Gertie Getting Guttered

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A full study of expressionist dream sequences in 40s movies (a trend seemingly begun by Charles Vidor’s BLIND ALLEY, 1939) would be fun to research. I’m particularly interested by those in comedy films, where the nightmarish imagery is often more disturbing and less funny than in the dark thrillers. Vincente Minnelli’s FATHER OF THE BRIDE would be a good example — ALL Minnelli’s comedies have a feeling of inexorable nightmare about them — and this one employs imagery later recycled with a straight face in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (the floor turning to quicksand).

GETTING GERTIE’S GARTER is a vigorous, unfunny farce made by Allan Dwan during a brief phase in his long, long career when he was working as a farceur — UP IN MABEL’S ROOM has the same plot and some of the same cast, and there’s BREWSTER’S MILLIONS too. Sex farces where the hero is a love rat trying not to get caught suffer from a lack of sympathy (and would get banned in the 40s), and those where the hero is innocent tend to be silly and undermotivated. (George Axelrod complained that THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH became rather trivial once it became a film and the hero could no longer screw the Girl upstairs and feel guilty about it.) Joe Orton could bypass the problem by highlighting it — unsympathetic protagonists make a satirical point in his work — he’s making a case for what he believes humanity and society are really like. And he makes it funny. The other farces I’ve enjoyed are mainly every single episode of Fawlty Towers, where the character’s neurotic confabulations are true to character.

GGG, typical of many stage farces, distorts character and has people doing things they would not, or could not, ever do, for the sake of plot. Having introduced the hero as a professor who’s absent-minded to the point of dementia, having him then turn out to be a quick-thinking, sociopathic yarn-spinner, and everyone he knows be incredibly dense and willing to accept absurd explanations for absurd actions, is problematic since it’s unbelievable not in real-world terms but on its own terms.

But the nightmare scene is eye-catching. Hard to believe it was made BEFORE Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR… but it was. I guess STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR’s extended legal nightmare scene was an inspiration. I include these images without the narrative points which explain them, because they’re better unexplained.

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8 Responses to “Gertie Getting Guttered”

  1. Guilt of the sort Axelrod trafficked in for The Seven Year Itch wouldn’t have worked for the Production Code, or Billy Wilder — who regarded guilt as the logical consequence of murder. Happily he had Marilyn who rather than screw Ewell into a guilty funk, makes him feel simply wonderful about him by providing him with an object of guilt-free flirtation.

    Laurence Harvey feels PHENOMENAL guilt for killing his Monster Mother in the Axelrod-scripted The Manchurian Candidate, but Roddy McDowell doesn’t feel guilty at all in Lord Love Duck nor Anne Jackson in The Secret Life of An American Wife — in which the Sex Bomb she’s lured to is. . .

    Walter Matthau.

  2. I think Wilder might have been inclined to explore adulterous guilt if the Code had allowed it, but he would have found it just as silly as Ewell’s anxiety over NOT sleeping with Monroe.

  3. I’m not so sure, based on Kiss Me Stupid, where the engine of the plot is Ray Walston’s paranoia over the attraction other men may have for Felicia Farr.

  4. DBenson Says:

    If memory serves, Ewell isn’t so much racked with guilt as terrorized by actual consequences. Early on his fantasies (not dreams; an important difference) are about how women are there for the taking, if he felt like it. Then, when an absurdly takable babe turns up, his fantasies of suavely seducing her give way to nightmares about being denounced as a pervert on television and gunned down by his wife.

    Don’t recall if it’s in the movie, but in the play one of his morning-after nightmares is The Girl falling desperately in love with him. It’s comically inconvenient rather than tragic.

    Another 50s note: Monroe’s version of The Girl is a total fantasy figure. She’s sexy without having any feelings about or even much awareness of sex. The Girl in the play is slightly more nuanced: She’s 22, living on her own for the first time and her total sexual experience consists of “Jerry”, who doesn’t quite count. She’s very consciously weighing a one-night stand with this pleasant “non-decrepit” married man and finally makes the move; a movie wouldn’t have tolerated a nice girl considering some sex purely for its own sake.

  5. DBenson Says:

    “Dream production numbers” were all the rage in stage and screen musicals for a while. They’d be fraught with lucid obvious symbolism about what was going on in the waking world. The imagery might be arty but notreally dreamlike. The champ would be “Lady in the Dark”, where executive Ginger Rogers recounts her Technicolor dreams to a humorless shrink. He efficiently decodes them and Ginger learns her subconscious longs to marry that jerkish subordinate and be a housewife. In the last few minutes of the film, liberated (?) by this information, she cheerily psychoanalyzes the other men in her life on the fly.

    Of course, the all-time great dream sequence is “Pink Elephants on Parade” in “Dumbo.” No commentary on the story, no happy fantasy. Just a pure alcohol-induced hallucination.

  6. Lady in the Dark should be at least fabulous camp, but somehow became really turgid. “Ginger can play anything she understands,” as the saying went, but she struggled to comprehend the idea that other people have psychological problems, and made heavy weather of it.

    I’m heartbroken that Mischa Auer’s rendition of the Danny Kaye number “Tchaikoffsky” got cut.

  7. Oh, I’ve often made the case that the Pink Elephants dream sequence is essential to DUMBO. Moral: If you want to fly, you gotta get blind drunk first. The mental burst is the only thing that accounts for D’s mysterious new super-power. It’s some of that ‘cology that the crows talk about… They *know*.

  8. The drunkenness also allows mystery — he doesn’t remember how he did it or IF he did it, so that until after he meets the crows we don’t know for sure if he CAN fly.

    Rewatching Dumbo I was astonished at its compression — nothing but emotional climaxes, stacked end to end. Wondrous.

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