Recently Everyday Feminism posted a comic entitled “Your Cinematic Crush Is a Stalker (Um, and That’s a Problem).” It’s a good read, and it made me think about the first movie I saw that raised some of the red-flags discussed there (http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/unhealthy-movie-romances/).
That movie was called Cover Girl. It was made in 1944, starred Rita Hayworth and made Gene Kelly a star. But it’s incredibly disturbing.
Hayworth plays “Rusty” Parker, a dancer who enters a contest to model a wedding dress for a big magazine, against the wishes of her boyfriend and boss Danny (Kelly). She wins because the head of the magazine, a man named Coudair, can’t get over the fact that her grandmother dumped him 40 years ago. Coudair wants to relive his youth (and win this time), so he encourages his young pal Noel Wheaton to court Rusty. Wheaton takes it up to 11 by stalking her– sending roses to Danny’s club every fifteen minutes and laying siege to the door so she never has a chance to say no to his advances– particularly when he’s clearly spending so much money. Danny and the other dancers blame Rusty for the chaos Wheaton created, and finally she caves to the pressure and agrees to marry him. Danny closes his theatre, and all the unemployed staff blame Rusty, who starts drinking. Finally, Coudair’s conscience gets to him and he tells her about her grandmother, so she leaves Wheaton and goes back to Danny.
Happy ending. But is it really? Look at how Danny behaves. He victim-blames her when she’s stalked. Then when Rusty leaves him he closes his business and puts a large number of people out of work on the eve of the post World War II recession. How do you think he’ll respond to the disagreements that arise in even the happiest of relationships?
The only characters who see the problems in this are Coudair’s secretary and the bartender. Everyone else gangs up on Rusty. And I guess the audience is supposed to as well. There’s a Fred and Ginger movie, The Berkleys of Broadway, that has a very similar plot.
So why am I talking about the 1940s? Well, for one thing, to dispel the stupid rumor that all movies were perfect until the 1960s. Unhealthy movie relationships weren’t created by John Hughes or whoever’s directing James Bond movies now. Come to that, Ian Fleming first started writing those in the 1950s.
And by looking at this problem (which goes back even further than 1944), we highlight just how much of a problem it is and how ingrained it is in popular culture. We’ve got our work cut out for us, so it’s a good thing that we’re talking about it, raising awareness and trying to find ways to address the problem.