After finishing a Holiday season filled with Classic Hollywood, I was struck by how prevalent certain themes were in these films we watch over and over again. Is it our familiarity with these themes that make these films lovable? Is it further evidence that we’re catching Hollywood when it most parallels the issues in our country, with our favorite storylines? And are these themes still relevant in a way that we can use them today?
It’s a Wonderful Life, of course, centers around George Bailey’s downward spiral of money problems the result in thoughts of mortal peril. It is only the fact that no man is poor who has friends, that’s helps him out of his own self-made depths of despair.
In It Happened on Fifth Avenue, one of my favorites, Mr. McKeever makes us aware of the “housing situation” (something we’re also met with in The More The Merrier,) and what that means for people who can’t afford the good life. A homeless squatter, Mr. McKeever invites those in need to join him, in the O’Connor mansion which is not his own, and in turn in which he ends up inadvertently inviting the real owner. As lessons abound in this film, the underlying issue seems to be one of the rich keep getting richer, while the poor keep getting poorer. While I don’t agree with this sentiment, it’s a lovely catchall for the feeling of the times. Luckily, O’Connor does learn that accumulating wealth just for the heck it, does in the long run hurt others- and it’s that lesson which lands our main characters in the pool of prosperity while the homeless Mr. McKeever jovially continues his life bouncing between the O’Connor’s winter and summer homes when they’re not there. My other favorite lesson from this movie is that people who need money, should work for it, a tongue in cheek belief stated in a post-war film filled with ex-G.I.’s depending on government benefits.
But it led me to realize that so many of our great films are rooted in multiple ideas of wealth.
Mr. Deeds Goes To Town shows us a man who, given sudden wealth and meaning to do good with it, is quickly brought to trial for lunacy. You Can’t Take it With You shows the importance of letting go, in a world of saving and scrounging that gives merits for he who saves the most.
Recent Deanna Durbin watch’s of both annstj and I- It Started with Eve and Three Smart Girls both show the ever popular conniving gold-digging girlfriend. How to Marry a Millionaire goes further with details on how to set the trap for the rich guy.
Christmas in Connecticut chronicles Elizabeth Lane’s attempts to keep her web of lies in tact so she doesn’t lose her job, or the chance to keep the new mink she just bought.
The Philadelphia Story shows us, sometimes with bitterness, the gaping gap between the haves and the have nots and just how they feel about it. Dexter aware of the graciousness in which he should live life takes his wealth in stride and doesn’t let it change him as a human being. Tracy is resentful for the woman it has made her, and of the notice and fame her family gets because of it. Tracy’s future husband George defines himself based on the fact that he is now wealthy, but was once poor. This rising out of the gutter seems to cover him in an elitist snobbery even the wealthy don’t possess. Macaulay and Liz, as the lowly reporters, walk into what feels like an alternate reality when they visit the Lord’s home because they’re meant to feel that way- right? Of course! When Tracy and her younger sister give them more than a good show in mocking their inability ( and perhaps ours) to see that rich people and poor people are still people, we see the real lesson of this film and all films drudged in thoughts of money- money does to you what you let it.
So many lessons about money and our beliefs of having, not having, spending, saving, and giving away are brought up in these films, I wonder what else Classic Hollywood can teach us about Wealth. Any favorite films from which you’re mapping your money habits?