Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

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movieman1957
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Re: Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

Post by movieman1957 »

I decided to make it a Joel McCrea night. ("Shoot First" has a comment in the McCrea SOTM thread.) I again was reminded of what a wonderful film it is. The subject isn't particularly deep but its feeling is. I kept thinking how wonderful to think that so many towns then and hopefully now might be like this town. Small, close knit family like town of plain but strong families.

Alan Hale comes in for good marks again. I caught that at the point where Hale brings his boys to help Uncle Famous after the raid that Famous tells him he is a good Christian. That is the one thing that he is good natured about declining most of the film. He may not be a believer but he certainly embodies the qualities that we like to claim as the product of our faith. He does it all willingly and graciously and with no thought to the idea that he could have done anything else.

It also agrees that medicine and faith are important and so much so to coexist comfortably in the fabric of that town. The film may seem lightweight but I think there are deeper things about it and maybe a message for us.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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JackFavell
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Re: Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

Post by JackFavell »

That was just lovely Chris. You make me want to watch this movie again, especially right now, at this time of year.
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ChiO
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Re: Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

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Thank you, Movieman, for the loving reaction to a movie that I can watch over and over and over, and for prompting a few (yeah, right) reflections on the film.

Recurring themes in the films of Jacques Tourneur are Community, Faith, and Memory. With his unobtrusive technique, he unites that trinity magnificently in STARS IN MY CROWN.

Community: Tourneur tells us as the opening credits are rolling that this will be about Community, but that it will not be told in the standard manner. Instead of the typical movement of the camera toward the church and to an individual, the camera pulls back. Rather than a movie about an individual in the Community, this will be about the Community and the individuals in it. The shot is echoed at the conclusion, reminding us that life is communal. Individuals have impact – significant impact – but it is within the spirit of the Community that meaning is given to that impact.

The episodic structure of the film emphasizes this. We see the various groupings that comprise the Community and their relation with each other. Each is discrete, but clearly a part of a greater whole. Also Tourneur keeps us in the Community. There are allusions to the Parson and Jed Isbell relationship during the Civil War, but it is not shown and detail is not provided. We know the young doctor has been outside the Community, but we see only his activity within the Community. Even the medicine show – at first seemingly an anomaly in the movie – is presented only as a part of the Community, appearing from nowhere (but obviously from the outside) and immediately seeking to integrate and does so in keeping with the movie's theme (the message on the wagon: "There is Hope").

What is fascinating to me is that the Parson (portrayed by the one “Star” in the movie) appears in most of the episodes and yet he is not always the focus. He may drive the narrative, but does not necessarily carry the themes. Much of that, if not most of that, is done by those that typically would be considered minor characters, but Tourneur – with his gentleness, respect and genius – invests them with such humanity that suddenly one realizes that there are no minor characters. It is a Community.

Faith: The juxtaposition of the young doctor’s reliance on science – objective, cold, rational – with the Parson’s reliance on religion and, as Movieman notes, their coming together and co-existence is most obviously shown when, after days of self-doubt, the doctor calls for the Parson to assist in the healing of the doctor’s sweetheart, Faith. And the result is another coming together of three sides of a triangle – the doctor recognizes the importance of faith not only in science, but of faith in Faith itself; the Parson regains his faith in Faith; and, Faith herself is restored by the breath of Life gently blowing through the window.

I see the finest example of Faith, however, in the Night Rider scene at Uncle Famous’ home. First, the Parson’s reading of Uncle Famous’ will is a litany of objects to be distributed based on objective fact and logic, but it is actually an appeal to emotion and, therefore, it echoes the scene in Faith’s room and its unification of science (the rational) with Faith (the irrational). More significantly, the entire scene is built on Faith: the Parson’s faith that the Night Riders will be dissuaded; the Isbell’s faith that the Parson will dissuade the Night Riders; and, Uncle Famous’ complete faith that the ruse – an improvised will – will work. We don’t even know whether Uncle Famous knows what the Parson will do. But he has Faith. And a great part of the beauty of the scene is that Tourneur does not, again, provide us with details – not whether Uncle Famous filled in the Parson or the Parson just knew; not whether the Parson filled in Uncle Famous as to his plan; and, not whether there was any back-up strategy if the ruse failed. Failure, however, seems almost impossible because we are witnessing a miracle and a triumph of Faith.

Thinking about the title of the movie, STARS IN MY CROWN sounds like a simple declarative statement: “There are stars in my crown.” But that is not Tourneur’s point. The hymn’s lyric is not declarative – it is a question: “Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown?” And the lyric does not answer the question. The title thereby becomes not a statement of satisfaction or entitlement, but an imploring query: will I act in a manner that justifies the bestowing of stars? Do I have Faith? And, again, Tourneur displays his respect for the humanness of his characters, his audience and humanity in general.

Memory: Did any of it happen? Of course. We see it on the screen. Except the entire movie is a flashback, a remembrance, through the narration of an adult John Kenyon as he remembers it as a child. One of my favorite passages (young John and his friend are alone, and John is engaging in exposition): Friend – “You don’t have to tell me everything.” John – “I was just talkin’. You don’t have to listen.” Tourneur does not force us to listen, but it is there for us to take…on Faith. After all, John is telling the audience things that occurred before he was on the scene and many, many things that he did not witness. He takes those occurrences on Faith, filtered through, presumably, the Community’s collective Memory and his Memory, and we take it on Faith, too.

And that Memory plus Faith converts it all to Myth – not in the sense that it is a false story, but that it is a tale that shows the difficulties of being, and the actions taken as a result of being, humans.

What Uncle Famous, the moral center of the entire movie, represents is worthy of a treatise. That Tourneur invests so much care and love to the character (I choke up every time I see him and the puppies through the church window at the end) and still leaves the interpretation to the viewer is, to my mind, the greatest respect any director can show to his audience.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles
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Re: Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

Post by JackFavell »

Wow,that was just beautifully written and thought out, ChiO. Lovely. Now I have to watch, with both of you in mind.
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Re: Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

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If my little note can help draw that out I need to do more of it. :) I knew it was no accident that Blake's character was named "Faith" and it certainly draws a point to the doctor's affection for her in an ironic sort of way. I also wondered how much he "lied" about getting the parson because he knew Faith would want him there. Yes, that is absolutely true but I thought that may be a bit of a cover for his own desperation.

In a town this size and what must be the only church it isn't hard to figure that the parson might be involved in everyone's life. He, much like a doctor, goes on his rounds. He seeks healing as much as the doctor but his direction is obviously the soul but how much better is the body when the soul is well.

Even the father who lost his child to the fever, because of his faith, has a different reaction than one might think. Of course, he is in pain but reading his Bible gives him some comfort. It does it to the point that the doctor pauses to check out the book. This, I think, leads to his eventually calling the pastor for Faith.

One thing did strike me as funny was with the Night Riders. Did they think they were fooling anyone wearing those hoods. That size town everyone is going to know voices as well they did.

I'm making The Bride watch this one soon.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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ChiO
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Re: Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

Post by ChiO »

Thanks, JF. There is so much, at least for me, in this seemingly simple story. It also was the Tourneur film that caused me to re-evaluate his movies; that he didn't simply make three fine Lewton Horror pictures and an outstanding film noir, but that films such as CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, THE LEOPARD MAN, OUT OF THE PAST, CANYON PASSAGE, WICHITA, GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING, STRANGER ON HORSEBACK and even KILLER-DOG and NIGHT CALL have a common thread. And that Tourneur is an auteur.

If I have posted this before, please forgive me, but Joel McCrea said that STARS IN MY CROWN was his favorite of the movies in which he appeared. Tourneur said it was the most personal of the movies he directed, and the movie that damaged his career. McCrea had been cast. He took the script to his old high school pal, Tourneur, thinking that he would be the ideal director. Tourneur loved the script and went to the producer, asking to be the director. The producer told him that it was just a cheap little B-movie and that he didn't have the money to pay his going rate. Tourneur said he wanted the assignment so much that he'd direct for free. The producer said he couldn't do that because of the Screen Directors Guild. So, Tourneur said he'd do it for scale. He got the job...and the reputation that he'd direct anything for little money.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles
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Re: Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

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I also wondered how much he "lied" about getting the parson because he knew Faith would want him there. Yes, that is absolutely true but I thought that may be a bit of a cover for his own desperation.
Excellent point. And one that shows Tourneur's understanding of human nature. If I have steadfastly rejected X, but then have no option but to embrace X, I must save some pride by providing a cover for that decision.
Did they think they were fooling anyone wearing those hoods.
And that is a literal "cover" for their behavior.

It never ceases to amaze me how Tourneur can depict the Night Riders, with hoods and without, in such a gentle, respectful way. They harass Chloroform, and the scene ends with the instigator (and the rest) laughing at their comeuppance. They gather for a lynching, but their hearts are touched and they leave. Even Lon Backett, the closest thing to a villain in the movie, is never turned into a Capraesque Mr. Potter. He's not one-dimensional. He (and the rest of the Night Riders) are acting rationally to the closing of the mica mine, their source of livelihood. They are faced with having nothing. One could even question whether Uncle Famous is acting selfishly by refusing to sell any of his land (or grant an easement) at any price and thereby allowing the others to have incomes. Nobody in the movie is pure good (though the Parson and Uncle Famous sure come close) or pure evil. Tourneur judges none of them. He allows them to be human. They all have his respect and the viewer is left with several options for interpretation.

Beautiful.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles
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Re: Stars in My Crown, Easter Morning

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Earlier in a post from 2013 I mentioned I needed to have The Bride watch this film. Somehow it took me until two days ago to do it. Shame on me.

She loved it. She is sometimes hard to read when we watch something but yesterday asked if we could watch it again. It hit all the right spots. I continues to be a warm and moving film. The theme of one man's faith and his determination that in his way (and mind) that what he brings to a community in the middle of a crisis is every bit as important as what medicine brings. And in some cases (Uncle Famous's trouble) what only he can fix.

We will watch it again and suits me fine.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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