Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sudden death

I hadn't seen The Last Hurrah until TCM showed it last night. It was an interesting, but not quite great, movie about an aging mayor running for one more term as mayor of a large New England city. It's based on the life of Boston mayor James Curley, although the movie never actually mentions any city by name. The one big problem I had with the movie is that after the election, the script has Mayor Skeffington (played by Spencer Tracy) suffer a heart attack and a lingering death. Perhaps I'm just not nuanced enough, but the whole sequence seemed pointless to me. The movie would have been fine ending at the end of the election, after the results are announced. Having the mayor die doesn't seem to add anything to the movie.

It also reminded me of Tokyo Story, an early 1950s Japanese movie about an elderly couple who travel from their small town to Tokyo to see their children who have moved to the big city. Their attempts to cope with life in the big city, and the fact that they discover they're an incovenience to their children's lives by being there, make for a good movie on their own, and the movie could easily end with their getting on the train in Tokyo to return home. However, the movie then has them get home, only for the wife to fall ill and die, and an extended period of the surviving family members philosophizing about death.

The one movie I can think of where having the character drop dead works is The Last Angry Man. Paul Muni plays an elderly doctor in the slums of Brooklyn whose life is turned upside-down by a TV producer who wants to film a live broadcast about the man's life and work. The broadcast is scotched by the good doctor's heart attack, but in this case, a good case can be made that the heart attack was actually brought about by the producer's pressuring him to do the broadcast.

(Actually, I can think of D.O.A. too, but in that case, the main character was poisoned, so we know he's going to die.)

The Last Hurrah and Tokyo Story are both on DVD; The Last Angry Man does not seem to be available on DVD.

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