CONFIDENTIALLY CONNIE (1953)
Running Time: 74 mins. Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Edward Buzzell
Cast: Van Johnson, Janet Leigh, Louis Calhern, Walter Slezak, Gene Lockhart, Hayden Rorke
It always gets back to Meat
Unintentionally one of the weirdest mainstream movies ever made. Let me put it this way: if you can’t get your hands on a copy, try recording it when it’s on TCM, invite the kids over, and pass a cold 40 around with the holder having to take a slug every time the word “meat” is mentioned. My guess is that you will all wind up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning. Maybe you’ll meet some baby boomer there whose parents were influenced by this film and now suffering chest pains. This film is so meat mad that one suspects that times were so lean at MGM that CONFIDENTIALLY CONNIE was an early example of product placement, cooked up by the meat industry. It’s a shame that none of the filmmakers are still around to be grilled.
In context, CONFIDENTIALLY CONNIE is one of the true mainstream post-war American films. Today what is taught in school, as well as discussed critically, are the noirs, but this dark underside of American life were the exceptions. The rule was, in the first phase, meet, pair up and procreate. CONFIDENTIALLY CONNIE is part of phase two (at this time, probably because of the sustained political attacks such as the infamous HUAC witch hunts, most noirs had swung their POV’s 180 ° to become more police orientated) as Connie and Joe Bedloe (as in the island whereon the Statue of Liberty is located) are already married and expecting a baby. We are now at the point where the new nuclear family has to make a home and fit into society as useful participants in the nations glorious future. It’s just that in this film that means lots and lots of meat, primarily cheap meat!
The picture opens with what would be recognized today as the punch line. Janet Leigh is sitting in the waiting room of her Obstetrician smoking. She puts out her cigarette and sees the doctor who tells her that the first three months were the hardest and now all she has to do is take it easy and eat plenty of meat and we’re off. Leigh can’t afford to buy meat because her husband, Van Johnson, is a poorly paid college instructor. He has the opportunity to advance to Assistant Professor but the dean, Gene Lockhart, draws out the process among several candidates in order to be invited to their houses for dinner where meat will be served. He especially delights in predicting what meat will be served- pot roast, meatballs, etc. CONFIDENTIALLY CONNIE becomes something like a zombie movie with every inhabitant of this small Maine town obsessed with ingesting meat. This is no recent development either as a meeting of the town’s butchers fills a large room.
Van Johnson’s father, Louis Calhern, happens to own “the second largest cattle ranch in west Texas”. He comes for a visit in a stew about his son returning to run the ranch. Anxious about his grandchild’s health, he arranges with Leigh’s butcher to sell her meat at half price. This ruse results in a price war with the price of meat lowered to ridiculous prices (down from porterhouse @ $1.60 lb.). The whole town becomes hysterical in a frenzy of meat buying. Trucks arrive unloading sides of beef, people carry overflowing shopping bags full of meat down the street, freezer rentals soar, people stampede about with a glazed look, etc.
There is some lip service given to the idea that teaching isn’t merely a low paying job but a higher calling the very existence of The American Democracy depends on which makes the availability of meat seem like society’s way of honoring that commitment. It always gets back to meat. There isn’t a plea to raise teachers’ pay but to rather reward them with meat. The plenitude of meat means that the dean can stop ribbing the rivals for the professorship and give the job to the best candidate, Hayden Rorke, who has somehow outflanked Van Johnson for the job. No fault as Van Johnson and his pop are reunited and the picture ends with Van Johnson and Janet Leigh bringing the little critter (a boy) back to the ranch where there is more meat, though still on the hoof. No worry about the Bedloes moving back to the ranch, (presumably Van Johnson could teach in West Texas) but its just a visit, and he maintains his new nuclear family as a separate entity in what Americans call Family Values and advertisers call an independent family unit.
By the time of this film Janet Leigh was pretty much the perfect wife, 1950s edition. She succeeds Myrna Loy and the contrast is telling about the times. Whereas Myrna Loy was sophisticated, svelte and witty, a creature of the night with a cocktail glass in her hand and usually childless, Janet Leigh was direct, down to earth, pneumatic, (another 50s obsession), a daytime beauty who wore an apron to show she was domestically inclined and, most importantly, eager and anxious to reproduce. She was often depicted as a single mother still overtly desirable despite being with child (Holiday Affair, Angels in the Outfield). It can be said that the 50s really ended when she was so famously butchered in the shower in PSYCHO.
Unlike the meat and marry films of the late 40s, there is no attempt to identify ex-servicemen and their problems with reintegration. Unlike noirs there is no reference to either the Great Depression or the War. The only reference to the past is a nostalgic sigh when remembering the price of meat way back in 1948. It always gets back to meat.
Max Schulman, was a specialist in gently satirizing the foibles of small town petite bourgeois life, the sort of weak joshing which passed for something beefier in the 50s and now forgotten save for the occasional revivals of the Dobie Gillis TV series.
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