From its presentation of the best in European culture last week in Razzia, the Brattle has now turned its cinemascopic concern to the affirmation of those ideals that have inspired the American republic for centuries. This movie can partly be regarded as an expression of the American tradition of intellectual pragmatism as exemplified by C. S. Pierce and William James. It is in short, a "how to do it" and "who to do it too" in the most idealistic sense.
Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe play three young women who decide that they must marry wealthy men to realize their altruistic ambitions for society. Their plans for fulfilling their desires should be of ultimate interest to that large section of the Harvard-Radcliffe community bent on realizing similar desires. The individual experience of each of these girls forms a miniature morality play, a soul-searching sermonette.
Miss Monroe, whose intellectual and whimsical talents are fully realized, learns two lessons. The first involves her relationship to the visually sensate world, and her heroic triumph of practicality over vanity. Through the man she marries, she peers into that inscrutable heart of darkness that is human nature, and discovers the horrible intertwining of good and evil that is man.
Miss Grable's ephiphany occurs on a snow-covered Maine hillside, where she makes her rebellion against the values of the organization man and of urban culture. She finds her true essence in returning to Nature, "to the woods," in the tradition of Thoreau and John Muir.
But perhaps the principal moral theme is the story of Miss Bacall. The Puritanical bent, the Horatio Alger ambition of these three women is given a philosophic basis in Miss Bacall's history. The denouement of her experience can only be classified as Calvinistic: despite all our efforts, we can only obtain Paradise through Grace.
There are those who would question this analysis. There are those who would say: 1) that there is nothing more in this play than is contained in the beer glasses raised in the final scene, that the movie is essentially comic. There are those who would say: 2) that the answer to the query of the title is summarized in two words "Swing it" (in the best metaphysical sense of the term). In answer to these cynics, who will remain nameless at this time, I can only say 1) that they must remember that there is often a thin line between comedy and tragedy, as between life and death, and 2) that they must remember the essentially pragmatic and Calvinistic philosophy underlying the facade presented on the scren. I think that if these skeptics will see the movie in a spirit of educational derivation rather than of entertaining diversion they will discover that the art of close textual analysis can be utilized in the world of the silver screen.