Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh, Porter Hall, You're Always Getting People Into Trouble

Another thing that I like about Miracle On 34th Street, and didn't really think much about until I watched it again recently, is that it's one of the very few 1940s movies to take a dim view of pop psychoanalysis. As anyone who's seen Kings Row or Spellbound scores of other '40s and early '50s movies will agree, this was an era of filmmaking that was drenched in "Dollar-Book Freud" (Orson Welles's term for the Rosebud stuff in Citizen Kane).

But Miracle not only comes out against this kind of thing, it literally makes it the most evil force in the whole movie: the villain is Mr. Sawyer (Porter Hall), who uses fake Freudian jargon to convince a nice young man that his acts of kindness are really rooted in guilt, that he hates his father and that he has some kind of horrible buried secret in his past. All this phony psychiatry, used to make people feel that normal human emotions are rooted in something bad, is the one thing in the whole movie that can rouse Kris to anger and violence. And when telling off Mr. Sawyer, Kris mentions that he has respect for real psychiatrists but not for people who just want to use the language to make people question their own mental health. He, and George Seaton, might as well be telling off the whole '40s film industry.


Sterfish said...

I love that scene with Kris and Mr. Sawyer, especially when Kris bops him on the head after proclaiming that "There's only one way to deal with a man like you." I guess even Santa Claus has his limits.

Anonymous said...

For me, the best lines that made it past the censors in Double Indemnity come from Porter Hall's Mr. Jackson. First, on the train, Jackson asks "Dietrichson" if he "left something behind", possibly meaning an old girlfriend and illegitimate child in Palo Alto. Later at the insurance company, Jackson says he wants to stay in Los Angeles overnight to see a "very good osteopath".

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