My Son John (1952)

Image From Greenbriar Picture Shows

Last Wednesday, TCM presented the first television screening of Leo McCarey’s MY SON JOHN in decades. It screened as part of the “Shadows of Russia” series, which tracked Hollywood’s depiction of the country from Tsarist times through Soviet rule. Programmed by the NY Post’s Lou Lumenick and the Self-Styled Siren‘s Farran Smith Nehme, it offered a wonderful chance to catch up with McCarey’s underrated rarity. The reason for its obscurity lies in its politics. Produced during the height of the House Un-American Activities Committee (for which McCarey was a friendly witness), it is strongly anti-communist, and has been dismissed in many corners as mere McCarthy-era hysteria. As Robin Wood wrote in Sexual Politics and Narrative Film, the film is generally presented in a condescending manner: “typically introduced with an apologetic chuckle signifying, ‘Nowadays, of course, we can laugh at this.’” The usually sage Robert Osborne adopted this attitude in his introduction to the telecast, referring to it as an embarrassment, and our own astute Morlock Jeff emphasizes the “hysteria” over its other virtues in his article on the movie.  I have to respectfully disagree with my colleagues.

To reduce the film to a kitschy red scare product ignores the complex dynamics occurring in the family unit. Dean Jagger plays the father, Dan Jefferson, an earnest American Legion member who can’t conceive of a world outside his small-town newspaper. He’s an ingratiating buffoon with a quick temper and a taste for the beer barrel at the Legion hall, likeable enough until he starts singing nativist jingles and tossing his son across the room. He is an intentionally ridiculous character, as McCarey told Peter Bogdanovich in Who The Devil Made It?, as unbending in his conservative beliefs as John is with his communist ones. Personally, McCarey may have gravitated more to the father’s view, but his artistic temperament, which cherished improvisation and spontaneity, would never allow a such a monolithic man to be a hero (hence Renoir’s famous quote that McCarey understood people better than any other Hollywood director). Instead he is thrown through a series of farcical scenes – the song, a drunken rant, an absurd whack of the bible – that display his child-like pettiness and his inability to adapt to the times. His paranoia is proven accurate, but this does not alter the boorish nature of his character. His wife Lucille is the one who uncovers her son’s secret, and is the true dramatic center of the film.

Lucille, played spiritedly by Helen Hayes after a 17 year absence from the screen, is the pragmatic one, calming Dan’s fears, enduring his rages, and attempting to understand John’s point of view. She is patient with her husband but also fiercely independent, evidenced when she secretly dumps the pills he foists on her for her “anxiety”. She coddles him like an impudent pup, with a condescending kind of love. He provides the bombast, but she is in control of the relationship. Hayes’ performance is a bit of a high wire act, managing swings from manic energy to swooning depression with a few broad strokes – her darting eyes and sing-song voice ease the way down to the tragic conclusion. I think she succeeds wonderfully, evincing a rock-ribbed faith in God (in the eyes), paired with a mischievous sense of humor (her staccato laugh).

There is an especially moving scene where John is describing the world’s duty to help raise up the poor, and she finds a connection to Catholicism’s similar tenets to tend to those living in poverty. The joy in her face at this empathetic moment is beautiful and devastating , because she has yet to understand the basic incompatibility of their world views, and hence their imminent separation (and also because of the intensity of McCarey’s close-ups). Her inability to transcend the barrier between these ideologies turns her into the central tragic figure of the film, and is why Dave Kehr calls it McCarey’s most “emotionally demanding movie after Love Affair“. Her capitulation to Dan, when she tells him he was right about their son, is another scene of devious power, with Lucille’s ashen face on a different plane from Dan’s obliging attempts at apology for his drunken antics the night before. It is a drama of generational feuding and familial fissure more than anything else, as Martin Scorsese has also noted.

John is played by the incredible Robert Walker with icy disdain, a callow kind of condescension that college boys convey upon returning home from their first few philosophy classes (I recognized a bit of myself in him). It ended up as his final performance. Walker died near the end of the shoot, necessitating a total rewrite of the final sequences, and some awkward matte work which included some shots from the final carousel sequence in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. It is these final scenes that have marred the reputation of My Son John more than anything else, as John’s dramatic turn away from communism had to be cobbled together out of scraps of old footage and stand-ins, rendering this already difficult arc impossible to pull off. Without an actor to improvise off of, the subtleties of McCarey’s character work fall away, the family drama fades into the background, and McCarey’s staunch anti-communism dominates, turning the last act into more of the straight propaganda film its critcs claim it is. But it still contains echoes of the emotionally wrenching work that came before, in the few shots of Helen Hayes’ eyes.

McCarey claims it could have been his best film if Walker had survived, perhaps an impossible claim with The Awful Truth and Make Way for Tomorrow on his resume, but it lies at the center of his thematic world – at the nexus of personal freedom and familial responsibility that winds through his greatest work. It may not be his best film, but it is an essential one.

10 Responses My Son John (1952)
Posted By moirafinnie : February 2, 2010 5:45 pm

Hi RES,
You’ve made an excellent and challenging argument for seeing MY SON JOHN as an essential part of Leo McCarey‘s career, even if it is a bit disturbing– like seeing a fondly remembered uncle fall asleep with his face in the stuffing at Thanksgiving after drinking too much elderberry wine.

I was thinking about writing about this powerful movie too, but not having seen this film since childhood, I was surprised at how compelling the film was in certain ways, almost reminiscent of Eugene O’Neill and William Inge’s more acidic portraits of families that refuse to face certain realities, though in this case it is seen through one of the most distorted lenses of the McCarthy era.

The tension in the family members, particularly the mother, was evident from the first scene when Dean Jagger‘s father fumes about her dawdling before church. Helen Hayes, an actress whose level of tension on film was always in too high a key for me, (except for her performance in Anastasia), did a great job creating a professional mother hen whose constant movements, brooding and fussing may have led her husband to describe her as “an angel from heaven”, but also made it impossible for any of the men in her household to be regarded as adults.

Everything that is said or done in the household seems to have a double meaning, with that subtext acknowledging the issues under the furniture and in those dark corners of the house. I was amused and repelled by Dean Jagger‘s mindless and buffoonish jingoism, and I kept diving for the remote to turn the sound down when he went ballistic every five minutes. I kept asking myself: “this guy was a teacher??” Where? The John Birch Elementary School?

While I can see that Helen Hayes‘ mother was meant as the emotional fulcrum of this dysfunctional family, her cloying performance and her devastation after her discovery of her son’s complicity in treason were undercut by the overly melodramatic crack-up she suffered. I understand that McCarey may have been making a none too subtle point about the condescending attitudes of the men around her toward women, the destruction of her personality when the truth was brought to light about her son was, I felt, the one lesson that this morally overwrought film made most forcefully: menopause and stress apparently lead to madness–at least in the ’50s. Btw, Hayes claimed that the script she was contractually obligated to shoot was completely different from the one that she had read when she first agreed to make this film.

I did feel that all the Jeffersons were tragic people, (even the cannon fodder brothers, off to Korea), and that quality was something I could not have understood when I first saw this film. After mulling it over for a few days, I think that the best reason to watch this movie may have been to see the demonically entertaining performance of Robert Walker‘s disdainful, yet disturbed and moved prodigal son. His sense of shame and the ridiculous at the same time was fascinating, even though it was almost as though he was trying to keep his parents from knowing his sexual deviancy, not his political bent.

Observant, superior, conflicted and clearly a lonely figure, Walker‘s “John” seemed to be trying to connect with his parents as best he could, even while fighting with one and keeping the other at arm’s length. At first his mocking attitude toward his father seemed to be one of the few funny aspects of the film, (and it reminded me a lot of Bruno in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN), but gradually it seemed to reflect years of disappointments on both sides and a rigidity in both men that could not unbend enough for them to connect except in violence.

The ramshackle Jefferson house, the constant questions that John was peppered with by both his parents, and the physical and emotional darkness of the film, emphasized by Harry Stradling,Sr.‘s cinematography, (which made me wish that someone would turn on a 100 watt bulb occasionally in the old homestead), all contributed to a suffocating feeling of claustrophobia. This airless quality in the Jefferson’s home made me understand the Walker character’s desire to turn his back on his familial past. His wish to believe in something that sounds as superficially logical as Communism is understandable given this “comforting” background.

I was particularly interested in the roundabout conversations and “innocent” comments constantly pouring out of the characters. Mom and John have the most cryptic exchanges, alluding to something other than the topic at hand all the time. One example is John’s reply to his mother when she asks if he has a girl. Replying with a snort he says condescendingly, “sentimentalizing over the biological urge isn’t exactly a guarantee of human happiness, dear” as well as his father’s statement that he’d like to give it to his son “with both barrels” or John’s swearing on the bible with the “I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Communist party” followed by his inquiring if his mother feels better now, while she looks on with a glow on her face murmuring “I can’t wait for your father to come home.” I was pretty startled by that scene when the FBI is secretly filming Mom Jefferson after she’s dropped off in Washington by Van Heflin who justifies his actions by saying, “we gather information, we don’t give it out”. While watching the films later with his buddy, Heflin says “That’s a mother’s instinct” as Hayes furtively darts a glance over her shoulder to make sure that he’s not following her. That’s such a strange thing to say.

I think what bothered me even more than the loopy dialogue was the anti-intellectualism of the film. Education, curiosity about the world, and even normal attempts at critical thinking, and moving away from Mom and Dad may all be reflections of that period’s fear of change, but I suspect they also tell us more about Leo McCarey‘s tortured mind set by 1952, such as it was.

I’m really glad that TCM ran this movie, since, as you pointed out, it really needs to be seen to be believed. Like it or not.

Thanks again for writing so well about this thought-provoking film. Sorry to go on so long.

Posted By moirafinnie : February 2, 2010 5:45 pm

Hi RES,
You’ve made an excellent and challenging argument for seeing MY SON JOHN as an essential part of Leo McCarey‘s career, even if it is a bit disturbing– like seeing a fondly remembered uncle fall asleep with his face in the stuffing at Thanksgiving after drinking too much elderberry wine.

I was thinking about writing about this powerful movie too, but not having seen this film since childhood, I was surprised at how compelling the film was in certain ways, almost reminiscent of Eugene O’Neill and William Inge’s more acidic portraits of families that refuse to face certain realities, though in this case it is seen through one of the most distorted lenses of the McCarthy era.

The tension in the family members, particularly the mother, was evident from the first scene when Dean Jagger‘s father fumes about her dawdling before church. Helen Hayes, an actress whose level of tension on film was always in too high a key for me, (except for her performance in Anastasia), did a great job creating a professional mother hen whose constant movements, brooding and fussing may have led her husband to describe her as “an angel from heaven”, but also made it impossible for any of the men in her household to be regarded as adults.

Everything that is said or done in the household seems to have a double meaning, with that subtext acknowledging the issues under the furniture and in those dark corners of the house. I was amused and repelled by Dean Jagger‘s mindless and buffoonish jingoism, and I kept diving for the remote to turn the sound down when he went ballistic every five minutes. I kept asking myself: “this guy was a teacher??” Where? The John Birch Elementary School?

While I can see that Helen Hayes‘ mother was meant as the emotional fulcrum of this dysfunctional family, her cloying performance and her devastation after her discovery of her son’s complicity in treason were undercut by the overly melodramatic crack-up she suffered. I understand that McCarey may have been making a none too subtle point about the condescending attitudes of the men around her toward women, the destruction of her personality when the truth was brought to light about her son was, I felt, the one lesson that this morally overwrought film made most forcefully: menopause and stress apparently lead to madness–at least in the ’50s. Btw, Hayes claimed that the script she was contractually obligated to shoot was completely different from the one that she had read when she first agreed to make this film.

I did feel that all the Jeffersons were tragic people, (even the cannon fodder brothers, off to Korea), and that quality was something I could not have understood when I first saw this film. After mulling it over for a few days, I think that the best reason to watch this movie may have been to see the demonically entertaining performance of Robert Walker‘s disdainful, yet disturbed and moved prodigal son. His sense of shame and the ridiculous at the same time was fascinating, even though it was almost as though he was trying to keep his parents from knowing his sexual deviancy, not his political bent.

Observant, superior, conflicted and clearly a lonely figure, Walker‘s “John” seemed to be trying to connect with his parents as best he could, even while fighting with one and keeping the other at arm’s length. At first his mocking attitude toward his father seemed to be one of the few funny aspects of the film, (and it reminded me a lot of Bruno in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN), but gradually it seemed to reflect years of disappointments on both sides and a rigidity in both men that could not unbend enough for them to connect except in violence.

The ramshackle Jefferson house, the constant questions that John was peppered with by both his parents, and the physical and emotional darkness of the film, emphasized by Harry Stradling,Sr.‘s cinematography, (which made me wish that someone would turn on a 100 watt bulb occasionally in the old homestead), all contributed to a suffocating feeling of claustrophobia. This airless quality in the Jefferson’s home made me understand the Walker character’s desire to turn his back on his familial past. His wish to believe in something that sounds as superficially logical as Communism is understandable given this “comforting” background.

I was particularly interested in the roundabout conversations and “innocent” comments constantly pouring out of the characters. Mom and John have the most cryptic exchanges, alluding to something other than the topic at hand all the time. One example is John’s reply to his mother when she asks if he has a girl. Replying with a snort he says condescendingly, “sentimentalizing over the biological urge isn’t exactly a guarantee of human happiness, dear” as well as his father’s statement that he’d like to give it to his son “with both barrels” or John’s swearing on the bible with the “I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Communist party” followed by his inquiring if his mother feels better now, while she looks on with a glow on her face murmuring “I can’t wait for your father to come home.” I was pretty startled by that scene when the FBI is secretly filming Mom Jefferson after she’s dropped off in Washington by Van Heflin who justifies his actions by saying, “we gather information, we don’t give it out”. While watching the films later with his buddy, Heflin says “That’s a mother’s instinct” as Hayes furtively darts a glance over her shoulder to make sure that he’s not following her. That’s such a strange thing to say.

I think what bothered me even more than the loopy dialogue was the anti-intellectualism of the film. Education, curiosity about the world, and even normal attempts at critical thinking, and moving away from Mom and Dad may all be reflections of that period’s fear of change, but I suspect they also tell us more about Leo McCarey‘s tortured mind set by 1952, such as it was.

I’m really glad that TCM ran this movie, since, as you pointed out, it really needs to be seen to be believed. Like it or not.

Thanks again for writing so well about this thought-provoking film. Sorry to go on so long.

Posted By Rick : February 5, 2010 12:31 am

When I first heard TCM was showing MY SON JOHN, I immediately circled the calendar and anxiously looked forward to seeing this controversial item. I’m usually a rose-colored optimist when it comes to misappreciated or long-missing films, hoping to be pleasantly surprised, likewise fascinated by those communist themed films of the 1950’s, even the notoriously bad ones, which inevitably find me thoroughly engaged. Alas, MY SON JOHN, despite all its credentials and notoriety (the behind-the-scenes fiascos), proved a rather arduous viewing experience. The long-winded, spoon-feeding, awkwardly written script was primarily to blame, which McCarey obviously totally believed in and milked throughout. And I believe he is mostly responsible for the overdrawn performance of Helen Hayes, which is indeed the center of the film … WAY too theatrical (McCarey should have tempered this) and reflective of a growing tendency of his later films, being blatantly manipulative by design. This would also apply to Dean Jagger’s role, though his character seemed to embrace its overbearing behavior a bit more cordially, while Robert Walker’s seemingly effective underplaying actually came off more like disinterest for the role. From my perspective, there was very little to commend the film, save its academic interest as a signature albeit stilted auteur piece and propaganda relic, which, at over 2 hours, definitely outstays its welcome.

Posted By Rick : February 5, 2010 12:31 am

When I first heard TCM was showing MY SON JOHN, I immediately circled the calendar and anxiously looked forward to seeing this controversial item. I’m usually a rose-colored optimist when it comes to misappreciated or long-missing films, hoping to be pleasantly surprised, likewise fascinated by those communist themed films of the 1950’s, even the notoriously bad ones, which inevitably find me thoroughly engaged. Alas, MY SON JOHN, despite all its credentials and notoriety (the behind-the-scenes fiascos), proved a rather arduous viewing experience. The long-winded, spoon-feeding, awkwardly written script was primarily to blame, which McCarey obviously totally believed in and milked throughout. And I believe he is mostly responsible for the overdrawn performance of Helen Hayes, which is indeed the center of the film … WAY too theatrical (McCarey should have tempered this) and reflective of a growing tendency of his later films, being blatantly manipulative by design. This would also apply to Dean Jagger’s role, though his character seemed to embrace its overbearing behavior a bit more cordially, while Robert Walker’s seemingly effective underplaying actually came off more like disinterest for the role. From my perspective, there was very little to commend the film, save its academic interest as a signature albeit stilted auteur piece and propaganda relic, which, at over 2 hours, definitely outstays its welcome.

Posted By Al Lowe : February 8, 2010 1:03 pm

Maybe it is the Irish in me.

I’m a little surprised that when McCarey is being discussed, his two biggest hits – GOING MY WAY, BELLS OF ST. MARY’S – are ignored. GOING MY WAY, in particular, is a lot of Irish blarney. I assume from past references in her writing that Moirafinnie is even more Irish than I am. My mother’s maiden name was Cassidy and Lowe is Scotch-Irish, although like many Americans I descended from other nationalities too. GOING MY WAY was a blockbuster in its day and BELLS OF ST. MARY’S was just as popular. GOING MY WAY got the Best Oscar in 1944, the year they decided not have ten nominees any more, just five (although they could have come with ten nominees, such as COVER GIRL, GASLIGHT, MR. SKEFFINGTON, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, DOUBLE INDEMINITY, JANE EYRE, THE UNINVITED, MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, LAURA, MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS, LIFEBOAT, THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO, MINISTRY OF FEAR, etc.)

My point is that mentioning McCarey without mentioning his two biggest hits is like mentioning James Cameron without mentioning TITANIC. Of course McCarey’s two best pictures are MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and AWFUL TRUTH, although DUCK SOUP is not shabby either.

Interestingly, when other directors, like Capra, were in decline, McCarey made a comeback with a big hit, AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, a film which still has many devotees and, of course, was mentioned in SLEEPING IN SEATTLE.

As I said, I think my Irish blood made me want to post this comment. I’m just trying to keep the failure of MY SON JOHN in context to the rest of his career.

Posted By Al Lowe : February 8, 2010 1:03 pm

Maybe it is the Irish in me.

I’m a little surprised that when McCarey is being discussed, his two biggest hits – GOING MY WAY, BELLS OF ST. MARY’S – are ignored. GOING MY WAY, in particular, is a lot of Irish blarney. I assume from past references in her writing that Moirafinnie is even more Irish than I am. My mother’s maiden name was Cassidy and Lowe is Scotch-Irish, although like many Americans I descended from other nationalities too. GOING MY WAY was a blockbuster in its day and BELLS OF ST. MARY’S was just as popular. GOING MY WAY got the Best Oscar in 1944, the year they decided not have ten nominees any more, just five (although they could have come with ten nominees, such as COVER GIRL, GASLIGHT, MR. SKEFFINGTON, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, DOUBLE INDEMINITY, JANE EYRE, THE UNINVITED, MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, LAURA, MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS, LIFEBOAT, THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO, MINISTRY OF FEAR, etc.)

My point is that mentioning McCarey without mentioning his two biggest hits is like mentioning James Cameron without mentioning TITANIC. Of course McCarey’s two best pictures are MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and AWFUL TRUTH, although DUCK SOUP is not shabby either.

Interestingly, when other directors, like Capra, were in decline, McCarey made a comeback with a big hit, AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, a film which still has many devotees and, of course, was mentioned in SLEEPING IN SEATTLE.

As I said, I think my Irish blood made me want to post this comment. I’m just trying to keep the failure of MY SON JOHN in context to the rest of his career.

Posted By moirafinnie : February 8, 2010 1:55 pm

Your celtic origins and mine aside, all of Leo McCarey’s blarney-steeped films you mentioned–including My Son John–creeped me out, Al. I never liked An Affair to Remember either, since, except for the brief scenes graced by Cathleen Nesbitt, it seemed to me to be a mechanical reconstruction of the much better Love Affair (1939). I agree with your choices of McCarey‘s best, and hope that you are looking forward to the release (finally!) of Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) on DVD on Feb. 23, 2010.

While watching My Son John I kept hoping that the priest character played Frank McHugh would have an epiphany and point out to the “Jeffersons”*, that Pop (Dean Jagger) and Son John (Robert Walker) were both off their nut. We could probably write a few thousand words about the disturbing depiction of devoutly Catholic families shown in My Son John and I Was a Communist for the FBI, but that must have been a target audience in the early ’50s. Before we draw a veil on that hot button issue, I do want to mention that I think McCarey’s Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s were probably important cultural milestones–as was the stardom of Bing Crosby–in the assimilation of Roman Catholics into the social fabric of American life, even if the reality was sometimes at odds with these cozy depictions.

*I love the fact that this obvious Irish-American family had to be labeled with a “pure” American name in this odd movie.

Posted By moirafinnie : February 8, 2010 1:55 pm

Your celtic origins and mine aside, all of Leo McCarey’s blarney-steeped films you mentioned–including My Son John–creeped me out, Al. I never liked An Affair to Remember either, since, except for the brief scenes graced by Cathleen Nesbitt, it seemed to me to be a mechanical reconstruction of the much better Love Affair (1939). I agree with your choices of McCarey‘s best, and hope that you are looking forward to the release (finally!) of Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) on DVD on Feb. 23, 2010.

While watching My Son John I kept hoping that the priest character played Frank McHugh would have an epiphany and point out to the “Jeffersons”*, that Pop (Dean Jagger) and Son John (Robert Walker) were both off their nut. We could probably write a few thousand words about the disturbing depiction of devoutly Catholic families shown in My Son John and I Was a Communist for the FBI, but that must have been a target audience in the early ’50s. Before we draw a veil on that hot button issue, I do want to mention that I think McCarey’s Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s were probably important cultural milestones–as was the stardom of Bing Crosby–in the assimilation of Roman Catholics into the social fabric of American life, even if the reality was sometimes at odds with these cozy depictions.

*I love the fact that this obvious Irish-American family had to be labeled with a “pure” American name in this odd movie.

Posted By Al Lowe : February 8, 2010 3:43 pm

You refer to MY SON JOHN as “This odd little movie.” That’s probably the best way to describe it. I saw it years ago when it was televised and didn’t care to repeat the experience. Here are some points I want to make.

1. I agree with you on some of your ideas and disagree on others. I, too, never liked AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER much, although my original point stands. He was able to make a successful comeback when his colleagues from the 30s were floundering.

2. McCarey was not a “team player.” The most amazing thing he did after the hugely successful GOING MY WAY was to make a sequel with the same star playing the same character – but at another studio! That wasn’t done in those days. Heck, it’s not even done today.
I’m sure no one urged him to make MY SON JOHN just as no one pressured him to make the “blarney” pictures. He did what he wanted to do.
Would MY SON JOHN be better respected if it was more liberal and rational in its point of view? My guess is it would still be a mediocre movie.

3. I’m sorry that you dislike GOING MY WAY. It is tough when you like a picture and someone whose opinion you respect is repulsed by it. It is worth mentioning that I showed both BELLS OF SAINT MARY’S and AWFUL TRUTH to the elderly who go to the local Senior Center. (I show a movie a week there.) BELLS was much more popular. Who knows what they’d think of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW – if I ever get the DVD.

4. Here’s one minor objection to McCarey’s getting credit for DUCK SOUP. There were a lot of cooks involved in making that broth – producer Herman Mankiewicz, writers Kalmar and Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin, the Marxes themselves. Who knows who was responsible for what? Who will ever know?

5. I still stick to my original point. If someone is known for a huge success that production should not be ignored during discussion of his/her work and career. You wouldn’t write about Dietrich without mentioning von Sternberg or about Spencer Tracy without mentioning Katharine Hepburn. And, as I originally said, you wouldn’t write about Cameron without a reference to TITANIC.
When such a notable success is ignored, you begin to wonder why, what are the motives for doing that.

Posted By Al Lowe : February 8, 2010 3:43 pm

You refer to MY SON JOHN as “This odd little movie.” That’s probably the best way to describe it. I saw it years ago when it was televised and didn’t care to repeat the experience. Here are some points I want to make.

1. I agree with you on some of your ideas and disagree on others. I, too, never liked AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER much, although my original point stands. He was able to make a successful comeback when his colleagues from the 30s were floundering.

2. McCarey was not a “team player.” The most amazing thing he did after the hugely successful GOING MY WAY was to make a sequel with the same star playing the same character – but at another studio! That wasn’t done in those days. Heck, it’s not even done today.
I’m sure no one urged him to make MY SON JOHN just as no one pressured him to make the “blarney” pictures. He did what he wanted to do.
Would MY SON JOHN be better respected if it was more liberal and rational in its point of view? My guess is it would still be a mediocre movie.

3. I’m sorry that you dislike GOING MY WAY. It is tough when you like a picture and someone whose opinion you respect is repulsed by it. It is worth mentioning that I showed both BELLS OF SAINT MARY’S and AWFUL TRUTH to the elderly who go to the local Senior Center. (I show a movie a week there.) BELLS was much more popular. Who knows what they’d think of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW – if I ever get the DVD.

4. Here’s one minor objection to McCarey’s getting credit for DUCK SOUP. There were a lot of cooks involved in making that broth – producer Herman Mankiewicz, writers Kalmar and Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin, the Marxes themselves. Who knows who was responsible for what? Who will ever know?

5. I still stick to my original point. If someone is known for a huge success that production should not be ignored during discussion of his/her work and career. You wouldn’t write about Dietrich without mentioning von Sternberg or about Spencer Tracy without mentioning Katharine Hepburn. And, as I originally said, you wouldn’t write about Cameron without a reference to TITANIC.
When such a notable success is ignored, you begin to wonder why, what are the motives for doing that.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

As of November 1, 2017 FilmStruck’s blog, StreamLine, has moved to Tumblr.

Please visit us there!

http://filmstruck.tumblr.com/tagged/streamline-blog

 Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.