What I Learned From Watching 1950s Melodramas

I’m not ashamed to admit some of my favorite films include wonderful old frothy 50s melodramas like All That Heaven Allows, A Summer Place, Written on the Wind, Magnificent Obsession, Peyton Place, and many more.  And after years of watching these films, I’ve learned a few things about life.

Men Should Always Wear a Suit No Matter What

Whether they’re eating breakfast, talking on the telephone, or going for a light jog, a man is not a man unless he wears a full suit.  I know sometimes it got hot, especially with Lana Turner and a very fetching young Lauren Bacall running around, and yes, air conditioning was a rarity back in the 50s.  But gentlemen, we’re sorry.  You’re wearing a suit.  Constantly.  The moment you emerge from your bed, put on a suit.  Go everywhere all day long in that suit, and don’t let anyone see you in anything but a suit except for your wife, who can glance at you in your pajamas from her own bed way on the other side of the master bedroom.

Also a must – you need to Brylcreem the Hell out of your hair.  Seriously.  You should be able to ride a roller coaster during a high-powered tornado without those locks moving a centimeter, and if you can’t, you definitely need more Brylcreem.

Every Move Should Be Choreographed to a Very!  Intense!  Classical!  Score!

In case you don’t know how to feel while watching a 1950s melodrama, just listen to the classical score.  Someone accuses someone of being a loose woman?  A shocking crescendo will accompany that.  Two passionate lovers clutch each other in the dark recesses of an attic or a cave by the beach?  A shocking crescendo will accompany that, too.  Actually, now that I think about it, these films are just one shocking crescendo and slam of crashing cymbals after another until the very end.  By the way, you’ll know you’ve reached the end when there’s a swell in the music and THE END scrolls across the screen in a super gorgeous 1950s font.


Life Is Just Full of Moments of Unintentional Humor

Now I know it’s probably not what the original directors had planned, but 1950s films are full of moments of unintentional humor, some of it quite incredible to behold.  For instance, in All That Heaven Allows, Rock Hudson asks Jane Wyman to come over to his house to “see my silver-tipped spruce.”  Oh ho ho ho, Mr. Hudson.  We all know Miss Jane was not who you were really interested in, hence the equally hilarious line from the same film: “I can’t even shoot straight.”  Yes, Rock, we know.

Then there’s Written on the Wind, a film that has a trailer so shocking (crash of the cymbals), so over the top (crash of the cymbals) and so freaking hilarious, it must be seen to believed.  Robert Stack and Rock Hudson punch a bunch of dudes and then you’ve got a man yelling, “I didn’t take her to the motel, she took me.  Your daughter’s a tramp!”


They Were Real Weird About Sex…Like REAL WEIRD

Ladies, remember how you would come home from a date in high school and then your mom would have the friendly neighborhood gynecologist over to check and make sure you were still a virgin?  Yeah, me neither.  But that DOES happen to poor little Molly Jorgenson in A Summer Place.  Seriously.  I know if I had been shipwrecked on a private island with Troy Donahue, I’d have given up the goods.  But poor Molly doesn’t even get any action and she still has to submit to a humiliating examination to make sure her maidenhead is still 100% USDA certified virgin.


And then, of course, there are the old people in Peyton Place who like to watch teenagers swim naked.  So…yeah.

Black People Hadn’t Been Invented Yet

Or gay people.  Or feminists.  Or poor people as protagonists.  Or anybody who wasn’t an upper middle class hetero white person with a sex complex.  Yeah, I know all of these movies are really just a mind trip and a way to escape the confines of our modern existence (and what cute furniture and fashion to look at, too!).  But they are also a way to remind ourselves just how far we’ve come as a society.  In today’s films, women and men of all colors and all walks of life are shown dealing with real problems, and often the only soundtrack is incidental music by some hipster indie artist.  Which may or may not be a good thing in terms of visceral film pleasure, but at least it’s a bit more egalitarian.

Plus, it’s nice to know that if Rock Hudson were alive today, he could have saved his silver-tipped spruce for a nice-looking young man.



2 thoughts on “What I Learned From Watching 1950s Melodramas

  1. Hmm… I think the Feminist Protag was invented sometime in the 90’s by a certain J. Spano? I could be wrong. I remember the prototype being a little screechy, but at least it was some kind of start, right? 🙂

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