The Sunday Intertitle: Nightie swimming

The Mating Call from David Cairns on Vimeo.

THE MATING CALL (1928) is directed by James Cruze, whose films, though not often great, are agreeably peculiar. THE GREAT GABBO would be a terribly good example here.

This one is produced by Howard Hughes and was controversial, not for its Ku Klux Klan storyline, but for its nude scene by René Adorée (why do I say “by,” as if she authored it?). It’s pretty startling — frame grabs of my copy don’t work in terms of showing what the moving images so clearly displays. Let’s just say it wouldn’t have the effect it does if RA were not so clearly brunette.

Hughes was known to use the N-word regularly, and the depiction of the Klan (or “clan” — they’re not 100% identical to the real deal but the deniability is minimal) is as a bunch of vigilantes keeping erring townsfolk — drunks and wifebeaters — on the straight and narrow by terrorizing them. Or, in one particularly recalcitrant case, tying the perp to a cross and bullwhipping him. The race angle is largely absent.

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The climax is typical of Hollywood vigilante movies — they get the wrong man, the hero, and tragedy looms. Kubrick, talking about why his humble narrator in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE had to be so very wicked, told Michel Ciment that vigilante movies always got it wrong by focussing on the danger of punishing the wrong man (THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, an excellent film, is the best example). But everybody always assumes they have the right man, and everybody knows the law makes mistakes too, so this argument wouldn’t ever sway a torch-burning mob. The argument should be about the wrongness of ex-judiciary punishment.

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The movie, based on a Rex Beach source novel, ends with the vigilantes and cops faking evidence together to ensure a “just” outcome, making this probably the second most repellant Klan-based movie in Hollywood history. Apart from the nude scene. Although the general sexing-up of the issues involved calls to mind Terence Young’s gross THE KLANSMAN.

 

15 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Nightie swimming”

  1. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    The things American Cinema has to owe and blame to Howard Hughes’ dick.

    It’s strange. Hughes is on the whole a figure of more genuine talent, skill, and personal courage than Trump. If people saw Hughes as the embodiment of white supremacy and manifest destiny or whatever weird stuff “white race ideology” buys into, they would at the least have something to ground themselves on. Whereas Trump has no talent, no skill, no courage and yet he went further than Hughes ever did. He’s pure white ideology in that sense, whereas with Hughes there’s his genuine personal neurosis, combined with talent, and obsession with sex and death, married to deeply unpleasant extreme right wing fixations.

    Renee Adoree of course was the star of King Vidor’s THE BIG PARADE. I am glad that more people know and see that movie than this one, at any rate.

  2. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    As for Kubrick and ACO, I don’t think he entirely succeeded in that movie in terms of making the case against vigilantism. The main reason is that every figure who wants to oppose or bring Alex to justice is an ugly, old, male hypocrite and an obvious figure of caricature, not anyone likely to implicate the audience and think “I could be part of this lynch mob” (unlike Lang’s M or for that matter Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident, since he puts likable character actors in that lynch mob and have them show some amount of likability and charm). I remember watching A Clockwork Orange and thinking how much more interesting the finale would be if instead of Patrick Magee’s insane writer, the door opened and it was Adrienne Corri’s character who got raped by him earlier, because then you as an audience have a figure you can identify with emotionally, and when she has to confront Alex after learning he was behind that mask in the attack by the Droogs, you would be divided. It’s the difference between Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS which came out the same year and that movie.

    Now obviously that’s there in the original book, but Kubrick did change other stuff from the book (for instance changing the pre-teen rape into a consensual threesome with age appropriate girls) so it’s still on him. Kubrick didn’t imagine, or didn’t seem able to imagine, women resorting to justice in that fashion, and that’s a weakness and limitation to that film.

  3. Tony Williams Says:

    SR. You make some very good points especially concerning Hawks. Listening to a vimeo presentation about John Ford last week that denigrated the times Hawks showed minorities on screen spurred memories of my former classes on this director. In TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, African-American musicians appear in cricket’s group but they are shot in such a manner that Carmichael’s number “Am I Blue” could fit the Mason-Dixon line sensibilities of that era and be removed as were Lena Horne’s solo numbers in 40s musicals. Despite the problematic stereotyping in some parts of TO HAVE…, the black community of that Vichy-controlled island do help the French Resistance at one point. The Hawks professional group also includes miorities as well as males and these males often learn from the outsider in their midst.

    In ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, Geoff greets an Hispanic member of the community who plays very little part in the film as if Hawks intends to contradict Bonnie’s naive and offensive reference to “pig Latin in the beginning. The film shows that she has much to learn about many other things.

    I’m afraid we may be in for a period of unfair Hawks bashing (and the man did have many faults) similar to the type of Shatner and Clint bashing that occurs frequently. Did Hawks have total control over this project and the autonomy to “walk away” in protest let alone complain to Front Office thus damaging his later career? As well as noting his role as one participant n the studio system of his time, it is another attempt to force the culture of the present back into the past and judge the situation unfairly. I’m not absolving the film from blame here as I’ve not seen it but SR has made some very interesting points in his introduction,

  4. When you mentioned the whipping scene I recalled the whipping of Tom Tryon by the KKK in the Otto Preminger movie, the cardinal. I wonder if Preminger saw The Mating Call. Here is a link to a book about the whipping of males in Hollywood movies. https://books.google.com/books/about/Lash.html?id=hjibc3rJBu8C

  5. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    To Tony, I was talking about Howard Hughes the producer of this film, not Howard Hawks the director. As far as Hawks and minorities go, my memory is that he’s about on par in a lot of respects with general tendencies in Hollywood, not too progressive, not too regressive. And even people on the progressive side had their weak spots in other areas. Preminger for instance was more on the progressive side certainly than others, a true liberal, and yet when confronted about the “all-black” casting of Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess by an African-American audience, he patted himself on the back self-aggradizingly even if most people, rightly, see these movies as profiting off segregation more than fighting it.

    I think with Preminger, the whipping thing is more out of personal sadism, he really did like torturing Tom Tryon.

  6. Poor Tom Tryon. He had a rough time from his makeup artist Dick Smith too. There’s a whole blog post in that though.

    A lot of major Hollywood directors escape criticism on race grounds just by largely steering clear of the issue and not casting black people. I think the emigre directors on the whole were more sensitive as they saw the situation through outsiders’ eyes. Thus Preminger, Wilder, Siodmak, were more progressive than, say, Sturges, Ford, Hawks, Keaton.

    Kubrick wasn’t intending to comment on vigilantism, to be clear, that was just an analogy he used. ACO is about evil and free will versus state control, epitomized by the Ludovico Treatment that robs Alex of his humanity (detestable though he is when free).

  7. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I always felt ACO was too didactic. Everything was geared towards making the best case for Alex and vicariously living this fantasy of untramelled violence, and then implicating us even more by making the ones who end that, who repress that via brainwashing into total scumbags. The book was much more honestly about the love for violence than the movie, which is more preachy on that. It was a point that only worked by ensuring there was never a single scene where Alex post-technique or post-cure is ever confronted by any of his rape victims. You can’t make a case for free will over state control by rigging things so that audiences get only one particular POV. Like Gilliam’s BRAZIL features a lot of terrorist attacks against the authoritarian state, and we are invited to cheer for it, but Gilliam always reminds us that real people get killed by these attacks, and Brazil always reminds us that the hero is a super-narcissist.

  8. Tony Williams Says:

    SR, Point taken about Hawks. It was a different time and things unacceptable to us now were not then. I believe he handled it like a studio CEO not thinking about its implications. The director aspect is entirely different.

    ‘Yes, Tom was Otto’s “whipping boy” very much like Ward Bond on a John Ford set.

  9. About that book on Hollywood movies where men are whipped. I was surprised that the list did not include Marlon Brando Who is whipped by Carl Malden in the movie one eyed Jacks.

  10. Yes, that’s a major one. Brando was well aware of the appeal of the suffering hero, and took great care over any scenes involving pain and death.

  11. There’s also “Black Legion”, which looks like a thinly veiled KKK but is actually based on a genuine anti-immigrant Black Legion that collapsed when several members were convicted of murder. Bogart is a factory worker seduced by the group when he loses a promotion to a foreign-born coworker. There are no people of color in the movie; being Irish is foreign enough to draw hooded violence. An interesting touch that may or may not be real is the idea that city slicker crooks operate the Legion — a local leader makes a pitch to buy handguns only from the Legion itself, and we see two smooth con men in a plush room cheerfully discussing profits.

    “Gone With the Wind” goes to weird lengths to justify the KKK without admitting it existed. Scarlett is accosted by two thugs — one black, one white — while riding through what looks like a hobo jungle. One of her freed slaves comes to her aid, so we’re being told it’s Not A Racial Thing. Then Rhett, Ashley and other Southern aristocrats go to clean out the riff-raff — all off camera, with nary a hood or robe. On first exposure as a pre-teen I didn’t even get the Klan hints — just that there was an awful lot of talk instead of onscreen action.

    “The Klansman” I saw with my parents on a double bill with “Blazing Saddles”. The comedy came second, and was all the more welcome as a palate cleanser. Afterwards I don’t think any of us mentioned the first film at all, except to note it was Unpleasant. In retrospect, maybe the creepiest detail was that Burton aggressively bedding a rape victim was a Noble Act. A young clergyman encouraged him, and she was bright and happy in the morning.

  12. Yes, as D Wingrove was just saying to me, Selznick was smart enough to know that the sight of Leslie Howard or Clark Gable in a hood was not going to be welcome everywhere. So they keep the story point but suppress all sign of it for deniability’s sake.

    Kubrick obviously makes all of Alex’s enemies grotesque in order to position Alex as hero even as he shows his viciousness (though there are a couple of incidents from the book omitted or downplayed). Mr. Alexander becomes a wheelchair baddie like Strangelove, and I guess it’s a warped kind of good taste in the circumstances to kill off Mrs. Alexander so the movie doesn’t have to turn her into an antagonist too.

    Storm Warning is pretty good: an anti-Klan film which doesn’t have the nerve to mention racism either.

  13. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Tryon gave up acting and became a very successful popular novelist. One of his stories was made into a Billy Wilder film, “Fedora”

    As for Tryon himself. . . .

  14. ehrenstein47 Says:

    “The white race is the cancer of human history” — Susan Sontag

  15. I believe that. I also believe that without ethnic differences humanity would just find different reasons for prejudice and persecution.

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