I was not surprised when Bruce Willis’ daughter announced this week that he was “stepping away” from acting because of what she called “aphasia.” For actors, that can be a convenient technical term for “I can’t remember my lines, and it’s not my fault,” but in Willis’s case—he’s only 67—many believe it may mean more, like that he is suffering from the after-effects of a stroke or head injury. The reason I was not surprised by the announcement is that the “Die Hard” superstar’s movie appearances have been embarrassing to him and painful to watch for at least 3 years, and there was no discernible reason, other than the fact that he appeared to be not fully engaged.
During the pandemic, when my wife and I were forced to watch far more movies we had never heard of than we wanted to, we quickly learned to avoid any Willis movie of recent vintage, and there are a lot of them. It was puzzling: Willis would be named up front as one of the stars, but he frequently had nothing to do. He looked okay, except that the spark was gone, and Bruce Willis’s spark is most of his justification for being on screen. He showed no energy, moved slowly, seldom changed expression, and delivered his lines flatly. It was suspicious. And it wasn’t our imagination. One tweeting movie fan wrote in February,
While I wasn’t paying attention Bruce Willis became the king of crappy, low budget, direct to video action films. 32 of them since 2014. Apparently he gets most of the film’s budget to show up for a day or two of filming then they build the rest of the movie around that. Nice.
Michael West’s thorough exposition of the wartime military weirdness that begins the film in Part I explains why my WWII vet and retired combat officer father, a big a fan of Bing and Danny as he was, disliked “White Christmas.”
Now where were we? Oh, right, “The First Scene”.…
The movie moves into its funny guilt extortion phase when Phil Davis rescues his smooth-singing captain from being crushed by a falling wall in a World War II bombing raid, and injures his arm in the process. (It’s not a plot feature, but the battlefield set for the entire opening sequence is itself unethically unprofessional by being chintzy even by movie musical standards: it looks like they are filming a skit for a Bob Hope Christmas Special. I thought it was lousy when I saw it as a kid. Michael Curtiz deserved better; the man directed “Casablanca.” Show some respect.) Phil then uses Wallace’s debt of gratitude to coerce him into accepting the aspiring comic as a partner in Wallace’s already successful civilian act. This is obviously unfair and exploitative, but Bing accepts the ploy with good spirits, and the next we see of the new team of Wallace and Davis, it is knocking ’em dead and rising in the ranks of stage stars.
2. Wallace and Davis
The act looks terrible. Bing was never much of a dancer, a game hoofer at best, and you don’t feature the greatest voice in the history of American popular music by having him sing exclusively duets. Nevertheless, all we see of the team’s rise is both of them singing and corny dancing inferior to what Bing did with Bob Hope in the “Road” movies.
Never mind. They have a show on Broadway, and as a favor to a mutual army buddy, they agree to watch the boonies nightclub act of “The Haynes Sisters” (Rosemary Clooney as Betty, and Vera-Ellen, of wasp-waist and “On the Town” fame, as kid sister Judy. Did you know that in the “Sisters” number, Clooney sang both parts? And that Vera-Ellen’s real singing voice is never heard in the entire film?). Bing is immediately smitten with older sister Rosemary, but there is a tiff over the fact that younger sister Judy fooled them into seeing their act: she, not her brother, had sent the letter asking for a “favor.”
This is the first revealed of many lies woven into the script. This one is a double beach of ethics: Judy uses her brother’s name and contacts without his permission or knowledge, and lures Wallace and Davis to the night club under false pretenses.
Bing dismisses Judy’s cheat by noting that everyone “has an angle” in show business (“Everybody Does It”) , so he’s not angry. Rosemary is, though, and reprimands Bing for being cynical. That’s right: Vera/Judy use their brother’s name to trick two Broadway stars into watching their little act, and Rosemary/ Betty is annoyed because Bing/Bob (Bing’s bandleader, look-alike, sound-alike brother was also named Bob) shrugs off the lie as show business as usual. True, Betty is technically correct to flag the “Everybody Does It” rationalization, but shouldn’t she be grateful that Bob isn’t reaming out the Haynes sisters and leaving the club in a huff? OK, nice and uncynical is better than nice and cynical, but Bob is still giving her and Judy a break. As the beneficiary of Judy’s angle, Betty is ethically estopped from complaining that Bing/Bob’s reaction was “I don’t expect any better.” I can, she can’t. He should expect better: accepting unethical conduct allows it to thrive. But Betty criticizing Bob is like Bill Cosby reprimanding a rapist.
As we soon find out, however, Betty often flies off the handle.
It seems that the Haynes Sisters are about to be arrested because they skipped out of their hotel room without paying, because, they say, the owner wanted to charge them for a burnt hole in their room’s carpet. Phil assumes, without confirming it, that this is an attempted scam by the hotel, though Judy, who relates the circumstances, is already established as a con-artist. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was smoking a joint and set the carpet on fire. In either event, they still owe for the bill. This happens in old movies all the time ( and in the real life adventures of Judy Garland): the heroes stiff landlords what they are owed, and the landlords are the villains. Whole generations were raised to believe that skipping out on the rent was the kind of thing good people did.
How many liberals got started with this concept, I wonder? No wonder socialism isn’t dead.
Phil arranges to let the sisters escape (thus abetting theft) to the train, which will take the girls to a gig at a Vermont inn. Wallace and Davis stall the fuzz by doing the sisters’ final number (and apparently the act’s only number) in drag. This is aiding and abetting a breach of contract and theft. Nice.
The boys barely escape arrest themselves after their spoof and jump on the same train. (The number was largely improvised by Bing and Danny, and the take used in the film by Curtiz was supposed to be ditched. The famously unflappable Crosby was cracked up by Kaye’s clowning, and reportedly was angry that an “unprofessional” moment made it into the film. Not unethical by Curtiz, though, unless he promised Bing he wouldn’t use the take. (Like, for example, John Landis, who lied to Donald Sutherland and used his gag bare-butt take in “Animal House” after promising not to.) The director’s duty is to the film, not the star. It’s also one of the few moments in the film allowing Kaye to be Kaye.
The lovely sisters are going to Vermont, so Danny and Bing, who gave the entire cast the holidays off with full pay (I doubt that Broadway ever shut down shows over the holidays, which is a prime tourist period, before the Wuhan Virus struck.) What is the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show for? But this is a necessary plot contrivance.) .
Surprise #1 when they get to the inn: no snow. Surprise #2: the inn is owned by none other than General Waverly, Bob and Phil’s much-admired commander during the war, now retired and going broke running a ski lodge where nobody can ski. The general the closest thing to consistently ethical character in this movie, and he, against all self-interest, says that he will pay the Haynes Sisters full salary to play to crickets, though he had an out in their contract that could have saved him half their fees.
If Bob, Phil, Judy and Betty had any honor, they wouldn’t accept it. The Haynes sisters are cashing in, clearly, on sexist male bias. Then again, this is how the Betty and Judy—especially Judy– roll. It’s how all gorgeous women roll in Hollywood films (and, I daresay, in Hollywood to the day.) Is it unethical for women to appeal to men’s brain-numbing hormones with faint suggestions of potential lust and love that the women know is a fantasy, because they also know many men fall for it no many how many times experience proves them to be saps?
The Barn Door Fallacy drives me crazy, and right now a particularly absurd outbreak of it is underway. The phenomenon, named after the old saw about “locking the barn door after the horse is gone,” is the product of pure emotionalism trumping reality: take extreme measures after a rare and perhaps preventable (though not necessarily) tragedy or accident as if doing so will change the fact that the unfortunate event happened. The “defund the police” madness was an obvious example: see, if there are no police, no police officer will ever unjustly kill an unarmed black man ever again! Problem solved! Brilliant!
These over-reactions are many things, all of them wrong. They are virtue-signalling by public officials who care less about solving a real problem than showing their empathy and outrage at something that “shouldn’t have happened.” They are irresponsible, because they advocate rushing into radical “solutions” to problems that are magnified by the proximity of the tragic event, and because the barn door fallacy advocates usually are insufficiently knowledgeable, often shockingly ignorant, in fact, regarding what they are grandstanding about. Moreover, the nostrums frequently are fueled by logical fallacies and rationalizations, such as “We have to dosomething!” and “If it saves just one life…!”
Much of the time, measures inspired by the Barn Door Fallacy make many things worse without making anything better. That is the likely result of the current Bran Door Fallacy freakout over the fatal gun accident on the set of “Rust,” in which a prop gun wielded by the movie’s star and producer, Alec Baldwin, fired a bullet that killed one and wounded another.
Now many in the movie industry are demanding that real guns be banned from all movie productions. Dozens of cinematographers have signed a pledge not to work on projects using functional firearms. A state lawmaker in California is drafting legislation that would ban operational firearms from sets.
Now, here’s a quiz: how many deaths from firearms have occurred on movie or TV production sets in the last, say, 50 years? Think about all the hundreds, thousands of gun battles and shootouts you have seen or know about. How many shooting deaths?
Baseball had a rare PR triumph earlier this month when it held a regular season game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox in the Iowa cornfield diamond that was the setting for the cult movie favorite “Field of Dreams.” The TV ratings were the best for any regular season broadcast in 16 years. That’s amazing, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Despite rumors of its demise, baseball still has a cultural bedrock of tradition, nostalgia and history unmatched by any other sport, professional or amateur. So many Americans would not tune in to a baseball game if they didn’t still have a flicker of affection for the sport, and if your argument is, “Yeah, but that’s just because of the movie,” the movie wouldn’t have become iconic if a lot of people didn’t care about baseball. As Terrence Mann said,
Now my confession: I’m not a wild fan of the film, nor that scene. The scene in particular is unforgivably stagey and artificial: it’s right out of the (much better) book, “Shoeless Joe,” and not even the great James Earl Jones could make it sound like anything but a recitation. I got annoyed, during the hype for the game broadcast, with “Field of Dreams” being repeatedly called “The greatest baseball movie.” I don’t regard it as that; I think it just barely makes the top five, and I could be talked out of ranking it that high.
For good reasons, many baseball writers, fans and bloggers have criticized the film over the years, and not just because it is shamelessly manipulative. But it is that. Baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, a vocal debunker of the film, writes,
“I will fully admit that a story about a father and son repairing a longstanding rift over a game of catch — with or without the magical realism elements — could form the basis of a MAJOR chills moment in an absolutely fantastic movie. The problem, as I’ve said in the past, is that “Field of Dreams” does not earn its chills moment. It is lazy in that it does not sketch out the dispute between Ray and his dad in anything approaching realistic terms — it’s dashed off in the rushed intro with almost no details — and it does nothing to explain why Ray’s moving the Earth and the Heavens to bring his dad back to that ball field is so important or why it serves as the “penance” Ray must pay for whatever reason. With no buildup or backstory, there’s no payoff.”
But worse, for me and others, is the slipshod handling of baseball history. “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was not innocent of taking a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series, he was guilty. He was not a thoughtful, wise-cracking Ray Liotta, he was just north of being a moron. He batted left-handed, and famously so, not right-handed like Liotta. When Frank Walley’s character, a magically reincarnated and youthened old ballplayer named Archie “Moonlight” Graham, whose single appearance in the major leagues was in 1905, is nearly beaned by a close pitch, he says “Hey ump, how about a warning?” Umpires didn’t warn pitchers for throwing at batters in 1905, and not for more than a half-century after that. Sloppy.
Remember that Ethics Alarms is dependent on its many scouts, tipsters, fans and friends to keep the content varied and enlightening. As it is I can’t keep up, and having to engage in principled boycotts of unethical news sources (CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Fox News, ESPN, ABC and more) has made research more difficult, since even these blighters of the culture occasionally have something useful to report. Positive stories, those that tell me that society may be heading into the light rather than slithering into the darkness, have been in especially short supply lately, or if they have not, I’m not seeing them.
Speaking of seeing, maybe one reason I am in a rotten mood is that my wife decided that the perfect way to begin the week was by watching the 2008 Canadian film “Blindness,” a smug, would-be ethics film in which much of the world is suddenly rendered sightless by a mysterious pandemic. The movie’s villain is a blind man with a gun, who declares himself “king;” Julianne Moore plays an ophthalmologist’s wife who pretends to be blind so she can stay with her sightless husband as the stricken are rounded up by the government; and the plot has developments like this (from the Wikipedia plot summary):
“A man with a handgun appoints himself “king” of his ward, and takes control of the food deliveries, first demanding the other wards’ valuables, and then for the women to have sex with their men. In an effort to obtain necessities, several women reluctantly submit to being raped. One of the women is killed by her assailant, and the doctor’s wife retaliates, killing the “king” with a pair of scissors. In the ensuing chaos, the building catches fire, with many inmates dying. The survivors who escape the building discover that the guards have abandoned their posts, and they venture out into the city. Society has collapsed, with the city’s population reduced to an aimless, zombie-like struggle to survive.”
Amusingly and predictably, the movie was attacked by organizations representing the blind.
It made me wish I was blind while I was watching it.
1. Wow…the New York Times really is sticking with the debunked “1619 Project” narrative! Nick Rojas writes this in a Times news story:
“The Three-Fifths Compromise, an agreement reached during the negotiations in 1787 to create the United States Constitution, found that, for the purposes of representation and taxation, only three-fifths of a state’s enslaved people would be counted toward its total population. It is regarded as one of the most racist deals among the states during the country’s founding.“
The Three-Fifths Compromise was not racist, and it is only notorious to the historically ignorant and those who have deliberately misrepresented the facts to advance Critical Race Theory. Giving full representation to slaves in the Southern states would have vastly increased the slave states’ power, and made it more difficult to keep slavery from spreading. Historians are mostly in agreement that the compromise was ultimately in the long-term interests of black Americans and began the process leading to emancipation.
It is remarkable how frequent the “women as helpless weenies” appears in movies and TV shows. A man is engaged in a life-and-death struggle with a criminal, a murderer, a maniac, a wild animal or a monster, and the woman, often a young and healthy woman, just crouches in terror doing nothing more useful than wimpering. I remember this bothered me when I was a child. My mother wasn’t like that; indeed, I’ve never known a woman like that. It’s not just cowardly to be a bystander, it’s stupid. If “her man” loses the fight, what does she think will happen to her?
Over the last several decades of this trope has faded away, and thank goodness for that. It was insulting to women, and to the extent that popular culture influences gender roles in society, the representation of women as helpless damsels who could only wait and pray that their champion prevailed was archaic. The cliche was also boring. One of the better feminist role-models was Marion (Karen Allen) in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” She could throw a punch and knocked out a German (using aircraft wheel blocks) when he was about to shoot Indiana Jones as he fought off a Nazi goon. Now the woman coming to the rescue of an imperiled man is pretty much standard, even very young women, as in the “It” and the Netflix movie, “Enola Holmes.”
I last posted this 2012 article in 2015. I should post it every year, at least. This re-post was sparked the same way the last one was: a Nicholas Brothers admirer contacted me. Today, new commenter Geronde commented on the original,
Here, here! …I just watched “The Pirate.” The film is awful, but I perked up when I immediately recognized the brilliant Nicholas Brothers. Even in their bad clown makeup, their style was unmistakable. I sure wish there was a way to digitally insert their names into the original credits. There is some small consolation in knowing that the brothers were very famous in the African American community, and fortunately, You Tube and the internet has exposed them to new generations of dance fans….Perhaps fans should lobby the Academy or SAG for a highly publicized posthumous award. This calls for ACTION! This a also good time to do it because there’s a focus of BLM and African American culture. I’m going to start today..I have contacted both SAG and the Academy asking them if they have ever publicly bestowed a posthumous award on the Nicholas brothers, and strongly urging them to do so if they have not..
I promised put up the post one more time. It probably won’t be the last.
As I noted in one reply to Geronde, my now-defunct theater company showed the video above during a concert version of Rodgers and Hart’s “Babes in Arms” at the point in the show where the brothers has a specialty number in the Broadway production. The audience was stunned: most of them had never seen Fayard and Harold, or had forgotten just how amazing they were. (Cab Calloway wasn’t too bad himself!)
Here is the post…
At the Sun Valley Lodge, there is a television station devoted to playing the 1941 film “Sun Valley Serenade” on a loop. It is a genuinely awful movie, starring John Payne of “Miracle on 34th Street” fame, Norwegian ice skater Sonia Henie, and Milton Berle, although it does show the famous ski resort in the days when guests used to be towed around the slopes on their skis by horses. Last time I was in Sun Valley to give a presentation, I watched about half the film in disconnected bites, since I never can sleep on such trips. This time I finally saw the whole thing. At about 3 AM, as Glenn Miller was leading his band in the longest version of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” in history, Fayard and Harold Nicholas suddenly flipped onto the screen, and “Sun Valley Serenade” briefly went from fatuous to immortal.
This isn’t worth a post, but it drives me crazy. Movies, which are primary cultural fodder, especially when the government is forcing the public into solitary confinement, have an obligation not to make society stupid. This is especially important when society’s educational system is dysfunctional, as ours is. Thus I find it both annoying and insulting when a supposedly serious film deliberately abandons all logic and expects audiences to swallow it.
My wife wanted to watch “The Pelican Brief” again, so we did. The film of the John Grisham legal thriller is pretty good, and it has a scene that is supposedly in Georgetown Law Center (it’s not), and has my colleague and sometimes partner Paul Morella in the role of a sinister lawyer. The ending, however, is ridiculous and insulting. Juilia Roberts is a law student at Tulane who ends up being hunted and shot at because she has stumbled upon the reason two Supreme Court Justices were assassinated and who orchestrated it in conspiracy involving law firms, the White House and a billionaire. She ends up bringing down all of them with the help of courageous investigative reporter, then leaving the country for her own safety. Her name, Darby Shaw, is on the reporter’s bombshell news story that exposes the plot. Yet the movie ends with the reporter (Denzel Washington) being asked in a TV interview (by real news anchor )Edwin Newman, who looks like a fool)whether she really exists. The woman is 24 years old. The news media has her real name. She was enrolled at Tulane. She’s paid taxes. The slightest effort by any news organization would have uncovered her entire life history.
1. Neera Tanden (cont.) The divisive, dishonest, hyper-partisan and uncivil nominee for Budget Director was a dead nominee walking since February 18, when Sen, Joe Manshin broke ranks and said he would vote against her. The responsible move would have been for Tanden to withdraw then, but instead she waited two weeks, finally pulling her name (or being forced to) yesterday. I guess this gave Democrats a chance to claim Republicans were against her because she was “of color” and a “strong woman,” which indeed they did, but the fact is she should never have been nominated.
I meant to have this as the opening to today’s first post, but the painting of Joe hugging Kamala while dead anti-Trump icons looked down from heaven shorted out my brain.
I believe I may have discovered the beginning of American society’s ruinous capitulation to claims of being offended and organizational submission to contrived complaints of coded prejudice and bigotry. I found it, of all places, at the end of the terrible 1978 Irwin Allen (“The Poseidon Adventure;” “The Towering Inferno”) disaster movie “The Swarm.” For some reason, TCM devoted last night to famously bad movies, like John Wayne’s hilarious “The Conqueror,” in which the Duke played Genghis Kahn for producer Howard Hughes. Many critics said at the time it came out that “The Swarm” was the worst movie ever made; I don’t know how they could say that when the sequel to “The Exorcist,” “The Heretic,” came out just a year before. I don’t think “The Swarm” is even the worst big all-star cast movie ever made: I’d give that distinction to “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
We were watching “Predator” over the weekend, and saw Arnold Schwarzenegger color his skin black—using mud—to escape the deadly alien’s heat-based vision. Now, why doesn’t this qualify as blackface, thus threatening Arnold with “cancellation” and the film, an action classic, with permanent shelving? Don’t tell me it’s because there is a good reason for Arnold, who is as white as you can get, darkening his skin. We have been told that intentions don’t matter when it comes to this crime against racial justice. Fred Astaire wearing dark make-up to honor his black tap teachers in “Top Hat” is per se racist. Wearing black make-up to portray a black historical character in a private Halloween party is racist. Lawrence Olivier wearing dark make-up to play Othello is racist. Robert Downey, Jr. wearing dark make-up to satirize actors who go to excess to get in character for their roles is racist. Where is the “Exception for someone trying to avoid being killed by a hunter from outer space” written down?