Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Classic movies in their proper context

...The only moment of audience reaction that really bothered me came from a couple of women sitting behind me, who were older than me, and bust out in guffaws when Lionel Barrymore described a hurricane that devastated the Keys. The gangsters are nervous about the approaching hurricane at this point in the film, and they ask him how bad the storm could get. Lionel describes trains wrecked and bodies tossed out to sea, and for weeks afterwards corpses drifting into the mangrove swamps. These ladies thought that was an absolute hoot. I admit, I was ready to turn around [and] belt them. It ruined an otherwise intense moment in the film.

Then I realized that because Lionel Barrymore holds the whip hand in this scene, they probably thought he was making it up, telling tales to scare the bad guys, since it was the only power he, an older, frail, wheelchair-bound man, had over them. It makes sense, and if that were really the case, then I agree the scene would be funny.
Except the hurricane he describes really happened.
Classic movie fans will no doubt recognize this as a scene from the great movie Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It's one of my all-time favorite movies for sure; I've seen it many times and have always enjoyed it. I never thought that this scene was funny at all, but I've certainly seen enough old movies with an audience to be in a situation like this. Sometimes I'm the one who laughs at something out of context, sometimes it's other people. It's to be expected when you're watching a film from a different era: things that were generally understood back then lose their meaning over time.

I used to not take it seriously whenever I'd see a classic film blogger complain about it, but not anymore. I can see how it'd be a little annoying. Reading this, however, kinda re-emphasized for me how beneficial it can be to understand the context behind an old movie - not always, but certainly whenever there's any confusion.

You ever have that happen when watching an old movie? Whichever side you may have been on, that is.

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