This film works.

Homer Macauley (Mickey Rooney)

Homer's mother, Mrs. Macauley is played by Faye Bainter. Homer’s older brother Marcus (Van Johnson) is in the army. Homer also has an older sister, Bess (Donna Reed – yes, that Donna Reed) and a little brother Ulysses (Jack Jenkins). The dead father, Matthew (trust me, it works in this film) is played by Ray Collins (yes – Lt. Tragg from Perry Mason). Oh, keep your eyes open for a young Robert Mitchum.

Matthew provides some narration from time to time. In a nutshell, Homer gets a job as a telegraph messenger to help with the family finances now that Marcus is off in the war. The telegraph office is run by Tom Spangler (James Craig). The head telegrapher in the office is Willie Grogan (Frank Morgan). 

Willie Grogan (Frank Morgan)

Mary Arena (Dorothy Morris) is Marcus’s girl next door. Tobey George (John Craven) is Marcus’s best friend in the army and was an orphan who never had a family or a home or home town.

Tobey George (John Craven) and Marcus Macauley (Van Johnson)

The two central relationships of the film are between Homer and Willie Grogan, and between Marcus and Tobey George.

Willie Grogan is an old-timer whom the company would just as soon put out to pasture. He has seen a great deal in his 67 years, much of it painful. He has a tendency to drink away his pain. He is a warm person and Homer forms a tight bond with Willie.

Marcus takes Tobey under his wing. Tobey learns all about the Macauley family and of their hometown of Ithaca, California (a fictionalized Fresno). From afar, Tobey falls in love with Bess. Tobey and Marcus plan on settling in Ithaca after the war raising families with Bess and Mary, respectively.

This is not a film without pain. One of the first telegraphs Homer has to deliver is to an Hispanic woman whose son was killed in the war. Homer is distraught. In a very touching scene, the mother of the dead soldier ends up comforting the young Homer.

It is a film about people facing those things they have to face. It is also a film about love and compassion. Being a 1940’s MGM film, you know the schmaltz is laid on with a trowel – but it all comes together. It even turns a sad ending into a somewhat happy, hopeful ending. As I said seven years ago, “Watch this film, but buy an extra box of Kleenex before you do.“

Now lets us move to the 2015 version, Ithaca. This film marks Meg Ryan’s directorial debut. I suffered through this film. And I mean suffered. I must admit that often it is hard to see a remake of something when you loved the original. While granting that, I can point to specific issues about it that detracted from it.

First of all, there is a strong “this war is useless” attitude. While I can certainly understand a sentiment of “I wish we didn’t have to fight this war,” or a pacifist's “war goes against the word of G-d,” I do have problems with a modern “this war is stupid” masquerading as 1943. People in 1943 may have hated the war, but they generally would have recognized why we were at war.

If I had not seen The Human Comedy first, I would not have really had any idea of who some of the characters were. Tobey is almost a throwaway. Mary? Alfred Hitchcock almost left bigger impressions in his cameos than Mary did in this film.

Ithaca is a dark film. While The Human Comedy is a film full of love, there is no love in Ithaca. Worse, none of the characters the film does focus on are at all likeable. I can see why Rooney’s Homer is drawn to Morgan’s Willie. However, if I were Jack Quaid’s (Meg Ryan’s and Dennis Quaid’s son) Homer I would have done what I could to spend as little time with Sam Sheppard’s Willie as possible. And I didn’t give a rip about Quaid’s Homer. I also get the impression in this version that Matthew (Tom Hanks) committed suicide.

So: watch the 1943 version, skip the 2015 version.


  1. OK, I'll avoid watching Ithica! I have a great aversion to any film dialogue that gets political. Earlier this year I was watching Nocturnal Animals as it was one of the Oscar nominated films. Although the intro was somewhat off-putting (morbidly obese naked ladies gamboling around, turned out to be an "art exhibit"), it was intriguing. I was at least an hour into it when the lead actress - Amy Adams - goes into a loathsome rant about her parents who are *gasp* Republicans, therefore hateful bigots and scum of the earth. It had absolutely ZERO to do with the movie plot, they just threw it in there because Hollywood hates conservatives. I didn't watch any more.

    I'm not particularly a fan of old films either although there are many I just love. Tonight, in fact, I'm watching Paths of Glory for the first time. I'd never heard of the film you write about, Matt, but it sounds good and I've added it to my list. I want to wait until I see it to read your full review :-)

  2. Funny, or is it sad? how anti-Republican tirades seem to find their way into movies even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

    It's not that Ithaca was "political" as such, but the "was is unhealthy for children and other living things" was certainly not a World War II frame of mind. People who did not want to be at war took it more of a spiritual mission to pray against it -- not hold a "this war is stupid" attitude and think that things would be just hunky dory if we just stopped fighting.

    1. Uh, you know that was supposed to say "war," not "was."

    2. I think it's sad and pathetic how everything has to be turned into a political message.

      Agree with you, how would WWII have turned out if we had just stopped fighting?

    3. Ich habbe keine idea? Hast du?

    4. Thanks for the movie recommendation and the movie warning. I'll avoid Ithaca like the plague.

      I've been reading a series of British detective books by Angela Marson. I've thoroughly enjoyed them until the last one, which ticked all the boxes for progressive/globalist screeching and preaching. Black boss. Homosexual hero. Helpless illegals just trying to make a better life. Eviiiilly evil conservatives as the bad guys. A plot so overwrought and unbelievable that it soured me on reading any future books by this talented author. Ugh. I honestly felt cheated and thought about asking for my money back from Amazon.

    5. "Unconditional Surrender" as the threshold for ending the war was a choice; a conscious choice and a political choice.

      And - to be clear - the right one, and the sane one. IMHO, of course.

      My only beef is with those who argue "thus-and-such was evil and ugly, but it was necessary to end the war" - no, actually; the war could have been over for the US in 1944 at the latest.

      The overwhelming likelihood is that we would have gone home and the Soviet Union would have ground up Japan and Europe within a few years, and most of itself in the process. The Empire of Japan and the Nazi regime would not have laid another glove on us.

      That's my reading of the history anyway. As to what difference it makes, I'd answer a succinct "None". :|

    6. Hmm, that last part would be confusing without the rest of the context in my head: I think we should accept the things that were done at the end of the war to achieve unconditional surrender of the axis forces: not because we had no choice, but actually, precisely because we did - and we should own it.

    7. Perhaps, lewy, but I don't think "this war was stupid" would have been anyone's motivation. Even pacifists would have prayed for a better way of resolving the issues at hand outside of war, not going with a "let's just coexist" attitude.

      I agree -- unconditional surrender was the only way to go. We would still be fighting it in one way or another if we didn't. (Not that we aren't, anyway -- just with the same teams as opposed to teams created by unintended consequences).

    8. yeah this is how these conversations went in WWII (at least most countries):

      this war is stupid




    9. Sorry about the all caps.

      But like sex and violence motivated by artistic integrity, sometimes you gotta do it.

    10. LOL. Point taken. I guess it is not that the sentiment did not exist, but rather how it was portrayed..