History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, February 10, 2014

"The Homecoming" (1971) accents intangible blessings

Andy Griffith once said his TV show of the 1960s was all about "love." It's important to know what that show was all about, because it was so incredibly popular. We see unconditional love and an emphasis on the intangible rewards of life.
The father character in the movie "The Homecoming" says his lost paycheck can literally be replaced by love. The angel character in "It's a Wonderful Life" says "we don't have money in heaven," to which Jimmy Stewart says "it comes in pretty handy here."
In this day and age when we have curiosity about how the S&P Futures are doing at 6 a.m., it might be hard to relate to the Mayberry world, much as we might be charmed by it. Certainly we realized Don Knotts was a one-of-a-kind actor.
"The Homecoming" ought to be a favorite movie of mine. It shows "John-Boy" Walton fascinated by the pastime of writing. He writes longhand (cursive) on "tablets." The story is set in 1933. The Walton family has a vibrant and challenging life minus any electronic gadgets. Amazing, right?
I developed the same kind of interest in writing in my teens. I too wrote longhand, with typing to be done as a separate step if desired. I was a "stringer" for the Morris Sun Tribune newspaper in my junior and senior years of high school.
Today it's a given that young people develop keyboard skills. How else to tap into the social media world? When I was young, not so. In college I'd see notes tacked on bulletin boards: "Will do typing." It was considered a feminine skill. No one really enjoyed it.
Poor John-Boy Walton wasn't proud of his writing passion. He was defensive about it. I found this angle somewhat implausible in the movie "The Homecoming."
John-Boy locks himself in his bedroom. He tucks his tablet away to conceal it. I guess he felt writing was a pastime that wasn't productive in the manner of the "trades" his father would want him to consider. John-Boy was just a teen. Heavens, there were many other less productive pastimes he could have considered.
Today we place great value on communication skills. It seemed strange that John-Boy would do all his writing with no apparent intent to have anyone consume it. Nevertheless he's an admirable character.
I received "The Homecoming" on VHS tape as a Christmas gift once. The full name is "The Homecoming: a Christmas Story." It was a TV movie that led to the long-running "Waltons" TV series. The movie was first aired in 1971. The TV series went from September of 1972 to 1981. It kept us company through the disco '70s, alongside such vapid fare as "Laverne and Shirley" and "Three's Company." Don Knotts was in "Three's Company," riding the coattails of his irreplaceable "Barney" character.
Television was much different from today. The shows had to be tailored for as wide an audience as possible - no real "niche" audiences. No one tuned in to "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" to learn anything.
The name "John-Boy" hints at Southern culture. Indeed, "The Homecoming" and the series it spawned are about a Southern family living in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Great Depression. The father in the movie says at the end that the economic times are getting better. He gives this as a reason for quitting his job which required him to commute. In fact he only came home on weekends. This weaves into the plot as he's late getting home for Christmas Eve.
Suspense as family awaits father
The family learns through the radio that there has been a bus accident. Was John Walton aboard? They learn of a death and several injuries. Patricia Neal plays John's wife Olivia who becomes gripped by fears of the worst. It was Neal who recited the famous line "Klaatu Barada Nikto" from the sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still." She appears 20 years later in "The Homecoming," now as the old matriarch rather than the "hot" female lead character.
Am I accurate in saying that women actors face a greater challenge with aging than men? If it's a special challenge, Neal certainly meets it with success. I'm also reminded of the actress Alice Faye who gave us her fascinating "mincemeat" in "State Fair" (the version with Pat Boone and Ann-Margret). Faye was a "hot" actress in "Weekend in Havana" and other earlier fare.
My parents gave me "The Homecoming" even though none of us had ever been especially attracted to the "Waltons" TV series. I imagine they noticed the Christmas theme and thought it would be a nice Christmas gift. I appreciated the thoughtfulness. I watched it with my mother, which was a problem.
An otherwise interesting movie was spoiled, I felt, by the scenes where Neal's character confronts John-Boy over his reclusiveness with writing. More than once she confronts her son in a suspicious way over how he locks his bedroom door. "What were you doing up there, behind locked doors?"
Didn't the moviemaker realize what kind of thoughts this would prompt? What would an adolescent boy be doing alone in his bedroom with the door locked? At least John-Boy would answer the door fully clothed. This might exonerate him. Because after all, the most shameful thing in the world he would be doing, at least in his mother's mind, would be "self-stimulation," otherwise known by the "m" word.
A man should not watch this movie with his mother. Of course, medical science today informs us that self-stimulation is harmless. I'm sure it just seems unseemly, but this is, after all, the way God created us. It was a dirty trick God played on boys, I might suggest.
At movie's end we get the teary-eyed moment where John Walton, having arrived home in triumph, gives a gift of writing tablets to his son John-Boy. The father has no reservations. All is right with the world. No need for the boy to feel reclusive, although I would hope John-Boy would eventually find a real audience. The year is 1933 and in reality, the Depression will persist much longer, contrary to John Walton's comments at the end.
The unforgettable Cleavon Little
"The Homecoming: A Christmas Story" is set in Virginia on Walton's Mountain. John-Boy sets out to search for his father on Christmas Eve. He stops at an African-American church and gets help from "Sheriff Bart," I mean "Hawthorne Dooley," played by Cleavon Little, who entered movie immortality as "Sheriff Bart" in the Mel Brooks comedy "Blazing Saddles."
"Hawthorne" presides at a church with minimal amenities. It's a reminder that the Christmas spirit easily overcomes any lack of amenities. John-Boy has run out of gas and needs help. Hawthorne joins in. The two visit the eccentric and charming "Baldwin Sisters" who are known for bootlegging. The sisters don't use terms associated with booze, rather they talk about "The Recipe." John-Boy's mom is offended by them. She's also proud to say she has never bought anything on credit. Boy, that's sure different from today.
"Hawthorne" feels he needs to humor the sisters for a while, before making his pitch for gasoline. Finally, and abruptly, he makes his pitch. What follows is the most touching scene of the movie. The sisters, apparently not in possession of gas to share, come to the rescue with a mode of transportation older than cars: a horse-drawn sleigh. Cars weren't all that reliable in winter anyway in the 1930s. So we see the simple quiet beauty of these people gliding over the snow on a sleigh, evoking the Christmas atmosphere in a most genuine, timeless way.
The group does have to turn back due to a road obstacle. John-Boy takes a gift home from the sisters: a jug that the mother assumes is booze, and she's revolted. John-Boy, exasperated, finally gets a chance to tell her that it's egg-nog! We end up charmed by the Baldwin sisters who use Christmas Eve as a time for reflections, including of lost loves.
The TV series "The Waltons" grew out of the movie, and even the movie had an antecedent. Remember the Henry Fonda movie "Spencer's Mountain?" My generation saw this movie on TV in the 1960s. We cried when the tree fell on the old man. We were charmed by "Clayboy." The movie was from a novel by Earl Hamner Jr.
"The Waltons" watered down many of the adult themes of the 1963 movie "'Spencer's Mountain" which actually wasn't even set in the South. "Spencer's Mountain" was set in the Wyoming Teton Range. The later incarnations of the story are in the Virginia Appalachians.
Maureen O'Hara played the mother in "Spencer's Mountain." I remember listening to a radio talk show that had someone call in and saying the tree falling on the old man is maybe the saddest thing to happen in movie plot history. Quite possibly true.
Cleavon Little's last movie was in 1991. He died way too young at age 53.
William Windom plays "Charlie Snead"
Another actor of note in the 1971 "The Homecoming" was William Windom, who today seems not well-remembered. That is a shame. Windom was a prolific actor who played "Charlie Snead" in "The Homecoming." If you look up a plot synopsis of the movie today, not much is said of Windom and his role. The Snead character is a Robin Hood type of thief, delivering a pilfered turkey to the struggling Walton family at Christmas in a manner remindful of Ebeneezer Scrooge visiting the Cratchets.
Windom's character is supposed to be sympathetic. He is eventually apprehended in the movie for such misbehavior. I think in the early '70s, when the egalitarian strain in politics seemed particularly strong, we might overlook a little thievery in the name of helping people. It might be viewed as innocuous even if not heroic. But today? We're in an era now when the traditional rules and conventions of our culture have returned, and theft is an absolute no-no. Not innocuous.
So, today's reviews of "The Homecoming" make little note of Windom and his "Snead" character.
But Windom was a significant actor in his time. He was in two episodes of "The Twilight Zone" in TV's (B&W) golden era. He played "Glen Morley," a Congressman from Minnesota, in the ABC sitcom "The Farmer's Daughter." He landed in prime time TV in the '60s - a sure ticket to immortality - as "John Monroe" in "My World and Welcome to it." I remember that show fondly. He won an Emmy for that. The writings of James Thurber inspired that show. After the series completed is run, Windom toured the country doing a "one-man show" on Thurber.
I saw this show at the Willmar school auditorium in the fall of 1973. I was amazed at how Windom could have memorized so much text.
James Thurber was a cartoonist, author, journalist and wit. Thurber's short stories appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. His writings celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people. He gave us "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." But I'm more intrigued seeing his story title: "If Grant had been Drinking at Appomattox."
William Windom passed away in 2012. A Greatest Generation member, he was a paratrooper in the European Theater of WWII. Oh, his acting career included playing "Commodore Matt Decker," commander of the USS Constellation, in a "Star Trek" episode.
William Windom, RIP. It's just fine that you acquired a turkey in an illicit way for the Walton family.
Cleavon Little, RIP. You gave us boomers a character we'll never forget, who befriended Count Basie in the middle of the desert (in "Blazing Saddles").
My overall assessment of "The Homecoming"
"The Homecoming" is a story worth preserving in our collective Christmas memory and sentiment. With its rustic character actors and maudlin sentiment, it goes along with Christmas quite fine. Its pacing is an issue by today's standards. Chalk that up as a plus for the movie.
Take away the cringeworthy scenes of the mother and son confronting on the closed-door business, and I'd give this movie a quite high rating. As it stands, I'm lukewarm.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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