The Human Comedy

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1. Turner Classic Movies (the one cable channel movie I'd keep if I could keep only one) just ran an old chestnut from 1943, The Human Comedy, William Saroyan's story of a couple of sweet kids named Ulysses and Homer growing up in inland California's raisin country, starring Mickey Rooney. The movie is corny as hell but I loved every minute.

Here's an example of the corny: three soldiers on leave pick up two women on a rainy night, and at the end of the night the three guys are dancing in the street because they got kisses on the cheek. But even that turns out to be a great scene.

And there's plenty more. Mainly, the movie reminded me that a serious theme pervades Saroyan's poignant and lilting novel about a farm country childhood. Homer (the eager teenager played by Mickey Rooney) gets a job delivering telegrams. Sometimes they're singing telegrams, but sometimes they're Department of War death notices from the European or Pacific fronts. Frank Morgan (four years after Wizard of Oz) is a dispatch chief who's become a sad drunk because he can't stand typing these messages. Mickey Rooney is the rookie (with an older brother at the front) who has to knock on doors and deliver the news. This amounts to a big and sobering note that gives weight and feeling to this otherwise simply gorgeous and warm old movie.

I definitely recommend The Human Comedy as a new Christmas family movie, if maybe you're getting sick of watching the kid with glasses whine for the BB gun yet again. If you know what I mean.

Oh, and an older Carl Switzer ("Alfalfa") shows up as a neighborhood teenager in a funny scene stealing apples from a farmer.

2. This is probably a contrarian opinion, but I like Time Magazine's choice of "Us" (or, as they put it, "You") as the Person of the Year. I think Lev Grossman does a fine job with the explanatory essay. There's only one questionable moment in the piece, which is when Lev says "We blogged about our candidates losing." Dude, I don't know who you're voting for but my candidates won.

3. The Underrated Writers Project is back in effect! And this time I actually managed to contribute a couple of names.

4. David Lehman, an esteemed poetry critic and anthologist, is guest-blogging every day this week at the Oxford University Press Blog. Good stuff!

5. The 92nd Street Y on New York City's Upper East Side is hosting a 50th Anniversary celebration of Beat Generation literature on January 15, 2007. Guests will include Joyce Johnson, Laurie Anderson, Ann Charters, Bill Morgan and Hettie Jones. Should be an inspiring event.

6. Folks, I'm sort of winding down for Christmas vacation, which I hope to spend in relaxing surroundings (in other words, I'm flying the hell out of New York City). I've got some good stuff for the next couple of days (I think), and then I think we'll put up some poetry for a week. Hope you're all making good holiday season plans too, if you believe in holiday seasons.
5 Responses to "The Human Comedy"

by Stokey on

Saroyan and BaumI agree with you about Saroyan, a fine writer. And just thrilled to see Henry Baum nominated in the underrated writers project. I highly recommend his music and his prose. You can get in touch with this very talented writer/musician at Myspace.

by Sal Guod on

The Human Comedy sounds goodYou've inspire me to check out this movie - even just to see Frank Morgan and Alfalfa will be interesting. Do you think it's available at Blockbuster or do I have to wait for it to come out again on cable? And do you think my kids will like it as well?

by brooklyn on

I think it'd be hard to find at a video store, but hopefully TCM will run it again.As for your kids liking it ... hmmm. I think corny old black-and-whites appeal more to adults than kids, but if you involve popcorn and chocolate I think they will.

by Billectric on

I recently read and enjoyed Henry Baum's crime novel North of Sunset.

by Stokey on

Bill's book got a pretty good review in Dogmatika, maybe he'll be an upcoming nominee.