' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Rally 'Round The Flag, Boys!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday's Old Fashioned: Rally 'Round The Flag, Boys!

Here's what confuses me - in the opening moments of Leo McCarey's 1958 film, Harry Bannerman (Paul Newman) and his wife Grace (Joanne Woodward) are in their bedroom and in the midst of that been-there, done-that talk about how they have no time for each other anymore as a couple and so on and so forth and so they decide they will book a room for a night at the St. Regis Hotel and upon deciding this the shot in the bedroom widens and we realize......they have two twin beds. You know, because in the 50's a movie couple couldn't be seen with the same bed. I mean, what did the filmmakers think Harry and Grace were going to do in that hotel room? Play canasta?

All this is to say that "Rally 'Round The Flag, Boys!", adapted from the book by Max Shulman, is very much of its time. Essentially it's a cinematic sitcom with superior actors. Did you ever see the episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" where Debra is running for PTA President and this upsets Ray because now he will have to - ye gods! - look after the kids and clean the house and cook dinner and so on and so forth? This is not too far off from the initial act of "Rally 'Round The Flag, Boys!"

Grace, you see, belongs to committees. Lots and lots of committees. All kinds of committees. Name a committee, she's on it. This doesn't sit well with ol' Harry because if she's busy with a committee the odds that he'll be sitting home alone with a frozen TV dinner (apparently Harry can't work the oven himself) increase. He just wants a little time with his wife! Is that so much to ask?! She suggests the hotel getaway only to debunk every day as a possibility because of one thing or another. So Harry wonders why she even suggested it if she knew all along it wasn't going to happen? Because Harry, this is a clever way of showing that even though the film forces her into an apron, she still wears the pants in your relationship. (Ms. Woodward was nobody's toy.)

This is proven further when they attend a committee meeting about the military wanting to put a top secret base in their idyllic home of Putnam's Landing. The townfolk want nothing to do with it. Grace is nominated to chair the anti-top-secret-base committee and Grace nominates Harry to go to Washington and press the military to move this base somewhere else.

Hijinks, as they must, ensue. Not only does Harry find himself attempting to aid the military's base proposal rather than prevent it, he discovers his next-door neighbor, the vivacious Angela (Joan Collins) who is pleasantly persistent in trying to get Harry into the sack - well, make that one of the two twin beds - whose husband is one of those never-at-home twits, has followed Harry to D.C. and booked them a suite at which point - wouldn't you know it?! - Grace turns up. Uh oh! Although while you expect this to lead directly into an extended sequence where Harry has to juggle these two women and keep them apart it instead most unexpectedly (read: refreshingly) has Grace find out pretty much right away what's going on. She storms out, never mind that Harry wanted nothing to do with Angela and had only wound up pantsless on account of a few fortuitous circumstances. She doesn't know and so Harry will have to spend the remainder of the film trying to win his away back into the good grace of Grace.

The film opens with, and continues with for awhile before forgetting about it, a narrator suggesting a radio play, information that doesn't necessarily need to be relayed since we can see what's going on with our own eyes being relayed anyway. It also chooses to include a discombobulatingly superfluous subplot featuring a young Tuesday Weld who pines for a boyfriend that seems to exist solely to set up a bit of hijinks at the end that could have been set up in any fashion. It's a waste that makes the film feel overlong.

Paul Newman, meanwhile, who was so often the epitome of cooly laconic, his smile never revealing too much, spends his time in this movie mugging and contorting and buffooning and, in arguably the film's funniest moment, swinging drunkenly from a chandelier. Collins does complementary work as the Eisenhower-era femme fatale but, seriously, Joanne Woodward's dowdy dresses and occasional horn-rimmed glasses can't fool me. You're telling me Joan Collins was hotter than Joanne Woodward? No way Joan Collins was hotter than Joanne Woodward. (Not that I'm biased, though, of course, I am. Completely. 100%.)

In the end, despite Grace's best efforts, Putnam's Landing falls prey to the military base which turns out to be a training and staging ground for sending the first monkey into space (though if you don't think more hijinks are waiting in the bushes, you're crazy). The plot detail here is clear. Social and scientific revolution is coming. Except, of course, in the final shot of the film, when Harry and Grace finally make their date at a room in the St. Regis Hotel, we see the two of them separated by a night table, each sitting on a......twin bed.

That social revolution didn't really start until about 1963, after all.

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