Double Feature Days Part Cinq

When Mercury was in retrograde, it lead me to some pretty interesting film pairings so I thought I would share them. There is absolutely no particular film reason for anyone to ever watch these movies together, but next time Mercury is in retrograde, maybe you won't be able to control your movie-pairing impulses, and this post can be your safe space to turn towards.

Cabin in the Sky (1943) and Laura (1944):

*WARNING: The two films below have their endings spoiled!*

About a week ago, I found out that BAM was playing Cabin in the Sky, which has been on my must-watch list for a long time, so I immediately ventured out to experience it on the big screen. The next day, I took my father and sister to see Laura at Film Forum to celebrate his birthday. Quite the cinephile weekend.

Cabin in the Sky is a Faustian-musical about gambler and general rake Little Joe Jackson (Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson), who makes a pact to be good for the next six months after he's on the brink of death. If he succeeds, he can redeem his soul and enter Heaven with 'The General' (Kenneth Spencer); otherwise, he'll be condemned to Hell with Lucifer Jr. (Rex Ingram). Both of the angelic powers work hard to send Joe to their own realms. Joe confronts many obstacles including winning the lottery, and then promptly leaving his wife Petunia (Ethel Waters) for gold-digger Georgia Brown (Lena Horne), and then trying to win Petunia back. Luckily for Joe, it was all a fever dream and he is finally able to live a happy life with Petunia. Besides being critically recognized, this film is mainly known for it's all African-American cast, directed by first-timer Vincente Minnelli. Watching a lot of old Hollywood studio movies, I usually only see black actors in subservient roles, so what I really loved about Cabin in the Sky was finally being able to watch a lot of familiar faces actually given proper acting opportunities and fully-fleshed out characters.

Gene Tierney plays the eponymous Laura, a woman found dead in her apartment. World-weary detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) interviews those closest to her: acid-tongued Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), playboy fiance Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and socialite aunt Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson). They each describe their relationships and interactions with Laura. Listening to those accounts, examining her apartment, and reading her diary begin McPherson's fixation on Laura, and set up a lot of beautiful shots of him staring at Laura's grand portrait in her apartment. McPherson feels an odd mixture of happiness and shock when Laura returns to her place, very much alive. So who is the identity of the dead body thought to be Laura? And who is the killer?! Now you'll have to watch the movie to find out.

In a way, both Laura and Little Joe come back from the dead. Laura returns from a trip and is obviously not dead, while Little Joe wakes up from a near-death experience. In the aftermath of these faux deaths, both of them start living more authentic and exemplary lives: Laura dumps her terrible fiance for the down to earth detective, and Little Joe chooses the pious path of life.

Captain Fantastic (2016) and On the Town (1949):

I went back to BAM a few days later to go see Captain Fantastic, and when it was finished, I saw that On the Town was playing in ten minutes, so I bought another ticket (yes, I am annoyingly honorable at movie theaters, but nowhere else).

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) raises his six children off the grid of mainstream society deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. He's molding his children into 'Philosopher Kings,' with their days full of training, ranging from rock climbing and hunting to fluently speaking Esperanto, reading The Brothers Karamazov and debating Marxist theory around their campfire. When his wife dies, Ben expects his children to soldier on, but eventually he's persuaded to let the kids attend their mother's funeral, in the outside world that Ben believes is the definition of evil, and has taught his children the same idea. Their trip to the funeral, the actual funeral, and after the funeral are when their carefully built oasis unravels: the oldest son is accepted to every Ivy League school (his mother encouraged and helped him before she died), the middle son wants to stay and experience the un-Earthly pleasures of a capitalist society, and the oldest daughter is critically injured from a feat orchestrated by her father. By and by, the family finds their way back to each other and ventures to a happy medium between the world that all of us live in and their idyllic sphere.

In the musical On the Town, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin are sailors with 24-hour leave in New York City. They are captivated by the sights and model women on the street, 'Miss Turnstiles' (Vera-Ellen) in particular captures Gabe's (Kelly) heart immediately. Before they can get her information, she's gone. The buddies set off to look for her all over the city, with Chip (Sinatra) and Ozzie (Munshin) finding their own ladies (Betty Garrett and Ann Miller). In the course of one day, the sailors' lives are changed and they find the loves of their lives (for a period of time anyway. They are sailors).

In each movie, the main group of characters step outside of their own worlds and experience something different. Of course the children in Captain Fantastic have a more distressing experience, while the On the Town sailors just experience a new city. Nonetheless, all of the main characters are forever changed from their exploits.

I didn't set out with an intention to watch these particular movies together, but oddly enough, both pairings blended together nicely.