Up until April 2011, I had managed to avoid Private Benjamin. Then a friend, whose opinions on film I normally respect, suggested that it was a smashing movie and that I really ought to give it a chance.
Well, it was directed by the same guy who made the delightful Hollywood Cowboy, with Jeff Bridges as an ingenuous wannabee scriptwriter, who talks in clichés and somehow finds his way to Hollywood. When he sees the Pacific Ocean for the first time, the voice in his head utters the immortal words, ‘The wide Pacific…’
So, misguidedly, I recorded Private Benjamin when Film Four aired it. Still more misguidedly, I suggested to my wife and daughter that we watch it with our supper one evening last week. I can only assume that my friend must have been swayed by an infatuation with Goldie Hawn.
It started promisingly, with Goldie the spoilt Jewish princess getting married to the overbearing, but dull-as-ditchwater Albert Brooks, then cutting dramatically to the aftermath of his funeral. Harry Dean Stanton signs Goldie up for the army with a promise of an easy life. Thereafter, despite the presence of the splendid Eileen Brennan (who played the earthy waitress in The Last Picture Show) as Private Benjamin’s authoritarian nemesis, it degenerated into the most vacuous pap imaginable. I sat and watched to the bitter end, as I felt guilty about subjecting my family to it. There was even a smooth-talking Sacha Distel lookalike, who enters the equation as a potential second husband. Goldie realises the folly of her ways and jilts him at the altar, but I didn’t care and certainly didn’t cheer (as I do every time when Katherine Ross chooses Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin at the end of The Graduate).
|Gonna crawl to the sod-busters' ball|
Despite the stain on my credibility, I regained sufficient confidence during the week to propose that we all watch Shane when Film Four showed it yesterday to mark Easter Saturday. Shane helped to create the template for just about every Western cliché possible, so you know exactly what’s going to happen (although I was surprised that the Swedish ‘sodbuster’ didn’t get shot simply for being Swedish), but the film never fails to delight. Particularly when it’s viewed with a bar of 70% Easter chocolate.
For all that the camera tries to lie, however, you can’t help but notice how improbably small Alan Ladd is as the hero, even when dressed up to the nines in buckskin. He and the miniature Veronica Lake were truly a match made in heaven. In Shane, the love interest resides with Jean Arthur, one of those actresses – like Judy Holliday and Dianne Wiest – whose voices alone can make me melt at the knees and come over all unnezzizairy. The big question at the end of Shane, which The Daughter posed, is the extent to which Shane is wounded in the shoot-out with Jack Palance’s smirking villainous hired gun and the cattlemen who hire him. My wife, the eternal optimist, reassured her that it was only a flesh wound and that Shane will simply ride off to find more settlers to help. Being an eternal pessimist, I can’t help but feel that Shane rides off to die in the saddle – having helped Van Heflin and the others rid the town of evil, so they can make a genuinely democratic community for all but black people and native-American injuns.
My cultural activities haven’t been entirely passive. I’ve been busy drafting an article to promote the summer show of our friends, Keith and Miranda Payne, who have boldly – and some might suggest recklessly – converted their barn into an art gallery. For the last few years they have been testing the theory that fine art and rural communities can co-exist. This year they are putting together a stunning show based on their travels to India, with gorgeous materials, traditional miniature and tribal paintings and the work of three local artists who have painted in the sub-continent. The Paynes are under no illusion that original art can tempt the indigenous local community to draw apart their tightly-pulled purse strings in order to extract some euros. Unlike many, they are prepared to measure the success of their venture in terms other than financial. It behoves me, therefore, to do whatever I can to ensure that sufficient people will come and see and make the exhibition the talk of the Lot this summer.
Now if you’ll excuse me, being Easter Sunday, I must get back to the weekend’s principal cultural activity of assessing the respective merits of different chocolate bars and bunnies. ‘Shane! Come back Shane! You’ve forgotten your bar of chocolate to help sustain you for your final ride into the backdrop of the mighty Rocky Mountains!’