Friday, October 8, 2010

Umnak Island, 16 November 1944


My Nunny…
We had another movie in the rec hut last night: “Saratoga Trunk” with our Ingrid and Gary Cooper. You have to see it, of course, but it is really too bad to give her parts like that—the illegitimate daughter of a New Orleans creole who comes back to the old home town from Paris bent on humiliating her legitimate half-sister and, after doing it, falls in love with a Texan whom she spurns because he is not rich but finally marries after he gets a million. You’ve seen it all before with Ida Lupino, Luise Rainer and Bette Davis, and the idea seemed to be to show that Bergman could do anything they could and be healthier looking too. 

She did, too. The trouble was that with Gary Cooper in there it was like having a relay team with Jesse Owens running leadoff and Sidney Greenstreet second. Every time the camera shifted from Bergman to Cooper it was like going from Steinbeck to Kathleen Norris. And for a long time it disobeyed what George Jean Nathan says is the primary requirement for a movie: it should move.

In emphasis on realism and accurate background recent movies often run into trouble keeping the camera on the characters. There are times, of course, when the off-scene shot can point out the meaning of the whole show. But when the meaning is an obvious as it is in this one, or when as is more often the case there is no meaning at all, this extracurricular camera work simply serves to stretch an 80 minute movie into a two-hour epic.

One thing I have noticed about the audience reaction here. While the pattern of the regulation war picture (hero does not know what he is fighting for, sees someone killed, realizes war aims, then either dies or loses limb) is recognized  and laughed at as a stereotype, the boy meets girl, l.g., g.g, theme never raises any protest. On the other hand any strong variation in characterization often offends a large section of the audience. “People just don’t act like that.”

Bergman plays the part of a manic-depressive, a girl who spun from hysterical depression to calculated animation in her chase for a millionaire. Those who did not like the show objected that this was unnatural behavior or, granting that such aberrations were possible argued that “You don’t go to a movie to see nuts.”
One other rather strange thing was that several of the fellows commented about Bergman’s aristocratic manners, when actually she was doing a magnificent job of showing the overstrained grace of the adventuress…One screamed comment when Bergman first appeared on the screen: “Voted the woman we’d most like to commit adultery with.” 

About the USO show. I haven’t seen it, but yesterday when I came into the operations hut after dinner, I almost trampled a tall, nice-looking, unbeautiful girl who was sending a telegram. Another girl was in the hut watching the machinery in action. It was strange the effect of seeing women: one of the fellows’ hands shook so much he could not punch the teletype keys. Another later had to repeat a wireless message he was punching, at least that is what everyone now claims. My own reaction was one of uncomprehending acceptance followed by a strong desire to say something to them. (I did: I censored the wire and asked the sender something about the address.) and then a profound depression at being away from you. Every nice thing I see makes me miss you more. 

And every nice letter I get. There were two from you yesterday and they were surpassing sweet. The idea of you and Haj combining in the retraining of a spoiled dog appeals particularly. Haj, I suppose, gives instruction in all the things a spoiled dog must not do, like sleeping on the chenille spread, eating the windowsill, or proudly paddling into the lake after ducks. 

Yesterday I wrote to Phyllis and Otto, Jack Martin (from whom I had a first letter yesterday) and Howard Daniel. So while I did not get much done on the Day of the Dead, I feel very virtuous. Now I only owe letters to the Wirsigs, Howard Lewis, Vic [Murray’s half-brother, Victor Morgan, was a naval chaplain in the South Pacific], Bill and Carmen [Fett], Pederson, and Bill James. Oh yes, I also wrote Harri, who subscribed to the Portland Oregonian pony edition for me. 

The election results in your letter of the 10th were interesting and have been studied by most of the Washingtonians, but be sure to send up a clipping with the final count as those were for only about half the precincts.
M

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