Saturday, July 14, 2012

Two 1947 Antisemitism Films

Crossfire (1947) - (Robert Young)

Gentleman's Agreement (1947) - (Gregory Peck)

Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire was an adaption from a novel by Richard Brooks which was originally about the murder of a soldier by fellow soldiers because he was gay. The gay issue was not acceptable to the film industry in that year, so in the screeenplay the murdered solder was made to be a Jew instead. The social machinations of antisemitism are not carefully explored for various reasons, but primarily because this was mostly a low-budget murder mystery.

Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement got the Academy Award for best picture that year. It was deliberately written in the original novel by Laura Z. Hobson as a story about antisemitism in which Gregory Peck as a journalist takes on the assignment of writing about the subject and tells his story with insights he gained by posing as a Jew himself. Many facets of the insidious phenomenon of antisemitism in American society are illustrated in this film. The "gentleman's agreement" was apparently some kind of tacit understanding that Jews would be kept out of certain areas of American life. Dean Stockwell does a great job here at age eleven as Tommy Green, the son of Peck's character Philip Schuyler Green.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Simba Mark of Mau Mau 1955

Simba 1955 Dirk Bogarde directed by Brian Desmond Hurst

Simba is Swahili for lion and was apparently a word left in blood by the Mau Mau as a signature after they did crimes of murder and arson against British settlers and their indigenous supporters in 1950s Kenya.

The film opens with a black man in shirt, slacks and sandals riding on a bicycle to an injured white man lying on the ground, and hacking him to death with a machete.

Then comes an airport scene with mixed races in business attire followed by a romantic conversation between Alan Howard (Dirk Bogarde) and Mary Crawford (Virginia McKenna) in a covertible sports car riding in sunny weather on smooth roads across the African plain as they return to Crawford's farm. When they reach the farm they find police on the scene and learn that Alan Howard's brother David has been killed. David was the one hacked to death in the opening scene.

This film is a dramatization of the early 1950s Kenya Mau Mau revolt against the British settlers, based on a novel by Anthony Perry. The main characters are slmost all white representatives of the British community in khaki suits, berets and bush hats, with the obligatory subplot of the Bogarde-McKenna love story; the Mau Mau revolt, a very nasty disturbance with macabre overtones, was a rude and vicious intrusion into this quaint colonial setting.

I have read that the images on these two posters are thought to be racist and derogatory, and I believe that also applies to the film itself. Another film from the same year, the 1955 Elwood Price documentary (narrated by Chet Huntley) about the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya, does not show Kenyans in this kind of scant attire running around with skulls on stick ends, so it would probably be fair to say both the images on the posters and in this Brian Desmond Hurst film are sensationalist. However the kind of Kikiyu tribe behavior documented in those years as Mau Mau activity might be seen by some people as racist and derogatory even if described with clinical accuracy: the outlaw Kikuyu were acting out a derogatory caricature of themselves. A film dramatization with promotional material that exaggerates primitive appearances is not nearly as bad as the original crimes were, even if one believes it was a crime to make a sensationalized commercial docudrama (nominated for four film awards) about this.

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