Tag Archives: Paul Osborn

‘Homecoming’: The Four Flusher’s Progress

Original Poster.

Original Poster.

“Homecoming” (Metro, 1948) tells the story of the eminent Dr Clark Gable, sawbones to the Social Register set, who joins the Army Medical Corps at the outbreak of the Second World War. He leaves behind his successful practice and his stylish wife, Mrs Dr Anne Baxter Gable. (His first name is Ulysses: friends call him Lee; he calls her Penny: her name’s Penelope. O, Homer! What crimes are committed in thy name?) We learn early on that the Homeric Dr Gable has gotten involved in the war effort for all the wrong reasons, but before the picture is over, he’ll do much good, make many sacrifices and redeem his soul. For its sins, “Homecoming” offers a perfect example of the sort of glum, semi-tedious product Metro turned out in the years immediately following the War, whenever the studio decided to make a high-minded, serious picture. Whatever else may be said for or against it, I find that it’s good for plenty of laughs — also for all the wrong reasons.

The story opens on a ship bringing men back home from across the Atlantic at the end of the War. A roving reporter goes round the ship in search of “a good yarn” (as his young associate puts it). The reporter is an old hand at getting veterans to talk: we can believe he’s good at his job because he smokes his pipe with such casual authority. Gives him the common touch. In the mist, he espies Colonel Dr Gable and asks him first for a light, then for his story — he musta seen plenty overseas, plenty. Here’s what follows:

As the title suggests, “Homecoming” is supposed to be about the difficulties veterans face when they return from war. Questions of class and social welfare are also raised. Mostly, however, it’s a Woman’s Picture about two women who fall in love with the same man. Paul Osborn’s script has a lot of pretty good stuff in it, but when he veers off course — as he often does — the writing is atrocious. “Homecoming” has some of the most hilariously over-written scenes in movie history. The over-writing is especially conspicuous because so much effort has been spent cluttering up the dialogue with colloquial words and expressions such as “sorta,” “kinda,” “y’know,” “dunno,” “somehow,” “whyncha give out?” and other “realistic” touches. Bronislau Kaper’s score slops heavy cream over the syrupy passages in a most amusing way. The plush banality of Kaper’s music falls somewhere between what you’d expect to hear at an airport cocktail lounge and a suburban undertaker’s parlor.

The Four Flusher

And it all starts when Dr John Hodiak calls Dr Clark Gable a four flusher. To my knowledge, this is the only picture in which a man’s crisis of conscience begins because someone calls him a four flusher. Perhaps it’s only because the term is seldom used anymore, but whatever the reason is, I laugh every time I hear Dr Hodiak haul off and say it. But the affront goes very hard with Dr Gable: until now, he always thought he was aces. A four flusher! Where does that second-rate corn doctor get the brass to give out with a crack like that? Heck, he’ll be accusing me of cheating at solitaire, next! Dr Gable tries, but finds himself incapable of shaking off the insult. In the vernacular and syntax of the picture, it kinda makes Clark feel sorta all hollowed out on his insides, somehow, and gee, it sorta sticks to him like Napalm.

Sorta Proud Somehow

So off goes Dr Gable, ego bruised and false teeth clenched, to patch up those boys over there, who are kinda trying to do something fine, somehow, like make the world safe from Teutonic paperhangers with funny moustaches and fat lunatics in funny hats who holler fascist folderol from Italian balconies. On the transport over to Europe, Dr Gable gets into an argument with a young nurse, known as “Snapshot” McCall (Lana Turner), who overhears his conversation and objects to everything he says. Then he learns, to his horror, that she has been assigned to be his head nurse. They continue to spar in field hospitals all across imprisoned Europe, but Dr Gable cannot help noticing that “Snapshot” Lana’s insolence is matched by the high quality of her nursing. His letters home are so full of his grievances against this pettish Clara Barton that his wife, goaded on by her busybody mother (Gladys Cooper — who else?), grows jealous. So now Dr Gable is fighting a war overseas and on the home front. What’s a four flusher to do?

Truce over a Cuppa Joe

In the face of the supreme competence of “Snapshot” Lana, Dr Gable kinda hasta make a pal of her, if he can. But she’s more obdurate than he figured on. A younger Gable would have asked her, “What’s eatin you, sister?” Instead, he just kinda gets his feelings hurt, which we can see by the way he purses his lips. What the good Doctor forgets is that in an earlier scene he sorta cracked wise about her husband who lies buried somewheres in China, having been killed in a battle six years before we got into the soup ourselves. It looks like she’ll never forgive him for his selfish callousness — and yet, well, she’s a good kid, kinda; she’s got a heart, y’know, and she begins to see that Dr Gable’s not such a bad Joe, kinda, y’know, after all — just needs to sand down some of those rough edges, get wise to the world, and learn that we’re all in it together, somehow. Every fella needs a buddy.

Chubby and Tubby Take a Bath

Two years before this picture was made, James Agee complained (in his review of “The Hucksters”) “[S]omething soft and unfortunate has happened to Gable’s mouth.” I’m afraid he’s right. Something soft and unfortunate has happened to his midriff, too. Fourteen years earlier, Clark Gable almost put the undershirt trade out of business by showing his naked torso in “It Happened One Night.” In this one, however, he looks like a Ball Park Frank (“They Plump When You Cook ‘Em”) in an army belt. In this scene with “Snapshot” Lana, it’s hard to know which of them is more in need of a good, tight girdle. Look at that still of him immediately below — he’s baking bread on both sides of that canvas cuff. And then there’s the coyness!

It’s a bad state of affairs when Clark Gable is shocked by the fleeting thought of sex: compare this scene to Gable’s performance in “Red Dust,” and the coyness is perfectly revolting.

Dr Gable Regrets

Back home, Dr Gable was always too busy to give Dr Hodiak a helping hand with his work in the slums of Chester Village (I don’t know why that name makes me laugh, but it does — probably because Gable pronounces it “Jester Village”). Now a boy from Chester Village (Cameron Mitchell) dies of wounds that wouldn’t have killed him, had he been given proper care back home. But Dr Gable was always too busy going to country club dances and hobnobbing with the swells to make time for those who couldn’t afford proper medical care. When the boy dies, Dr Gable blames himself.

Gable does that speech extremely well, I think. It is also the moment when his soul truly begins to awaken. He sees, as I hope we all do, that four flushing is not a victimless crime.

The Broken Torch

I won’t bother to set up this next scene. I offer it with no explanation, except to say that it contains my favorite bad writing in the picture.

“It’s a broken torch, but it still strikes fire . . .” Mmmmm, mmmmm. Sometimes there’s gawwd so quickly!

‘East of Eden’: Follow Van Fleet

Original poster.

Original poster.

If you’re a sensitive white American teenage boy or girl, it’s entirely likely that you’ll consider “East of Eden” (Warner Bros., 1955) to be the greatest picture of all time, especially if you’ve got a little yen for James Dean. Then, when you get a little older, if you have any sense, you’ll begin to think different. Happily, for those of us with a little sense, there’s still plenty to like and admire about the picture, but you’ve got to be willing to choke down many things that somehow manage, paradoxically, to be steamed up, boiling over and half-baked — all at the same time. The screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s elephantine novel has got an almost awesome amount of emotional pull to it. The Central California locations are gorgeous, and look great in CinemaScope (Ted McCord did the cinematography); Leonard Rosenman’s imposing romantic score keeps working your emotions into a lather; the young actors are attractive and achingly sensitive; the old-timers are pros who can bend the baloney any way they like. The only trouble is that it makes no sense at all. But what a swell, emotional ride it is when you’re a teenager! I remember how terrifically it used to get my nuts in a bunch when I was in high school. It’s the motion picture equivalent of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel,” which is fantastically engrossing when you’re young, but ludicrous once you’ve got a plenitude of rings on your tree.

I continue to like “East of Eden” a lot. In fact, I love it. But I love it for reasons that I seriously doubt were what director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Paul Osborn had in mind. For instance, I love to watch Jo Van Fleet act that jittery kid right off the screen. He’s up to all his usual tics, but Van Fleet shrugs at him, then backs up her truck and proceeds to steal the picture out from under him. When she narrows her eyes and lets the smoke come chuffing through her dragon nostrils, she seems to be saying, “G’ahead and ham it up, kid: won’t do ya no good, though: they ain’t even lookin’ at ya — not s’long as I’m in the frame.” He’s in the foreground, going through his catechism of spasms; she’s sitting still and scowling, smoking her stubby behind her big manly desk with her plum-colored gloves on . . . you can’t take your eyes off her, and you can’t wait to hear what she’ll say next, or how she’s gonna say it. To hear her say “Makes me mad just to think about a rrraannch” gives me a thrill of pleasure that lasts for the next fifteen minutes. (I have a brother who once told me, “She’s not sexy: she’s obscene.” Bingo.)

Jo Van Fleet won the Academy Award for her performance, and boy did she deserve it. (She’s even better in her one short, unforgettable scene as Arletta, Cool Hand Luke’s mother, in 1967, but she wasn’t nominated for that one.) Frank Langella gave her the back of his hand in his mean-spirited book. She may well have been the bitch he claims she was, but all I care about is the quality of her work. You’ll have to go a long way to find her equal.

Jo Van Fleet: 'Now, whaddaya want with five thousand dollars?'

Jo Van Fleet: ‘Now, what do you want with five thousand dollars?

I heard a story from a friend who, when he was a little kid, knew Marlon Brando: Brando was one of his father’s best friends. Apparently, James Dean once attended a party that Brando was at, and spent the whole evening trying, but failing, to impress him. Before Brando left, he purred: “Young man, I would recommend for you . . . psychoanalysis.” I think of that story just about every second that James Dean’s onscreen. I can’t help thinking that it’s not neurosis that I’m seeing, but hamming. He’s definitely got something, though. I just hope it’s not catching.

The story is essentially a highly steamed up Papa-Drama, loosely based on the Cain and Abel story: well-beloved “good” son Aron (Richard Davalos) versus much-reviled “bad” son Caleb (called “Cal,” James Dean), vying for the love of their stern father, Adam Trask (Raymond Massey, who loathed James Dean), and it all leads up to an extremely emotional happy ending, which happens after the comely, neurotic “bad” son’s Bible-thumping dad suffers a massive stroke, and Julie Harris slips into the old man’s room to deliver an exquisitely modulated Grand Remonstrance, the gist of which is: “Oh, Mr Trask, let Cal do for you, or he’ll never be a man!” It’s astonishing how fine she is in this scene. Julie Harris was hugely admired throughout her long career, and I saw her many times on stage and in pictures, but I never saw her come close again. At any rate, her speech takes its effect, whereupon the old man yields just enough to give the picture a happy ending. And what a sacrifice he makes: now that he’s a helpless, all-but-speechless invalid, he’ll permit his beautiful, no-count son to do for him. He’ll allow the boy to spoon pablum into his pie-hole, and change his diapers, and wait on him hand and foot until that fell arrest without all bail shall carry him away. What tears of joy this used to make me shed!