James Garner

Sayonara (1957)

Sayonara 1957

During the Korean War, many American servicemen stationed in Japan are falling in love with and marrying Japanese women. Although some soldiers are open-minded about interracial relationships, many are not and unfortunately, many of the ones who don’t approve are the ones who hold the most power. When top Air Force pilot Major Lloyd Gruver (Marlon Brando) is first sent to Japan, he’s among the ones who doesn’t approve. However, his friends Joe Kelly (Red Buttons) and Captain Bailey (James Garner) do pursue relationships with Japanese women. Joe is in love with Katsumi (Miyoshi Umeki) and wants to marry her, but has to get special permission from his congressman to do so because the military is making it so difficult for soldiers to get married.

Gruver’s views on interracial relationships suddenly change when he sees Hana-Ogi (Miiko Taka) and is immediately captivated by her. While Gruver is dedicated to the military, Hana-Ogi is dedicated to Matsubayashi, an all-female theater troupe. Just like the military forbids Gruver from dating Japanese women, the Matsubayashi forbids Hana-Ogi from dating. Gruver tries to pursue Hana-Ogi anyway and she resists at first, but she eventually agrees to meet with him at Joe and Katsumi’s home.

Hana-Ogi and Gruver continue to see each other, doing their best to keep their relationship a secret. Of course, it doesn’t stay a secret for long and when the Matsubayashi finds out, they send Hana-Ogi to Tokyo as a punishment. And the military continues to discourage interracial relationships by ordering all servicemen with Japanese wives back to America and won’t allow them to take their wives with them. Even though Gruver and Hana-Ogi were never married, Gruver is also sent back to America. Before he leaves, he stops in Tokyo to see Hana-Ogi one more time and make a last-ditch effort to see if their relationship will work.

Sayonara is one of those movies that was acclaimed when it first came out, but over the years, it hasn’t been talked about as much. For being a Best Picture nominee and featuring a Best Actor nominated performance from Marlon Brando, I’m not sure why I haven’t heard of it until now. But Sayonara is indeed still very much worth watching; it’s still a very relevant film. It’s a little too slowly paced for my liking, but the beautiful cinematography and good acting make it worth sticking around for. Red Buttons is someone I usually associate with comedy, so his more serious, gentle yet completely heartfelt performance here was a real revelation for me.

The Children’s Hour (1961)

Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) have been friends since they were teenagers.  They both decided to become teachers, and after they graduated from college, the two of them opened a private boarding school for girls.  After years of hard work, their school finally starts to turn a profit and Karen finally agrees to marry her fiance Dr. Joe Cardin (James Garner).  However, Karen’s decision is bittersweet to Martha.  She wants Karen to be happy, but is afraid of losing her best friend and that she will leave the school once she gets married.  Martha’s jealousy leads to her getting in an argument with her aunt and fellow teacher Lily Mortar (Miriam Hopkins), who tells Martha that her devotion to her friend is unnatural.

But every school has its problem children.  In this case, it’s Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin).  Mary is constantly getting into trouble and when Karen punishes her by not letting her go to some boat races that weekend, Mary gets back at her by telling her wealthy grandmother Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter) that Karen and Martha are lovers.  She invented this story based on what her friends overheard of Martha and Lily’s argument and threw in some bits from a scandalous book she and her friends have been secretly reading.  Amelia is absolutely horrified, pulls Mary from the school, and calls all the other parents and gets them to do the same.

Karen and Martha don’t understand why all the students are leaving, and when they’re clued in, Karen, Martha, and Joe try to confront Amelia and Mary.  Joe questions Mary and even though he clearly catches her lying, Mary drags her friend Rosalie into the lie and Amelia sides with them.  Karen and Martha sue her for slander, but the case ends up being dragged into the media, they lose their case, and they become outcasts in town.  Joe proudly stands by Karen and Martha through the whole ordeal, but eventually, all the rumors make him question the truth.  Even Martha begins to wonder if the rumors were true.  Eventually, the truth does come out, but no amount of money from Mrs. Tilford can fix the damage that has been done.

I absolutely adored The Children’s Hour.  Exceptionally well written and beautifully acted all around, Shirley MacLaine particularly hit it right out of the park.  Her performance was truly compelling, heartfelt, and tragic.  This was a movie way ahead of its time and is still hugely relevant today.  Movies that deal with the ramifications of gossip were definitely nothing new in 1961, but I was impressed to see a movie deal with homophobia so frankly while the production codes were still in force.  Actually, this isn’t the first film adaptation of The Children’s Hour.  In 1936, it had been made into the movie These Three starring Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, and Joel McCrea.  But since the production codes were enforced much more strictly in 1936, they had to change the story to be about a love triangle between Martha, Karen, and Joe.  They couldn’t even use the original name because it was so tied to the original Lillian Hellman play.  I’ve never seen These Three, although now I’d like to, but The Children’s Hour is a very worthwhile movie.