Thanks to my rummaging at tag sales and flea markets, I come across a lot of movies that are probably not coming to a theater near you, and they probably won’t be on the late-night movie channel either — for lots of good reasons.
So my daughter and I have been screening a film series which we call “Movies You Would Never Otherwise See.” There are some, like Cabaret and Our Town, which are considered classics, but they’re just not that good. Still we enjoyed watching them for the slices of life they portray.
Then there are the weird ones, like The Left Hand of God, which opens with Humphrey Bogart leading a donkey in China, in a priest’s outfit, with a pistol in his hand. Figure that one out.
Turns out he’s an American flier downed over China during the war who has been working for a Chinese warlord, Lee J. Cobb in eye makeup — that’s worth the price of admission right there, who likes him and won’t let him leave, so when one of the underlings murders a priest on his way to a mission, Bogey snitches his robe and his stuff and escapes. When he gets to the mission he has to masquerade as a priest, and that’s pretty funny. He even gives a sermon. Then there was the wife of the doctor at the mission. I knew I recognized her, but I couldn’t place her til halfway through the movie… It was Agnes Moorehead, Samantha’s mother on Bewitched!
She and Gene Tierney were wearing those weird pointed bras that were so unaccountably popular in those days, shaped like the viking bra Madonna used to wear. And Bogey and Gene Tierney falling in love in spite of the fact that he’s supposed to be a priest. All immensely amusing.
But the clincher was A Change of Habit, a(n) historic film, one in which Elvis does not get the girl. It turns out he didn’t get the girl in real life either; she was the one and only leading lady he did not bed, they say. Give up? Mary Tyler Moore. I remember Terry Gross interviewed her on Fresh Air and mentioned this and asked “Why didn’t you?” and MTM said, “Well I was married, for one thing.” How quaint.
So why doesn’t Elvis get the girl, at least on screen? Well there is one guy Elvis can lose a girl to without losing face — you know, the big guy upstairs. MTM played a nun.
But by far the most interesting feature of this movie, and the reason that everyone in the field of special education should see it, is that, in this movie, Elvis and MTM cure a kid with autism. Even for these two titans of stage and screen, it’s no pushover. It takes a whole sleepless night, but they manage it.
See what valuable lessons we can learn from those “movies you would never otherwise see”?