The film we watched last night was from 1936, a classic called Come and Get It starring Frances Farmer in dual roles. I guess it was the presence of Ms. Farmer in the movie that caught our eye. Her troubled personal life was the subject of a number of books and an Academy Award nominated performance by Jessica Lange in Frances back in 1982. So we were interested in seeing her perform back when she was at the top of her game and before all of her troubles started. She was great in the film, by the way.
But the movie itself was even more batshit crazy than she was*. Holy fuck!
It's about this lumberjack who comes into town with a bunch of his workers and meets and falls in love with a saloon girl during a night of drinking, gambling and fisticuffs. He woos her and takes her back to his cabin for the making of the love. But he soon receives a letter from a rich young lady that he intends to marry so he flat leaves the saloon girl with his Swedish sidekick. She, of course, is devastated. So she marries the Swedish sidekick who appears to be old enough to be her grandfather.
Then the film moves forward 20, 25 or maybe 30 years. Hard to tell because none of the actors have really aged all that much since the opening act. The lumberjack is now a lumber baron and the richest man in the town of Chicago. He and his boring wife have a boring son and a vivacious young daughter. He's happy...but not THAT happy, if ya know what I mean.
The saloon girl has since passed away, but not before having a daughter with the Swedish sidekick who somehow is still alive at the ripe age of 175 or so. His former boss goes to see him back in the old lumber town and damn if doesn't fall head over heels in love with the saloon girl's daughter. Who looks just like her mother, by the way. Makes sense since Frances Farmer played both characters. Yeah...he falls in love with his Swedish sidekick's daughter who looks just like her momma.
So he brings his Swedish sidekick, the saloon girl's daughter and her cousin back to Chicago with him. He doesn't try very hard to hide his feelings for the young girl, but she almost immediately falls in love with the lumber baron's boring son. Phew. Lots of creepy, creepy stuff goes on including the father punching his son out when he catches him kissing the saloon girl's daughter. I can't even begin to tell you how creepy this film was.
But it was the jaw-dropping racism that pervaded the film that had us watching most of the movie with our heads in our hands. And not just Walter Brennan's portrayal of the Swedish sidekick. No sirree Bob.
The waiter on the train ride to Chicago was a black fellow named Snowflake. As in "Hey Snowflake, bring some food from the kitchen car for the ladies." "Sho, boss" Snowflake replies. I'm just gonna let that scene speak for itself.
Wow. I mean, I know this was 1936 and the film was portraying race relations from an even earlier period. But wow. And it didn't end there. There was this charming little line delivered about by the lumber baron about his boring son:
"He goes on that way all the time. Like a negro preacher!"
Anyway, after it was all over I, of course, had to immediately look up the actor who played Snowflake. Turns out he was a character actor named Fred "Snowflake" Toones. I shit you not. He generally played butlers, porters, slaves and waiters in his career. And many of his characters were named...you guessed it...Snowflake!
Turns out he ran the shoe-shine box at Republic studios from the early 1930's to the late 1940's and filmmakers just kept on using him in stereotypical walk-on roles. Most of the time he wasn't even credited. I can't even imagine the logistics of how this all happened. But it was Hollywood in the so-called "Golden Age".
What an odd little piece of our country's sad history this all turned out to be.
*I know it's not nice to make fun of the mentally ill by calling them crazy, but it made a nice segue. Besides, it turns out that she wasn't nearly as "crazy" as she was portrayed in those biographies. The guy who wrote the most famous one admitted in court to fabricating many of the incidents he wrote about.
Note: Remember to play the Bug-Eyed Trivia Challenge every day. Snowflake? Really?