The other night we watched the 1936 film, Our Man Godfrey, in which William Powell sets the world right. Just as God would do if he/she answered prayers. Godfrey, as one of the Forgotten Men, is plucked from among the filthy homeless to become butler in a household of the filthy rich. Homeless filth washes off but the soiled lives of the mindless moneyed family takes God(frey) an amusing ninety minutes to wipe clean.
Carole Lombard is the perfect ditz; Powell, the no-sweat hand of providence. Both earned Academy Award nominations. In those hard times I suppose we needed gift-wrapped endings.
Fast-forward a dozen years. Lombard had died in a plane crash. Indeed the whole world had crashed in the carnage and abominations of the war. A new God appeared in Samuel Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot. He wrote the play in 1948 and it was first presented five years later. In fact God did not appear. He was a no-show as he was for millions in the camps. Estragon and Vladimir aren’t sure if they are standing at the right tree at the right time but it doesn’t matter. Beckett evokes the absurd as the two men echo Laurel and Hardy. In another play he spoke of a shrub as a hardy laurel.
In the mid-fifties God makes a comeback in the first Godzilla movie. Now God is a mutated monster from the effects of nuclear radiation. This became Japan’s cautionary comic-book tale of the dangers of continuing Hydrogen bomb tests. The creature is killed in the way Beowulf got his. At the bottom of the sea… which could be our unconscious. Since then almost thirty other Godzilla movies have roamed the big screen.
During these years we were rescued, abandoned and warned. By 1972 we are held up to a mirror with the ultimate sympathetic anti-hero, Brando / De Niro / Pacino, the Godfather. The business of America is business and Michael Correolone tells his wife after a round of blood-letting, It’s only business. The Godfather is an extended version of what this country, in its grotesquerie, has become. Worshipful of power some of us have turned away from humanity. The almighty dollar replaced God almighty.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Over time even the false idols have left. The Miracle Worker went over the cliff with Thelma and Louise. Godfrey could not be accepted in today’s American Hustle. There is no million dollar payoff from a magazine sweepstake in Nebraska, no Silver Lining Playbook. Nor can we wait for Godot. We’re on our own. The Boyz ‘N the Hood want a piece of the rock and why the hell not?
Back in the day we Praised the Lord and Passed the Ammunition and assumed we had God on our side. He may be at the Next Stop, Wonderland….but I doubt it. The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. As Tennessee Williams said, We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window.