Family movie night tonight!
"Upstart? Upstart? No one calls Rufus T. Firefly an upstart!"
Last week's family movie was a Stargate doublefeature. The Tok'ra, parts 1 and 2.
Week before last the 11 year old requested a cowboy movie. I let him pick it out. He chose The Undefeated, starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson. He's stiving to model himself after the Duke. Not politically or even in personality. In gracefulness.
You heard me, pilgrim. The Duke was graceful. You got a problem with that? I didn't think so.
Like Wayne, the 11 year old is a big guy. Big for his age anyway, and he comes across as bigger and taller than he is. And he has a big voice. When it changes over the next couple of years he'll be a barritone capable of singing bass without a strain. As it is, when he gets excited he can make the window panes rattle. And of course his arms and legs go every which way and he doesn't know his own strength. I told him, essentially, that with great power comes great responsibility, and he has to start learning to control himself. Be like John Wayne, I recommended. The Duke never yelled, he never swung his arms about. He knew he could hurt people and scare them without wanting to or trying so he was careful.
He was graceful.
Consciously. Like a dancer.
When he was directing The Alamo, he was trying to get Richard Widmark to move through a scene in a certain way. Widmark, playing Jim Bowie, who was dying of TB during the battle, was focused on looking sick, constricting his movements, trying to suggest pain and exhaustion, and taking too long to cross from one side of the set to the other. Wayne was disgusted. "Goddammit!" he said, "Be graceful! Like me!"
So John Wayne is the 11 year old's hero and, although I was hoping he'd go with The Far Country starring Jimmy Stewart or Cowboy with Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford, just for some variety, because every western we've watched over the last year has starred the Duke, he chose The Undefeated.
Surprisingly, it was one I'd never seen and I thought I had seen all of Wayne's later Westerns when I was 11---one of our local TV stations had a John Wayne movie night every Saturday night that summer. I was worried that because The Undefeated had been left off the schedule way back then it wasn't any good. Considering they showed Rio Lobo and The Train Robbers, I guessed it would have had to have been pretty poor not to have made the cut.
But it wasn't half bad. A little slow, Roman Gabriel as Wayne's adopted Indian son showed why he didn't have a movie career after he retired from football, even though he looked like Superman, and I'm pretty sure whole and key scenes must have been left on the cutting room floor---Lee Meriweather played Hudson's wife and she had maybe four lines. Here's a movie with Lee Meriweather and Rock Hudson in their primes playing husband and wife and not only do they never kiss, they don't even talk to each other. At the end she puts her hand tentatively on his shoulder and he relaxes and puts his arm around her waist as they walk off. Looks as though an important subplot got lost there.
Still, it was all right, and Rock Hudson did a surprisingly good job. One of Wayne's great gifts as an actor was his ability to step back and play the second male lead, letting his co-star command the movie, or at least their scenes together. Think of Wayne and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, Jimmy Stewart and Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Henry Fonda and Wayne in Fort Apache, and Wayne and Robert Montgomery in They Were Expendable, one of the few John Wayne-John Ford collaborations James Wolcott likes.
Hudson is the protagonist of The Undefeated, playing a Confederate officer who can't accept or live with the South's defeat. He packs up his family, gathers up a band of his loyal troops, including Jan-Michael Vincent, playing a young stud who will not get the girl, he loses her to Roman Gabriel, the most incredible thing in the movie, and they all set out for Mexico so that Hudson's character can recreate his former life as a Southern aristocrat far away from Yankee influence and under the protection of the Emperor Maximillian. In other words, Hudson's character, while not a bad guy, is dangerously wrong-headed and stubborn.
Wayne plays an ex-Union officer Hudson's band bumps into along the trail and it's Wayne's job to sit back and be calm while Hudson fumes and emotes and gradually, under Wayne's benign guidance, has it dawn on him that he is not a Southerner, and certainly not a Mexican, or even an aristocrat, he's an American and he belongs back in the United States.
At the end of the movie, the blonde and I agreed that Hudson had done a fine job of carrying the movie. He was a good actor, within his limits, and in The Undefeated he ventures pretty close to the border of thos limits, which makes his performance that much more interesting. (Most surprising bit of movie trivia of the day: I'm not sure how far beyond those limits he'd have had to go if he'd been able to play Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird as he'd been slated to.) This shouldn't surpise us, I said to the blonde. We saw him do this before and when even said the exact same things about him afterwards.
When? the blonde said, searching her memory for a time when she ever saw Rock Hudson outside the company of Doris Day or Susan St James.
In Giant, I said.
I never saw Giant, she said.
Yes, you did, I said. The summer before I went to Iowa. We saw it in Harvard Square. (There used to be a great old movie theater in the Square that ran a different double feature of movie classics every day for a buck, before the city of Cambridge let the Square be turned into a shopping mall.)
The blonde didn't remember.
But then I remembered. I didn't see it with her. I saw it with a different blonde.
Oh yeah, I said, smiling fondly at the memory, that was the summer I was dating---and I named a friend of ours from that year.
That was the summer I dated M, I said.
You did not!
M wouldn't have done that, the blonde said confidently. She has no problem believing I'd have run around on her, apparently. She just can't believe any other woman would want to run around with me.
What is it with you wives? You seem to think that you are the only female in the world who would put up with the man you married. What does that say about your self-esteem and judgment? Why do you want to portray yourself as having been such fools?
I did date M that summer, I insisted. If by dating you mean going out to dinner now and then and seeing movies together and occasionally hitting a bar. I reminded the blonde that there was a month or so there when she was working nights and M and I were working days and the blonde and I saw each other for about an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. It was like being married. M didn't have a boyfriend and for all intents and purposes I was single too, so we spent a lot of time together.
That's not dating, the blonde said.
I guess not, I admitted. Then I pretended not to believe the blonde wasn't jealous anyway. Don't worry, I assured her, I never would have done anything with M. She was cute and nice and fun, I said, but she was very tightly-wound and full of demons.
No guy in his right mind would have gone near her, I said. Too dangerous. She was ringed with emotional land mines.
The blonde agreed.
One wrong step and ka-boom, I said.
Exactly, the blonde said.
She'd have exploded before I got to first base, I said.
Right, the blonde said. So you didn't date her.
No, I said, sighing, I didn't.
Ha, the blonde said, and she went to bed.
Self-preservation isn't the same as being faithful, I guess, and earns a guy no rewards.