Archive for December 8, 2021

Goodnight, Mrs. Sondheim

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 8, 2021 by dcairns

When the late Stephen Sondheim’s list of forty favourite films started circulating last week, there may have been a few people scratching their heads at the inclusion of Warner B picture TORCHY BLANE IN CHINATOWN, but then, it was a very eclectic list. Good to see so much Duvivier.

Regular Shadowplayer Randy Cook actually watched the film, and apart from a truly facesmacking amount of racial insensitivity, the very personal reason for Sondheim’s enthusiasm became clear.

At an engagement party midway through the plot (where the affianced lady is Janet Shaw, who will live in legend for her brilliant one scene as the waitress in SHADOW OF A DOUBT), Glenda Farrell turns away from foil/romantic interest/suet-aggregation Barton MacLane to say, “Goodnight, Mrs. Sondheim,” to a passing woman. The woman is indeed, Mrs. Sondheim, it seems: “Foxy” was friends with Farrell irl, and probably gathering some well-dressed friends to swell the scene with swells was a help for a cash-strapped B picture.

Possibly the front view of Mrs. S. is included here, between MacLane (left) and Irish stereotype Tom Kennedy (dumb).

Objectively, the film is more insulting to the Irish than to Chinese-Americans, but certain kinds of racism are more troubling than certain other kinds of racism, and there is a limit to the number of times even I can hear the word “Chinaman” in one evening without starting to wince. The movie tries to make nice, inviting Tetsu Komai (!) on as the sympathetic mayor of Chinatown, and there’s a third act twist which can be seen coming from somewhere late in reel 1, and which takes some of the sting out of the yellow peril antics, which are actually mid-tone grey peril antics, this being a black and white picture.