Thursday, December 28, 2017

Survival in the Wild

"Behold, the bridegroom cometh. And no oil for my lamp as usual. A foolish virgin me. Oh, foolish anyway."

Daisy (Ann Harding)

On the rare occasions when I have seen "The Animal Kingdom," I have found it hard to believe it wasn't made in the 1960s. While it looks every bit the 1930s flick that it is, it was the classic tug–of–war between safe, conservative lifestyles/generations and rebellious ones.

In "The Animal Kingdom," which premiered on this day in 1932, Leslie Howard played a well–off book publisher who lived with his lover (Ann Harding), a Bohemian artist. (Remember, this was in the days before the implementation of the Hays Code.)

They also happened to be pretty close friends. Sex and friendship, as you may have noticed, do not always go hand in hand. In this case, though, they did.

His father wanted him to have a more conventional life, and when he acquiesced, his bride was Myrna Loy, who was socially prominent but did not have that same spark with Howard that he had with Harding.

It showed.

At Loy's insistence, Howard's character sold books he knew would sell — whereas, when he had been with Harding, he published the books he wanted to publish. Their sales potential had far less influence on his decisions.

Loy was also steering Howard away from his old friends; in fact, she just wanted him to sell the business and live with his father in New York where they could assume their rightful places as respectable members of society.

In the meantime, although she tried to stay away from Howard, Harding and the couple's circle of friends found it impossible to believe Howard truly was happy. That was a tough one for viewers to accept, too, given the fact that Howard kept seeking out Harding to use as a sounding board on, well, everything.

I know that Howard was a matinee idol in the '30s, and I know he was a civilian hero during World War II — but I also know that the characters he played (well, the ones I have seen) were weak–kneed schlemiels. Maybe that was just the kind of character he played — or perhaps that was how he chose to play all his characters, whether they were intended that way or not. Nevertheless his character in "The Animal Kingdom" fit that description.

Tom, his character in "The Animal Kingdom," was every bit as malleable as Ashley Wilkes in "Gone With the Wind."

I doubt that anyone ever mistook Leslie Howard for John Wayne.

I only recently became aware of this movie; while I liked it, the title baffled me and still does. At first I concluded that it was an allusion to the fact that humans, as advanced as we are, are still animals, and we act on our animal instincts, primitive though they may be.

But the second time I watched it I picked up on one of Harding's lines — "For all our big talk, we both still belong to the animal kingdom."

And I began to think that maybe it means more than animal instincts. Maybe it is a reference to the different ways humans find to survive trials and tribulations.

And isn't the instinct to survive the most powerful instinct of all?