Doris Day would have been 100 today. In tribute, here is the column I wrote about her after her death. The initial draft was more about how the Boomers made her sort of a strawman/scapegoat for everything they hate (as they did with John Wayne), but this was too complicated/shocking an idea, apparently, so after some back-and-forth with the very nice and professional editor, I changed it. I so wanted to write about her. Ah well. (The comments are a hoot, btw. People have too much free time.)
It’s St. Patrick’s Day, so I want to take a moment to recommend to my dear readers the exceptional Kenneth Branagh film Belfast. I am of Irish (Protestant) background on my father’s side and so much of this movie resonated with me: a boy’s memories of what most of us would see as something terrible – so much violence – but for a nine-year-old it was a place and time he did not want to leave. And the music! What a joy. Van Morrison’s stirring rendition of Carrickfergus is part of the soundtrack – yes, I know Van is a bit off, but there is no denying this talent.
Mort Sahl died, and, apart from his contributions and life, there is something else noteworthy about his passing: an extraordinary piece of writing about him. It is rare that I say, about the New York Times, “Wow, what excellent journalism,” but I will say it about this obituary. Do read it. I’ll admit to getting tremendously sentimental when I watch clips of Sahl, as my parents were certainly big fans. He was that era’s sophisticate – without being condescending – and he revolutionized comedy – without ever being vulgar. There is a terrific clip of Sahl embedded in the linked-above piece. Watch it and ask yourself who the 2021 equivalent of this man is: I can’t think of anyone. What a shame.
I loved her in so many fiIms including – trigger warning – Gone With the Wind, a story about the dangers of romanticizing people, ideologies and the past (most of which, the movie tells us, were never what we thought). I loved her with Errol Flynn – what a pair! I have a fond childhood memory of watching The Adventures of Robin Hood. Probably my favourite de Havilland film, though, is The Heiress. Every woman should watch this. The last scene is extraordinary and I have tried to find it on YouTube, to no avail. I did, however, find this – a Carol Burnett Show satire, which captures the original hilariously!
Today is Bastille Day, which gives me an excuse to post this scene from Casablanca.
The great actor Sir Ian Holm died recently. He was wonderful in Chariots of Fire, of course and people tell me he was fine in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I haven’t seen. But the movie I most loved him in was The Emperor’s New Clothes, a movie that imagines Napoleon coming back to France from St. Helena, and not being recognized. The former Emperor, down on his luck, meets and falls in love with a fruit vendor, and decides to help her fix her failing business. This has to be my favourite scene in the film, a moment that captures the importance of leadership and planning. So inspiring – whatever you do, do it well!
I really have to thank Carl Reiner for so much of my childhood laughter, and, come to think of it, my adulthood laughter! I think The Dick van Dyke Show is probably the greatest sitcom ever (perhaps tied with The Mary Tyler Moore Show) – I grew up watching it in reruns in the 1970s – and The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming one of the funniest movies. Here’s a clip from the latter – I love the Norwegian reference, of course. And the mouthy little kid is so funny.
I am a huge fan of Woody Allen – I think he is America’s finest filmmaker, rivalled only by Scorsese or Spielberg – and so I read his autobiography as soon as it was published. I was immensely relieved that it was published, as the forces of cowardice and stupidity (otherwise known as “cancel culture,” a term I am beginning to find tedious) nearly prevented that from happening.
Apropos of Nothing is a good read, and the chapters about his childhood and parents utterly charming. You can see where he got his attitude and humour. I absolutely love his approach to work – you just keep doing it and doing it and you not only ignore reviews (good and bad), you don’t even bother reading or listening to them. You do not let them get you down and you cannot stop being busy.
Of course, people want to read the book because of his private life. I always admired, in the past, how he simply didn’t rise to the criticism and similarly as with his work, just continued his relationship with Soon Yi. He seems to have found a love match there, with decades of marriage and two children. No one would deny that what he did caused immense pain and hurt to Mia Farrow, but it seems clear to me that she, in turn, used her anger about the breach of trust in a most unproductive way. Too bad – she has enormous gifts. I don’t believe that he molested his daughter – he was investigated by some heavy-hitters and neutral parties and no one saw any reason to prosecute.
Up until the publication of his book, he hadn’t addressed the charges and didn’t whine when various projects of his were boycotted/cancelled. He addresses the charges in the book, and I’m glad. The escalating invective against him from Farrow and some of her kids, as well as from some weasel-ish actors – who got great benefit from working with him and then disowned him — was creating too much noise.
One thing he points out is that Mia’s son Moses, a quiet, private young man, has defended him and painted a different portrait of the actress and her family. If you are interested in this saga, it is worth your time to read it. I find Moses infinitely believable. I grew up in a family that was cult-like (as he describes the Farrow clan) and I know that families like this don’t appreciate those who say, “Wow! This cult sucks!” That was my role in my family and I paid a steep personal price for it. When people have a lot invested in a lie, they don’t appreciate truth-tellers and they will punish them accordingly, often with shunning (it’s a bit like being Amish!).
In short, I find Allen delightful and it is worth noting that no actress has ever accused him of being a harasser – of demanding sexual favours in return for a good role, and so on. I also think his female characters are among the most fully-drawn of any filmmaker. It is clear he likes women, respects them and sees them as whole.
The one thing in the book I found amusing – in a sad way – was Allen’s mystification at how the left-wing press has abandoned him. In particular, he laments his treatment by The New York Times. Heck, I could have told him that would happen, but his reaction is one of disillusion, as though he expected them to be fair because they are left-of-centre. Ha! Ironically, one of the best reviews he got was in National Review. I also liked this Guardian interview – Woody Allen comes out fighting.
So I recommend his book and all his films- yes, all of ’em. It is the mark of a true talent that even his bad films are better than most people’s good ones (also true of Scorsese and Spielberg). I realize that your mileage may vary, dear reader, but please don’t cancel Woody Allen. We need him in this often sad world.
Because one must (almost) always laugh. I am grateful to Tom Lehrer for this.