It was a movie I laughed uproariously at when my parents took us to see it at the base theater in the 1960s; like a lot of older films I once enjoyed, only a few have retained their ability to make me laugh. I’m not sure I even cracked a smile when we watched it a couple of months ago on one of the movie channels.
Doris Day was playing the part she might well have put a patent on - the ditzy, loving wife - and Rod Taylor was the stand-in this time for James Garner or Rock Hudson, playing her exasperated, loving husband.
We were living in England at the time, so the idea of Ms. Day’s film taking place in our current home may have been one of the draws of the movie; watching the film today, it is all too apparent that it is a studio production, with Taylor and Day no closer to England than I am at this moment - further away, probably. The same tired collection of actors Hollywood trotted out when they needed “English” or “French” actors are on full display.
Maybe I’m being too cynical. Maybe a ten year old child could still watch the movie today and laugh themselves silly. Sometimes, with age, we become just a little too full of ourselves.
But really, it isn’t all that funny.
And what is especially far from funny in the film, but which probably induced gales of laughter from both myself and everyone else around me in the base movie theater that night, was the scene in which Doris Day, dressed in a sexy outfit and trying to surprise her husband at a convention he his attending, finds herself locked in a room with a randy old goat, who chases her around the room, despite her protests that she has found herself in the wrong room, and needs to leave now, thank you very much.
The pursuit of the fleeing woman extends into the hotel hallway, much to the amusement of the men and women watching the horny old man chasing the scantily clad (for a mild 1960s Doris Day movie, I grant you) young woman, who is begging them for help.
All’s well that ends well, as they say, and Day and Taylor are reunited at the hotel, and her semi-purity is preserved. But as I watched the movie in 2013, I imagined the scene not as a comedy, but as something out of a drama, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.
With just a slight change in direction - but using the same dialogue - the scene might play out very differently indeed, as in a drama. And since Ms. Day was every bit the dramatic actress as she was a comedic one, who knows how the scene might play out - with a woman pleading for help from drunken bystanders, who merely laugh at her plight instead of coming to her aid?
It was, after all, a time and place in which young men were taught that “No means yes.”
I’ve had similar experiences when watching other films I enjoyed as a young boy. While many have not only passed the test of time, they mean even more to me on a second viewing, there are those which make me cringe, and avert my eyes.
A Woman in Berlin: Rape as a weapon of conquest
There is an old saying that history is written by the victors, though only a complete and utter nincompoop is going to go around uttering such nonsense. History is rife with works written by the survivors of invasions and wars. While many of those books come from the pens of generals and politicians, very few seem to come from the ordinary men and women caught up in the conflicts - the innocent bystanders, if you will.
When many think of war, they think of battles, and men and women dying for the causes they believe in. And then we see the ads for video games, which extol the virtue and excitement of combat. But rarely, if ever, do we see war from the point of view of noncombatants - pawns caught up in the conflicts between armies and nations.
1954 saw the publication of a most extraordinary work, A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, written by a woman who chose to keep her identity a secret. It is the story of how the people of Berlin, who prided themselves on being among the most cultured in the world - despite the horrors their own government was perpetrating - were literally reduced to living in primitive conditions after the fall of Nazi Germany, and the entry of Russian occupying troops.
As the electricity, gas and water supplies begin to fade, so do the supplies of food - such as the food is. But as the food gets worse, and the lights flicker in the darkness, the rumors begin to fly. After all, the Russians are coming.
Some have heard stories of atrocities committed by Russian troops, while others assure them that such stories are blown out of proportion. Still, they wait, and the tension mounts. As she writes in her diary, “My stomach was fluttering. I felt the way I had as a schoolgirl before a math exam - anxious and uneasy, wishing that everything were already over.”
On April 27, 1945, the first Russian troops reach their street. That night, the terror begins.
It is estimated that over 100,000 women were raped after the fall of Berlin. Young, old, the infirm, all were fair game. No degradation was off-limits.
It is a horrifying story. But throughout the emotional siege, when families were literally starving to death, and mass rapes were occurring regularly, people did what they had to in order to survive. For some women, that sometimes meant taking a Russian officer as a lover, to ensure a steady food supply for themselves and their extended families, and to avoid further rapes.
I don’t think that anyone who has not been in that situation should dare to judge them.
Throughout the three-month ordeal the author kept the diary on 121 pages of gray paper, later typing them up. It is an unsparingly book, an in-depth appraisal of life that occurred in those terrible days.
In the diary’s last pages an event happens which is almost like a Hollywood movie; the writer’s fiancee, who had been drafted years before, shows up at her door. But will it be a happy reunion?
I just can’t bring myself to tell you - you’ll have to find out for yourself. But find out you should, and to do that you’ll need to read this remarkable book.
Quote of the Day
“Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.” — Herbert Ward