Monday, May 19, 2014

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "GREEN LIGHT" (1937)

One of the more irritating bromides of our time is "Everything happens for a reason." This is spoken by people who would otherwise find it impossible to accept the unfair, awful, horrendous events that happen to them or the world in general; a deliberate denial of reality in order to prevent a swan dive off the nearest bridge. It's also the basis of Green Light, Errol Flynn's third starring American movie, and the first that didn't involve buckles being swashed.

Flynn plays Dr. Newell Paige -- only in movies (and the forgotten books they're based upon) do sawbones have names like Newell Paige -- who willingly takes the fall for Dr. Endicott, an older surgeon, when a patient dies during an operation. So you know this is definitely a work of fiction, right? 

"I love you too, baby. Let's just
keep your mother out of it."
The unfortunate patient's daughter, Phyllis Dexter, falls in love with Paige until he she finds out that he's supposedly the guy who killed her mother. Some offspring might thank such a guy, but apparently she grew up in a normal family. Deciding that it's time to find a more noble calling, Paige joins a former colleague in Montana in trying to find a cure for spotted fever, where he puts his life at risk by allowing himself to be bitten by a poisonous tic in order to test a new serum. As if just moving to Montana isn't sacrifice enough.




While Flynn pays close attention, director Borzage
demonstrates how to ask a dying patient for her
group number.
All this would be pure soap opera -- is pure soap opera -- but director Frank Borzage, a master at enveloping such stories with a mystical glow, keeps the suds percolating at a low simmer. He apparently ran through a several pounds of gauze for the camera lens, for nearly every shot appears to be taking place in a romantic dream. Flynn's first appearance in particular must have set women's hearts swooning, seeing that he is unearthly handsome and ungodly charismatic. (My
wife was immune to his charms in Green Light, sensing the predator underneath.  I'm better at hiding that kind of thing.)

He's got a 104-fever -- let the guy rest, for
Chrissakes!
Borzage's touch never falters, even as Dr. Paige comes down with spotted fever. While he lies in bed for a week, his fever rising and respiratory condition worsening, Paige's face glistens with near-holy perspiration. His hair remains in place, complete with a boyish curl on his forehead. Not a hint of stubble grows on his face.  Damn, why don't I look this good when I've a 104-degree fever? In no time, Phyllis and seemingly half Paige's former hospital staff are at his bedside, leaving one to wonder who's running the show back home. 

It won't surprise you to learn that everything works out in the end. Phyllis learns through Endicott himself that Paige had nothing to do with her mother's death. When Paige recovers, he and Phyllis get the hell out of Dodge, and, instead hopping into the nearest sack, go to church. You gotta be kidding me.

Dean Harcourt consoles Phyllis over her
mother and that hideous hat.
In keeping with Green Light's spirituality, Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays Dean Harcourt, the story's God stand-in, a theologian whose weekly radio broadcasts provided great comfort for Phyllis' mother. He also winds up being the go-to guy for all the main characters, his gentle philosophical advice boiling down to, "Don't ask, don't tell. Now go home and think about it." He's also what we used to call back in the day a cripple, and, like all cripples in old movies, is more psychologically-whole than anyone else. Even if he is, like I said, a cripple.

And she looks better in profile than either
of them.

By my wife's contention, the best performance was given by Green Light's other God stand-in, Sylvia, Dr. Paige's Irish Setter. Showing more emotion than Paige's love interest, Phyllis (played by Anita Louise), Sylvia takes direction better, and possesses nicer hair to boot. She's also the only one in the movie who gives Flynn a run for his money in the looks department. By the end of the movie, you'll believe a dog can look soulful on cue without looking at the camera.


I collect movie posters from the U.S., but I'd make
an exception for this bizarre French one-sheet.
Being something of a sucker for both Errol Flynn and old movies with a spiritual bent, I admit to enjoying Green Light more than most audiences today probably would. As with Keeper of the Bees, made two years earlier, there's a certain delicacy afoot that doesn't fly in today's cynical times. 

It's also a chance to see the 27 year-old Flynn in one of his rare, low-key, modern-dress roles, proving that there was more to him just pirates, swordsmen and cowboys. He may be fully aware of his seductive qualities, but that makes guys like me enjoy him all the more. Flynn is everything we'd like to think we are, only we know we never will be. When he's almost dying in Green Light, he not only looks like a saint, he consoles everyone around him with a debonair accent. I can't even catch a cold without collapsing on the couch and moaning like an asthmatic ghost. I don't think my wife would mind if I had a little of Flynn's charm.

                                                 ***********************
To read about the equally-unusual Keeper of the Bees, go here.

Green Light's original preview. It's an "x-ray of unquestioning love." Today, it would be an MRI:






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