WEIRDLAND: Till the End of Time, Permissive Turn in the Fifties

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Till the End of Time, Permissive Turn in the Fifties

Till the End of Time (1946) is in many ways a sad film, also inspiring and deeply touching. Star Guy Madison made his screen debut in Since You Went Away (1944), another film that explores war from the home front, but spent the bulk of his career in westerns. Here he is Cliff Harper, one of three veterans who continue their friendship as they adjust to life at home again. Though not officially a part of this trio, as traumatized war widow Pat Ruscomb, Dorothy McGuire, is as lost as these men who have lived to come home. While Cliff gets plenty of attention from the perky 18-year-old girl next door, he is drawn to Pat's gravity. Eventually, he is able to understand her aimlessness as well.

Cliff and Pat catch sight of each other in a diner, and ten minutes later they're at her place, kissing. By the standards of 1946 this is highly immoral activity, technically low-life behavior. Will Cliff recover the motivation to return to school, or to at least persevere at a job with a future? Will Pat find something beyond her present aimless pattern, and find a committed relationship? Guy Madison and Dorothy McGuire generate beaucoup chemistry in that tight clinch on the sofa in her sunny Southern California apartment; sex between them seems a real possibility. Till the End of Time is too socially conscious to be a film noir, but it is about disillusion in broad daylight.

While the movie doesn't look for solutions to the problems of returning soldiers, it offers hope. The wounds these men, and those at home, suffer will not completely heal, but time will help. The boxer won't wear his new prosthetic legs because they hurt him, but he throws them on and charges out of the house when he thinks a friend needs him. Mitchum's character lives recklessly, and in pain, but his buddies watch out for him, and you know they're not going to let him destroy himself.

Cliff's problems are more subtle. He struggles to stay employed, and to accept Pat's way of mourning, because the years where he should have been building an understanding of these things were spent at war. He's never in any real peril, but his struggle is significant, because it shows how no matter the state of the soldier's bodies when they returned home, they all had psychic wounds.

All of the performances are strong. McGuire is especially touching in her role, and Mitchum steals all of his scenes, clearly showing the birth of a star. Most of the film's Los Angeles locations are now unrecognizable. Cliff and Pat frequent a diner near the intersection of Wilshire and Western. The broad street visible at the end of a residential lane in Palms (West L.A.) might be Venice Blvd. The ice rink is something called the Westwood Ice Gardens, which certainly was gone by 1970.  

Jean Porter shows off her dancing skills on the swing hit "The Jitters" by Gene Rose, played by Benny Goodman's orchestra. Based on a Chopin melody, the romantic title tune saw a lot of radio play back in the day. It's not sung in the film (if I recall correctly), but here's the popular Perry Como cover version. I hope that this film will get more attention now that it is available on DVD, because it is certainly deserving of classic status and a good, low-key companion to that more legendary return from war drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).  Source:

Anytime a subject revolving around the 1950s is brought up, it is most likely that people will once again hear about great the ‘greatest decade of the 20th century’ was in the history of America. One of the reasons why this decade is highly praised is because of an impulse that was liberalizing or changing society’s way of life, talked about in the first chapter of Alan Petigny’s book The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965. Petigny’s thesis: the 1960s was not the massive change of values for the American people but it was a gradual permissive attitude that started immediately after World War II; this is what would later be known as the Permissive Turn of society. The Youth Culture and Sex section talks about how schools wanted the teens to practice “going steady” because “the greater intimacy of going steady facilitated higher level of sexual intercourse amongst the young.” 

Most people, if asked, would say that the 1950’s was a time of the “June Cleaver” wife. Evidence proves it was not exactly the norm. The idea of the patriarchal family was slowly eroding; the ideas of sexual equality were being planted and sown in the 1950’s. “Feminism was [then] less a movement than sentiment, more an amorphous set of attitudes than an ideology or doctrine.” While the 1950’s is not credited for being a time of feminism, it most definitely was. The issue with easily recognizing the status of women in the 1950’s is based in “the failure to distinguish between private choice and general attitudes.” The women of the 1950’s used more subtle techniques such as having a say over which house their family would purchase to deciding when they would purchase the family car. 

Women were also gaining ground in the political arena. For the first time in history a forty-seven year old woman, Dorothy McCullough Lee, won a mayoral race in Portland, Oregon becoming the first woman mayor to serve a population over five hundred thousand. The number of female politicians increased drastically in the 1950’s. Sexual promiscuity no longer branded a woman as undesirable wife material. Women who held jobs were slowly losing their stigmas. The higher educated an individual was the more favorable gender equality became. Education helped the masses have a more progressive view on a variety of issues, including the status of women. While women in the 1950’s were overlooked in the history of feminism they paved the way for the feminist revolution.

Petigny speaks of a 'commoditization of sex' in the 1940s and 1950s, meaning the emerging prevalence of sexuality in popular culture. Petigny draws on examples of this in anything from music to film of the time, asserting, “During the 1960s, Americans were simply more willing to acknowledge the extracurricular activities of their youth than they had been during the previous decade.” Petigny’s ideas about the surge of sexuality in popular culture speak much to his argument of a “permissive turn” during the 40s and 50s, showing a loosening of restraint on issues of morality relating to sex. Most scholars would argue in favor of an emergence of a “sexual revolution” in the 1960s that coincides with the introduction of the birth control pill. However, Petigny supports his argument against the coincidence of the “sexual revolution” and “the pill” stating, “the pill was not an especially popular form of contraception.” In a 1971 survey, “only about 10 percent of sexually active single women between the ages of fifteen and nineteen even admitted to ‘being on the pill.’” Source:

In Peggy Sue Got Pregnant, author and Buddy Holly fan Deanna Adams tells a fictional story of an ill-fated love affair between a Southern rocker, Frankie London, and a Midwestern girl, Peggy Sue Lawrence. It's 1957 in Hereford, Texas: she's only sixteen, and he's a nineteen year old rising rock 'n' roll star. He's touring clubs or cutting records with his band in Nashville. Peggy has a secret and she doesn't want Frankie to know yet, because it could ruin his rising career. Peggy's parents are extremely upset and send her back to Cleveland, Ohio, with her Aunt and Uncle to live. She is strictly forbidden to contact Frankie, who can't understand why she just left him. Peggy Sue is confronted with the realization that keeping secrets is sometimes worse than the secret itself. Source:

For many years a story has circulated around Lubbock that, just as Buddy Holly’s long-delayed breakthrough finally seemed about to happen, he almost wrecked everything by making a Lubbock girl pregnant. On my first visit to his hometown in late 1994, I talked to Niki Sullivan, the Crickets’ rhythm guitarist, convinced that story was true. The story has just one flaw. The person named by several knowledgeable sources as the mother of Buddy’s illegitimate child (who supposedly, according to Sullivan, was visited by Holly at an unwed women refuge in Texas) is adamant that she knew him only slightly and certainly never dated him. She got married in 1954, almost two years before Buddy allegedly made her pregnant, and her two children – by the same husband – were both girls. The trail stops here. —"Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly" (2014) by Philip Norman

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