Anne continues breaking her hiatus with this last entry for Hit Me With Your Best Shot, which ironically ends the same time as her self-imposed May break. Regular updates resume next week.
Before we begin, I’d like to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and writing for Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Often, blogging can be a narcissistic or isolating medium. So, thank you to all of the other bloggers for sharing your thoughts on your own blog and mine. Thank you Nathaniel for starting HMWYBS and introducing me to movies I wouldn’t watch otherwise. And thank you to my friend Margaret, aka WRM’s Official Blog Consultant, for introducing me to The Film Experience way back when, pushing me to work on HMWYBS, and counseling me through many bad ideas and a few good ones. Thank you all, and I hope we can continue this beautiful friendship.
Now that the mushy stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about sex! Again! Considering I started out a good Catholic school girl, I do seem to bring up sex continuously on this blog. Anyway, today instead of talking about the Hayes Code (again), I would like to talk a bit about Hollywood Glamor, Sex, and Patricia Neal. I love Patricia Neal. Most know her as Not Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s or Fainting Mom in The Day The Earth Stood Still. If you’ve watched the 1963 film Hud, you probably know Patricia Neal as the Academy Award-winning actress who looks like this:
But I was introduced to her in the (actually really terrible) movie The Fountainhead made 14 years earlier, where she looks like this:
One more for good measure. Here’s Patricia Neal discussing Gary Cooper’s drill (not a euphemism) while holding a riding crop:
As this last screenshot shows, The Fountainhead is a movie that’s low on subtlety and big on just-barely-appropriate sexual kinks. In fact, I would like to show you the scene where Patricia Neal first gets to experience Gary Cooper’s drill (that’s a euphemism), because what is, in reality, a rape scene instead gets the full Hollywood Glamor Love Scene treatment:
Gary Cooper forces his way into Patricia Neal’s room. She runs from him, but he catches her and throws her to the ground. She gets up and starts weakly beating against him, but he pins her arms and kisses her, which she allows. Neal escapes Cooper again, only to conveniently trip at the door. The camera suggestively fades to black as he stalks towards her. The bedroom is lit like a love scene, and Neal and Cooper’s struggle seems like a dance to the melodramatic score. Everything is artificial and glamorous. Besides giving us an uncomfortably intimate view into Ayn Rand’s sexual fantasies, the aesthetic beauty of the scene allows the audience to distance itself from the actual violence. It’s too pretty to be real.
If you’ve seen Hud you know where this is going. Compare the above scene to Paul Newman’s assault on Patricia Neal in the latter half of Hud:
Like Cooper, Newman forces his way into Neal’s room. Newman throws her around before pinning her and kissing her. After a few moments of struggle, Neal gives up and allows him to push her to the floor, before Brandon de Wilde (playing Newman’s nephew) bursts in and pulls Newman off of her. Newman leaves, and de Wilde tries to apologize for him. Gone are the glamorous negligee, the love scene lighting, and the perfectly choreographed action to the melodramatic score. James Wong Howe earned his cinematography Oscar for this scene alone. The harsh overhead lighting and the tightly-framed closeups of Hud’s assault give the audience no reprieve or chance to disassociate from the violence onscreen. The action plays with frightening realness.
So what comparisons can we draw? The two films are fundamentally different, as are the functions of these two “love scenes.” The Fountainhead is Old Hollywood Glamor woodenly serving a particular Objectivist ideology. Hud is a character study beautifully filmed but devoid of glamor (except for Paul Newman, who remains gorgeous even at his ugliest). Ultimately these differences show the break between Old and New Hollywood: Old Hollywood tiptoed around sex, and sold smoldering-just-below-the-surface-tension like the scene from The Fountainhead as part of the package. New Hollywood, rebelling against Hays Code strictures and Old Hollywood glamor, embraced a new, “rawer” aesthetic, grittier subject matter, and more frank depictions of sex. The fantastic, vastly-underrated Patricia Neal serves as our link between Old Hollywood and New, giving great (and decade-appropriate) performances in The Fountainhead and Hud.
Whoops! Almost forgot:
The minute Paul Newman turns that light off, you know exactly where this is going. It’s chilling what a simple light switch can convey.