INTOLERANCE: REEL AND REAL By GARRY ARMSTRONG

A friend today posted a review of “Schindler’s List” which he had just seen for the first time, 30-years after the acclaimed movie’s release. My friend talked about the film’s haunting power, its narrative about one man’s brave quest to save a number of Holocaust victims from death. It’s based on a true story and Schindler holds a special place in Israel for his efforts.

Charlottesville rally

Stephen Spielberg said he made the film to honor its hero, Oscar Schindler and remember all the Holocaust victims, those who were saved and the many who weren’t. The film — with current headlines about neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rallies in the U.S. — seems more relevant than ever and leave us wondering: “Have we forgotten?”

Wounds are still raw from the ugly Charlottesville KKK rally that claimed one life and left our-then so-called president issuing comments about “perpetrators on both sides.”  Antisemitism and racism continue as headline stories more than 75-years after millions gave their lives in a war that should have ended those injustices.

Obviously they didn’t get it done. There have been a few “message” movies that dealt with those still festering issues. Many people used to insist those issues no longer exist. I don’t think most people would say that now except the many ostriches with their heads in the sand.

The other night I revisited the movie “Crossfire” which was released by RKO in 1947, the year before the more acclaimed “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was released. This drew public attention and “surprise” about antisemitism in post-war America.

Crossfire” is an excellent, understated film about this virulent subject matter. Its director, Edward Dmytryk (a victim of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous blacklist used the plot of a small group of GI’s, just mustered out of the war and trying to fit back into society.

Circa 1955: Studio headshot portrait of Canadian-born film director Edward Dmytryk (1908 – 1999). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

They encounter a friendly civilian at a bar who listens to their complaints about readjustment and offers sympathy where others just tune them out. One of the GI’s — lonely for his wife and exhibiting PTSD symptoms — is befriended by the civilian who invites him home for drinks and quiet conversation.

The other soldiers — uninvited — crowd into the apartment and lap up the booze.  One of them, a very obnoxious vet — sneers at men who avoided combat, yet who got rich running banks and law practices. He looks at one of his confused pals and yells: “Jews, man! You know those people! They get rich while we fight and die. Jews!”

The civilian referred to as “Sammy,” is tolerant. Veteran actor Sam Levene who played many similar roles is perhaps overly patient with the bigoted GI. This is Robert Ryan in one of his most chilling villain roles.

Robert Ryan

The secondary plot has Sammy murdered by one of the GIs. The PTSD soldier is fingered as the suspect but we know better. Robert Young, in a pre “Father Knows Best” role, plays the tough, weary cop who sifts through all the alibis.

This is one of Robert Mitchum’s early films. He is excellent as the soft-spoken, no-nonsense veteran who is suspicious of the venomous Ryan character. Ryan is ultimately outed as he rants about “those people.” He gets what he deserves and is gunned down during a police chase on a rainy New Orleans Street. The final scene with Young and Mitchum in conversation about Ryan’s demons ends quietly as they go their separate ways, both wondering what World War Two was really about.

Robert Mitchum

In an early 1970s interview, Robert Mitchum remembered “Crossfire.” He was in Boston shooting “The Friends Of Eddie Coyle,” so I had the good fortune to spend a long afternoon into the evening over drinks with Mitch.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Mitchum recalled what it was like working in the 1940s, especially with “the Blacklist hovering over Hollywood. He said pals urge him not to do “Crossfire” because it would hurt his career.

Mitch grinned at me “You know what that was all about, Don’t ya?” I nodded.  Mitchum continued, “There were so many hateful bastards —  there were always dissing Negroes (he looked at me and I nodded an ‘okay’) and Jews. They always thought I was with them. I had a few fights and dumped a few jobs because I couldn’t stand the two-faced bastards.”

Robert Mitchum, older portrait

I looked at Mitch and confirmed: “Not much has changed.” He shook his head sadly and ordered another round.

That was almost 55 years ago. Little has changed, neither on the silver screen or in reality.



Categories: film, Film Review, Garry Armstrong, Hatred and bigotry, History, Politics

Tags: , , , , , , ,

47 replies

  1. it is extremely sad, that after all this, it continues

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  2. Oh, wow! My husband and I were just talking about this movie last night. “Night of the Hunter,” was the only movie ever directed by the great Charles Loughton. It’s an amazing work of art. The scene where Shelly Winters is underwater, her long hair floating around her is absolutely breathtaking and poignant.

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    • Garry appreciates these hard and emotionally-charged movies although I notice he has still refused to watch “Mississippi Burning,” even after all these years. When it’s very close to home, it hurts.

      My mother deluged we kids with stuff about the holocaust as we were growing up. I’m still haunted by the images from newsreels and family horror stories from those days. I have a LOT of emotional issues and have trouble watching even as entertainment.

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      • My late wife, Robin was Jewish. Her grandparents were lucky enough to flee Eastern Europe before the conflagration. From her parents, I heard second-hand accounts of the horrors of anti-semitism as expressed through pogroms, inflicted poverty, ghettos, the works. Just as bad as the deniers are those who simply choose to ignore the truth or refuse to speak out against it.

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        • I know. I take what they say VERY personally. But hate is hot in the U.S. these days. I’m not sure it was ever NOT hot, but now it’s also flagrant and for some of us, scary.

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          • I’m terrified. Between the madness of mob rule here in the U.S. and the threat of nuclear war via Putin, I often find it difficult to sleep at night. I ask myself, “Am I witnessing the death of democracy? Am I witnessing the end of life on this planet?” I’ve always been interested in astronomy. When I was seven years old, my Uncle Russell gave me a book on astronomy. I’ve been hooked ever since. With the advent of Hubble and the James Webb Telescope, I do have something to live for. Perhaps some alien intelligence will save us from ourselves? Jefferson Airplane/Starship did a song called, “Have you seen the saucers?” which is about this very topic. I try to lean on my faith, but it is hard. So very hard to have faith in this day and age. 😦

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            • You have good reason to feel that way and I’m pretty sure many of us feel that way. Reading is the way I keep sane, especially history. Realizing this isn’t the first time and no matter how (if?) it resolves, it won’t be the last unless we manage to make humans disappear.

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              • Sometimes I’ll compare humans to a virus. We are spreading all over the Earth, polluting and destroying. Reproducing at an alarming rate. When I was born, the global population was under 4 billion. Now we’re at 8 billion? Something’s gotta give.

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                • Yes, it does. And sadly, it doesn’t look like humanity is going to be capable of doing the right thing, so eventually, Earth will shake us off along with life as we know it. Unless an actual miracle occurs. I’m not big on expecting miracles.

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                  • Me neither. My late wife was a park ranger. One of her colleagues was a Native American. He said to her once that human beings were desecrating Mother Earth’s face and that sooner or later she would wipe us off.

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            • Russell, during my TV news reporting days — back in the early 70’s, we had the first “Earth Day” celebration and other “firsts”, indicating the world was “turning its life around”. I was genuinely optimistic as I covered various events. Half a century
              later, that optimism has faded. Yes, very sad.

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              • I’ve mentioned that my dad was a journalist, and he comes from a long line of journalists. My grandfather was the White House correspondent for the Washington Post when FDR was President. Being from Alabama, he became friends with such luminaries as Talulah Bankhead. They were even neighbors. They both lived in a building called The Warwick in Adams Morgan, Washington, DC.

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                • Russell, your Dad’s life resonates here. I used to socialize with the likes of former “Speakers” McCormack and Tip O’Neill. They had the usual complaints about “working the other aisle” but found a way to mute the sound and fury – and focus on ISSUES.

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    • Russell, “Crossfire” remains an underrated and “lesser” film to “Gentlemen’s Agreement” unless you are a true movie buff. The trio of “Roberts” really makes “Crossfire” stick to your bones. Robert Ryan, in his prime, was the master of chilling villains. It was the direct opposite of Ryan in real life. I had the pleasure of seeing Ryan on Broadway in “Mr. President” – a polar difference from his “Crossfire” hate monger.

      Russell, Mitchum told me he loved doing “Night of the Hunter”. He described Laughton as a ‘fine, intuitive” director. Mitchum vigoriously defended Laughton who was depressed by ignorant, bad reviews from the mainstream press. Laughton would not direct another film. Our loss.

      As for anti-Semitism, Mitchum scowled that it (in the 70’s) was alive and well on and behind the silver screen. “Mitch” mentioned some famous colleagues — beloved on screen – abhored in private life because of their blatant prejudice. Behavior that was ignored by the glossy fan mags of the day.

      I echoed Mitchum’s sentiments from my perspective as a general; assignment TV reporter, covering the streets of Bosyon -= the so called ‘Athens of America’ in those days.

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      • My father was a journalist! His name was Stroube Jackson Smith. My brother is Stroube II. His son is Stroube III and now’s there’s a Stroube IV. IDK where my dad met Robert Mitchum, but he also found him to be a kind and charming man. Dad started his career at the Birmingham News. Then over to West Germany for Stars and Stripes. After a brief stint there, he landed a job with the New York Time’s Paris bureau.

        That’s why I was born in France, at the American Hospital in Neuilly sur Seine. My sister Babbette (13 months my senior) was born at the same hospital.

        You’ve led a very interesting life. I’m 60 years of age and retired on disability. My mother was a librarian and I chose to follow in her footsteps. My last gig was at USC’s School of Medicine. I was the first librarian in 10 years, university-wide to earn tenure. I was on the Curriculum Committee there. I taught a number of different classes, working primarily with first year students, but also everyone from residents, volunteer faculty, PT students, Pharmacy students, etc. I really loved that job and totally miss it.

        I’ve only been to Boston once in my life. It was in the middle of winter and so very cold! Do you still reside there, or in the vicinity?

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        • We live these days out in Uxbridge, about 70 miles west of Boston and definitely in the country. Its STILL cold, though maybe a bit colder here because we don’t have the warmer ocean breezes — but we also don’t get nor’easters. I think Boston always FEELS colder because it’s such a wind tunnel. Those tall building funnel the wind down the narrow streets.

          Garry genuinely likes Mitchum. He met a lot of people over the years, but Mitchum was special — a real human being.

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          • I lived in Hollywood for thirteen years. I had the opportunity to meet many celebrities. One of the nicest was Patrick Swayze. I even got to ride in his personal jet (of which he was so proud) that he and his wife piloted. He was a kind man. The last thing he ever said to me, with a hug, was “You’re a good person. I like your energy.” I was just a friend of a friend, but he embraced me as an equal. I’ll never forget that.

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        • Russell, thank you for your family shares. Yes, Robert Mitchum was the real deal. I have a grimy satchel full of stories about time spent with the old Hollywood legends. Robert Mitchum is right up there. I treasure the long afternoon we spent, downing adult beverages and sharing stories about celebrity and – as the world turns. “Mitch” called me ‘Dude’, apparently he liked my cut. It was mutual. Russell, you have some wonderful stories of your own. Let’s keep this going.

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  3. It seems to me (could be wrong) that things were getting better, very slowly, since 1960, but they’ve now taken a turn for the worse. It’s really sad…

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    • I think, honestly, we were in one of America’s rare periods of amiability then. We were still rolling with the memories (which were still recent in 1960) from WWII. Now we are back to where we were many times throughout our history. Also, let us not forget that Europe is undergoing similar tremors and traumas. We don’t hear that much about them because we aren’t big on international news in this country unlike Europeans. This isn’t just a local phenomenon. There is something fundamentally WRONG with people. Something inside many of us is broken and I’m not sure what, if anything, would fix it.

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      • It seems that most people need to find someone to hate. They can dump all their failures at the feet of others, rather than take responsibility for their own actions. I am also sadden by the current state of affairs in terms of anti-semitism and blatant racism. Thanks to the disgraced ex-Prez, political discourse in this country has devolved into screaming matches, especially from the ultra-right. Rather than debate issues, these people rely on personal attacks, even physical attacks (as in the case of Paul Pelosi). Perhaps more shocking than the attempt on Mr. Pelosi’s life was the silence from the majority of the GOP in the face of such disgusting hatred. I was born in France. I’m ready to repatriate. There’s Quebec, which is closer.

        Even more troubling is the rise in the threat of nuclear holocaust. Putin is playing a very dangerous game. At this point, I’m hoping that the leadership, what’s left of it in Russia, will stage a palace coup and bury that war criminal in the backyard of some dacha.

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        • The most bizarre thing is that being reduced to screaming matches is nothing new to American politics. Early one, we had actually mini riots in congress with people beating each other with their canes and fists.

          One would think we’d made some progress since then, but sadly, one would be wrong. We’re back at the beginning. Again. We go around and around, the endless, hateful, dreary cycle. When WILL we ever learn?

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          • Indeed! It was a congressman from South Carolina who took a cane to his Yankee opponent. This occurred shortly before the Civil War during an argument over tariffs, I believe. No, we haven’t gone far this day and age. With the emergence of cell phones, everyone is a photographer and videographer. With the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, anyone can become a political wank. They used to talk about the hive mind, where everyone would work together across oceans and continents to make the world a better place. Instead, everyone has a soapbox upon which to stand and declaim their opinions. Chaos is the name of the game with “disrupters” like Elon Musk and Donald Trump riding in triumph through the gates of lost civility.

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    • Paula, you’re dead on. Sadly.

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  4. In 2013 (which seems like yesterday but is now almost 10 years ago), Oprah Winfrey said “As long as” — “there are still generations of people, older people, who were born, and bred, and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.”

    But that won’t work either. Racism, bigotry and hate is handed down and I’m not sure what it would take to cure that. The best we can do is educate, educate, educate. We keep telling these stories even if we only get through to one person at a time.

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    • We pass it along from generation to generation. For example, hating Jews is more than 2000 years old and you’d think maybe people would have gotten over it by now. We let go of joy and pleasure fast enough, but we cling to hate with a fervor that makes me thing that maybe the Puritans, who believed we were all basically evil, may have been onto something the rest of us missed.

      Race hatred does, by the by, seem to be one of England’s longstanding legacies. Wherever they were once the “lords” of the land, there is race hatred. Before then, people hated each other for other reasons, but race wasn’t one of them. They didn’t just leave us a language. They left a lot more.

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  5. Sadly, I think you are right, not much has changed.

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    • And you’ve got to wonder what — if anything — could possibly fix it. I’m beginning to think it’s not repairable because we DON’T WANT TO FIX IT. We enjoy hating more than loving, about as sad as anything could be.

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      • It might be part of it. There is something deeply ingrained in a lot of people where they want to have an “us and them” thing, with “us” being superior. Nationalism, racism, etc. But I think the problem is worse because there are so many people out there that use some people’s tenancies to be that, want a scapegoat or inferior people, to gain power. It is too easy to twist someone’s hate.

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        • I wish I could give a direct quote, but Adams said something like “greed and corruption are inevitable because people will always seek it…” but it was phrased better. But he was sure that sooner or later we would dump democracy and turn to autocracy or some kind of inherited nobility. He really PREDICTED Trump — as did Washington. Bummer. Predicted BEFORE we even were a country! This quote is from the same time period:
          “The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.” I’m pretty sure THEY were sure we’d ultimately fail at democracy. The only serious question was “how long will it last!”

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          • I think human nature doesn’t change much, and Adams and crew understood human nature.

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            • I suppose what I didn’t get the last time I read the book is how contentious we are in this country and that we’ve always been like this. We are probably more surprised by how things are turning out than our FF would have been. They didn’t expect people to be better. They expected the worst and that’s exactly what they usually got. We inexplicably expected better.

              Maybe it was the whole “flower child” thing from my youth. I didn’t exactly believe it but I didn’t exactly NOT believe it either.

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              • I think we have a lot going for us, starting with education, and Public Education at that. I think there has always been a literate wing in the country that has hope and pushes that hope. We may be bitterly disappointed at times, but there have been other times of great forward movement. Think of the changes from when you were born until the start of the Reagan era (OK, the start of the US’ clock being set back 30 years…).

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                • Our best years were probably the early FDR years, WWII (when we actually seemed to come together), and the approximately 15 years after that. We were still more or less on that roll in the 1960s and if you take all the years of America together, our best years were those years and the years DURING our revolution.

                  Party politics has been trying to assassinate democracy from about 1780 onward. John Adams was probably the last of the non-party patriots because after that, it got worse.

                  Yes, there have always been intelligent, thoughtful people who did their best. The problem has been that party factionalism makes for a very hard workaround. Rarely have American been willing to set aside that kind of factionalism in favor of working for the “national good.” To be fair, to one degree or another, this is probably true of every country everywhere, but we do seem to be more factional and fractured than most other western countries. There are reasons why we are the way we are, but that doesn’t excuse us.

                  We could be better. We SHOULD be better. We fought hard to make this country exist and keeping it resembling a democracy and we should care enough about it to work towards NOT going back to tyranny just because it’s easier to manage.

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