Saturday, November 25, 2023

Tension (1949)

Assumed identities are a relatively common trope in film noir. It plays a role in movies from The Stranger (1946) to No Man of Her Own (1950). Perhaps only a few other film noirs took the idea of assumed identities as far as Tension (1949). It is at the core of the movie, and we even get to see the protagonist go about creating his new identity.

In Tension (1949) Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) is the meek, mild-mannered night manager of the Coast-to-Coast Drug Store in Culver City, California. He lives in a modest apartment above the drug store, saving money until he can afford a house in the suburbs. Unfortunately, his wife Claire (Audrey Totter) does not want to wait that long. Neither the apartment above the drug store nor a house in the suburbs appeal to her, as she longs for greater things. To this end she cheats on him with any man willing to spend money on her. At long last she leaves him for one of her rich suitors, Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough). This does not sit well with Warren, who creates a whole new identity with the goal of murdering Deager. He gets contact lenses, buys fancy clothes, and moves into an apartment in Westwood, Los Angeles. His new identity is Paul Sothern, a cosmetics salesman. Warren backs out of his plan to kill Deager after meeting his lovely new neighbour Mary Chanier (Cyd Charisse). Unfortunately for Warren, Deager winds up dead anyway...

Tension was based on a story by John D. Klorer, who had earlier provided the stories for such films as Seven Miles from Alcatraz (1942) and Good Sam (1948). MGM initially bought the rights to the story as a vehicle for Robert Taylor and Van Heflin. As it turned out, the protagonist Warren Quimby would be played by Richard Basehart, while Barry Sullivan would play Lt. Collier Bonnbel, the police detective who suspects Warren of murder. Tension was directed by John Berry, who had earlier directed the comedy Cross My Heart (1946) for Paramount and the musical Casbah (1948) for Marston Productions (Tony Martin's production company, which had a distribution deal with Universal). Unfortunately, in 1951 he was named a Communist by director Edward Dmytryk, one of the Hollywood Ten. He was blacklisted and relocated to the United Kingdom.

The contact lenses that figure so prominently in Warren Quimby's transformation into Paul Sothern were a bit of a timely topic in 1949. Contacts lenses that fit over the sclera of the eye had existed since the 1800s. By the 1940s contact lenses made from plastic were developed. It was in 1949 that the first contact lenses that fit over the cornea of the eye were developed. They were smaller and could be worn up to 16 hours a day. Unfortunately, they tended to be both fragile and expensive. It would not be until the 1960s that soft contact lenses would be developed. Of course, one of the more far fetched ideas Warren Quimby had about creating a new identity is that contact lenses would make him less recognizable. As anyone who has switched from glasses to contacts knows, one is still recognizable wearing contact lenses. When I first started wearing contacts, I got the questions, "Where are your glasses?" and "Did you get contacts?," but I was never asked, "Who are you?." I can only guess that Warren decided if doing away with one's glasses worked for Clark Kent, maybe it would work for him...

Tension premiered on December 1 1949 in Memphis, Tennessee. For the most past it got positive reviews. The critic for Variety wrote that Tension "lived up to its title. It's a tight, tersely stated melodrama that holds the attention." Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was an exception in that he disliked the move. In his overly negative review, he wrote, "A much better title for this picture would be "Patience," presuming such a thing." Audiences were not apparently impressed by Tension either. Made for $682,000, it only made $506,000 in the United States and Canada. It lost  $229,000 at the box office.

Fortunately, the reputation of Tension would improve in the years since its release, to the point that it is counted among the better film noirs MGM ever made. While the idea that someone could create a new identity with merely contact lenses and new suits is a bit far fetched, the script by Allen Rivkin and the performances of the cast make Tension convincing. Richard Basehart does a good job of transitioning from the meek, mild-mannered Warren Quimby to the outgoing Paul Sothern. And the role of Claire numbers among the best of Audrey Totter's "bad girls." She is selfish and greedy, and she constantly demeans Warren, to the point that one wonders why he would even want to remain with Claire. As Mary, Cyd Charisse is certainly among the sexiest good girls in film noir, but she is not mere window dressing. She endows Mary with a personality all her own, warm and sweet, but at the same time very much her own woman. Barry Sullivan also does well as the dogged detective Bonnabel, who gives the film its title in his monologue prior to the opening credits.

Tension (1949) may not be as well known as such film noirs as Double Indemnity (1944) or The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), but it is a well done movie that benefits from some great performances and a script that consistently builds, well, tension. It should really be better known.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Will Sampson Defied Stereotypes

Will Sampson remains best remembered for playing "Chief" Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). He also appeared in such films as Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Sadly, his career as an actor would be short one. He died in 1987 at the age of 53, having suffered from scleroderma in his later years. While Will Sampson's career was short, he made an impact as a Native American actor in refusing to play stereotypes and speaking out against them.

Will Sampson was born on September 27 1933 in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma. He was a citizen of the Muscogee Nation. Before he was an actor, he competed in rodeos for around 20 years. In fact, he was on the rodeo circuit when the producers of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas, took notice of him. They wanted a huge American Indian to play the role of "Chief" Bromden. At 6' 7" Will Sampson certainly fit the bill.

Chief Bromden would be Will Sampson's first role as an actor, and from the beginning he was resisting Hollywood's tendency to portray Native American characters as stereotypes. According to a June 6 1976 article in The New York TimesOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest director Miloš Forman had wanted  Mr. Sampson to portray Chief Bromden as a stereotypical, "ugh-Tonto Indian." Will Sampson objected, pointing out that the movie was set in 1963, Chief Bromden had been a football athlete in high school, and had served in the Korean War. Chief Bromden would have perfect diction. In the end, Mr. Forman appreciated Will Sampson, telling him, "You were the only actor I didn't have to direct."

During production of The White Buffalo (1977), in which Will Sampson played Crazy Horse, Will Samspson found out the producers had hired white actors to play the majority of Native American roles. Will Sampson then shut down production on the film for a day by refusing to act alongside the white actors playing American Indians. His experience on The White Buffalo would lead Will Sampson to become one of the founders of the American Indian Registry for Performing Arts and to serve on its Board of Directors for years. The American Indian Registry for Performing Arts was founded to advocate for Native American actors, and published a directory of Native Americans in the entertainment industry.

Will Sampson was still speaking out for Native American actors and Native Americans in general only a few years before his death. In an article from the June 8 1984 issue of The Rapid City Journal, he made he point that American Indian stereotypes could still be seen in movies and TV shows, stating, "It's a slow process. Those stereotypes started way back when. The cowboy and Indian movies are what got the (motion picture) industry going, and that wasn't too long after the Indian wars."

In addition to being a groundbreaking actor, Will Sampson was also a talented painter. His artwork can be found in the Creek Council House Museum in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and has been shown in such venues as the Pierson Gallery, the Gilcrease Museum, and the Philbrook Museum of Art.

In demanding not to play stereotypes and speaking out against such stereotypes, Will Sampson challenged Hollywood to do better by American Indians. In playing characters with dignity, such as William Halsey in Buffalo Bill and the Indians and Crazy Horse in The White Buffalo, he changed the sorts of roles Native Americans were expected to play. While a good deal of progress still has to be made, the portrayal of Native Americans on film and the opportunities Native American actors now have might not exist if it had not been for Will Sampson.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving 2023

Chances are good that if you have paid attention to the news the past many years, you probably know that many Native Americans do not care for the holiday of Thanksgiving. And as someone who is part Cherokee, in some ways I am ambivalent about Thanksgiving myself.  If one knows American history, this should come as no surprise. The Wampanoag, who legend has it dined with the Pilgrims, suffered greatly for their contact with the British colonists. It is for that reason that many Native Americans view Thanksgiving as a celebration of the genocide of Native Americans at the hands of European settlers and observe it as a day of mourning. As I see it, the problem is that the mythology of Thanksgiving has traditionally been tied to that of Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, the Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims was not even the first Thanksgiving celebrated in North America. Among British colonists, a Thanksgiving was celebrated at Berkeley Hundred in Virginia two years before the Pilgrims celebrated their Thanksgiving. And before that, in 1541, Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his men observed a Thanksgiving. Of course, before Europeans ever arrived on North American soil, many indigenous peoples had their own Thanksgivings. For example, the Seneca have Thanksgiving rituals that last four days, and other Iroquois nations have their own Thanksgiving rituals as well.

For me then, the answer is not to do away with the holiday of Thanksgiving, but to divorce it from the imagery of the Pilgrims. We should stop celebrating the Pilgrims, who ultimately brought grief to the Wampanoag. Ultimately, my point of view on the holiday is best expressed by Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, who said of the holiday, "We celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of America, maybe in different ways and for different reasons. Despite everything that's happened to us since we fed the Pilgrims, we still have our language, our culture, our distinct social system. Even in a nuclear age, we still have a tribal people." I think it is important to set aside a day to express gratitude. We just have to make sure that we are not celebrating genocide when we do so.

Anyway, I know most of you probably want to see the various vintage pinups I post every holiday, so without further ado, here they are.

First up is Leila Hyams and a friend.

And here is Joan Leslie taking her turkey for a walk.

And here Peggy Diggins is cuddling a turkey.

Fay Webb apparently prefers eating turkey to making pets out of them.

As does Frank Sinatra.

And it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without Ann Miller!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

It's Too Soon for Christmas

Today is the day before Thanksgiving, but one would not know it from the retail industry or the media. It was in mid to late October that local retail stores started moving Halloween merchandise out to make room for Christmas goods. The Hallmark Channel has been showing Christmas movies since October. The first Christmas-themed commercials started airing before Halloween had even passed and only increased as we got deeper into November. Indeed, it was about two weeks ago that I noticed Disney+ already has an entire section dedicated to Christmas movies.

This is a sharp contrast to when I was growing up or even when I was a young man. Stores would not start stocking their shelves with Christmas goods until well into November, usually after Thanksgiving. Christmas-themed commercials would not start airing until Thanksgiving at the earliest. As for Christmas movies, one usually wouldn't see them on television until December 1 at the earliest. When I was growing up, we did not start decorating for Christmas until December was already a few days old.

Now I realize everyone has their own timetables with regard to Christmas. I know people who put up their Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. I even know people who are willing to watch Christmas movies in November, although they are often also the sort who will watch Christmas movies any time of year. That having been said, it seems to me that the people who want to celebrate Christmas early are in the minority. As I said, I know people who will put up their Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving, although most people I know will wait until December 1 at the earliest. I have a number of friends who complain about Hallmark showing Christmas movies as early as October, particularly my fellow fans of The Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote. And most people I know complain about Christmas-themed commercials airing even before Halloween is over. Indeed, in 2012 Target made the mistake of airing a Christmas-themed commercial featuring their dog mascot Bullseye starting October 11. The outcry was so swift and immediate that Target pledged to never show a Christmas-themed commercial that early again.

As it is, I think there are some very good reasons for the retail industry and the media to hold off on Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Indeed, Thanksgiving is one of those reasons. For the past thirty years, it has seemed as if Thanksgiving was in danger of becoming a mere subset of the Christmas season instead of its own holiday. To me, this would be a tremendous loss. Okay, I have to admit that I do not appreciate the traditional link between the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, something which causes many Native Americans, particularly those in the Northeast, some degree of pain.  Even so, I think it is important to have a day set aside when we express our gratitude. It is something I don't think people do enough throughout the year.

Another reason is that Christmas is a winter holiday. Indeed, Christmastide does not end with December 25. It begins on the evening of December 24 and runs until January 5. It is why the imagery of Christmas is all tied to winter. Snow, snowmen, icicles, Santa's sleigh, all of these images bring to mind the Yuletide. Even now, on November 22, let alone earlier in the month or before October, winter is some way off. Even today the weather here in Missouri is hardly Christmasy. While it is hardly warm, it is not exactly cold either. Snow is pretty much improbable. Quite simply, it is still autumn.

Of course, this brings me to another thing. As far as I am concerned, we really don't need Christmas in November, let alone October. In October we have Halloween to cheer people up. In November we have Thanksgiving to make people merry. As Christmas is currently celebrated in the United States, it seems to me as if many stop celebrating it after December 25. It also seems to me that when we really need Christmas is after December 25. After all, at least here the weather is relatively mild before December 25. It is in those last days of December and first days of January that the weather turns colder and snow becomes a distinct possibility, this at the same time that the days are short and the nights are long. If ever we need a bright, cheery holiday, it is those early days of winter, not the last days of autumn. I would imagine this is particularly true of those who suffer from winter seasonal affective disorder. If we would simply return to the traditional twelve days of Christmas, I think many would be much happier.

There could also be an economic reason for the retail industry and the media to hold off on Christmas until after Thanksgiving. In the CNN article, "Holiday Creep Has Gotten Out of Hand," David Katz, the chief marketing officer at Randa Apparel & Accessories (who make Levi's and various other brands), noted, "If I am going to have a four-month holiday season, I'm not as driven to buy now. You lose the sense of urgency and immediacy." I agree with Mr. Katz. Why should anyone buy anything for Christmas as early as October, when they know that they are going to have until December. I don't think any amount of Christmas music or Christmas imagery will make people buy for the holiday early. Indeed, I know many people who will actually avoid stores for much of November for fear of being exposed to Christmas before they are ready.

Now I know there are those people who like to start celebrating Christmas early. As I said, there are those who enjoy watching Christmas movies in November. And I have nothing against that. While there are Christmas early birds, it does seem to me that retail stores could still hold off on putting out their Christmas goods until after Halloween. It also seems to me that the streaming services could already have Christmas movies available without an entire section dedicated to them, at least not until after Thanksgiving. I am not going to say individuals can't start celebrating Christmas early, but at the same time I think the retail industry and media are giving little consideration to we traditionalists who want to wait until it is at least December.

Now I happen to love Christmas. Come December 1 I will have my Christmas decorations up. I will also start watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music. And it is because I love Christmas that I really don't want to start it early. Everything has its own season. I want to celebrate Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and Thanksgiving before I get to Christmas.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Rosebud Yellow Robe

Rosebud Yellow Robe was a half Lakota Sioux educator, writer, and folklorist who spent a good portion of the 20th Century educating children about Native American folklore through her books, storytelling, and even performances. She appeared on both radio and television. She was also linked to two classic movies.

Rosebud Yellow Robe was born on February 26 1907 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Her father was Chauncey Yellow Robe, who was also a lecturer, educator and Native American activist. Her mother was Lillian Belle Sprenger, who had been a volunteer nurse at the Rapid City Indian School. She was of Swiss German descent. Rosebud Yellow Robe was named for the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Rosebud's father taught her and her sisters the traditions of the Lakota. She and her sisters attended the public schools in Rapid City rather than the Indian School, which tended to focus more on vocational training. Rosebud Yellow Robe graduated from the  University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota, one of the first Native Americans to do so.

It was on August 4 1927 that President Calvin Coolidge was adopted into the Sioux tribe to recognize his support of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 in a ceremony that was presided over by Chauncey Yellow Robe and his daughter Rosebud. The event received a good deal of press coverage, with much of the media attention concentrated on Rosebud herself. She actually received offers from theatrical and film agents. Cecil B. DeMille tried to convince her to take the lead role in his film Ramona, but she refused. The part was ultimately played by Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio.

While Rosebud Yellow Robe accepted no theatrical or movie roles, President Coolidge's visit did spark in her an interest in the theatre. When she was 22 she moved to New York City. There she created a dance routine which included authentic Native American costume, which she performed at hotels and theatres. She would go on to start educating people about Native American culture and folklore. Among the many venues in which Rosebud Yellow Robe had presentations was the American Museum of Natural History.

As part of her effort to educate people about Native Americans, Rosebud Yellow Robe also worked as the Director of the Indian Village at Jones Beach State Park in Long Island, New York. Every summer from 1930 to 1950 she taught children and others about Native Americans. In the 1930s she also worked at CBS Broadcast Centre in New York City. Orson Welles was working at CBS at the same time. Many have theorized that Orson Welles named the famous sled in Citizen Kane (1941) for Rosebud.

While it is not certain whether or not the sled Rosebud was named for Rosebud Yellow Robe, she did have a strong link to another classic film. In 1950 Twentieth Century Fox hired Rosebud to promote their new movie Broken Arrow, which centred upon Tom Jeffords and Cochise. On the publicity tour for Broken Arrow (1950), Rosebud criticized the portrayal of American Indians in the movies and on radio, and she also debunked the myth of the "Indian princess." If she had an opinion on white actors playing American Indians in the film ( Cochise is portrayed by Jeff Chandler), she never said anything.  It was also during the 1950s that Rosebud appeared on various NBC children's programs.

Rosebud Yellow Robe also wrote two children's books on Native Americans. An Album of the American Indian, published in 1969, looked the day to day life of seven different tribes prior to the arrival of Europeans. Her second book, Tonweya and the Eagles, and other Lakota Indian Tales, published in 1979, adapted folk tales told to her as a child by her father. 

Rosebud Yellow Robe is an important figure in the history of Native Americans. At a time when stereotypes of American Indians were rampant in movies, on the radio, in comic books, and later on television, she sought to educate people on the reality of Native Americans. What is more, she took her campaign to educate the general public about American Indians to multiple media. She lectured on the stage. She appeared on radio and on television. And, of course, she educated thousands of children in her twenty years at the Indian Village. If Hollywood eventually began portraying the indigenous peoples of North America more accurately, it was probably due in a large part to Rosebud Yellow Robe.