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Susan Green

To See or Not to See

(8 July 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 13, 8 July 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Workers Excluded
“OUR TOWN” (from Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize play)

If you had been a worker in Grovers Corner, N.H., in 1901, you would not have been included in the population of “Our Town”. Those who lived down by the railroad and worked in the mills did not live in “Our Town” but in Polish town. Your existence would be admitted by frank Craven, the kindly narrator of film, and then you would be brushed aside as of no further importance. So you see “Our Town” is rather exclusive. It is populated by such people as the Gibbses and the Webbs, the families of the town doctor and editor, the people in the “right” part of the town.

Furthermore, a charmed circle is drawn round the purely personal things – birth, love, marriage, death, and excluded from it are the nasty economic things of life. A strike that might have taken place in Polish town is strictly kept out of this charmed circle.

This limited population and their limited personal affairs are treated with extreme tenderness and absolutely uncritically. Ah, wasn't life touching, beautiful, simple, unchanging; choir singing and moonlight evenings; sons thinking their mothers perfect; and daughters paying their fathers that compliment. And isn't it just too bad that the automobile came to disturb it all.

On this sigh for idealized small town life, United Artists has lavished a truly beautiful production. The scenes the dialogue, the actors, all strike exactly the right note to produce the effect Thornton Wilder desired. The narrator, who ambles along with the story, giving the audience bits of town history and gossip, fits in perfectly and in fact becomes the embodiment of small town goodness,

In a word, we have here perfection of form but where, oh where, is the substance?

Fanning the Flames of War
“THE MORTAL STORM” (from the story of Phyllis Bottome)

In 1933 a non-Aryan scientist who stubbornly held to the fact that blood cells show no racial distinctions, was killed by the Nazis in a concentration camp. His two stepsons and his favorite student became Nazi. His wife and youngest son escaped to Austria. His daughter, in love with an anti-Nazi, was killed trying to flee across the border. Thus the Nazis wiped out a home and family of culture and refinement.

Seven years after the event, Hollywood comes forth with this film of the unspeakable barbarism of Hitler's advent to power. The direction is so skillful that the burning of books, the beating of an old school teacher, the unreasoning, cruel conduct of the Nazis in general, seem like contemporary happenings, almost like a newsreel. As a result the audience responds as it does to events of the day, with hissing and muttered curses at Hitler. Whether or not Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer meant “The Mortal Storm” to be pro-war propaganda, the fact is that it can serve no other purpose at this time.

It should be noted that the story does not concern itself at all with the burning of union headquarters, the wrecking of labor presses, the murder of revolutionists.

Just Plain Repetitious
“MY SON, MY SON” (from Howard Spring's novel)

Literature is replete with slum dwellers who climb to fame and fortune either by becoming great novelists, playwrights or actors. These escapists also become a little tiresome.

Apparently United Artists has a different opinion because it presents the public with a long story of how a young man pulls himself out of the slums. of Manchester, England, into the bright lights of Trafalgar Square, at the same time making. a thorough job of spoiling his son. In his determination to give his son all the things he himself missed in youth, he does not see that he is bringing up a reptile and a rake, until the son tries to make free with his own stepmother. The vile fellow also causes the death of a beautiful young actress, his childhood playmate. Then comes remorse.

The ending is one you have seen many times before: The no-good skunk becomes a hero by the simple process of single-handedly disabling a German machine gun during the last war. So the sad. father collects the medal for the dead son, and all is well,

Except perhaps the acting of Brian Aherne as the father. His limpid sweetness is too too much.

Roses vs. Rackets

Edward G. Robinson, a gangster down on his luck, crawls wounded into a monastery where the monks raise flowers for a living and to aid the poor. When he gains consciousness and opens his eyes on his surroundings, he exclaims: “I made it. I'm in heaven.” His conceptions of life soon make themselves felt at the monastery. For instance, the cow begins to yield more – though very much thinner – milk.

If you take this one in its stride, you will have some fun watching it.

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