by Patrick Devlin
As this divided, infrastructurally decrepit, middle class obviated, finance industry indentured, environmentally forsaken, compassion suppressing, rich get richer, war is the only answer, private capital coddling country slides off the rails towards the only demise that its choices can afford it, inhabited as it is by government protectors of big business who scream about government overreach, pettifogging mouthpiece Nobel Peace Prize winners who describe their child victims as terrorists expecting that their ‘framing’ absolves them from war crime guilt, humanitarians who call for the cindering of civilians, government regulators who claim they have only the power to de-regulate industries, criminal enforcement entities who wink&grin with private business owners as they say they cannot prosecute crimes unless they are committed by poor people, American patriots who’s vision of freedom is to be freed from contributing to the common good and freed to move tax payer bailout money to untaxable off-shore accounts, political party apologizers who gladly accept tens of thousands of deaths every year in America so they can assert that laws created by the insurance industry to protect it from being thrown on the ash heap of history are somehow helping our poor and sick to receive care, I look out my Midwestern window today to have revealed to my weary eyes, clump of river birch trees accepting its fate of dying to the winter, its beautiful death-shroud of golden leaves quivering in the portent of a northerly breeze. I am inspired today to sing praise to the bull-shit callers, the question askers (and answer demanders), those who will not give in or up in as the fresh face of modern US neo-fascism glares threateningly back, the whistle blowers, the debate goers, the seed sowers who call out the collateral victim mowers, the division growers and baby in the bathwater throwers – those who recognize these ‘heelots’ for what they are and know that standing firm is the only stance to take when “standing up”.
Robert Riskin wrote the screenplay for the classic American film “Meet John Doe”, based upon a story by Richard Connel and Robert Presnell. The Capra film was released in 1941, but really reflects the time period of America’s last depression. As many know, the story involves a scheme concocted by a jaded newspaper woman who has been fired when a new owner of her newspaper comes in to “clean house”. The reporter convinces ‘John Doe’, an innocent country boy, to pretend to threaten to commit suicide due to the economic misery and America’s political intransigence to remedy the suffering, which gives the recently fired reporter an exclusive story – saving her job. The scheme careens out of the control of the schemers when the concocted story ignites a massive popular movement among regular Americans who are seeking both relief from the crushing economic depression as well as answers from politicians and the captains of industry. In an interesting fictional parallel to a historic incident, America’s industrial magnates conspire to seize control of the movement and utilize the agitated populace to instigate a coup, taking over America and instituting a fascistic new government that is directed by rich business owners to protect private capital and subordinate America’s workers and neuter the nascent popular political movement.
I know readers will see in this story many parallels to our current times – with the obvious exception being the fact that, during the previous depression, Hollywood would allow such a piece of socialist agit-prop to hit the big screens across America (even with its softening sub-plots) – and I encourage readers who have not seen this film in a long time to seek it out and view it comparing its mise-en-scene with today’s messy scenes in the USA; but my intent of bringing up this wonderful film is to call attention to a scene where ‘the Colonel” (played beautifully by Walter Brennan) gives his soliloquy, expounding on freedom in (from) this modern world.
After agreeing to the scheme, the hoboing John Doe is fed a meal, given new cloths by his newspapermen handlers, and $50 “spending money”. All of which leads to the Colonel frustratedly expressing his philosophy to a room full of regular modern Americans, city folk to be sure – but regular folks, just like those country folks in the American hinterland:
Wide shot as BEANY enters scene with box of cigars.
BEANY : Here’s some cigars the boss sent up. Have one.
JOHN’s: eyes light up. Hey, cigars!
BEANY: (to Colonel) Help yourself.
ANGELFACE : (hands BEANY a newspaper) Here. Make yourself comfortable. (turns to the Colonel) Paper?
COLONEL : (sharply) I don’t read no papers and I don’t listen to radios either. I know the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber and I don’t have to read it. (to JOHN DOE) I’ve seen guys like you go under before. Guys that never had a worry. Then they got ahold of some dough and went goofy. The first thing that happens to a guy— The first thing that happens to a guy like that— he starts wantin’ to go into restaurants and sit at a table and eat salads—and cup cakes—and tea— (disgusted) Boy, what that kinda food does to your system!
The next thing the dope wants is a room. Yes sir, a room with steam heat! And curtains and rugs and ‘fore you know it, he’s all softened and he can’t sleep ‘less he has a bed.
JOHN: Hey, stop worrying, Colonel. Fifty bucks ain’t going to ruin me.
COLONEL: I seen plenty of fellers start out with fifty bucks and wind up with a bank account!
BEANY: (can’t stand it any more) Hey, whatsa matter with a bank account, anyway?
COLONEL: (ignoring him) And let me tell you, Long John. When you become a guy with a bank account, they got you. Yes sir, they got you!
BEANY: Who’s got him?
COLONEL: The heelots! And when they get you, you got no more chance than a road-rabbit. Listen, sucker, yuh ever been broke?
BEANY: Sure. Mostly often.
COLONEL: All right. You’re walking along—not a nickel in your jeans—free as the wind—nobody bothers you—hundreds of people pass yuh by in every line of business—shoes, hats, automobiles, radio, furniture, everything. They’re all nice, lovable people, and they let you alone. Is that right?
CLOSE-UP: Of BEANY—nodding his head, bewildered.
COLONEL’S VOICE: Then you get hold of some dough, and what happens?
BEANY instinctively shakes his head.
The COLONEL takes on a sneering expression. All those nice, sweet, lovable people become heelots. A lotta heels. (mysterioso) They begin creeping up on you—trying to sell you something. They’ve got long claws and they get a strangle- hold on you—and you squirm—and duck and holler—and you try to push ‘em away—but you haven’t got a chance—they’ve got you! First thing you know, you own things. A car, for instance. Now your whole life is messed up with more stuff—license fees—and number plates—and gas and oil—and taxes and insurance—
CLOSE SHOT: Of the LUGS at the door. One of them listens with a half-smile on his face. The other, more goofy, looks bewildered. He has been listening—and now, slowly rises, ears cocked, frightened by the harrowing tale. CAMERA retreats before him—as he slowly walks nearer to BEANY and the COLONEL. Meantime, we continue to hear the COLONEL’S voice.
COLONEL’S VOICE: and identification cards—and letters—and bills—and flat tires—and dents—and traffic tickets and motorcycle cops and court rooms—and lawyers—and fines—
WIDER SHOT: The LUG steps up directly behind BEANY—and the two horrified faces are close together—both staring at the COLONEL.
COLONEL: And a million and one other things. And what happens? You’re not the free and happy guy you used to be. You gotta have money to pay for all those things—so you go after what the other feller’s got— (with finality) And there you are—you’re a heelot yourself!
WIDER SHOT: As JOHN approaches the COLONEL.
JOHN: (smiling) You win, Colonel. Here’s the fifty. Go on out and get rid of it.
COLONEL: (as he goes) You bet I will! As fast as I can! Gonna get some canned goods—a fishing rod, and the rest I’m gonna give away.
ANGELFACE: (aghast) Give away?
JOHN: (calling) Hey. Get me a pitcher’s glove! Got to get some practice.
ANGELFACE: Say, he’s giving it away! I’m gonna get me some of that!
BEANY: Hey, come back here, yuh heelot!
When children are terrorists and bankers can’t be prosecuted; when our aquifers and oceans are being polluted for the sake of oil company profits, when our sick and desperate are informed that their American freedom comes down to selecting between multiple criminal red-lining insurers, when government can be relied upon only to protect the wealthy from taxes and to divvy up billion dollar contracts for campaign contributors, when un-Christ like Christians pray for war and assert that charity is immoral, when the I’ll-be-gone-You’ll-be-gone ethos pervades all aspects of our culture and society, from schools to medicine to supporting our constitution, when American heroes are termed traitors by war-mongering politicians and mass media journalists, it’s time to applaud the callers out of our era’s wretched healots, and maybe even get some canned goods and a fishing rod and give the rest away.
At a hermitage:
A cool fall night–
getting dinner, we peeled
all is for all by #theCCC