Wednesday, December 30, 2009

San Jose or Bust

Lee Cobb, Marlon Brando & Rod Steiger
On the Waterfront

New Year’s is fast approaching and I realized that I have been remiss in addressing my imaginary readers in San Jose. Its been so long that perhaps they have given up on me and now they are whistling some other annoying tune that I didn’t put into their head, but I can fix that right now...

Rain drops keep falling on my head,
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red...

Now there’s a song that could stick with your for days, maybe months, hell, decades! And whistling it in the halls at work might annoy your coworkers just enough that they skip asking you to lunch. Its another Burt Bacharach song, this time in collaboration with Hal David. What is it about Bacharach's songs that lend themselves so well to nesting in your mind? Bacharach and David wrote the tune for the 1969 classic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and it won the Oscar for Best Original Song that year -- so its a tune of some merit, tell your coworkers that and maybe they will put you back on the Thank-God-Its-Friday lunch list.

But I have no interest in discussing those cute cowboys Paul Newman and Robert Redford on this eve of New Year’s Eve -- they both lived in my hometown, although Redford left some time in the late seventies, as Westport was just too small to accommodate two of Hollywood’s most gorgeous leading men ever. The women in the grocery store were unable to handle it, something had to give. I wondered when Redford moved away whether he had lost the flip of a coin. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how it was decided that he was to go and Newman was to stay, because Westport won either way -- we got our blue-eyed movie star!

But seriously, good folk of San Jose, I want to talk about On the Waterfront -- a movie that takes place far from sunny California. And there are no cowboys, only longshoremen and thugs and a blonde Catholic school dropout played by Eva Marie Saint, who despite her plain face, yes plain, boils down below...its her voice that tells you this, that same deep voice and wife-like cadence to her words she uses to seduce Cary Grant in North by Northwest. The opening credits announce that the movie is Introducing Eva Marie Saint and I noticed that for the first time last night. I’ve seen the movie two or three times and it was only last night that I realized this was her first movie...geez, her first movie and she gets to make out with Marlon Brando, I mean never mind that she moves on to Cary Grant, let’s face it, starting with Brando had to just make everyone else seem like a cheat.

So everyone is all about Brando in A Street Car Named Desire...sure, Stanley is sexy, swinging around in that muscle shirt and hollering for Stella, but I think his depiction of Terry Malloy is more appealing in its understated humility. Stanley is really an arrogant ass, I don’t want to know Stanley and I sure as heck don’t want to have a beer with him. But Brando’s Terry is so vulnerable when he takes Eve out for her first beer that you almost think he’s never had a glass of beer himself. He tears your heart out when he says to her, up there on the roof, next to the pigeon coop and the polluted landscape behind them, “I bet you ain’t never had a glass of beer. Would you have a glass of beer with me?” What girl in her right mind would say no?!

There are beautiful touches that Brando brings to Terry -- when he’s walking Eve home through the park, the grayness of the city is heavy, but the whiteness of her Catholic school gloves are astonishing. They glow as though they are lit by a lamp hung just for them and Terry takes one of those gloves as they are walking and puts it on his longshoreman hand...Eve wants to leave him, wants to walk the rest of the way home alone, but dammit, he’s got her glove. He makes small talk with her, tells her how he remembers her when they were in elementary school together, he remembers her braids, and the braces on her teeth, what a little mess she was, and its on the tip of his tongue, but he never goes as far as saying she had grown into a beautiful woman, he just implies that he’s pleased with how she turned out. All this while wearing that glove...he waves it around and gesticulates and you see her reach for the glove a few times and up goes his hand, but he’s not even aware that she wants the glove back, he is enjoying walking with her, remembering her as a kid. He blushes when she admits that she remembers him, he says "Some people just got the kinda face you can't forget." Ooof and that's coming from Brando!

Finally she takes the glove off his hand and puts it back on her own hand...its a beautiful thing the way Terry uses that glove to hold her attention. The electric charge that comes when she peels that glove off of his hand is unmistakable. And the whole time I was watching this scene, I was thinking she’s half his size, but her glove fits his longshoreman hand, his boxer’s hand...Terry was a boxer before he went to work on the docks, how could he fit this virginal church glove on his meaty fists? The glove builds a picture of Terry that is essential to you understanding him and sympathizing with him...he’s a good sweet soul, not a palooka.

The pigeons -- oh the pigeons! You cannot run from the bird imagery in this movie. Eve’s brother Joey is killed in the first five minutes of the movie by Terry’s bosses -- they throw him off the roof where he kept his pigeons. “Too bad he couldn’t fly” the thugs remark and laugh when Terry expresses his regret about his part in Joey’s death. But the pigeons and the stool pigeons cross paths so many times and Terry protects his pigeons from the hawks...Terry starts out as a hawk and then becomes a pigeon himself -- you cannot help but ache for him. Everybody, including Terry’s own brother, Charley, played by a young and still comprehensible Rod Steiger, take Terry for a stupid bird. But Terry knows the birds better than anyone, he knows the birds always know how to get home and they know how to fight. Every pigeon in this movie meets a terrible end, except for Terry, he’s the only pigeon to survive.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Workers Unite message of the movie is all there...its gripping and relevant. The story of the longshoremen taking their docks back is edgy and powerful. But its Terry’s story really. Terry embodies the proletariat message of the movie -- “I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender” -- in the end he’s bloodied and staggering, and he becomes somebody.

On a final note, who else in Hollywood can wear a black turtleneck sweater like Brando? Tell me who? Okay, I hear the Jayne Mansfield jokes, save ‘em, 'cause Brando fills a sweater better than anybody!

Okay, my good people of San Jose, there it is, my New Year’s message to you all. Thank you for your loyalty, all ten of you! I promise to bring you more stories in 2010, whether any of them will make any sense I cannot say, but they will be stories just the same!



1 comment:

Robert said...

Please keep the stories coming. And Happy New Year!