You can’t blame me for featuring this ethics landmark today: On April 3, 1948, President Truman signed the Economic Assistance Act, commonly known as the Marshall Plan, which authorizing the a program to help the nations of a war-torn Europe to rebuild. The effort was designed to stabilize Europe economically and politically so that the Soviet Union would not be able to spread communism further. U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave the plan its name with a speech at Harvard University on June 5 of the previous year. He proposed that the European states meet to agree on a program for economic recovery, and that the U.S. would would help fund it. The same month Britain and France invited European nations to send representatives to Paris to follow-through with Marshall’s formula. The USSR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland declined the invitation. The resulting Committee of European Economic Cooperation eventually presented its plan to Congress, which authorized the “Marshall Plan” on April 2, 1948. The next day, it was signed into law.
- It’s that time again! The Cecil B. DeMille classic “The Ten Commandments” airs at 7 p.m. tonight on ABC. I recommend renting it for a few bucks on Amazon Prime: commercials now add a full hour to the movie, which is already one of the longest U.S. films ever made. I watch the 1956 jaw-dropper at least once every year. No movie ever blew my mind like that one did when I saw it as a child, and, I noted with amazement last week when I watched it again, certain scenes still blow my mind now, like the Exodus, easily the greatest crowd scene that ever had been or ever will be. My top ethics notes:
- The screenplay’s direct condemnation of slavery in Moses’ early speech is remarkable for the period, and gutsy for the most expensive movie ever made (to that point) that needed big audiences from the old Confederate states during the middle of a growing civil rights movement.
- Like Ted Williams’ home run in his last at bat, DeMille bet everything on his biggest challenge at the end of his career when he had already made Hollywood history and was a living legend….and he succeeded. I admit, I’m a sucker for that. The movie killed him, essentially: CB suffered a heart attack while directing the huge scene where Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt, and never recovered. I’m sure he’d say it was still worth it.
- As a director, I have learned that the greatest and most frightening challenge is trying to top yourself. I admire the artists who attempt it, and especially those who succeed. DeMille had already made a silent movie version of the story that stood as the top-grossing film of all time until his own talkies broke its record.
- I cannot think of a better example of the ethical principle that if you are going to do something that matters, do it right and don’t cut corners. Like David O. Selznick’s “Gone With The Wind,” TTC is filled with astounding grace notes and details that are the mark of a perfectionist. On this week’s viewing, I noticed for the first time that when we see Egyptian princess Nefertiri primping in a mirror, her image is dark and indistinct. That’s because glass mirrors were unknown in ancient Egypt: the mirror is polished metal.
- The 1957 Oscars , which largely snubbed De Mille’s masterpiece, show how bias makes you stupid, and how little the movie community understands its own medium. “The Ten Commandments” was the movie of the year and everyone knew it: it was the top grossing film and had scenes that were immediately recognizable as likely to become legendary (like the parting of the Red Sea.) But most of the Oscars, including Best Picture, went to “Around the World in 80 Days,” the over-stuffed “spectacular”—unwatchable now— made by industry darling Mike Todd. DeMille didn’t even rate a Best Director nomination. He was considered a conservative pariah and a dinosaur, and the “new Hollywood” wouldn’t bring itself to recognize an old pro doing his best work.
2. And now, speaking for the arrogant, biased, not as smart as they think they are people who lie to you daily, Lester Holt! At the 45th Edward R. Murrow Symposium at Washington State University, Holt received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, presumably because they had to find a black journalist to give the thing to. Among his comments, which generally proved the stunning lack of self-awareness of himself and his industry, he said, .