Monday, July 29, 2013

The House I Live In

All of tonight's features on TCM are on DVD, unless you count the Carson on TCM interviews as a feature. So instead, I'd like to make mention the short The House I Live In, which is airing early tomorrow morning at about 5:45 AM, after an airing of Fail-Safe and a repeat of Henry Fonda's Carson on TCM interview.

Frank Sinatra was a popular singer from the early 1940s on, but I think it was only after Anchors Aweigh, which like this short was released in 1945, that Sinatra became a popular actor. So at the time, the moviegoing public would have recognized Sinatra the singer for popular bandleaders of the day, which is what he's doing here. He sings one song, and then goes outside for a cigarette break. Which is where he sees a bunch of kids being mean to another kid. That other kid happens to be -- a Jew! And so Frank Sinatra gives these kids a lecture on religious tolerance. America is "the house I live in", and Jews, blacks, and most of the immigrant groups in this country have helped build that house too. That, and they even contributed to the war effort. Sinatra then sings a song conveniently titled "The House I Live In" to drum that message into the kids' heads further.

Sinatra isn't a bad choice to give the message. Not only for his popularity, but because he was a member of a group that not too much earlier would itself have been on the receiving end of the prejudice. You'll recall that in the 1941-set From Here to Eternity, it was perfectly normal for the enemies of Sinatra's character, Pvt. Maggio, to refer to him as a wop to try to get him to lose his temper and commit assault. That having been said, Sinatra is asked to be a little to earnest in delivering the message. And, of course, in 1945, it wsa still OK to be horridly racist toward the Japanese, since they were our enemy. It reminds me of the scene in Wilson from 1944 in which Alexander Knox, playing Woodrow Wilson, serves a bunch of doughboys on their way to Europe at a canteen. He gives them a message about how all the races are joining together to fight the good war. Of course, there wasn't a black face to be found in that crowd.

The Wikipedia article on The House I Live In has a few interesting facts about the writers of the song. As far as I know, the short isn't available on DVD>.

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