Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Another Visit to the Wacky World of Max Shulman--A Half-Century Later

In mid-March I placed a post here about writer Max Shulman (1919-1988; his birthday was on March 14). Here's a link to that original post. I hadn't thought about his work in a long, long time, and that birthday--and that birthday post--sent me back to the book (and the movie) that--along with the TV series based on his work, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis--had first made me aware of Shulman and made me follow him for a while.

I remembered the 1959 film based on his 1957 novel, Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, a film starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Joan Collins. Well, since I wrote that original post, I've seen the film again (thank you, Netflix), and was surprised by how much of it I remembered. Newman seems so impossibly young--athletic and agile and very funny. Joanne Woodward (his "real-life" as well as onscreen wife) is an Oscar-winning actress, but her part here is just flat annoying--or, rather, her portrayal of the part. Don't know whose fault it was (hers? director Leo McCarey's?), but she just didn't seem very much like an actual person.

The real surprise for me was Joan Collins. I'd remembered that back in 1959 (I was fourteen) I'd thought she was incredibly hot (though we didn't use that word in that way in the 1950s)--probably because she behaved in a brazen (i.e., horny male) sort of way throughout. At 14, I didn't know any women or girls who were remotely like her--thus, the allure. But when I saw the film again recently, I thought she just looked ridiculous. (Her role, like me, hasn't aged well.) Not so much sexy as silly.

I'd sort of forgotten, as well, the soldiers who arrive in Putnam's Landing, CT (setting for the film), where they will man a new rocket base. They are led by Corporal Opie (Tom Gilson, who specialized in angry-young-men parts), who, as the men are on the train to Putnam's Landing, teaches them about the "boojum" (girls) they will meet--and how to seduce them. (Later, he sings a song to the teen-queen of the town, played by the wonderful Tuesday Weld, called "You're My Boojum"--not a song or idea or title that would have won me anything--but it works well for Corporal Opie.)

I'd forgotten, too, that actor Gale Gordon (famous for the TV show Our Miss Brooks) plays a military
Gale Gordon and Eve Arden
Our Miss Brooks
officer  (General Thorwald) in his usual commanding-but-somehow-also-foolish style.

The people of Putnam's Landing are unhappy about the decision to build a rocket site near their town, so the "plot" is basically about how it gets done--and about the conflicts between the young soldiers and the young men from town. And about the love life of Harry Bannerman (Newman) whose wife is on 50,000 committees in town and doesn't have any time for him (if you know what I mean). Enter Joan Collins.

I had totally forgotten the ending of the film, which features an accidental launch and an accidental passenger aboard the rocket (I will say no more in case you're going to log on to Netflix and order it).

Finally, I was surprised at how chaste a sex comedy could be in 1959. We don't really see anything--and the characters don't really do anything. Lots of suggestion and naughty laughter and ribald language (not too ribald) and leering ... but all looking pretty tame in the light of today's cinema.

NEXT TIME: But what about Shulman's original novel?  Any racier or more explicit?  Hold your breath! I'll be back in a few days.

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