Tuesday, May 26, 2015
The dialogue is from Delmer Daves' "Destination Tokyo." And the actor reciting it is Cary Grant, of all people. Grant was never the most macho of actors. In fact, he seemed to purposely work against machismo in his films. But in this piece of 1943 World War II propaganda, he made like John Wayne. As the captain of a U.S. submarine attempting to infiltrate Tokyo Bay, Grant spends most of the film pontificating negatively about Japan, not just as an unworthy enemy, but also as an awful culture.
The film itself demonstrates America's misguided sense of superiority at its worst and it was part of one of Turner Classic Movies' recurring events - its annual Memorial Day Weekend film marathon, during which one war movie after another is relentlessly screened. Usually, I pass. Not interested.
But, this year, I took notice - which wasn't difficult, given that Turner is always beaming somewhere in our house. What I saw - or, rather, heard - was jaw-dropping and disturbing but, in all honesty, not entirely surprising.
Most of the titles screened, like "Destination Tokyo," were filmed and released during the WWII years, and it seems that every time I walked past our television, some supporting actor was salivating about killing "Japs." Of course, it was a different culture decades ago, but still: Really?
While I'm a self-confessed bleeding-heart liberal who would never condone book burning, I also can't understand why blatantly racist films are routinely screened or why even Memorial Day needs to be "celebrated" with a film festival. Yes, I was offended. Just as I am offended by Mickey Rooney's notorious Oriental schtick in Blake Edwards' irrationally overrated "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) or by the shameful and demoralizing "blackface" production numbers that mar both MGM's "Babes in Arms" (1939) and Warner Bros.' "My Wild Irish Rose" (1947).
Turner Classic Movies unreels movies breathlessly, 24/7. It's like a repertory house, only it never closes and it's more convenient, operating non-stop out of our living rooms - or family rooms or bedrooms or dens.
Its programing is rather free-form and appealingly unpredictable. But, several times a year, it interrupts its flow with one of its recurring "events," such as the Memorial Day weekend marathon.
Then, there's "31 Days of Oscars," which hauls out the usual, ubiquitous suspects ("Lawrence of Arabia" and "West Side Story," chief among them), and also its Easter Sunday line-up, which offers several titles that make it possible to watch Christ being crucified six or seven times in a row.
Note in Passing: I could do without the annual Oscar marathon, not only because it rather shamelessly panders to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but also because it eschews the usual monthly birthday tributes. Full disclosure: Jack Lemmon, my favorite actor, was born Feb. 8 but, because of "31 Days of Oscar," his birth has never been celebrated. So, both the Oscars and celebrity birthdays can't be be accommodated?
Posted by joe baltake at 5:36 PM