Tuesday, July 10, 2018


For much of the 20th century, Broadway plays had three acts.  Part of the key to an effective production was good curtains--acts one and two had to end with a bang, leaving you wondering what will happen next.  And, of course, the last curtain better be memorable, since that's what you leave the audience with.

I was thinking of some of the more famous final curtains.  Tea And Sympathy, for instance, where the wife of the housemaster decides to sleep with a bullied student, saying "Years from now, when you speak of this, and you will, be kind."

There's The Bad Seed, where the mother realizes her little daughter Rhoda is a psychopathic murderer, so she overdoses the child with sleeping pills and then shoots herself.  The final scene is in the hospital where we discover Rhoda has survived and is free to kill again.

Then there's The Front Page, where newspaper editor Walter Burns is trying to hold on to star reporter Hildy Johnson, though Hildy is planning to run off with his fiancée.  After the main action, dealing with an escaped prisoner, has ended, Walter appears to accept Hildy's decision. He even gives Hildy his watch, which has the inscription "To the Best Newspaperman I know." After Hildy leaves, Walter calls an employee, telling him to send a wire to the police chief at a city in Indiana.

Tell him to meet the twelve-forty out of Chicago--New York Central--are arrest Hildy Johnson and bring him back here.  Wire him a full description.  The son of a bitch stole my watch!

All very effective moments, though it occurred to me none of these made the films  The last sort of did, since the first version of The Front Page came out in 1931, before the Production Code was heavily enforced.  But even then, when Adolphe Menjou speaks the famous line, there's a sound effect necessary to drown out "son of a bitch."  (The excellent remake, His Girl Friday, changes Hildy's sex, and so becomes a romance where Walter and Hildy end up together, thus making the line inappropriate.)

The film version of Tea And Sympathy kept the line, but since what the woman did was considered immoral by the Production Code, there's an epilogue set ten years later where it's made clear what they did was wrong.

Then there's The Bad Seed.  You can't have a psychopathic murderer get away with it.  So the mother survives while Rhoda, believe it or not, is struck by lightning.  And then, for good measure, the child who plays the role gets spanked during the credits.

Hollywood sure knew how to ruin everyone's fun.


Blogger brian said...

Those are definitely memorable curtains. I am sure I have heard all those lines and even the bad seed end scene sounded remarkably familiar. Yet I have never seen these plays or the movies that I remember.

1:11 PM, July 10, 2018  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Some endings are so famous you don't need to see them to know about them.

5:23 PM, July 10, 2018  

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