Monday, September 1, 2014

A Pregnant Pause

A cinematic -- or rather, actually, televisual -- illustration of the Eloquence of Silence.

In “The Case of the Sulky Girl” (TV, 1957),  the eponymous (anti)heroine  brushes past Perry Mason’s receptionist (disregarding the objection that an appointment is required) and slips into his office, where he is on the phone  with his back turned.  He is fumbling one-handedly with a cigarette (young folks today will be baffled by this, but:  Back in the day, there were no hands-free phones;  and people other than serial killers  actually smoked onscreen);  a slender hand appears stage-right, with a lit match -- not a single one, not in contact with her actual skin, but one set upright upon the matches-pack (we leave it to the hermeneuticists to unriddle the symbolism);  he accepts the favor, bemused.  And agrees to hear her out, there and then.

Turns out she’s a prospective heiress (a well-worn feminine movie trope;  you won’t find guys mooning away in that filmic position, unless they’re villains, as in Kind Hearts and Coronets), contesting a trust.   She stands to haul in a cool million, provided she waits until age 25 to marry (and she but twenty-three!).   Mason, with an air of reason, suggests, “Why not wait a couple of years?  It sounds profitable.”  -- “But I want to get married now.” --  “Mm, why?” -- …
… -- …
No answer.  A pause; a look, as blank as she can make it.
Mason, for a second opinion, glances over at Della Reese. 
She, not batting an eyelash, returns his glance.
Ahh… HA!

At this point, the adult members of the audience (the women, certainly, and the wiser among the married men)  have cottoned on:  She cannot wait, because she’s … with child.

Now... When I used to watch these episodes as a kid, sitting clueless on the sofa  while Eisenhower stewarded the world,  this passage would have blown right by me.  But since it wasted no words, neither would it have perplexed me, or wasted time.
Well done, all.

[Note]  Among the most fraught moments in movies, as we have observed before, are wordless.   But that is not quite what we are getting at here.  In the climaxing scenes in the movies referred to in that essay (“The Third Man”, “North by Northwest”, “The Godfather II”), what is meant is ineffable.   In this modest TV episode, it is eminently effable:  She’s pregnant out of wedlock, and doesn’t want to say so out loud.   So, it’s not epiphanic;  but it is still an elegant illustration of s’entendre à demi-mot -- or, in this case, no word at all. 
(And very nice the way Mason, instantly glimpsing the truth, nonetheless checks with Della for confirmation.)

For our own adventure into the audio-visual,
where more is suggested
than is explicitly said,
try this:

For the adults who didn’t quite get it (while still leaving the children  partially in the dark), a following scene confirms:
Sulky:  “There’s something else you don’t know.”
Mason, complacently:  “That was my second hunch;  I hope it’s a boy.”

This strikes the modern viewer  something like a fish-in-the-face:  No-one would be allowed to place such a sentiment into the mouth of the hero nowadays.   And in this case, I must concur -- not for reasons of political correctness, but of theological adequacy:  “Man and Woman  created He them.”   (Thy will be done.)

[Post-note]  Another nice word-to-the-wise exchange -- not actually wordless, but minimalist.
Mason’s gumshoe briefly outlines the Sulky Girl’s earlier méfaits.
Mason: “Maybe she’s just taking her time growing up.”
Drake: “Hm. So was Two-Gun Crowley.”

Young Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley:
an early forerunner of Arthur “Two-Sheds” Jackson

[A precocious career criminal;  executed for murder at the age of nineteen.]

No comments:

Post a Comment