Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stalag 17

I have a friend who likes or loves the movie, but hate's Septon's return to the barracks from the tunnel and "wave" goodbye. Says it's completely wrong.

Well, HE's completely wrong. And a homo commie to boot.

His focus on the treatment of Septon by the other US POWs [threatening him and ultimately beating him up] is interesting, and explains why he finds the wave incongruous. Again, I understand why he finds the wave so wrong. I continue to disagree.

I don’t see the movie as being about Septon’s isolation from the others, nor about their treatment of him. Rather, I view it as a study of how the various people in this melting pot we call the U.S. of Freakin’ A deal with horrible fear and hardship. The fear and hardship of POW life. You’ve got the whacky jokesters, the leader-types, the [visiting] “hero” types, the ones who go crazy, and the unrepentant, defensive cynic. Whose absolute refusal to step back from cynicism is as much a mechanism to respond to his fear as is the suspicion or “scapegoating” exhibited by the others.

Had the movie not borrowed the cartoon sequences from the play, and the enjoyable-but-way-too-overly-broad characterizations of Strauss and Lembeck, and centered instead on the fear of the men and the fear generated by the Germans [the best characterizations and performances in the film are by Preminger and Sig Ruman, imho], then it would have been an amazing film, deep and dark.

And not directed by Wilder.

And earning $18 at the box office, rejected by its time.


Mister Parker said...

I confess, the salute at the end strikes me as a crowd-pleasing gesture, or at least one designed to soften the cyncism and make it seem like underneath it all, they really were God-fearing patriotic American boys in it together. Which maybe they were. Who knows.

And maybe it is, as you suggest, deeper than that, an acknowledgement from Sefton that they were all trapped in a crazy situation and no one was really responsible for their irrational responses to an irrational situation. I will say, though, it's a gesture that requires either a tremendous amount of insight or a near bottomless capacity for forgiveness, neither of which seem to be obviously a part of Sefton's repertoire.

Still, you could be right ...

But in any event, I can't help but note that Stalag 17 was the first movie Billy Wilder made after the commercial disaster of Ace In The Hole, which was not only his most cynical movie, but also possibly the most cynical American movie ever made. It contained not one softening gesture, it pulled nary a punch and it's brilliant, but it was also a box office flop and, at the time, critically-reviled and I'm sure the man discovered he had to drink from the same punch bowl he'd just peed in and he made a decision that from then on he'd serve up his cynicism with enough sugar on it to make sure his audience went home happy. And this approach worked for a long time, at least through The Apartment which won him three Oscars.

I'm not the friend of whom you complain, by the way ... I know of whom you speak. He's a great man, an idiot in the best sense of the word. I am honored to know him. And you, too, you big galoot.

That there are three people in the world who feel strongly about the end of a movie made more than fifty years ago is interesting. That the three of them would have met and become pals for more than twenty years is astounding ...

Jean Siskill said...

I think that the wave *is* just such a cynical removal of the cynical by Wilder.

But I think it is consistent with and right for the movie. Because Septon/Sefton is not as cynical as he seems. And he's going -- he'll either be dead, or gone, so he can stop being cynical. He doesn't have to put up with these a-holes. And so he can forgive.

Bellotoot thinks that it goes beyond forgiveness [which he acknowledges might be consistent with the characters and alright, or even good, for the moment] and extends to "none of that shit mattered. Attaboy, you joes!" If I saw that in his jaunty salute [also a sign that, while I like the odds, I'm scared -- Willy Bilder shoulda captured *that* goddamn him], I would not like it at all.

I hate the Betty Grable special effects. Fuck Betty Grable