Friday, February 17, 2017

The Mating Game

Year 9, Day 48 - 2/17/17 - Movie #2,548

BEFORE: There's a thing that happened while we were in Atlantic City, I've been sort of sitting on the story, telling it only to co-workers and such, but it may relate to this film, in that we realize there are a lot of different people in the world, and some of them are hard to understand.  Monday night we went out to a restaurant in the Borgata Casino, owned by a very famous celebrity chef. (No plugs here, let's just call him "Schmolfgang Schmuck")  We had an 8 pm reservation, but after a medium-sized win on the slots she wanted to stop gambling, so we hit the restaurant at 7 and asked if they could move our reservation up.  No problem, except it meant we'd need to sit in the front seating area, instead of the back.

After a short time reading our menus, a man was seated at the table next to us.  A normal enough guy, except that he seemed very agitated, and was the kind of guy who never stopped talking, to himself or to everyone around him.  Since this was our pre-Valentine's Day dinner, we didn't really want to talk to any strangers, just to each other.  But this guy, let's call him "Twitchy" for the sake of the story, kept trying to talk to us, and his actions made him difficult to ignore.  He kept saying things like "I have to leave in 5 minutes..." (which seemed like an odd thing to say in a fancy sit-down restaurant) and kept trying to get the attention of every waiter that passed by, so he could place an order for a pizza, because again, he had to leave in 5 minutes, a fact he established several times.

After placing his order, and another few nonsensical attempts to engage both us and the folks sitting on his other side in casually awkward conversation, Twitchy decided he needed to bring some of his bags to his car, since he needed to leave in 5 minutes.  Well, if you've ever been to a casino, you may know that the restaurants are usually located far away from the parking garage, and to get from one to the other, you'll have to walk through the casino.  Actually, to get from any point to another in these places, you have to walk through the casino, it's part of the plan.  So I wondered why, if he had to leave in 5 minutes, Twitchy was going to bring some bags to the car, since that walk alone would probably take 10 minutes.  Why didn't he just get in the car and GO already, if he had to leave?  For that matter, why not grab a slice of pizza in the Food Court, which would take less than 5 minutes, instead waiting for a pizza from the fancy restaurant, which would probably take 15 minutes?

But Twitchy got up, filled with nervous energy, looked down at our table and said, "You guys are going to be here for a while, right?"  Neither my wife and I answered him or even looked at him, because we didn't want to be responsible for his jacket and backpack.  Then he set out for the parking garage, presumably to bring some of his luggage there, leaving the backpack on the chair next to me. By this point, my wife had recognized him as someone she'd seen earlier in the day, similarly talking to strangers in the smoking section while she was having a cigarette.  She had avoided making eye contact then as well, I stress again that there was just something OFF about this guy, you could just feel it.

So now I'm sitting next to a stranger's backpack in a crowded restaurant, and I'm trying not to think about what happened in the Paris bombings, or the 2013 Boston Marathon for that matter, or Manhattan last fall.  What did I really know about Twitchy, apart from the fact that he had to leave in 5 minutes, and was acting erratically?  Did he have some kind of vendetta against the celebrity chef?  Our waiter informed us that Twitchy had seemed weird to him too, and that he hadn't put in his pizza order, and a few minutes later, a security guard came by to take away Twitchy's backpack and jacket.  So we thought we'd never see him again, and figured he'd been caught for something, but we weren't sure what.

But maybe 10 minutes later (I told you it was a long walk to the parking garage), Twitchy showed up again, and the waiter told him he had to go to security to get back the stuff he left unattended in the restaurant.  Amazingly, he persisted (I hope security searched the hell out of that bag...) and he came back to the restaurant, sat down again, saying things like "Can you believe security took my stuff?  I had to go show my ID to get it back..." to no one and everyone around him.  After bothering the waiters again to find out where his pizza was (remember, he's got to leave in 5 minutes...) Twitchy suddenly realized he didn't have his cigarettes, and started checking his pockets, his jacket, his backpack, his fanny pack - nope, they're not anywhere.  Now he's wondering aloud, "Who took my cigarettes?  What did I do with my cigarettes?  They're not ANYwhere!"  Me, I just figured that his smokes were in the bags he took to his car, but I kept my silence.

After some wandering around the restaurant, looking for his smokes, and I think arguing with the restaurant manager, our waiter brought Twitchy a pizza - where it came from, I don't know or care - and Twitchy was finally out of our hair.  But the whole encounter was very strange, and also annoying to the extreme.  It only became funny in retrospect, after we didn't die in a restaurant bombing.  I mean, who leaves a bag unattended, in this day and age?  OK, maybe I did exactly that in San Diego last July, but it was an accident.  We'll never know what Twitchy's deal was, but maybe we'll make something up.

Now here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/18:
7:30 AM The Moon Is Blue (1973)
9:30 AM Morning Glory (1933)
11:00 AM Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)
2:00 PM Mrs. Miniver (1942)
4:30 PM The Music Box (1932)
5:15 PM The Music Man (1962)
8:00 PM Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
10:30 PM Network (1976)
12:45 AM The New Land (1973)
4:30 AM Ninotchka (1939)

TCM is more than halfway through the alphabet - makes sense, we're more than halfway through the 31 days.  I've seen 4 of these 10 films - "Mrs. Miniver", "The Music Man", "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Network", bringing me up to 74 seen out of 198.

And even though the end of February is coming up in just 11 more days, I've got a long way to go before I'm finished with the romance chain - I'm really just hitting my stride.  Debbie Reynolds carries over from "How Sweet It Is!" and we're leaving the swinging 60's, I've set the WABAC machine for 1959 tonight.

THE PLOT: Tax collector Lorenzo Charlton comes to the Larkins' farm to ask why Pop hasn't paid his back taxes.  Charlton has to stay for a day to estimate the income from the farm, but it isn't easy when the farmer has such a lovely daughter, Mariette.

AFTER: And when you travel back to 1959, or at least watch a film from that era, the values and ideology of that time come along with it.  Don't you know that everyone back in that time didn't have sex until they were married (yeah, right...).  That's why it was so important to court and find the right partner, because everyone got married only once, and it was forever (again, as if...).  But Hollywood would have you believe in their version of true love, and marrying for life, and not fooling around before-hand.  It's quite silly in retrospect.

It also strains the bounds of credulity to believe that someone, anyone, who lived in the U.S. in 1959 was unaware that they had a responsibility to pay taxes, or at least to file a tax return.  Our country's first income tax was in 1862, after all - and even if you allow for protests and challenges and temporary suspensions, the U.S. income tax became permanent in 1913.  So no one in this farming family in Maryland bothered to read a newspaper in the last 46 years?  I find that hard to believe.  OK, so maybe the kids were home-schooled, and they lived like hermits, but now essentially I'm writing the story, when the screenwriter should have found a better explanation for this.

Pop Larkin seems to prefer the "barter system", trading things even-steven (or a little bit better) and even borrowing his neighbor's prize boar when he wants to get his sow pregnant.  It's this borrowing (and the comical attempt to return said boar, right through the middle of a fancy dinner party) that tips the neighbor's hand - he alerts the IRS about Larkin's folksy, non-taxpaying ways, in a attempt to get rid of the farming family and buy up the land.

The first time we see the Larkins, and lovely Mariette, she's being chased around the farm, in and out of the barn and hayloft, by three young men.  Sure, it seems playful for young kids to be doing this, but since they appear to be in their early 20's, it seems to swing a little too close to gang rape, in my opinion.  Ma and Pop Larkin determine that their daughter is "ripe" (ugh, that's also a little icky) and determine that the next clean-cut professional man that comes their way should be a good candidate for their daughter's husband.

Enter the clean-cut, professional man from the IRS, right on cue.  But Pop Larkin is so overly friendly and folksy (to a disgusting fault) that I swear the introduction of the tax-man, and the reason for his visit, took up a full 15 minutes of screen time.  It's a bad sign when a character has one simple piece of information to deliver, and circumstances keep conspiring against said delivery.  Just getting the Larkins to understand what taxes ARE took much, much too long.

But what's worse is attempting to ply the tax agent with alcohol (it takes several attempts, again, I can't understand why he can't simply say, "None for me, I'm working."). And then they tell their daughter to go upstairs, put on her prettiest dress and a lot of perfume, to catch the tax-man's eye.  So, you'll pimp your daughter out to distract the man valuing your property - extremely shameful.   It's every bad joke about "the farmer's daughter" manifesting itself in a movie plot.

But the tax-man DOES end up cutting loose - he probably really needed something like this in his life - and the relationship between him and the farmer's daughter seems genuine enough, but that doesn't excuse the intent to distract him with their daughter's virtue, and the vagaries of the barter system.  Once again, I can almost guarantee that very little research was done to determine what the IRS will and won't do when they go after a tax evader.

It almost cribs from "It's a Wonderful Life" at the ending, but to the film's credit, it resists going down that route.  But to come with another solution to the tax problem, the plot has to bend over backwards and allow for one of the greatest plot contrivances ever, one that spans nearly a century.  Come to think of it, the tax-evasion plot seems a lot like it was borrowed from "You Can't Take It With You", which I happened to watch last year.

NITPICK POINT: Why did the twin girls call their father "Mr. Larkin"?  Even in the late 1950's, that seems somewhat out of place.  Why didn't they call him "Pop" or "Dad"?  I mean, this wasn't Victorian England...

Also starring Tony Randall (last heard in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Paul Douglas, Una Merkel, Fred Clark (last seen in "The Caddy"), Philip Ober, Philip Coolidge, Charles Lane (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Trevor Bardette, Rickey Murray, Donald Losby (also carrying over from "How Sweet It Is!").

RATING: 4 out of 10 haystacks

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