My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

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My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#1 Post by Anonymous » Sat Jun 17, 2006 12:16 pm

Concerning this MASTERPIECE OF DRECCH, THIS OBSCENITY, My Son John (McCarey, 1952). It twisted me out for all the wrong reasons in the fifties, and of course has become just about unseeable for many very obvious reasons. Some of the only decent criticism and information has been surfacing on the Cold War websites. Does anybody who has seen it, who is interested in knowing just how incredible an item it is, or who has a copy or is searching for one, feel like talking about it? The dialogue, the politics, the mannerism of the performances, ...the horror

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#2 Post by WJones » Sat Jun 17, 2006 1:34 pm

All I know is that Jonathan Rosenbaum liked it enough to put it on his Top 1000 list. I hold his opinions in pretty high regard, so I'd be interested to hear if anybody else has seen the film.

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#3 Post by Brian Oblivious » Sat Jun 17, 2006 4:46 pm

I've considered it one of my holy grails for years now, and have been keeping my eye out for screenings in my area with no luck. The Stanford Theatre played McCarey's rare masterpiece Make Way For Tomorrow a couple years ago, but nobody's touched this one.

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#4 Post by mikeohhh » Sat Jun 17, 2006 8:27 pm

I understand there is a copy for rental from the Library of Congress

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#5 Post by David Ehrenstein » Mon Jun 19, 2006 12:19 pm

One fo the creepiest films ever made. A nice old couple (Dean Jagger and Helen hayes) discover that their snotty over-educated son (Robert Walker) is gay.

Or a communist.

Oh it's the same thing, isn't it?

Anyway Walker bought the farm during production forcing Mccarey to improvise and ending involving footage borrowed from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train.

Robert arshow wrote most interestingly about it back in the day. Along with The Woman on Pier 13 (aka. I Married a Communist its a fascinating artifact of of the Cold War. Yet the ideological games it plays are still played today.

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#6 Post by Anonymous » Mon Jun 19, 2006 11:15 pm

WARSHOW is Great. David, how about John's female associate? How about Richard Jaeckel? How about Frank McHugh?!! Mikeohhh, I had no idea the film could be rented. Helen Hayes is like a biologically female Fulton Sheen! The film has driven me crazy for my whole life. (Along with The Well, Lost Continent and Little Big Horn and Red Menace!)

Brian--It's amazing to find that somebody else considers something like My Son John a kind of grail object. For me, over my entire career of watching and collecting, it has always been a coin with two sides(as metaphors start to get mixed), one being My Son John and the other Rossellini's The Greatest Love--the dubbed and edited Europa '51. Since the late sixties/early seventies I've been trying to see Red Psalm and Widerberg's Ballad of Joe Hill. A few days ago I saw Red Psalm, finally.

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#7 Post by jesus the mexican boi » Tue Jun 20, 2006 12:20 am

Someone claims to have an excellent VHS of this for sale on eBay at the moment.

Helen Hayes Van Heflin MY JOHN SON, vhs Nice!

Anonymous

#8 Post by Anonymous » Tue Jun 20, 2006 10:01 am

Jesus--Thanks for the information. For years I'd punch in the title every couple of weeks just to see if somebody was advertising it. Terry Diggs' piece on the film at LAW.COM is pretty good (from 2002). It goes perfectly with Robert Warshow's "Father and Son--and the FBI" from 1952. This film is unbelievable! Only the very first scenes in I Married A Communist, I think, are worth our attention, but EVERY minute of My Son John is mindbending in its schizoid slick hideousness.

Have never done anything like this and know very little about this (brave) new world.

Our Son John

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#9 Post by Jeff » Sat Jan 30, 2010 6:25 pm

Wow. After being nearly impossible to see for the past 50 years, TCM finally aired this a few days ago. It's an unintentional hoot, with its wackadoodle story, dialog, performances that are so hilariously over the top that the whole thing threatens to collapse into a heap. It's not just a little anti-communist. It's wildly, comically, commies-as-monsters insane. McCarey isn't shy about his anti-intellectualism either (Football playin' and war-fightin' brothers: good / thinkin' and learnin' brother: bad). A university education is portrayed as a pathway to hell. Literal interpretations of every passage of the Bible (especially the parts you don't understand) and love for Ol' Uncle Sammy are the only things that are good, right, and true.

Even though it's mostly dreadful from both a political and cinematic standpoint, I would never discourage anyone from seeing it. McCarey's perception of American family structure is no less interesting here than in Make Way for Tomorrow, and Helen Hayes and Dean Jagger are sublimely goofy. I had great fun rooting for Robert Walker and laughing at the absurd parents up until the speechifying climax which must be seen to be believed.

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#10 Post by Cash Flagg » Sat Jan 30, 2010 6:37 pm

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster's essay "My Son John and The Red Scare in Hollywood" from Senses of Cinema: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/conte ... -john.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#11 Post by Caged Horse » Sat Jan 30, 2010 7:13 pm

Suggested copy for DVD release (if any): "If you liked 300, you'll love this!"

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#12 Post by GringoTex » Sun Jan 31, 2010 8:58 am

Cash Flagg wrote:Gwendolyn Audrey Foster's essay "My Son John and The Red Scare in Hollywood" from Senses of Cinema: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/conte ... -john.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Ugh- what an antiquated, reductive article. Where's George Morris when you need him? (well- he died of AIDS but wrote a brilliant defense of this film in the late 1980s, leading what now appears to be short-lived reconsideration of this brilliant film)

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#13 Post by Cold Bishop » Sun Jan 31, 2010 9:38 am

I'll also chime in another defense against simply reducing the film to Red-Scare propoganda, which does a disservice to what the film has to offer. Even Robert Osbourne treated the film as some sort of embarrassment in his introduction. Which is a shame.

I think Elliot Stein said it best in the Village Voice: "Whatever it thinks it's saying, My Son John has more to say about American '50s hysteria than any other film ever made." Maybe not ever made, and I'm not sure you can write off the finer points of the film simply as unintentional, but there's one hard fact you can't ignore which marks the movie apart from other of its ilk: buried within the red-baiting is a surprisingly dark critique of the American family, and before the film descends into the red-hysteria "thriller" of the second half and officially condemns him, I think it is surprisingly sympathetic to John as much as it is to everyone else. Never read the George Morris article, but if a staunch leftist like Rosenbaum can defend the film, its certainly worth more of a look than simply as "an unintentional hoot".

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#14 Post by Caged Horse » Sun Jan 31, 2010 10:42 am

Cold Bishop wrote:Never read the George Morris article, but if a staunch leftist like Rosenbaum can defend the film, its certainly worth more of a look than simply as "an unintentional hoot".
A film critic defending McCarthyite propaganda (released the same year Charlie Chaplin was expelled from the States like some common criminal) is akin to a restaurant reviewer recommending the work of Jack Abbott.

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#15 Post by GringoTex » Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:16 am

Caged Horse wrote: A film critic defending McCarthyite propaganda (released the same year Charlie Chaplin was expelled from the States like some common criminal) is akin to a restaurant reviewer recommending the work of Jack Abbott.
Morris and Rosenbaum didn't defend McCarthyite propaganda; they defended a family melodrama.

I can't find Morris' piece anywhere online.

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#16 Post by Caged Horse » Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:28 am

GringoTex wrote:Morris and Rosenbaum didn't defend McCarthyite propaganda; they defended a family melodrama.
Well I've always thought Jud Suss holds up pretty well as a 'historical thriller'. Very atmospheric cinematography too. :P

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#17 Post by mikeohhh » Sun Jan 31, 2010 4:58 pm

Caged Horse wrote:
GringoTex wrote:Morris and Rosenbaum didn't defend McCarthyite propaganda; they defended a family melodrama.
Well I've always thought Jud Suss holds up pretty well as a 'historical thriller'. Very atmospheric cinematography too. :P
whoa, Michelangelo Antonioni posts here!

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#18 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:01 pm

If you can't appreciate a film without being able to sign-on with its ideology then why bother watching movies at all

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#19 Post by Caged Horse » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:40 pm

domino harvey wrote:If you can't appreciate a film without being able to sign-on with its ideology then why bother watching movies at all
Imagine how many more great 50s movies there might be to watch if this particular ideology hadn't hauled innocent inhabitants of Hollywood before an unConstitutional kangaroo court and wrecked their lives.

That tired old liberal line about loftily striving to keep aesthetics separate from ideology? It was never meant to apply to totalitarian propaganda because authoritarianism can never be anything but inimical to the plurality of interpretation essential for art to exist.

If you're a pacifist and some mugger tries to stab you, are you a hypocrite for trying to knock the blade from his hands? Did you tut-tut to yourself when Tim Robbins et al refused to stand for Kazan's honorary Oscar too?

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#20 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jan 31, 2010 6:12 pm

I have always and will always mock those who sat stonefaced when Kazan was awarded his Oscar, yes. Life would be pretty depressing if I was able only to praise art that I agreed with. You can equate this to how sad it is to be mugged or whatever your point was supposed to be...

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#21 Post by Jeff » Sun Jan 31, 2010 6:53 pm

domino harvey wrote:I have always and will always mock those who sat stonefaced when Kazan was awarded his Oscar, yes.
I always thought that was ridiculous too. I was especially amused by Newsradio's Vicki Lewis (she was there as Nick Nolte's date) who sat and scowled angrily at Kazan. Like anyone gives a shit what Vicki Lewis thinks of Elia Kazan.

Let me be clear that my disparagement of My Son John is not really due to the fact that I don't agree with its politics, even though I found them very amusing. I can loathe the philosophy of Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will and appreciate their cinematic achievements, and I can agree with the politics of Gentleman's Agreement and think it's a lousy film. For me, My Son John, with its overacted, overwrought melodrama simply hasn't aged well, and the third act is an incoherent mess. I like McCarey a lot, and would have loved to have seen what he would have done if Robert Walker had lived through the production.

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#22 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Feb 01, 2010 1:13 pm

I think this is a dreadful movie -- independent of politics.

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#23 Post by mckeldinb » Sun Aug 19, 2012 10:26 pm

With Olive Films releasing this on Blu-Ray, I was wondering if anyone else has revisited it. I saw a good chunk on TCM a couple of years ago (and still have the DVD-R I made of the broadcast), but I started re-watching it on BD this evening and found I had to turn it off about halfway through (I will finish it though). This may be the strangest and creepiest movie I've ever seen. The propaganda is so thick it almost seems like a subversive satire. Beyond the anti-communist screed, it's the anti-intellectualism of the movie (at least as expressed by the father... who could have home schooled Archie Bunker) that I find jaw-dropping. However, in reading up on the movie, I found this passage from the late Robin Wood's SEXUAL POLITICS & NARRATIVE FILM:

"[MY SON JOHN's] subject might be stated as follows: a mother is pushed to the very brink of insanity by the Oedipal conflicts between her husband and her son, in which she is necessarily but unwillingly implicated. And the chief culprit in this is clearly not John (arrogant as he often is) but his father (Dean Jagger), a blustering, insensitive, narrow-minded and fundamentally stupid bigot who is primarily responsible for the disruption of whatever family harmony might have existed, and who remains culpably unaware of his wife's mental state, despite her frequent signals."

Looked at in this light the movie almost makes sense (at least the first half) and makes for intriguing viewing.

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#24 Post by ianthemovie » Wed Jan 16, 2013 5:26 pm

For those interested, there is an extensive discussion of this film in J. Hoberman's recent book on Cold War-era films, An Army of Phantoms.

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Re: My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952)

#25 Post by domino harvey » Sat Jan 04, 2014 5:07 pm

Came across a surprising inclusion while plowing my way through Fantoma's second Educational Archives set: You Can Change the World, a propaganda piece directed by McCarey in the same year as My Son John and featuring an all-star cast. The flimsy premise here is Jack Benny has invited William Holden, Ann Blyth, Loretta Young, Irene Dunne, and Paul Douglas (who is given the most lines to the point that you'd think he was the biggest star included) to hear Father James Keller implore the actors to make a film extolling the virtues of the Catholic civic group the Christophers, which hoped to ferret out the "one percent" of Communist element negatively impacting American society. The film has almost zero entertainment value and I presume the stars included agreed to be there for personal religious reasons above even political ones, but it could be of some interest to fans of McCarey or My Son John. If you want it on disc it's available on Vol 5 of the Education Archives, Patriotism, but it's also been uploaded to YouTube in a shorter form here

Also, while searching about the film, I found this lengthy academic article from the Journal of Religion and Film exploring McCarey's Catholicism through his films titled "the Sins of Leo McCarey," which is available for download here

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