Friday, November 21, 2014

My Reputation

My Reputation
seen on TV @ TCM

There's been a great deal of discussion over the past few years about the decline of the romantic film, whether comedy or drama. (Earlier this week, The Dissolve was the latest film site to have a discussion about it.) When I addressed the matter a couple of years ago, I talked about how many of the industry's biggest leading men have been reluctant to appear in romantic movies (comedies in particular), a problem that didn't exist to anywhere near the same degree back in the studio-era of Hollywood, but I also alluded to the belief that modern living provides fewer obstacles to keep potential couples separate.

One major obstacle that succeeded in romance movies back in the day was war, something I noticed as I watched My Reputation yesterday. There's no doubt about when this is supposed to take place: Barbara Stanywck mentions things like planting a Victory Garden and serving in the Red Cross. (And yet this was released in 1946!)

For all of the movies that Hollywood made that depicted the fighting going on overseas, as well as propaganda films that supported the war effort, movies like these that showed the impact WW2 had on the homefront are equally compelling as historical artifacts. The beauty of it is that no special attention is given to details like these; they're simply part of the background of a wartime movie.

George Brent's character is a major in the army, and the romantic plot he shares with Stanwyck is contingent on his availability. He has a limited amount of time with her because eventually, he has to go where the army sends him, when they send him, and that adds a great deal of urgency to the story. 

Class was another romantic obstacle. Stanywck also has to deal with gossiping friends (and her shrewish mother) who claim she's out on the prowl too soon after the death of her husband. While class doesn't figure in her relationship with Brent, it's definitely a factor in her conflict with her upper-middle-class, suburban pals. Early in the film, for example, her mom keeps insisting that Stany wear black in mourning, because it's something "our kind of people" do, or words to that effect. There's a clear indication that by dating again, so soon, Stany's violating an unwritten social code of conduct that her peers live by.

It's true, that these days, social mores are less of a big deal between groups of friends. I don't think of my friends as having the exact same set of social standards as me. We may share lots of things in common: movies, comics, music, what have you, but I feel pretty confident in saying that when it comes to public behavior, we don't think alike. But then again, I'm not upper-middle-class, and none of my friends are either. It's different when you've got money and live affluently. 

Yet Hollywood made movies like these - that is, movies from the perspective of high society - often, and we plebes were supposed to be able to relate to people like Stany's character. Expectations from movies are different now because society's different. We don't necessarily have to look at life from the angle of the well-to-do anymore.

So yeah, obstacles like these either don't exist anymore or can't be portrayed in the same way when it comes to romance, but I like to think that it doesn't mean that romance is dead in the movies. Writers just need to be smarter about how they approach the subject.


  1. The cocooned young widow had to overcome her domineering mother and the stifling peer pressure. It made for an interesting story. You are right in that writer's have to find the correct approach and it is certainly not insurmountable. People are still a mass of illogical emotions, especially when it comes to love and romance.

  2. I keep going back to the star factor. Today's big names rarely make romantic movies anymore. Is it out of a dearth of good scripts, or lack of interest, or both? I suspect both.


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