In 1957 I lost, not just my grandmother, who lived in Brooklyn but also the baseball team that gave such joy and purpose to my youth, the Brooklyn Dodgers. While I was saddened to see my grandmother die, I was not included in the grieving process that her three children went through. In a personal, though maybe not understandably way, I felt the loss of my team slightly more deeply.
Even though virtually all of the players from that team have died, nostalgia has reserved a significant place in my memory for the team, author Roger Kahn lionized as The Boys of Summer.
Hearing difficulties have prevented me from going to many movies the past two years. The one movie on my short list was Brooklyn, which I finally saw in January. Brooklyn is a 2015 historical period drama film directed by John Crowley, based on Colm Tóibín‘s novel of the same name. The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters.
Set in 1952, Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Enniscorthy, a small town in southeast Ireland. Her older sister, Rose, has arranged for her to go to America to enjoy a better life. After a harrowing passage on an ocean liner, she resides at an Irish boarding house where she dines each night with a strict Irish landlady and several other young women. She has an entry job at a local department store and quietly endears herself to her supervisor, Miss Fortini. Father Flood, the priest who arranged for her job and accommodations, checks on her regularly. He persuades her to enroll in bookkeeping classes.
At a parish dance she meets Tony, an Italian man, who is strongly attracted to her. After a modest courtship, Tony, an avid baseball fan, rushes things by telling her he expects their children to be raised Dodger fans.
The crucial moment in the film occurs when Father Flood informs her that Rose has died suddenly. A trans-Atlantic phone call with her lonely mother reveals that she is struggling to cope. Eilis decides to return home for a visit. In her dire need for emotional comfort, she sexually consummates her relationship with Tony.
Tony insists that if she is leaving they must get secretly married first. They enter into a civil marriage without telling family or friends with the hope of a church wedding when she returned. The movie then veers off into other complexities that all turn out well for everyone.
My complaint with the film was that their sexual activity and apparent lack of any guilt, was an anomaly, more in step with the mores of 2015 than it was with the culture of my day when premarital sex was considered by most Catholics as sinful, requiring a good Confession. Neither Eilis nor Tony wore their Catholicism as if it were anything more than ornamental or what the Italians call Bella Figura. The only Masses they attended were weddings and funerals. Father Flood was charitable and available for comfort or advice but he seemed more like a social worker than a priest.
Not surprisingly Tóibín’s novel kept the Catholicism of the 1950s intact. He was faithful to the Zeitgeist of that era and the culture of the locations. After coupling with Tony, Eilis demands that they immediately go to Confession and set themselves straight with God.
Contrast Brooklyn with the film, The Detective Story, a 1951 film noir, adapted from the 1949 play of the same name by Sidney Kingsley. It tells the dramatic story of one day in the lives of the denizens of a New York City precinct. The movie featured Kirk Douglas, as Detective Jim McLeod, his wife Mary, played by Eleanor Parker and fellow detective, William Bendix.
The story begins with the booking of a shoplifter at the 21st police precinct in Manhattan. The movie unfolds as McLeod is processing a young embezzler named Arthur Kindred. Officers bring in pair of seedy burglars to the squad room next.
McLeod then encounters Endicott Sims, the lawyer for Dutchman Karl Schneider, a New Jersey doctor who has had his license revoked and is now wanted on murder charges. Little does he realize but his obsessive pursuit of Schneider will lead him to the painful discover that his wife had had an abortion, albeit long before they met. Sims informs Lieutenant Monahan that Schneider wants to turn himself in to avoid McLeod’s characteristic wrath and personal vendetta.
McLeod takes Schneider to Bellevue Hospital where a young client of Schneider’s is being treated. However, McLeod learns that the woman has died, and without her identification, there is no case against Schneider. As they head back to the precinct, Schneider threatens McLeod with information he has on the detective. McLeod viciously pummels the abortionist to near unconsciousness.
Mary is asked to come to the station by Lt. Monahan, who inquires about her relationship with racketeer, Tami Giacoppetti and Schneider. She denies knowing them but when Giacoppetti walks in, she bursts into tears. Pressured by Monahan, Giacoppetti admits that he had gotten Mary pregnant while they dated and gone to Schneider for an abortion.
Mary confesses to her husband and begs for his forgiveness. McLeod angrily responds that he’d rather die than find out his wife was a tramp. He implies that their marital infertility was caused by her abortion. After a brief reconciliation, McLeod admits that he just can’t get the dirty pictures of her out of his head. Calling him cruel and vengeful, Mary leaves McLeod, not wanting to be driven to a lunatic asylum by his callous inability to summon any forgiveness.
Meanwhile, even though the embezzler’s boss promises not to press charges, McLeod demands that justice be served and the young man go to jail. The detective’s moral rigidity is at the cortex of the play. He believes in the letter of law, which stresses justice but has no place for forgiveness, mercy or reconciliation.
Gennini, one of the thieves, takes advantage of the commotion started when a woman runs into the station yelling she’s been robbed and grabs a gun from a policeman’s holster. After a deliberate confrontation from McLeod, he shoots the detective several times. The detective’s fatal hubris, which destroyed his marriage, has now lead him to foolishly try to disarm a three-time loser facing life in prison.
In his dying words, McLeod asks for his wife’s forgiveness and requests that his colleagues go easy on the embezzler. He begins an Act of Contrition, which Bendix finishes after McLeod dies. A conflicted Bendix then releases the young cheat while admonishing him not to make a monkey out of me. Unlike Brooklyn, it is the Catholic moral structure in the face of the Adam Gene that carries this film. As the cliché goes they just don’t make them like this any more.
WILLIAM A. BORST has taught at virtually all levels of education from elementary school through university, published commentaries in many local and national publications, and hosted a weekly talk show on WGNU radio for 22 years. Having recently served as editor of the Mindszenty Report, Dr. Borst is the author of two prominent books: Liberalism: Fatal Consequences (1999) and The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy (2005). He holds a PhD in American History from St. Louis University.