Jacques Tourneur directed some cult classics under the producer tutelage of Val Lewton in the early 40s, “The Cat People” and “I Walked With a Zombie.” And in 1957 he did “Night of the Demon”/ “Curse of the Demon,” (UK) which I saw with my parents. My father was surprised and let down that Dana Andrews was in this horror picture as if had chosen to be mired in B movies. Amazing what one dredges up from childhood.
Andrews had been in “The Best Years of our lIves,”1946, ”Laura,” 1944, ”The Ox-Bow Incident,”1943, and “A Walk in the Sun,” 1946, most of these A films. Tourneur and Andrews also worked together in “Canyon Passage,”made in 1946 with Susan Hayward, Brian Donlevy (memorable in “Beau Geste” as a vicious sergeant, 1939) Ward Bond and a very young Lloyd Bridges. It was a standard B flic in which Hoagy Carmichael introduced “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” a rather homely man who often tinkled the ivories in several movies and was the composer of the classic “Stardust,”and “In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening.”
“Canyon Passage” was nothing much as a film but directorially it did have one or two nuances, especially the executing of a convicted murderer off screen, subtle for an oater. Why I recall this film which I have seen off and on within the last few years is a memorable line spoken in a bar by Onslow Stevens, a dry and durable actor of the 30s and 40s. It is delivered off hand which makes it more telling and while the actor’s back is to the camera, thus even more effective.
When Andrews confronts the gambler Stevens about all the loses his friend Donlevy has incurred at his poker table, Stevens is also upset at that also but as he rises he says, “Mankind is a horrible mistake.” I don’t recall a memorable line from “Ben Hur,” “Spartacus,” “El Cid,” or ”The Bridge on the River Kwai.” I wonder how the writer and director in 1946 got away with this noirish comment. In fact after the war up to the mid 50s were the years of film noir, much of it was a response to what the war had taught us about humanity. Tourneur directed the classic film noir “Out of the Past.” And Welles made the greatest noirish B movie, “Touch of Evil,” in which there are several memorable lines by Marlene Dietrich (Welles’ friend and assistant in the magic act he used to entertain troops during the war) in a cameo as a madam.
In some way, in some fashion, the line about “horrible mistake” resonates in me, fits suitably into my general frame of mind. I relish that the suits at the front office missed that one acidic if not brilliant accusation about the species – its innate failings. As I look at the debates and observe how one is condemned for showing feelings (Biden vs. Boy Scout), I see how nauseating and politically correct we are. Watching that blustering grotesquerie, Russ Limbaugh, blame and castigate Martha Raddatz, as the moderator for limiting Ryan’s performance, I conclude that we are indeed a horrible mistake.
If a truth is accepted after denial, projection and other psychological human defenses are let down or worked through, we come upon a realization or an awareness that we give large measure of credence to. For me mankind is not as much a species, very much the animal. For me it is as profound a truth as it is for a die-in-the-wool Catholic that Christ was the son of God–but he wasn’t, nor did he rise, fitting mottled mythological musings for an animal.
Recently I was labeled, in essence, by some old cocker about my age, a curmudgeon. He could not grasp my comments about authority or rules and regulations, for they spoke of disgruntlement, which is not allowed. For me it was my ongoing battle with authority. As I walked out of the place in which he was a volunteer, he muttered words, in effect, wondering how I could exist as a person and how my wife could endure the bleakness of my soul. Ah, to be judged by a volunteer.
He went so far as to show me a plaque on his desk ostensibly to be used with misfits such as myself. It had a homily about accepting old age which was an Irish proverb and I had the temerity to tell him that of all the proverbs he could give me, Irish ones were near the bottom, and I also felt but did not say that if your insight came down to a Hallmark sentiment how pathetic you were. It is the misbegotten belief that if you shove a bible into one’s hands you will find the truth. Hogwash! Books are not life. Words are not life. Learn how to live moment to moment free of other people’s convictions and musings and then you will be free.
Jane and I looked at one another. He didn’t get it, never did, never would, for his life, if I may judge, was spent as an adherent. And because he didn’t get it, he labeled me. I became a “horrible mistake” as a person.
Again I am nauseated by culture, any culture, and especially sickened by this one, in which a political wife speaks of her husband in an attempt to “humanize” him to the populous. Now that is real resurrection of the dead! If he ain’t a human being, why run this cadaver for office and why must we endure such a pathetic plea. And little Sarah that Todd knocked up in the backseat in his truck as her fanny wriggled uncomfortably on a spent Coke can, this vagina on stilts, is off to the side yelling at Romney to pull the trigger.
What is one to do if one sees all this cant? It is the perennial question — rush off like Thoreau to the woods for a respite, not bad if you are single and have the time for it; go out and try to change the system (never works, only leads to reform which leads to more structured recalcitrance until the next reform is required — the history of revolutions teaches us this; start with Condorcet and end with Robespierre and then Napoleon.) Human stupidity is a repetition compulsion.
After decades of living I have reached some insight and thus some concluding propositions. I conclude that all I can do is be free of the bullshit, to cleanse myself on a daily basis; that I am surrounded by human frailities, gross behaviors and lunacies that assault me on all sides. It is a struggle to be free of religion, of others in particular, of parents, of the state, the government and of one’s own blindednesses. By the by, isn’t that the curriculum of a meaningful education?
I have also concluded that it is a losing proposition to sustain, yet I continue to do so, for in a way I too, for others, am a “horrible mistake.”