Tuesday, May 22, 2018

the feel-bad movie of all time

In an earlier essay titled joe’s dreaded genre, I confessed that as much as I regard and respect animals (or, possibly, because I respect animals), I don't like films about animals.  These movies are always sad, often grueling to watch, and rarely end well for the animal in question.

"Born Free."  "Old Yeller."  All of MGM's "Lassie" movies.  These can leave me depressed for weeks.  So I avoid them.  I made a rare exception with David Frankel's 2008 “Marley and Me,” an affecting film about the life of a dog, from puppyhood to death. Still, Marley died. Funny, I have no problems or qualms whatsoever watching any human die on screen.

However...

Yes, however.  I become equally depressed by films in which humans are bullied or abused without surcease or any purpose, simply for the sake of being cruel. There are three in particular that put me in a foul mood and all of them are about the careless, often sadistic treatment of women.

One is William Fruet's 1972 Canadian film, "Wedding in White," starring Donald Pleasence as the repellent, nasty-drunk father of downtrodden Carol Kane who has been raped - and subsequently impregnated - by his best friend, also a drunk. Kane is represented symbolically by the poor dog (unseen, thank goodness) that her father keeps chained in their cellar.

Another is actress-turned-filmmaker Joan Chen's "Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl" ("Tian yu") of 1998, about a teenage girl with dreams who is lied to and sent to a remote area where she is kept indefinitely and essentially finessed into prostitution (but without the pay).  It's a well-made, ugly film.

But the worst, hands-down, is Guy Green's "A Patch of Blue" (1965), in which the lovely Elizabeth Hartman made her film debut as a young blind woman who is ruthlessly abused not only but her mother (Shelley Winters at her most strident and unlikable), but also by her sleazy grandfather (Wallace Ford), disconcertingly called "Ole Pa," and by the mother's awful best friend (Elisabeth Fraser).  Saintly Sidney Poitier is also in this but his niceness is overshadowed by the vile Winters-Ford-Fraser triumvirate.

A recent screening of "A Patch of Blue" on Turner Classic Movies, where it has become a staple, reminded me of just how abhorrent this film is.

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~image~

~Shelley Winters routinely abusing poor Elizabeth Hartman, whose character is blind, in "A Patch of Blue."
~photography: MGM 1965©

13 comments:

Sheila said...

Joe! For years, I robotically watched "A Patch of Blue" - because it's a so-called prestige film that won Hartman a well-deserved Oscar nomination. I never realized how much I didn't like it until I read this piece. I always came away vaguely unsatisfied but would go back and watch it again. (I'm a Turner die-hard.) I'm glad someone finally said it. It's an ugly film indeed.

Eliza said...

I'll be the contrarian. I saw this as a young teenager and, like many movies of its kind, it serves as our "foil," making us realize that our lives aren't so terrible after all, despite how we feel as adolescents.

joe baltake said...

Great point, Eliza. Thanks. Gives me a different perspective on such films.

Alex said...

"Johnny Belinda"! Another well-regarded film that's tough to watch.

Charlotte said...

Joe- Re, the Joan Chen movie, when a woman is forced into prostitution without pay, she is sex slave, plain and simple.

joe baltake said...

Yes, Charlotte, that's obvious and I should have acknowledged that. I employed the wrong word. Thanks for the heads-up.

Sharon Bosart said...

My feelings exactly about the feel bad movies (I couldn't deal with Marley and Me even when it came on TV). But boy, I remember Patch of Blue. I saw it when I was living in NYC. It gave me a vascular headache.
Kathy Bates is one of my favorites(I always liked Winters too) and I was thinking how many roles Winters did that Bates could do. And vice versa. Particularly the one where James Caan gets tortured. Or A Place in the Sun. They can be horrid or heartbreakingly vulnerable. I'll watch any movie with Kathy Bates but Cherie was hard slogging.

joe baltake said...

Sharon- I like them both, too, and you’re right – they can be horrid and/or heartbreaking. Winters in “What’s the Matter with Helen?” (with Debbie Reynolds) is a hoot.

Dru said...

Sadly, there is no shortage of films in which women are abused, accused, chased, threatened and degraded. I always wondered why actresses and other women involved in these movies went along with it -- for the "art" or money. It is terrific that you as a man are aware of this as I don't think most critics are acutely aware of how anti-social this is, and the negative attitudes that are the natural result. Guess that goes for TV, too.

Joe Dante said...

Wallace Ford is actually awfully good in "A Patch of Blue", a rare prestige role after a long career that ranged from Hitchcock, Ford and Tod Browning to some of the most obscure poverty row pictures of the 30s and 40s. Always liked him. He's a lot of fun in "Night of Terror" and even "The Ape Man".

joe baltake said...

Joe- I would never debate or deny the awesomeness of Wallace Ford, an irreplaceable character actor (and one whom I should honor in this "character counts" series - and will!). And, yes, "A Patch of Blue" was a rare "A" movie for Ford and he delivered, as usual. I just find everything about it difficult to watch. -J

Charlotte said...

"A Patch of Blue" always leaves me depressed.

Vanessa said...

Me, too!