So it’s crucial to Wasson’s gloss on things that right at the start he can say that “There was always sex in Hollywood, but before Breakfast at Tiffany’s, only the bad girls were having it.” Isn’t it pretty to think this?And let me start by showing some pity for David Thomson because he misses the point and misses it badly. I do the same from time to time myself. Anyway, here is the very next sentence he writes:
Now, it is true that before 1961 (and for a few years afterwards), movies did not dare show sex.Thomson then goes on to argue that the sex in other films, although not portrayed, was clearly implied. Which is true enough but isn't what Wasson claimed. If we go back and read what he cites from Wasson. Wasson's point is not that sex wasn't clearly implied but that only bad girls were having it. And Thomson pretty much makes Wasson's points in the examples he gives. Here are the first two such examples from Thomson:
- It is apparent and painful that Shirley MacLaine is having sex with Fred MacMurray in The Apartment, yet her character, Fran Kubelik, is doing her best as a person.
- Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) has sex just before the first scene in Psycho, and while she will steal $40,000 on the spur of a foolish moment, she still is decent.
The next example is a little more plausible, Grace Kelly as she appears in Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Kelly is certainly stunningly beautiful in both those movies. The scene where she whisks into the bathroom in Rear Window—entering a little frazzled and coming out perfect—is marvellous film-making, Hollywood magic at its best, but it is hardly a realistic portrayal of womanhood. And Kelly is a secondary to the male lead character in both those films. In general, Hitchcock's women tend to be minor characters, victims or both.
Who is next? Why Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. Great movie that but Stanwyck plays a character who seduces a man into helping him kill her husband. Hardly a role model. Thomson also mentions Stanwyck in The Lady Eve and Stanwyck's character is in that movie to make a fool of the man and his values not to exemplify womanly virtue. To the contrary, The Lady Eve, like Cosi Fan Tutte, suggests that all women are bad.
The final example is Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday but the key thing here is that Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns were married and, in a shockingly Catholic turn, they discover that they still are married and that their divorce has done little to change that. In any case, it is the previously existing marriage here that justifies the sexuality in a good girl. (This was popular conceit for Hollywood, I can think of The Awful Truth, The Philadelphia Story and Adam's Rib just off the top of my head and there must be more.)
With the exception of Hildy Johnson (a type I will have to return to one day) these women are all either bad (and not bad in a good way) or sad. No woman would pick any of them as role models to emulate. They just might pick Holly, not for reasons that are entirely admirable, but they certainly are easy to understand. And, as promised, I'll list them in my
A final thought on Thomson. The women in Hitchcock films certainly were often beautiful but Hitchcock's relationships with women were, what's the correct euphemism, shall we say complicated. "Complicated" being a nice way to say the man was a bit of a misogynist who seems to have gotten more satisfaction of portraying beautiful women as victims in highly artificial movies than actually having meaningful relationships with them in real life.