Suicide in Classic Hollywood

Much of my love for film comes from the fact that we can learn anything and everything from the stories we’re told- about ourselves, about others, about our culture. Film has always represented time periods, beliefs, and obstacles better than any other medium. We can see reactions and we can feel their feelings. This is why I was reluctant to watch Apartment for Peggy. Frankly, I don’t want to have to experience someone’s struggle with suicide, I do however want to see how they talk themselves out of it.  Knowing this film was post-war I was oddly comforted by the protection that the Hays Code would bring- suicide would not be happening in this film- which made pushing play a little easier to stomach.

Our main character played by the immensely talented Edmund Gwenn is Dr. Henry, a professor, and thus had carefully cultivated all of his excuses for why killing himself near the end of a fruitful life would be warranted. Showing us a post-war world of young couples who had much to offer this world without a good place to live, or jobs that paid enough, made Henry see he had outlived his usefulness. For what could he possibly have to offer a world that seemed to be moving ahead without him? He had nothing left to give.

Enter Jeanne Crain. Seriously, I haven’t seen enough of her films to say, but this movie made me want to see them all. This was definitely the Best Acting I’ve seen in a while for such a complex character. As the jittery, fast talking girl filled with facts and optimism in a time of blackness I didn’t see her authenticity as a human being coming at all! Faced with adversity, her viewpoint on life was not glass half-full but more ‘see the glass, and the table and the bookshelf behind it, and the dog,’ etc. She’s acutely aware of her feelings, and where they come from. She’s relentlessly able to allow herself to be miserable, and then say enough is enough and move forward. This was full on Self-Help. If you need answers, you can always find the way to handle your life through film.

Henry had obviously gotten himself into a “there’s only a glass” situation. Jenny brings not only a sense of Life into Henry’s life but into Ours. This film comes very highly recommended.

And if you’ve been in a yucky place emotionally, this is your Classic Hollywood Rx. Watch it twice and journal in the morning 🙂


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