Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Blue Gardenia

My informal film studies via Turner Classic Movies continue... all I'm missing are the post-film discussions.

A couple of years ago, I saw The Blue Gardenia for the first time. It's directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, of Metropolis fame, and his eye elevates the movie far beyond what it could have been in less attentive hands. The film was completed in just 20 days, and in many ways, that lack of time shows. But it's still excellent. In fact, it should be celebrated, but sadly, it's not. It's a forgotten melodrama, almost film noir, from 1953 - forgotten except by TCM and me. I'm sure it's been overlooked by most movie buffs and critics because most of them are men, at least the ones that get asked to write columns and do interviews, and this is a movie almost entirely from a woman's point of view.

I probably wouldn't have liked The Blue Gardenia had I seen it when I was a teen. Maybe I did start to watch it as a teen and turned it off. But at my age now - oh, it resonates in so many ways.

The film opens with an attempted rape. The first 33 minutes would be great to show to a group of young people now, to talk about predatory behavior and victim blaming. It's rivaled only by the opening of Thelma and Louise in that regard.

Ah, but the difference in those two movies, in terms of when they were filmed, what the law is, and what the law was...

I saw Thelma and Louise the night it came out in California and several weeks later in Southern Indiana. In the California theaters, the audience gasps at the shot, but in Southern Indiana, women cheered. Sympathy or not, most audiences in the USA wouldn't think of the killing as portrayed in that movie, legally, as self-defense - because it wasn't - but it would probably go down legally as voluntary manslaughter: the purposeful killing of a human being, yes, but in a case where the offender had no prior intent to kill and acted during the heat of passion, under extreme circumstances that could be understood as causing a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed to the point that they can't reasonably control their emotions (based on the definition in "What Are Homicide and Murder" by Aaron Larson in

Contrast this with The Blue Gardenia. The killing by Norah is clearly self-defense by the law of today, 2017. What Prebble tries to do is clearly rape - Norah is in no condition to give consent. But in 1953, those ideas, legally, didn't exist in those circumstances, even if women at that time, and for all time, knew it in their hearts - just as the character Norah does. But she hides because she knows she has no legal protection at all - if she is found out there is no legal justification for that murder, not in 1953, and she's going to prison for life, probably to be executed.

I watched The Blue Gardenia yet again today, and the conversations I see all over social media about the behavior of Harvey Weinstein, Roger Eugene Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and the current President of the USA, Donald Trump, all flashed through my mind during the first 33 minutes of the movie. Because I realize that what is clearly predatory behavior in this movie, what is clearly attempted rape in this movie, would be called by many men here, today, even in 2017, as a "gray area," and Norah's behavior would be seen as "sending mixed signals" by those men.

And it makes me want to scream. It means every use of the word clearly in this blog would be disputed by many men and women today, even in 2017. It means that, when I watch Mad Men and am appalled at what is said to Joan in that 1960s world, there are also men and women that watch it and still think she is asking for it because of how she dresses.

We still have so long to go...

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