Year 9, Day 76 - 3/17/17 - Movie #2,570
BEFORE: I'm in my ninth year of trying to watch the most appropriate film every night, and I don't think I've ever paid proper tribute to St. Patrick's Day - but in real life, since I'm about 1/4 Irish, I made sure to wear green today, eat some corned beef (it was hash, but it still counts) and drink a bottle of stout (it wasn't Guinness, but it still counts).
But then, it's easy to find a Christmas movie, much harder to find one for March 17, unless you resort to those horrible "Leprechaun" horror films, or watch "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". So when I saw that TCM was running this one, and if I just delayed the end of the Fred Astaire film by a few days to link to it, I had to take that opportunity. I'll wrap up things with Fred tomorrow.
As I feared, my watchlist did increase while I was on break - of course, TCM is to blame for running so many Richard Burton films, I think I recorded 7 or 8 of them. I started early, while I was still taking films off the list, in order to minimize the damage, but the list still grew from 133 to 137. I'll have to curtail my additions at least until I get it back down to where it was last week.
THE PLOT: An Irish immigrant and his daughter move into a town in the American South with a magical piece of gold that changes people's lives, including a struggling farmer and African-American citizens threatened by a bigoted politician.
AFTER: Full disclosure - my Mom made me watch at least part of this when I was a kid (same goes for "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", and dozens of others - Mom was really into movie musicals) but I doubt I ever watched this all the way through, and I certainly have never watched it with the understanding of an adult. All I really remember is the wishful-thinking revenge that happens to the racist senator, but as a kid, I didn't fully understand the implications of a white man suddenly turning a darker color.
This is perhaps the rare case where "blackface" make-up is allowable, it represents a magical change in ethnicity (as if that's somehow possible) but occurs to make a larger point about race relations, in how that man is now perceived, and how he perceives himself, in order to foster a greater understanding about the division in our country. Unlike, say, how Fred Astaire used blackface make-up to pay tribute to "Bojangles" Robinson in "Swing Time" - however well-intentioned that was, still not cool.
But let me back up a little bit, because when you take a look at the plot here, it really starts to make no sense - and that's even if you assume that leprechauns are real. Like most magical beings in folklore, leprechauns have to live by a set of rules. There's a pot of gold, which they have to protect, and it's kept at the end of the rainbow (which is a crock, because you can never find the end of one...) and then somehow if you catch a leprechaun, he HAS to give you his gold. Then you're all set, right?
Not so fast, because here Finian McLonergan gets the gold from the leprechaun before the story even starts, and he brings it to America, which then means that the leprechauns of Ireland start losing their magical powers, and turning human. So that means even if you GET the gold, you have to spend it within the confines of the Emerald Isle - see, there are more rules even after you win. McLonergan comes all the way to Kentucky, but he's trailed by a very tall leprechaun (apparently no LP actors were available) who's conveniently growing to human size, and trying to get the gold back.
And what does McLonergan want to do with the gold in America? Start his own business, purchase his own restaurant, invest it in the stock market? Nope, he wants to bury it on an acre of land, because America is a magical place, and that will make the land "rich". Umm, that's not how gold works - apparently Finian took the term "seed money" too literally. Later in the film, when gold is discovered on the property, it's unclear whether the pot of gold somehow made more gold appear in the earth, or if someone's just referring to finding the pot that was buried there. You know that it doesn't count if you put the gold there yourself, right?
Besides, NITPICK POINT, someone just doesn't come to you and say, "Hey, there's gold somewhere on your property..." It's not like uranium, you can't detect it from a great distance, or use other geological factors to narrow down an area where gold probably might be. The only way to say where gold definitely is is to go out there and dig it up, so this whole plot line was very confusing. How come when someone tells them there's gold on the property, people don't immediately go and grab picks and shovels, and start looking for places to dig. "Hey, there's gold somewhere on my property, that's great news - wait, you mean I have to start working to get it? No thanks!" Unless they figured out that the "found" gold was probably the buried pot, in which case there would not be any reason to celebrate the news.
But somehow this racist senator believes that there is gold in Rainbow Valley (maybe because of the word "Rainbow" in the name, this also is very unclear...) so he tries to buy up all the land - wouldn't you know it, he can't get the very piece of land he needs, which is collectively owned by a bunch of sharecroppers who are trying to cross-breed tobacco plants with mint plants, in order to make pre-mentholated cigarettes. (I swear, I'm not making that up...) This is a horrible idea, not only for the reason presented in the film, but also because we HAVE mentholated cigarettes already, so there's little need to make tobacco grow this way. Geez, on "The Simpsons" someone combined tobacco with tomatoes to make tomacco plants, and somehow even that made more sense.
Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh, because there are ways in which this film sort of predicted the world we live in today, with its anti-immigrant sensibilities and a racist Southern senator who wants to take the country "Forward...into yesterday!" And the botanist creating artisanal tobacco would have been spot on, if only it had featured marijuana instead. But in many ways, a miss is as good as a mile. There's also a particularly relevant explanation of the American financial system, when the residents of Rainbow Valley collectively get a huge line of credit extended to them from the "Shears" catalog, and they can suddenly have whatever they want - but do they know how credit works, do they realize that they have to pay for those items eventually?
But overall, this is a very silly film, and there are plot threads that just seem to go nowhere, or get abandoned outright. The character of Susan the Silent is particularly useless, there's no reason for her to be mute (until this serves a purpose near the end of the story) so her "talking" through interpretive dance for most of the film just ended up being annoying.
Maybe whoever put Francis Ford Coppola in charge of directing a musical was to blame...
Also starring Petula Clark (last seen in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"), Tommy Steele, Don Francks (last seen in "I'm Not There"), Keenan Wynn (last seen in "Three Little Words"), Barbara Hancock, Al Freeman Jr. (last seen in "Ensign Pulver"), Dolph Sweet (last seen in "Reds"), Ronald Colby.
RATING: 5 out of 10 mint juleps