Tuesday, May 26, 2015


"The Japs don't understand the love we have for our women. They don't even have a word for it in their language." 

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?



Sheila said...


Alex said...

Always happy to read something on Delmer Daves, an unsung hero of movies who has a quite fascinating filmography - war films, Westerns, teen sudsers, all of them entertaining and well-made. His DARK PASSAGE is a masterpiece, as are 3:10 TO YUMA and COWBOY. PARRISH and SUSAN SLADE are endlessly watchable

Brian Lucas said...

Immensely pleased with Alex's kind words about "Dark Passagr," one of my favorite Daves films.

Alex said...


brad s. said...

Hoping you do a post on Delmer Daves. He had such a fascinating career. Not the usual career for a Hollywood filmmaker. He made some very interesting choices.

Anonymous said...

Delmer Daves only directed about 30 films. Amazingly, 4 of them are in my top 50 films - Dark Passage. The Last Wagon, The Hanging Tree and 3.10 to Yuma.

jbryant said...

Yep, Daves was great. Joe, I admit I have no problem with showing all those films. Obviously, all the negative portrayals and references to "Japs" were due to our being at war with them, and Hollywood was providing propaganda for the war effort. I'm not condoning racism, of course, but these films are history now, and can be seen as such and still enjoyed. One of the things that makes older films interesting to me is the way in which they act as time capsules and reflect the prevailing culture. I never quite understand complaints that a film is "dated," for instance. Most films are dated or will become dated if their makers are plugged into the world they live in. We must of course decry the racist, sexist, homophobic stuff that taints them, but it's good to have reminders of how far we've come and how far we have yet to go, IMO.

As for Lemmon, the odd thing is that it would be very easy for TCM to schedule a Lemmon tribute during Oscar month, because the man had several nominations and two wins, and many other of his films were nominated even when he wasn't. Wonder why they don't do that?