Phone Call from a Stranger

I saw a very unusual movie last weekend and recommend it: Phone Call from a Stranger (1952). It’s about four people—Gary Merrill, a lawyer, Shelley Winters, a show girl, Keenan Wynn, a salesman, and Michael Rennie, a doctor—who meet and become friendly during a plane trip from Iowa to California and whose lives interact in surprising ways. It also features Bette Davis. Before seeing this movie, I didn’t like the lead actor, Gary Merrill (mainly from his wimpish performance as Bette Davis’s fiancé in All About Eve) and I didn’t like him in the opening part of this film, but his performance grows on you. The opening scenes are talky, but give it a chance. It’s a very human and meaningful story, with no politics at all. The screenplay, written by Nunnally Johnson, is unlike anything I’ve seen before; Johnson is an original.

I would also say: don’t read anything about the movie before you see it. The plot is filled with surprises and unexpected developments right up to the very end.

What a great country this was, to have produced writers and actors like this, to have produced a movie like this.

- end of initial entry -

Ed H. writes:

Often when watching American films from the 1940s or ’50s, rather than the story line I focus on what was things that were not consciously intended to be part of the film. Hitchcock movies are especially good for this. So are the Bogart movies. Try Dark Passage (1947) with Bogart and Bacall, about an escaped convict who befriends a woman who agrees to help him find who really killed his wife. If you can do it without crying, watch the background scenery of San Francisco in mid 20th century. Notice how magnificent the city seems, how clean, how broad and sunlit the horizon. This is film noir but even the induced murk fails to cut off the sense of unbounded promise that exists just beyond the camera’s focus. Watch the pace of the city that appears in the background, the people walking down the street, the way they interact, the way they dress. Look at how an unspoken code of manners is guiding every person in the background. See how the man in the suit opens the door for the lady in the dress. Notice the assured masculinity of the men, the charming femininity of the women as they get off the train. That’s not intended to be in the film. They didn’t have any opinions about all this in 1947; it just was. Look at the man casually talking to his friend on a street corner, there is an ease and congeniality that is terrifying to watch. Or the couple sharing a cup of coffee in a café, they have all the time in the world.

You forget to wonder who killed Vincent Parry’s wife, and are instead crushed by a question that becomes very personal and bitter: Who killed America? This is how Americans felt about their country in 1947, now ask yourself what sense of America is informing The Dark Knight Rises. What better way to show what fifty years of liberal social “progress” and mass immigration has wrought than a constant showing of these films?

James N. writes:

I am spending the night in a resort hotel in Westchester County, en route to an important engagement tomorrow in NYC.

I just went to the hotel’s “pub” to have dinner. The crowd was 100 percent white, median age 45 to 55. There was a party of 40 something ish adults who had just attended a bat mitzvah in another part of the hotel.

The music selected for our entertainment? Ultra-loud negroes chanting, “nigger this, nigger that, f*ck this, f*ck that, sh*t this, sh*t that,” etc.

I had to abandon a passable cheeseburger. The elderly couple next to me shrugged as if to say, “What can you do?”

We don’t have much of this where I live. Is this the norm for white suburban New Yorkers nowadays?

December 8

DJM writes:

Dark Passage showed a beautiful city, well-mannered people, and other marks of what America was. Another thing I noted in that movie was the music. It was wonderful.

My teen years were in the 1960s. I have wonderful memories of driving on Sunset Boulevard, or down Wilshire Boulevard with the top down on my mother’s car. If it was a Sunday, there was the Boston Pops concert playing on the radio. Back then, waiting at a red light was safe.

I was born at the tail end of what America was. I take refuge from contemporary America by tuning in the ’40s channel and the Classic Radio channel on XM radio. My Netflix rentals are almost exclusively movies from before the 1970s. I get to see a time when one bought a ticket, got on an airplane and went for a ride. There were no semi-literate goons groping your body and stealing out of your luggage. I get to see a time when we bought the cars we wanted, ate what we wanted, and conditions were such that mothers could raise their children. They did not have to go to work to add income in order to live away from The Undertow.

In your article I notice reference to how people were dressed. I am the furthest thing in the world from a fashion plate. I dress in wash’n’wear slacks and sport shirts. But even I find the sight of people in sloppy cargo pants, untucked T-shirts, and backwards ball-caps to be an eyesore. I also live in Birmingham where, it seems, the more obese the woman, the tighter the Spandex slacks. Please note that these are whites doing this; it’s not just the diversity doing it.

I think back on my business travels to places like Spain and Italy. As bad as things are there the people remain polite, their dress is neat. They are just plain more pleasant to be around.

December 8

Deborah A. writes:

Adding to Ed H.’s remarks: For me, the most enjoyable aspect of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is the movie’s backdrop of 1950s San Francisco. Almost every scene provides rich visual interest: an elegant I. Magnin’s department store, a shipbuilder’s panelled office, churches, restaurants, and hotels. It depicts a very appealing everyday life in that city, rather than a tourist destination. Seeing Vertigo the other day recalled your comments some months ago on Naked City and how that movie depicted Manhattan in the late 1940s.

As always, thank you for your wonderful website.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 07, 2012 01:07 PM | Send

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