Today is Sunday, so it’s time for another 100 New Code Films article. I usually publish my second article of the week on Sunday, the conclusion of the week. I called this series 100 New Code films because, through it, I plan to review 100 Code films which are new to me during 2020. What constitutes a Code film? I define a Code film as an American movies made between July of 1934 and 1954, when Joseph I. Breen enforced the Motion Picture Production Code through his job as the head of the Production Code Administration. This period of twenty years when all films distributed in America had to receive Seals of Approval from the Breen Office is what we call the American Breen Era. How can movies made at least sixty-six years ago be new, you ask? Naturally, these old movies are not new in the sense of having been recently released. However, a movie made decades ago can be new to a viewer who hasn’t seen it before. These new movies are Code films which I am watching for the first time.
Today’s topic is The Big Hangover from 1950. I decided to watch my second new Code film of the week on Thursday evening. My mother recently added several new movies to our Amazon Prime Video watchlist, most of which were recommendations offered because we watched Mrs. Parkington. One other newer film on the list was The Big Hangover. My mother purchased and watched this film the week before, and she said it was excellent. I decided to watch it as my second new film of this week.
A young man who graduates from his law school as the top of his class is hired at a prestigious law firm. At a birthday party for the boss, his lovely daughter notices that the newest member of the firm is very drunk after the first toast. To help him avoid being embarrassed, she takes him into another room. He sobers up in a minute and explains to the sympathetic young woman that he has a mental problem relating to alcohol. Because he almost drowned in a sea of brandy after a bombing broke all the bottles in the cellar, he psychologically becomes drunk after just one drink of alcohol, although it only lasts for a few minutes. She decides to help the young man overcome his mental block through psychology, but he struggles over ethical issues of the law firm.
This movie stars Van Johnson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Leon Ames. Supporting actors include Fay Holden, Percy Waram, Selena Royle, Gene Lockhart, and Edgar Buchanan.
This movie was directed and produced by Norma Krasna. The production company was MGM. The screenplay was written by Norman Krasna.
This is a perfect Code film. It has so many wonderful things in it. Firstly, it is free from objections. Quite a few of the movies which I review in this series have no Code violations. That makes them good or perfect Code films. It is so easy to jump on one or two small problems, knocking the classification down to fair or poor, but one should frequently take a moment to contemplate what an accomplishment good and perfect Code films are. The average G-rated film from the Rating System Era (1968-present) contains multiple, even dozens, of Code violations, yet the Classification and Rating Administration still deemed it appropriate for general audiences. By contrast, these movies were self-regulated to a point of such specificity and attention to detail that there is nothing in them which makes them unacceptable for any audience member! That alone is almost unbelievable! Perfect Code films go a step further by also having some special inspiring quality or properly handling difficult topics. This is such a film, since it very inspiringly shows the true meaning of the law. Who are lawyers, people who make a lot of money by suing people? That may be a definition which many associate with the profession, but this film shows that lawyers’ job is to protect civilization itself by guarding the law, the only thing which provides safety and liberty. This message is beautifully conveyed in a letter which David (Van Johnson) reads. It is from his deceased war buddy to the young man’s father. In it, the valiant soldier, whose planned to become a lawyer after the war, tells his father that he isn’t afraid of dying and thus not accomplishing all that his parent had dreamed he would do. He believes that it is glorious to die for the ideals of liberty for which he wanted to live in peacetime. This is a beautiful and very true tribute to the legal profession as well as valiant servicemen. This movie also handles a difficult topic, racial prejudice. People think that Caucasians fighting for equal rights for racial minorities is a new thing, but this film shows that many Americans valued people of other races as equal citizens seventy years ago. In this story, a housing development represented by David’s law firm locks a Chinese-American doctor, Dr. Lee (Philip Ahn), and his wife out of their apartment. Carl Bellcap (Leon Ames) is legally representing the Asian man, who has obviously received this bad treatment because the housing development is prejudiced against Chinese. The lawyers express the concern that, if one “Chinaman” is allowed in, they will have to allow more and more. David winces every time the offensive term “Chinaman” is used. He corrects a bigoted apartment manager, saying that a Chinaman is someone born in China, but Dr. Lee is an American citizen of Chinese extraction. David then points out that Dr. Lee is just as American as he and the manager are, since both are immigrants, “unless one of your ancestors was Pocahontas.” Ultimately, this film concludes that liberty, equality, and justice cannot survive unless many people are willing to give up some personal glory, comfort, and even wealth to become public servants.
I highly recommend this movie. It is extremely entertaining while addressing important issues of that day and any day. Code films had a brilliant way of often being lighthearted and amusing while handling serious topics and presenting right ways of living. Great movies can combine romance and humor with patriotism and ethics. They can lift your spirits while pulling at your heart strings and even bringing a few tears to your eyes. Of course, a brilliant script, perfectly self-regulated by the PCA, can’t come to life on the screen without great actors. Van Johnson delivers a wonderful performance in this movie. The bobbysoxers’ sweetheart had a talent for being likable and average while also being noble, brave, and selfless. Since he seemed like a regular American fellow, he made the average person believe that he too could achieve such patriotic nobility. He also delivers some very funny moments through his frequent, although momentary, drunk scenes. He winks, he sings at the top of his lungs, he talks to lamps, and he even overdubs the voice of his own dog, which he hears talking to him! More comedic moments come from his uncle, Fred (Edgar Buchanan), a hilariously sneaky but lovable rascal who tries to give his nephew advice but seems to be much more in need of mature guidance himself. Elizabeth Taylor is lovely and sweet as Mary Belney, the lawyer’s daughter. In one of her first grown-up parts, she portrays a very caring young woman, who devotes a lot of time and effort to help David overcome his problem. She keeps him guessing about her personal feelings at first, but it is clear that she finds the young man very charming. She was only seventeen when this movie was filmed, but she gives a very mature performance. Percy Waram shows us a very kind and responsible man, John Belney, the head lawyer and Mary’s father. He seems like a moral man who always tries to do the right thing. However, he shows a tragic compromise in ethics when he deceives David about the treatment of Dr. Lee and then confesses a dishonest move the law firm is orchestrating to get rid of the Chinese tenant. Mr. Waram accurately creates the character of a man who still has enough ethic values to be ashamed when he sees a man more noble than himself. Similarly, Leon Ames plays a lawyer who goes out of his way to befriend the more accomplished and wealthy lawyers who are not public servants simply because they were better students. Although at first he seems pandering, he proves that he really is a big man who wants to serve the public and help people. Some wonderful wives in this film are played by veteran “mother” actresses Fay Holden and Rosemary DeCamp. Fay Holden, Mrs. Hardy of MGM’s fourteen-film Andy Hardy series, seems quite different in this role as the refined lawyer’s wife. She is wise and compassionate, immediately discerning that David is a fine, clean-cut young man. Rosemary DeCamp plays Claire Bellcap, a compassionate woman who is so concerned for others that she insists upon Dr. Lee sitting at their table and won’t rest until he has eaten a good meal and promised to get some sleep. She is very candid about the unusual background of her marriage, but she is a wonderful, loving woman. This is such a great film. It is full of wonderful depictions of American family life in many different settings. It is also appropriate for Father’s Day, since one of the tenderest moments is when David reads his fallen friend’s letter to his wise father. This is an example of an amazing movie from the American Breen Era.
Happy Father’s Day!
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