Aug. 5 - Fay Wray day on TCM, a great day to be a man, standing in front of a TV, looking at the most gorgeous of all legs, struggling to escape a giant Kong paw, and knowing, in your heart of hearts, the ache the ape endures. And today tons of her best stuff is screening. Don't miss RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD, at 11:45 AM, that's 20 minutes from now!
She was married to the great chronicler of the "hurrah for the next who dies" parachute-less pilots of WW1, John Monk Saunders. She's old enough that even I met her, at a late 90s live accompaniment screening of LAZY LIGHTING (1927). And tomorrow is her birthday and TCM is dotty about August birthdays; and so here we are. It's all gonna fit together in about five minutes... and you too will never be "the same" again. So be the same now and get it out of your system.
Parallel track of reasoning #1: consider the climactic unmasking of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) by Toto (Dorothy's dog) and imagine Toto didn't come to Oz, so no one pulled the curtain, which is what put the Wizard on the spot and got him to give out the free shit. What would have happened if Toto wasn't there to cut through the shit? Those four--brave and true as they were--never would have dared pull the curtain or even noticed it, on their own.
Think about it because it's relevant, man, and answer the damned question: Would that old man have ever come out from behind there, of his own accord, switched off his smoke and mirrors, and given Dorothy and her gimme-gimme hooligans their testimonials, medals and diplomas? Would he go all the way back to Squaresville, Kansas in a very dodgy looking balloon instead of being the all powerful Wizard forever behind his curtain, gettin' all the ladies and ruling the roost, as it were? Would their next challenge be to sign up the witch's monkeys into the Oz home guard, and making war against the Munchkins in order to enslave them as poppy harvesters? To hook the munchkins, and make them toil to make heroin from them for sale through the connections of the junky Lollipop Guild, down into Kansas and using the profits to expand the Emerald City and crush all resistance? Naturally, one has to consider that ordering a flying monkey attack squad to arrange a 'cycling accident' for Ms. Gulch, and dye her eyes to match her gown, y'all, red being her color.
Now second parallel track tangent (shortly to dovetail into Wray's birthday, don't worry): In Altman's SECRET HONOR (1984) we are presented with another man behind the curtain, old Dick Nixon--in one long monologue from an oval office surrounded by cameras and tapes and booze. Played by Phillip Baker Hall, we're presented with a Nixon confessing that he couldn't keep the facade, the green face, for the nation, and so let it turn around and bite him, pulling back his own curtain on Watergate so he could get out from under the shady power players of the Bohemian Grove. We find out that HE was Deep Throat, HE was the Toto, that is the "secret honor" of the title.
We hated Nixon for it--at the time--as we hate curtain pullers like Snowden--because he was not cute like Toto, and the one who peels back the curtain and compels us to realize the truth--that there is no easy fixes--is as reviled as one's Monday alarm clock. The truth is that there is never a single consensual reality graspable in any sense, good or bad. Diplomas and medals and testimonials fade and wind up in file cabinets or yard sales. Their value is purely subjective. They have little resale worth. You cannot use them as payment for your next angry fix.
Now that the poppies aren't free anymore, you're gonna need to steal.
Miriam Hopkins is the rich one and she's single--she seems a little coded closet dyke-ish in today's more gaydar-attuned definition, preferring to play pool and wear pants and carouse rather than faint at the first sight of blood, etc. Nonetheless, being so rich, she wants to be free of all the mooching hangers-on and gigolo gold-digger contingents, to find a real love, one she knows isn't based on smooth-talking fortune hunters, so she switches places with her poor secretary Fay Wray, who's already engaged to the twit who plays Alfy in the Bulldog Drummond movies.
Hopkins' savvy grandfather, or whatever, counsels her: hey give the guy a break; the test is too strenuous, pull the curtain for god's sake. Clearly McRae prefers scruffy Hopkins even as only a secretary but he's going along with it as a gag until he falls for Wray because Wray is super lovely and Hopkins is a little busted here -- which is to her credit; she's not afraid to let her chin double up a bit and everything hang out, to get ugly-drunk and pass out and all that. Meanwhile she's pushing old Joel more and more on Fay until they get engaged.
Watching, we get angry at God/Miriam for being so mutton-headed--as do her lawyers. The test is too great, they and we cry! The devil displays all the wealth and beauty while God is a street urchin, a mallet, a pox, a buddy, a bro, a plain jane. At 'The End' (or our death), the curtains are pulled back, credits roll, and the devil and God join hands and bow. It turns out the urchin, the sick and suffering alcoholic in and out of the rooms, the wonky ugly duckling, is the rich beauty with all the wealth in the kingdom of heaven. The devil's sensuous evening gown is revealed as moth-eaten and fraying --the body underneath turning to old age and dust; roaches climb out of her eye sockets. If you picked the Wray route, you know you done picked wrong, brother, and it's too late to change; eternity is a looooong time.
It can be hard to stick with this film at time since Hopkins is so intentionally dislikable, but so is God at times, at least in the Old Testament. At any rate, it's to their credit that the American Museum of the Moving Image or whomever restored this valuable artifact, not just for its brave dyke-coding of Hopkins' character, but for the subtextual spiritual message. Next time you're wondering "if God exists why is there so much suffering and war and evil in the world?" think of this movie and you have your answer - God is an insecure closeted neurotic who wants to be sure you'd love her even if he destroyed everything you hold dear, like a jealous wife smashing your bowling trophies, destroying every illusion you cling to in order to avoid her; if the only time your not an atheist is in a foxhole, she'll make sure the wars keep coming. If you want to pull the curtain and see her working all the smoke and shelling, all you have to do is stick out your tongue for the lysergic sacrament, wait 20 minutes for it to kick in, and then run like hell, cuz that bitch is CRAZY.
Richest Girl in the World screens at 11:45 AM on TCM - August 4, 2016
See also: BLACK MOON (1933) at 1:30
Mystery of the Wax Museum at 5:15
King Kong at 10 PM
Most Dangerous Game at 3:15 AM