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April 16, 1972 - Image 15

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The Michigan Daily, 1972-04-16
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g A I F * if *
* .1 t I





" r -

Gangs ters

and Godfathers


Countryof the Old?

(Continued from Page 9)
the Prohibition retreads. Ex-
cept for rare appearances, the
blazing robbers of the post-Pro-
hibition 30s had been banished
from the screen. Now, with the
Code dying and nostalgia in
vogue the public saw a whole
cycle of film limn the careers
of the couniry-s legendary bad-
men (]Raby Face Nelson, Pretty
Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kel-
ly, Young Lillinger. Theirs was
a different kind of crime than
the racketeer's or soldier's or
schemer's. The gang operated
spontaneously but it was not
ad hoc as it was in the heist
movies. More mobile than its
predeocessors, it shifted its
headquarters from the board
room of the Prohibition boss to
the automobile, and its field of
operations from the city to rural
outposts in the West and Mid-
west Most of all, its members
were rural-based native Ameri-
cans, folks seemingly more in
the cowboy tradition than in the
immigrant tradition of the old
gangster films.
It is remarkable, then, t h a t
even after all the gangster's
various incarnations a kind of
internal chronology binds all of
these films together -- f r o m
Underworld to Bonnie and
Clyde, from the racketeer to
the footloose bandit. The boss
rises to the top only to get
bumped off, or he survives only
to escape from piison and get
hunted down by the, G-men, or
he carries on as before within
a Syndicate only to get squeez-
ed by the aggressive DA. All
of these disruptions have brok-

en the gang's social structure so
that by the 40s it remains only
a shadow of its former self,
Consequently, with Walsh's
Roaring 20s, the boss goes into
hibernation and the attention
turns to the ex-con and "sold-
ier." the disillusioned men who
do the gang's dirty work. After
the war the bosses resurface in
the expose film, while the heist
film concentrates on the "sol-
dier," this time with a gang of
his own. The bandits, zoom-
ing around the country and ad-
libbing hold-ups, signify t h e
widespread breakdown of the
olci Organization. Short-cutting
the traditional process, they live
and die without ever rising to
the top.
In the Western the internal
chronology is fairly obvious.
Time passes. The rugged land is
settled and a community is built.
Individualism dies. The light-
ning.-quick young gunfighter
becomes Gregory Peck's G u n-
fighter, the band of outlaws be-
comes the Wild Bunch, the in-
dependent saloon-keeper be-
comes Warren Beatty's McCabe.
The chronology of the gangster
film, though, gets obscured by a
number of things. First, unlike
the Western, the gangster pic-
ture is usually contemporary in
setting; it changes as we
change. Second, the gangster
picture shifts from one type of
criminal organization to ano-
ther, and within each organiza-
tion, from one stratum to ano-
ther. Third, and this is illustrat-
ed by the WASP heroes of the
nomadic nostaligia films, there
has been an assimilation of

type: the jump from Robinson
to Bogart to Widmark to Mar-
vin is a jump from, the first
generation American to the full-
blooded WASP. Consider h o w
silly Robinson. Cagney and Bo-
gart (the last two seen in The
Oklahoma Kid ) look on hors-
es, Then compare them to Wid-
mark and Marvin, who seem
rig:ht at home on the range, and
you'll see how interchangeable
the types have become over the
There is still another, rather
obvious, element that obscures
the chronology. Since most
gangster film are contempor-
ary, the nostalgia picture seems
to bolt out of nowhere, a chron-
ological misfit. This is due in
large part to the previously
mentioned fact that the glamor-
ous outlaws of the 30s were exil-
ed from the screen; but the ab-
sence and sudden appearance
doesn't mean that the historical
chain is snapped. Out of place
in time and setting, the nomads
are nonetheless very much a
part of the 60s in their values,
and few would deny that t h e
young hellions drifting from
bank to bank in Bonnie and
Clyde mirror .our own drift, or
that their foolish gunplay mir-
rors our own foolish violence, es-
pecially in Viet Nam. Bonnie
and Clyde, for better or worse,
are children of our time, and
they continue the progression
of values in the genre.
In the same way that Penn's
film fits, Francis Ford Coppola's
Godfather fits neatly in, or per-
haps I should say above, gang-
ster history. "Above" because
it is not just a. handsomely
mounted, three-hour, behemoth
melodrama based on a shabby
best-seller ala Gone With T h e
Wind. The Godfather is noth-
ing less than a brilliant coda,
an apotheosis (almost literally
from the title) of a major genre,

and though it is set within all
the larger conventions, it ends
up by crushing them acid trans-
cending them. There will, of
course, be other gangster pic-
tures: a Son of the Godfather is
reportedly on the drawing
boards. They will all be anti-
climactic. Coppola has success-
fully taken the movie gangster
of the early 30s and modern-
ized him, not by dragging Scar-
face into the 60s as The Broth-
erhood mistakenly tried to do,
but through a, revisionist his-
tory which reveals our values
by imposing them on the past.
In fact, when you consider the
modern romanticism which
sanctifies those decades before
Viet Nam, The Godfather seems
more a part of our time pre-
cisely because it is not in our
time, and it is definitely at its


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worst when it shuns the circum-
spection of is screen period for
the gory catsup of "Now" film
aesthetics. Blood is very red.
The time is 1945 to 1955, what
historian Eric Goldman has
called the "crucial decade." For
Americans in general the war is
over and they can settle down
to the good life. For the gang-
sters of moviedom in particular,
the internecine battles of Pro-
hibition are long over, and the
bosses can settle down to their
good lives. It is a time of both
growth and consolidation, even
in crime. Scarface riled his foes
by edging in on their territory.
The new boss, more self-satis-
fied, recognizes spheres of in-
fluence - a kind of domestic
containment. The pie has
enough slices for everyone, so
long as no one tries to g r a b
someone else's piece.
Stylistically the decade is now
far enough away to have a dis-
tinctive look of its own, and the
film's physical achievement is
that it captures this look right
down to the last veristic detail,
in hats, cars, homes, hair styles,
signarlights, billboards. And
more, through Gordon Willis'
photography it captures the de-
cade's color schemes from t h e
candied reds, yellows, greens
and browns of the late 40s (the
legacy of the period's graphics),
to the more naturalistic blues
and grays of the 50s. There is
to all of this a strong scent of
neoclassicism, which in movies
means reaching back all the way
to the 40s for the proven form-
ulas. Coppola, however, has not
(Continued on Page 12)

John Aldridge, The Devil in
the Fire, Harper's Magazine
Press, $12.50.
John Aldridge is not only a
Professor of English, he is a ma-
jor literary critic - in Ann Ar-
bor. Harper & Row's recent re-
print of his reviews and miscel-
lany, at ten dollars, is some-
thing less than a bargain. The
book is certainly a backward
glance o'er travelled roads, most
of them deadends.
The judging of critics is never
a very interesting task because
it is so easy; a useful list of cri-
teria can be found in W. H.
Auden's "The Dyer's Hand,"
and it isn't a long list. The rest
of judging a critic consists of
asking whether he provides plea-
sure different in kind but not
inferior to the pleasure any
writer must provide. There isn't
much else the reader can ask
-for the means by which a
critic achieves his effects are
his own affair.
A book Critic, however, knows
he is peculiarly a child of his
time: his subjects may be new
books or old books, but in any
case they exist both in them-
selves and as fragments or re-
flections of the consciousness of
a particular time - this Profes-
sor Aldridge almost spells out in
his preface. Like it or not, crit-
icism from Aristotle this way
lives only when it succeeds as
an indispensable document of
its times - in the minds of later
times. If Professor Aldridge be-
gan as a child of his times, he
has become less an adversary
than an orphan.
Who would read Leon Edel to
learn about Henry James, when
James is there to be read? Who
would read T. S. Eliot, OM,
early or late, to appreciate Mil-
ton? (One might read those es-
says to. learn career-building
tactics.) If reading Leon Edel
and T.S. Eliot on James and
Milton answers to your sense of
seriousness, then you may like
Professor Aldridge's book, par-
ticularly his essays on Norman
No one has ever read Norman
Mailer so often as Professor Ald-
ridge, certainly not Mailer him-
self, for his books give small
evidence of having been care-
fully made. Mailer seems never
to find the light in the men's
room but he always finds his
typewriter; Professor Aldridge
seems willing to clean up .he
disasters. His essays on Mailer

ridge to complain about Miss
Katherine Anne Porter's pro-
duction: "She is widely 'ecog-
nized as a creative artist of al-
most awesome fastidiousness,
whose very paucity of produc-
tion has come' to be regarded as
the mark of a talent so fine it
can scarcely bring itself to func-
tion.' That's a strange critical
touchstone to apply to art, any-
way, but it may be an important
one to Professor Aldridge be-
cause he has, elsewhere, ex-
pressed a certain admiration for
P. G. Wodehouse who has never
done anything except function.
One thing this book, does not
do is what a sentence quoted
above says that it does. If these
essays reflect Professor Ald-
ridge's concerns for the past
twenty years, he has not only
missed a great deal, he might
better have worked on the Mid-
dle English Dictionary. Even
though Rip Torn's pugilistic
friend, "the best literary mind
of the war generation," dislikes
lists, and therefore Professor
Aldridge dislikes lists, some
names at random invalidate his
Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac'
Clancy Sigal, Ken Kesey, Doris
Lessing, Tom Wolfe the Young-.
er, Hannah Arendt, W. H. Au-
den, Pablo Neruda, Gary Snyder,
Lewis Mumford, Sylvia Plath,
Kenneth Rexroth (now there's
a poet and arman of letters),
James Agee, Wendell Berry,
James Baldwin, Leroi Jones,
John Fowles, Theodore Roethke,
Ray *Iungo. All these writers
are not makers of fiction - but
if Professor Aldridge means fic-
tion, he should say so and not
say, "the social and literary
development of (the) period."
Fiction may have been that im-
portant once and still may be
that important in France; it
certainly was not from 1951 to
1971 in the United States. Pro-
fessor Aldridge uses fiction as
the figure for literature and lit-
erature as the figure for art or
culture. He found paralysis by
virtue of ellipsis.
Professor Aldridge may have
evidence that James Jones has
participated in the social and
literary developments, of these
twenty years, but who else has
any? Mary McCarthy is the old-
est living undergraduate of Vas-
sar, "one of the last beleaguered
species of birds of America," but
she has never developed, which
is a charming trait, perhaps her
only charming one. John Cheev-
er has developed - graduate

Life? To spend twenty years
with the tenants of his table of
contents may not have been
systematic on Professor Ald-
ridge's part, but it were world
enough and time to become
"what the writers of obituary
notices call 'an interesting link
with the past'."
One suspects the inadequacies
of The Devil in the Fire are so-
cial and generational and insti-
tutional - and therefore liter-
ary. This book provides a use-
ful model of just how many
changes have occurred, by omit-
ting most of them. The War
(Two) Generation of which Pro-
fessor Aldridge writes little not-
ed nor long remembered the
monstrous lessons; to admit as
much would be, one supposes,
contrary to the Fifth Amend-
Professor Aldridge, along with
Mailer and Salinger and James
Jones and That Crowd, came
back to civilian life after War
Two and began careers under
the never-strong and then wan-
ing powers of the New Critics
and other academics: "And
nerves that steeled themselves
to slaughter/Are shot to pieces
by the shorter/Poems of Donne."
Since they were young veter-
ans, they found jobs, got pub-
lished by, or were otherwise as-
sisted by those who had kept
the literary lamp barely gutter-
ing during the War. They were
veterans, remember: they appre-
ciated the uses of rank and con-
nections and pull and deference.
But two, three, or four-years in
the military had dis-equipped
them from living in Faulknerian
isolation and doing their work.
The universities, for example,
were a demilitarized zone; they
occupied the spaces; "they
didn't miss the killing and dy-
ing, but they missed their war."
Their alternatives were few-
given their desires, for the war
generation was more rigorously
materialistic than the preceding
one or the succeeding one -
and not everyone was as gifted
with money-laden maladjust-
ment as Norman Mailer. A
goodly number of the war gen-
eration writers -who went into
universities stayed and came to
regard their students as the
In a few years they had,
somehow, dwindled into tenure
and administration - while old
buddies ran the Pentagon and
the Foundations. Almost any-
thing organized or institutional


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"The subtitle of Professor Aidridge's collection should be 'In the
Country of the Old.' He fails as a critic of the 1951-1971 years pre-
cisely because he cannot recognize that the young have done and are
doing what he thinks they should do, 'create in this country . . . a civil-
ized and vital culture...'"
"i{ .".:":.". S.iLmr.. ..,...v:: ss.,...,,... .......; v ... . 4, 7:.i.,.......,.......,.,.......,t'.......:..... . . ..,

but to which they never ceased
to go, seems to have been the
want of seriousness in the
young. There's scant evidence
that the war generation ever
questioned its own seriousness;
they took that for granted. It's
much easier to put down poor
old Hemingway or, 30 years late
to announce the arrival of Eu-
dora Welty than it is to ask why
"The Last Whole Earth. Cata-
logue" should have been the
first million copy seller since
"The New English Bible" - to
which, metaphorically, it bears
a certain resemblance.
Perhaps, too, these aging vets
were embittered by discovering
they were no longer the sole dis-
pensers to the young of the
grace and favor of getting pub-
lished. Professor Aldridge has
not to like Rolling Stone or
Ramparts but thousands do.
Never, probably, have so many
presses and periodicals existed in
this country as during the past
20 years - and that is, surely,
something a man concerned
with social and literary develop-
ments might study,
The young, Professor Aldridge
and Mr. Theodore Solotaroff
agreed last spring, aren't very
much interested in, literature.
It would be more accurate to
say that the young aren't inter-
ested in what Professor Aidridge
and Mr. Solotaroff have always
thought literature is - New
York publishing. New York
hasn't, for. at least a decade,
been the center of the country's
literary life: the old timey per-
iodicals, Harper's, Atlantic, Par-
is Review, Partisan Review, Yale
Review, among others, are dying
or would be dead were they not
subsidized - and The New York
Review of Books has succeeded,
modestly, only because it finds
an apocalypse every fortnight.
Literary seriousness and-literary
consciousness simply aren't the
narrow, clubbish matters they
once were: the times have
changed and the old soldiers
haven't changed with them. Too
The subtitle of Professor Ald-
ridge's collection should be "In
the Country of the Old." He fails
as a critic of the 1951 to 1911
years precisely because he can-
not recognize that the young
have done and are doing what
he thinks they should do, "cre-

ate in
ized an
is mos
been gc
has no
but rat]
on a wi
are Ind
life is,
that B
tury. O
a novel
give Fl
and Pa
and It
the greA
ican 19
is in h
with CI
the '20
ists: "I
the truf
We live
time b
by it,
sumes F
with cr
with Ed
as artis
tea of
book, t
even in
Two en
know c
paper, e
little la
in a ci
ful wor
er the 1
were ca
found ,
here in
ate to j
tured d
in the
trast, 0
of his
What I
needs is
of hlki
an oak

make this small documentary
point: that sergeants need lieu-
tenants and vice versa; sooner
or later someone will discover
these two in their foxholes and
tell them World War II is over
and tht the peace was lost.
Professor Aldridge says his
book was written, piece by piece,
between 1951 and 1971:
The result is that these essays,
taken together, represent a
kind of running commentary
on the social and literary de-
velopmentsof a period we can
now recognize as having a dis-
tinctive beginning, middle,
and end, a period which be-
longs to history even as we
continue, to think of it as im-
mediately contemporary.
Well, 364 pages, including In-
dex, works out to eighteen and
one-fourths pages a year; it
seems absurd for Professor Ald-

students write dissertations
about him. Ditto Saul Bellow.
James T. Farrell? John Dos-
Passos? All these writers aren't
regarded favorably by Professor
Aldridge, to be sure, but one
would like to know which were
in on the beginning, the middle,
and the end of these two dec-
These undoubtedly were the
writers Prof. Aldridge was asked
to review - and, after all, he's4
not Edmund Wilson. This may
explain why, in one prefatory
paragraph, he says he's written
this twenty-year running com-
mentary and somewhat later
says that while he's not been
systematic in his coverage, his
book "may have value as the
expression of one man's sus-
tained involvement with the life
and literature of this country
during the past two decades."

and equipped with funds began
to wear - still wears -- an old
soldierly quality. Business was
don't rock the boat and the
grants as usual.
Indeed, it may be that one
reason the fiftyish generation,
now running the universities
and lamenting the literary life
of the country, so resents the
young is that most of them can-
no longer cut a figure in army
surplus clothing - and the
young can.
The Beat Generation began
the change in the 1950's; the
Cuban Revolution, the Civil
Rights movement, and Viet-
Nam changed the country while
the vets were at one of the cock-
tail parties so liberally mixed
through the pages of Professor
Aldridge's book. The chief topic
of conversation at these cocktail
parties, which everyone cursed

310 E. Washington Ann Arbor

217 E. Liberty
9:30-5:30 Mon.-Sat.



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