Sexual repression is a villanous thing.
One of the big Kahunas of blogathons is now in its fourth year. The ladies of Silver Screenings, Speakeasy and Shadows and Satin host THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON 2017. ( Why do the loveliest ladies come up with the most dastardly blogathons?? ) Villainous behavior of all stripes can be found here in their past three years:
I’ve covered my very small share of baddies for this blogathon. There was my homicidal heroine Annie Laurie in “Gun Crazy” and the Eeeeew~inducing pathological racism of Verne Coolan in “The Devil’s Doorway.”
I usually like my femmes fatale on the hot side ( Ava Gardner / Lana Turner in “The Killers” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” respectively ). Or there’s the cool~thinking customer that is my favorite lethal lady in my favorite film noir ~ Jane Greer in “Out of the Past.” But it’s those blondes like Ann Savage, Leslie Brooks, Jean Gillie or Helen Walker that a fella has to watch out for. Okay okay, brunettes and redheads should be steered clear of as well.
For my entry, it’s 1959 and the cusp of the sexual revolution is still a few years away. America inches towards it with one foot in the sexual mores of the post~war Eisenhower era where good girls and bad are separated by a ‘thin membrane.’ The other foot wants to explore its dainty toes in sexuality for sexuality’s sake.
America is “Mom and Apple Pie”…at least that’s the image. Mothers are supposed to be a loving, nurturing, guiding force in her children’s lives. They’re to give a good positive view of the ‘facts of life’. I think we can safely discount the psychically destructive maternal instincts of movie moms like Gladys Cooper in “Now, Voyager”, Shelley Winters as Ma Barker in “Bloody Mama” or the bizarrely sensuous performance of Piper Laurie in Brian DePalma’s 1976 hit…“Carrie.”
We’ve seen cold or lukewarm wives before in movies ( Joans Crawford or Bennett ) busy with their children and committees and house and everything that does NOT have to do with having sex with their husbands ( or DOES
have to do with allowing their sons to become mindf*cked assassins. But that’s Xtreme Parenting to say the least ). In my entry’s case, mix in racism…and classicism…and some skewed view of sex and you have a recipe for drama and disaster, a delicious combination. This time I thought it’d be fun ( fun for whom I haven’t figured out yet, but I AM kind of lookin’ at YOU ) to give a side~eyed glance to a sexually repressed villain who rains on every parade of romantic impulse and Ideal of Love. CONSTANCE FORD in Delmer Dave’s 1959 hit: “A Summer Place” is that villain.
Now I’m not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on this blog. But it doesn’t take a hill of Freuds to see Constance Ford in this movie is cold, calculating, puts on airs and is contemptuous of anything that’s not the strictest of decorum. Why? If I hazard a guess she might be jealous of the closeness between her husband and daughter…no doubt precipitated on her having no relationship with her husband at all. Perhaps she really is just in it for the money. Ford squashes every natural instinct her daughter wants to explore because of some deep~seated inhibition in herself. I told you, I’m no psychiatrist…and you’re not getting me to lay on the couch to explore why I love her so. She’s so twisted in this.
Yeah, I’m in it for the crazy.
In this glossy romantic melodramatic we have a two sets of couples whose past history is inter~twined.
McGuire and Egan were lovers in their youth but class kept them from getting married.
It seems their children will be mirroring their “young love” themselves…loving glances through the window.
As for their partners, I think on some level each of them knows they were second choice in their spouse’s life. Kennedy takes to the bottle to blunt his pain. For Ford…withholding is her way of coping and scheming. One person’s dysfunction is another person’s straight~up villain and Constance Ford is a villain of Love. Lets trace her steps throughout the film and see a couple of examples of how her repression takes hold of a situation and turns it into recriminations and ashes.
* * * * *
We see right off the bat she’s the type that puts on airs, concerned about appearances.
DEE: “Daddy do I have to?”
EGAN: “Have to what?”
DEE: “Wear this midi blouse to shore like a twelve year old. And she said I had to wear this armor plated bra to flatten me out. And a girdle. She says I bounce when I walk. Do I? Do I?”
EGAN: “In a pleasant and unobjectionable way.”
[First of all – first, second and third of all I’m not asking my Dad if I bounce.]
EGAN: “Molly has a lovely healthy figure. Why do you try to destroy that?”
FORD: “I don’t want her stared at.”
EGAN: “So you insist on de~sexing her, as though sex was synoymous with dirt.”
FORD: “When we arrive at the inn I want her to look completely modest.”
DEE: “She means like a boy. Like a pancake. This thing even hurts. And I couldn’t blast my way into this cast iron girdle with dynamite.”
EGAN: “I think we’re past the point of pretending we’re something we’re not.”
FORD: “We charter a whole yacht to arrive in Pine Island in style–”
EGAN: “The yacht was your idea. The point is they’ll be people on the island who remember me when. And I’m not putting on any dog.”
* * * * *
The two couples meet on Pine Island. They say you can’t go home again; especially with the wife. Constance Ford doesn’t realize that to the wealthy Arthur Kennedy, she’s nouveau riche so he’s not really bound to respect her anyway. Besides, her husband was once his rival. He goads her with embarassing sexual innuendo:
KENNEDY: “You’ll find Pine Island a strange place Mrs. Jorgensen. We’re all frightfully snobbish here. We tend to be anti~everything except ourselves. I like to think of the island as a perverted Garden of Eden where the pines and the salt air seem to act as an aphrodisiac.”
FORD: “As a what, Mr. Hunter?”
McGUIRE: “Bart, shall we change the subject.”
[ I love that Constance wears fire-engine red, but she’s not hot~to~trot! ]
* * * * *
There’s a ghastly fight between Ford and Egan about their daughter. All she did was let a boy kiss her, but Ford goes full tilt with accusations. Egan’s salvo lands with such vicious devastating accuracy, I almost felt sorry for her. But as we’ll see, she deserves every blow.
FORD: “Well your daughter didn’t waste any time. She’s let their boy kiss and maul her her very first night here.”
EGAN: “Where were they?”
FORD: “Down below me in the garden.”
EGAN: “If they had anything to hide do you think they’d do it right under your window?”
FORD: “Are you defending her cheap behavior?”
EGAN: “Cheap?! A girl kissing a boy in the moonlight? You know Molly is as decent as this boy seems to be.”
FORD: “No decent girl lets a boy kiss and maul her on the very first night they meet. I suppose it’s your Swedish blood in her. I’ve read how the Swedes bathe together and have trial marriages and free love. I’ve read all about that. Anything goes.”
EGAN: “So now you hate the Swedes. How many outlets for your hate do you have Helen? We haven’t been able to find a new home because of the multiplicity of them. We can’t buy near a school because you hate kids, they make noise. And there can’t be any Jews or Catholics in the block either. Oh yeah, you can’t be anywhere near the Polish or Italian sections. And of course Negroes have to be avoided at all costs. Now let’s see…No Jews, no Catholics, no Italians, no Poles, no children. No Negroes. Do I have the list right so far? And now you’ve added Swedes. And oh yes, you won’t use a Chinese laundry because you distrust Orientals. And you say the British are snobbish, the Russians fearful, the French immoral, the Germans brutal and all Latin Americans lazy. What’s your plan? To cut humanity out? Are you anti~people and anti~life? Must you suffocate every natural instinct in our daughter too? Must you label young love~making as cheap and wanton and indecent? Must you persist in making sex itself, a filthy word!!”
He’s verbally pummeled her and Ford is sent out the room reeling.
To Daddy’s defense and rescue is daughter Dee, probably doing what she’s always done…bargaining and negotiating. Somewhat a surrogate, too?
DEE: “Fight with me if you have to Momma, but not Poppa, please. This is the first real vacation he’s ever had. Lets not wreck it for him.”
FORD: “Look who’s talking. After that disgusting public display in the garden.”
DEE: “It wasn’t a public display.”
FORD: “The night watchman caught you at it.”
DEE: “We weren’t doing anything wrong.”
FORD: “What if he tells everybody. Must you parade before open windows like a, like a strip teaser.”
Is perhaps the goal to have her daughter marry well…be financially set for life? Her motherly advice continues. She’s worried about appearances.
FORD: “The way to get accepted here on Pine Island is certainly not by prancing past open windows and giving away cheap kisses behind the inn. And don’t you ever underestimate the value of a decent reputation. If we’re to be around and allowed to live here it is because we conducted ourselves properly. I’ve got nothing against this boy. Comes from a good family. He’ll undoubtedly inherit this place. You could do worse. You have to play your cards right. You can’t let him think that your kisses come cheap. You’re a good girl, I know that. But you’ve got to use your head. You’ve got to remember that you have to play a man like a fish. You have to make him want you and never betray that you want him. That’s what’s cheap ~ wanting a man. Love should be more than just animal attraction. Now you must promise me that you won’t let him kiss you again until I say it’s time.”
Dee goes into her father’s bedroom to console him. This could be sort of unseemly and I’m trying not to put my 21st century subtext on this. This might be part of the problem, being each other’s confidante. But it’s a good ( if slightly uncomfortable ) father~daughter moment.
DEE: “Why do you and Momma stop sharing the same room?”
EGAN: “She wanted it that way.”
DEE: “She’s anti~sex. She says all a boy wants out of a girl is that and when a girl marries it something she has to endure. I don’t want to think like that Poppa. She makes me ashamed of even having a body. And when I have a naughty dream at night she makes me feel like hanging myself. How can you help what you dream?”
EGAN: “You can’t. And don’t let her spoil yours. Remember this, we’ve got only one great reason for living: to love and be loved. That’s our sole reason for existence.”
DEE: “But she doesn’t love you and she doesn’t love me.”
EGAN: “I think her heartache is she doesn’t know how. And more is I, apparently, couldn’t teach her.”
[ The soft nursery fairy tale music takes the edge off the scene ~ that’s my boy Max Steiner…guiding us through ]
* * * * *
As is human nature, what our parents want for us…we often do the exact opposite. Donahue and Dee are falling in love. They go sailing and have a boating accident. Coast Guards are called to look for these two kids. Parents are on the beach worried. ( One parent, I think…is seething. )
[ Don’t try it. She will not be consoled or comforted. Constance is pissed! ]
FORD: “What’ve you got to say for yourself?”
DEE: “We capsized and spent the night on the beach.”
FORD: “I imagined as much. Come with me.”
We’ve all had to face the consequences of coming home after curfew; our folks waiting up for us. But the next scene is quite harrowing. Ford shows she does not believe her daughter and will go to great lengths to get “the truth.” It is not truth Mom wants.
FORD: “This is Dr. Matthias. I sent for him from the main land. I want you to take off every stitch that you’ve got on and let him examine you.”
DEE: “But we haven’t done anything wrong Momma. We slept all night.”
FORD: “I’m not asking you for the truth because I know you’d lie. So I’m having him examine you completely and make his own report.”
FORD: “You have disgraced me enough. Now do what I say.”
This is a really disturbing scene. It damages their relationship beyond repair. But that matters not to Constance.
* * * * *
Because Egan is out of town he cannot protect his daughter. A number of things happen in his absence. Ford invades her daughter’s privacy, along with shredding her trust thanks to that GYN exam. Dee runs away after her ‘physical’. Again, we have the authorities involved in these people’s lives ( if not by sea now by land ). The Sheriff tries to piece together what’s happened so everyone is herded into one room like a Nick & Nora investigation scene. There really only is one suspect: Constance Ford.
FORD: “When I insisted on her having a complete physical examination, she became quite hysterical. Obviously I had to find out what happened out there. I had to be sure.
TROY: “We gave you our word!”
[ Getting that GYN home visit was sooooo not the way to go, Ma! ]
FORD: “She’s always been a difficult child. We had words. I locked her in the room and later when I knocked, she was gone.”
SHERIFF: “So you went looking for her. And that’s when you met Johnny here and he threatened to kill you.”
FORD: “That is correct.”
SHERIFF: “You don’t deny that, son?”
TROY: “No Sir.”
EGAN: “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had.”
FORD: “Of course you wouldn’t. It would make it easier for you to sneak off and sleep with his harlot of a mother.”
Whooft! That is quite a deflection. Ford might have a point…but not at THIS moment when her daughter has run away in shame. B.S. is called on Ford by both McGuire and Kennedy:
McGUIRE: “You seem to have an infinite capacity for hurt. First you try to destroy your daughter. Now our son.”
KENNEDY: “As soon as Molly is found and I’m sure she will be, I suggest you vacate these rooms as swiftly as possible.”
FORD: “Don’t tell me that you’re on their side?”
KENNEDY: “Lets merely say I’m not on yours.”
Do I hear strains of “You, you SHOPGIRL!!” The headlines scream dirty laundry.
* * * * *
Who hasn’t kept a diary. And who wouldn’t be upset one’s diary of private thoughts was rifled through by one’s Mom. Dee is faced with this:
FORD: “I thought I told you not to write to him. After all, it is rather bad form to write to the son of your father’s mistress. You mustn’t ever forget what kind of a woman she is. And his father, although he comes from a good family, is a drunkard.”
DEE: “Well that’s got nothing to do with Johnny.”
FORD: “Darling, there is such a thing as bad blood. It’s a scientific fact that—”
DEE: “Johnny’s not bad. He’s gentle and good.”
FORD: “He may not show it yet, but if you read between the lines of his letters…”
DEE: “Have you been reading his letters?!!”
* * * * *
The most famous set-piece is this scene called “Merry Christmas, Momma.” If you’ve seen the movie you know the scene. I’ll let it play out for itself.
* * * * *
This goes beyond the usual Mother~Daughter conflicts. There’s something pathological about Constance Ford’s behavior towards her daughter. Could she see her as a rival? Look, we’re all
victims, products of our upbringing. Her advice from her own Mother is one laced with how to manipulate the situation for her financial advantage; and one way is to cut out the separate bedroom bit. Constance Ford does all she can to tear down the trust of her daughter with accusations of being a slut, having a doctor check her daughter’s virginity, smacking her across the face where she tumbles over a Christmas tree like a tumbleweed, and just all around trying to thwart her daughter’s having a healthy positive self~esteem. And what’s wrong with sleeping with Richard Egan, I ask you! Even her lawyer talks turkey to her in a way she’ll understand.
FORD: “The very thought of my daughter spending two weeks under the same roof with my husband and that harlot.”
ATTORNEY: “Mrs. Jorgensen let me warn you, the use of that term is no longer legally defensible. She is, in the eyes of the law ‘his wife’.”
FORD: “That does not alter the fact that she IS one. Utterly lacking in morals. Her son will be there too. Heaven knows what kind of license they’ll encourage or permit.”
ATTORNEY: “Mrs. Jorgensen let me warn you, if you attempt to block the court order, your husband might well stop his alimony payments. Are you willing to chance that?”
“It’s as though the court was forcing me to commit my daughter to a, house of sin.”
Unrepentant ’til her last scene.
I like this film. I don’t treat it as campy or soapy at all. It deals with issues of finding happiness and being in love. This film was probably aimed at the drive~in crowd but I enjoy the mature love and desire between Egan ( 38 ) and McGuire ( 43 ). The young love between Donahue and Dee was gorgeously angst~ridden against the deep blue sea. And Constance Ford gives a good solid performance. No, she’s not likable, nor is she supposed to be. She plays it well. Always stays within herself. She’s like a coiled snake…and venomous too with her lashing out. I don’t know if she can even help herself.
Connie gets motherly advice
She’s in an emotional trap of maybe even her own mother’s making. ( We might have just a scintilla of pity for her when she’s on the telephone with her mother, whose pretty much a blonde cash register ). I don’t forgive her all her unpleasantness. All in all, Constance Ford is the fly in the ointment of young love and love rekindled. A good bad counterweight to all the technicolor gloss.
If you’re feeling bad about your own life…you need only to read the other entries for this year’s GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON to be grateful that none of the bloggers’ choices are people you know.
…and by the way, let’s get our Constances straight
P.S. A commenter below mentioned and recommended some Constance Ford performances that I’ve never heard of. I saw one called “Worse Than Murder.” It scorched my brain. Check it out if you have some time. Whew!!
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