Friday, September 23, 2011

Down to Earth and the Cultural Work of Ideology

I must admit, dear unreaders, that I was embarrassed to learn that me, a cinephile who has been watching films, classic Hollywood films and European art films, religiously since the 1960s didn't know that there was a sequel to the classic 1941 Hollywood film Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a Hollywood fable about a boxer who dies as the result a heavenly error and is allowed to return to earth in the body of another man because of the error. It was remade in 1978 as Heaven Can Wait by Warren Beatty and in 2001 as Down to Earth. But dear unreaders there was also a sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan. And it too was called Down to Earth.

Down to Earth was released in 1947. Like Here Comes Mr. Jordan Down to Earth was produced by Everett Riskin. Like Here Comes Mr. Jordan it was directed by Alexander Hall. Like Here Comes Mr. Jordan it starred Edward Everett Horton and James Gleason. But unlike Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was in glorious black and white, Down to Earth is in glorious technicolor.

Down to Earth is actually only a sequel of sorts to Here Comes Mr. Jordan. It stars Rita Hayworth as the muse Terpsichore who, upon discovering that a play is being readied for Broadway with her as the main character, a play she doesn't like, convinces Mr. Jordan, this time played by Roland Culver rather than Claude Rains, to send her down to earth in a human body so she can transform the play from low art to high art. She is Terpsichore after all. Unbeknownst to Terpsichore the real reason Mr. Jordan is sending her to the land of the mortals is to stop a murder.

Terpsichore, masquerading as Kitty Pendleton, does manage to transform the musical play into a "long haired" work of art to the dismay of the cast and crew. But the new and "improved" play flops. Terpsichore walks away from the play until she learns that the plays writer, producer, and star Danny (Larry Parks) is in hock to a gambler king and will be killed if the play flops. The gambler king, you see, is backing the play in the hope of getting the money Danny owes him back.

Terpsichore, who is falling in love with Danny, returns and, in typical Hollywood fashion, the show is a hit, Danny is safe. Terpsichore and Danny are in love. But since Terpsichore, her job of making sure Danny does not die done, must now return her home to Mt. Olympus the relationship between the two lovers isn't consummated. But don't worry dear unreaders, Danny dies and comes to heaven where Terpsichore is waiting for him. Hollywood fairy tale once again consummated. Eternal love proves once again eternal in a Hollywood film.

What is so interesting about Down to Earth is that it is, in many ways, a film about Hollywood's image of itself. Down to Earth counterpoints Hollywood popular entertainment for the worthy masses to the "long hair" art of ballet that Terpsichore creates when she retools the musical play from low to high art replete with the symphonic music of the high brows. That Hollywood's music was a rip off of symphonic music does not seem to bother Hollywood's powers that be at all. What is also interesting about Down to Earth is that by the end of the film Terpsichore, who has throughout the film been a woman of independent mind and action, is turned into someone who, because she is now in love, just wants to stay at home and take care of the children to be. I guess we are supposed to feel sad that the tragedy is that she can't be a good American housewife because, after all, she is a Greek goddess. Let's hear it for the cultural work of Hollywood entertainment. Let's hear it for Hollywood's cult of domesticity. And let's hear it for commodity aestheticism, long short haired Hollywood's raison d'etre.

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