I just finished watching The Thin Man.
It’s one of those excellent old 30's films where the hero wears a fedora, guzzles gin, and talks like we all wish we could talk.
Reporter: Well, can't you tell us anything about the case?
Nick Charles: Yes, it's putting me way behind in my drinking.
Nora Charles: Pretty girl.
Nick Charles: Yes. She's a very nice type.
Nora Charles: You got types?
Nick Charles: Only you, darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.
I was lucky. I grew up watching all the good stuff. “The Sands of Iowa Jima”, “The Big Red One”, “Casablanca”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Key Largo”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “To Have and Have Not”, “The Big Sleep”, “The African Queen”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “High Sierra”, “Out of the Past”, and of course, “The Maltese Falcon”.
If you haven’t watched “The Maltese Falcon”, rent it now and get a taste of Sam Spade..
Wilmer Cook: Keep on riding me and they're gonna be picking iron out of your liver.
Sam Spade: The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter, eh?
Joel Cairo: You always have a very smooth explanation...
Sam Spade: What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?
Some where along the line we lost all that. Dialogue used to do something more than mark time between CGI explosions. Women were tough as nails and still looked great in an evening gown. The men all kept a .38 Police Special in their suit jacket pocket, and swung a wicked right hook.
Somewhere along the line we traded all that for leading ladies who look like 12 year old boys, and leading men with six pack abs, pouty lips, and soulful eyes.
Give me Bogart and Bacall over Pitt and Angelena any day.
Bogart was the greatest leading man to ever live and he looked like a train wreck. Pants up to his arm pits, thinning hair, wet lips like a razor, and teeth that could put a dentist’s kids through the Ivy League.
What he did have was the intensity of a man who knew what he was about and what he was going to do. A man’s man. Action with brains behind it. He might not know the score yet, but he’d figure it out.
Bogart was the guy we think we could all be if only we had a score to settle, a quick witted bombshell by our side, and someone waving a gun in our face.
I’ve been rewatching all those old movies and enjoying the hell out of them. But it does make me miss something. Something that’s hard to put my finger on.
Maybe it’s just the sheer balls of all those old characters.
They’re all chain smoking non-filters and knocking back whatever bottle comes their way. There’s no talk of cancer or alchoholism or daddy didn’t love me enough or mommy didn’t hug me enough. There’s no excuses, just people living by their wits and doing best they can. Not always right, but at least moving forward.
If this country liked sensitive men who ‘feel your pain’ and think about all sides of an issue John Kerry would be president right now.
There’s a reason Rudy Guliani is so damn popular. He bangs heads and takes care of business. He’s even got those bad old 1930's teeth. Sometimes people forget he’s an asshole and a womanizer. Or maybe we don’t forget. Maybe we just choose to ignore those facts because what we really like is someone who sees the shot and takes it, no questions asked.
The reason George W. is in office is because at least he seemed to believe in something. I don’t like him, I don’t know anybody who does, but I’ll take a man who preaches action over finesse any day.
A man like Bill Clinton is fine for the 90's when the country is humming along fine, but when the shit hits the fan you want a guy who at least seems to be willing to kick some asses. Al Gore can jet around talking about Global Warming all day long, but I wouldn’t trust him with a war, let alone two.
It’s strange, the talk surrounding the wars these days.
There have been four major wars which shaped this country*.
The Revolutionary War. Washington and all those old dead white men dumping tea in a river, camping out in the snow at Valley Forge, and fighting dirty. As far as this country is concerned, it’s all ancient history. Almost a fable. Kind of like the Greek myths. But it was real, and it was ugly, and about half this country thought we should just pay those stamp taxes and toast the queen. We came close to losing that one, but with the help of the French (which we seem to forget sometimes) and English inattention, we managed to eek out a close victory.
The Civil War. Nobody talks about it much, which is strange. More Americans died in that war than any other. There were draft riots across the Union states. New York had some of the worst. The south almost won in the first year. It was questionable whether the union had the ability, the guts, or the skill to beat down all those Yokels from the south. The Union won, as they should have, but it was not all so cut and dry as we like to believe. Most of those Southern soldiers weren’t fighting for slavery. Instead, they, like Robert E. Lee, were fighting for their homes and their belief in self government. The greater good was served by the South’s loss, but we can only say that now. At the time, only those huge stones Lincoln carried in a sling between his legs kept this country together.
World War II is held up as the model of a good war. Never mind that we almost didn’t get involved, never mind that even a lot of British wanted to throw in the towel, never mind that millions died (300,000 American, about 20 million total) and entire stretches of Europe and Asia were laid to waste. Never mind that we nuked two cities and leveled countless others with indiscriminent firebombings. Never mind that if we had lost, an awful lot of our generals and politicians would have been tried as war criminals (those are the words of Robert McNamara, not mine. If you haven’t, watch “The Fog of War”). But we won, thank God and Rosie the riviter. And we did the right thing in rebuilding Japan and Germany. Now it’s like there was never any question. But it certainly wasn’t a stroll down the primrose path to an easy victory.
People talk a lot about Vietnam and the horrors that occurred ‘over there’. Brutality and failure. Lies and desperation. Disagreements that tore this country apart. It was a fucking mess. The economy was falling apart, the country was falling apart, Vietnam was falling apart. 50,000 American soldiers killed. Many, many more drafted who didn’t want to even be there. And nobody even really knew what we were fighting for. We lost. And maybe we should have. Or maybe not. Maybe in another 50 years the wounds will have scarred over and we’ll have a clearer view.
What have these wars become? The War for Independence and The Civil War are nothing but text books and occasional dry documentaries. WWII is what we pat ourselves on the back about, and Vietnam is the shame we carry around on our sleeves and still try to make amends for.
But what of Iraq and Afghanistan? What of the ‘now’?
We are currently carrying about 3000 dead on our books. A day on the beach at Iowa Jima, an hour on the fields of Gettysburg, but a huge tragedy for a society that puts the huge value on human life that ours does.
Is it going poorly? Well, it could certainly be going better.
Did we make a mistake? Maybe, maybe not. Only history will tell.
Is radical Islam really that much of a threat? Well, I think so. It is anathema to everything I believe in, anathema to everything that I think life is about. I do know they want to take over the world. I just don’t know the best way to fight them.
Is the country falling apart? Well, the angry voices try to yell, but they find very little backup. The economy is humming along swimmingly. And unlike all the other wars I mentioned above, nobody’s been drafted yet.
Is George Bush an idiot? Maybe, maybe not. Much like the war, only history will tell. I personally think he probably is, or at least he lacks the faith necessary to tell it like it is. But I also like to think that Sam Spade would say, “at least he’s our idiot.”
And that’s the thing about all those old movies. If you believe in something, if you believe that there is something worth saving, you save it and damn the consequences. You might not see how it’s all going to end, but you’ll fight until you can’t fight anymore.
Personally, I love my country, mistakes and all. I don’t expect us to be perfect, as so many people do, but I do expect us to talk fast when we need to and throw that right hook when the bad guys are closing in.
If you believe, as I do, that there really are bad guys out there, what else can you do?
*I left out WWI. An awful lot of people died and it led, in many ways, to WWII, but mostly it just turned us into isolationists. It took WWII to pull us out of that.