Three Films Reviewed: “Being the Ricardos”, “Don’t Look Up” and “The Darkest Hour”
Being the Ricardos
Nicole Kidman plays Lucille Ball in a film about one week in the sit-com star's life, “Being the Ricardos”. It was bookended with the news that a newspaper and radio personality (and right-wing slime purveyor ) Walter Winchell revealed that in 1936 Ball had registered as a Communist for purposes of voting and what Lucy's audience felt at the week's end. In 1953, the year of the movie’s focus, any connection to the Communist Party could get you fired and blacklisted so Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz were understandably tense. It was true that Ball wrote "Communist" on her voter registration, but she apparently didn’t vote that year and never had any other connection. Arnaz defends her saying there's nothing "red" about her and that he loves America and that his family was driven out of Cuba by the “Bolsheviks”.
PLOT SPOILER The climax of the show had Desi Arnaz going out to warm up the crowd before the live taping of the program, telling the crowd that she had been cleared by the FBI and the Committee (HUAC) and having this confirmed by someone from the FBI, as it turns out J. Edgar Hoover himself. The crowd bursts into applause. In truth the call from Hoover never happened. An article in Esquire says it didn’t and Ball never mentions such a call in her autobiography.
You probably say, “So what”, just a trivial bit of poetic license.
My beef is with Adam Sorkin who made the movie. The impression you’re left with was that it was fine that the government was going after communists, just that it had no right to go after people for trivial connections. Now the Soviet communist party in the ‘30’s was hideous, and the U.S. party has been both electorally lame and at the same time defensive of all kinds of “Left” dictators. Yet, what business did the U.S. government have destroying the careers of Party people and undoubtedly all sorts of others on the “Left” for their opinions? It doesn’t go after militarists and fascists who actually get Americans killed in imperial wars.
Sorkin also misstates about what happened to the Arnaz family. The Arnaz family left Cuba in the 1930’s after a revolution of students and workers that was decidedly NOT led by Cuba’s Communist party. The Arnaz family was wealthy and part of the political forces behind the then current dictator Machado. A lot of the family’s property was confiscated by the new non-Communist government. Using the word “Bolsheviks” was done only to make viewers know that Sorkin is acceptably anti-communist.
Interestingly one writer says Ball’s connection to the Communist Party was much more that the 1936 vote registration. Lindsay Kusiak says the connection continued as late as 1940. She doesn’t link to sources and I’ve never heard of the site she wrote the piece for, so the matter is in doubt.
Footnote: about the business with the loathsome J. Edgar Hoover, not only did he NOT clear Ball publicly, but he kept open an FBI file about her.
Don’t Look Up
This is a must-see movie, a dark, dark satire about the denial of science, and about the corruptions of news and social media culture. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as two scientists who discover a huge comet hurtling towards earth. A collision would be an “Extinction Level” event. Yet their attempts to warn the president and her staff are met with indifference because they want to concentrate on their political battles. Attempts to go to the media are get hijacked by the news lightweights who only want to build rating tweets and likes. Eventually to cover up a scandal the president sound the alarm, but surprise, surprise things get political. Polls indicate lots of people don’t even believe there is an approaching comet. Soon Lawrence’s character is being criticized, mocked and shamed with memes of greater and greater raunch. The movie was started in 2019 to satirize denial of climate change, but as we know the same kind of mindless and partisan disbelief in science has been part of the reaction to the pandemic.
The farce goes on with everyday affairs (in both senses) taking up more attention than the world’s impending doom. The president (Meryl Streep) changes course again when it looks like a friendly billionaire supporter can make a fortune out of comet fragments. He uses the word “algorithm” a lot to show his brilliance.
The movie doesn’t have a happy ending. Yes, you’re laughing at jokes right up and through the final credits, but since the world does seem to be rushing to leap over climate tipping points coming in a few years you’re not left with a happy glow. Total disaster seems all too real.
The Darkest Hour
To cleanse myself from the mood above I watched “The Darkest Hour” a film about Winston Churchill’s first month in office, May of 1940. The movie has been out for four years, but I wouldn’t touch it knowing that Churchill was a total reactionary, a supporter of the antisemitic Russian White Guards, an enemy of the working class, a government official who sent poison gas in 1919 to be used against Soviet troops, and someone who must be condemned for his role in the terrible famine in Bengal, India in 1943. Still history is always interesting, and I knew this movie was going to end positively.
PLOT SPOILER. Britain was on the winning side of World War II. 😊
My knowledge of the events of that month was fuzzy to say the least. I was surprised to learn that appeaser Neville Chamberlin was still Prime Minister at the start of the month. I thought his politics has been repudiated once Hitler attacked Poland. No, the breaking point was the failure of the British Navy to defend Norway from German conquest.
Not only was Chamberlin still prime minister, but he was the head of the ruling Conservative Party and the strongest party power even after turning over his post to Churchill. The Conservative leaders still hoped to deal with Hitler and were shocked at Churchill’s calls for “victory” and fighting “to the last man”. As the Nazi troops boxed in the British at Dunkirk it looked like 300,000 would be wiped out or captured. Churchill was pressured by his party to see if Mussolini would broker a peace agreement with Hitler. Churchill, fearing being tossed out by his own party after just a few weeks in office, started preliminary talks. Physically Churchill (played by Gary Oldman) looked very shaky.
Next in the movie there’s a silly scene where Churchill leaves his limousine and goes for a ride on the underground (subway to us Yanks) to gauge popular support for the war. Of course, all the average blokes want to fight on and Churchill goes back to 10 Downing Street determined to abandon talks with Mussolini. As common sense tells you, the subway sally never happened.
In the movie Churchill is also visited at night by the king (George VI), who had been hostile to Churchill, but now facing the prospect of fleeing to Canada has grown “angry” and says he will back Churchill. I don’t think that happened either. Churchill and the king did grow close eventually, but I doubt the king played any role in Churchill’s decision to continue to fight. After seeing Hitler go back on every promise for years Churchill, thankfully, knew what had to be done. The movie closes with the extraordinary success of the Dunkirk evacuation.
Yes, Churchill was an SOB, but you’ve got to give him credit for what he achieved that dark wartime month.