Anti-Semitism, race relations, coming of age, and fathers and sons: in Baltimore from fall, 1954, to fall, 1955. Racial integration comes to the high school, TV is killing burlesque, and ...
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Anti-Semitism, race relations, coming of age, and fathers and sons: in Baltimore from fall, 1954, to fall, 1955. Racial integration comes to the high school, TV is killing burlesque, and rock and roll is pushing the Four Lads off the Hit Parade. Ben, a high school senior, and his older brother Van are exploring "the other": in Ben's case, it's friendship with Sylvia, a Black student; with Van, it's a party in the WASP part of town and falling for a debutante, Dubbie. Sylvia gives Ben tickets to a James Brown concert; Dubbie invites Van to a motel: new worlds open. Meanwhile, their dad Nate, who runs a numbers game, loses big to a small-time pusher, Little Melvin; a partnership ensues. Written by
In Nate Kurtzman's office, Little Melvin refers to someone as the "Pillsbury Jew-boy," a slur obviously derived from the Pillsbury Doughboy. But Pillsbury's famous advertising icon didn't appear until 1965. See more »
[about Ben's Halloween costume dressed as Hitler]
Your father says you're not going out dressed that way.
And I'm not changing.
He says he's not changing.
I wanna talk to Hitler.
He has a swastika on his arm and big black boots! He's wearing big black boots! He came down the stairs in them with swastikas all over!
Put the Führer on the phone!
Your father wants to talk to you. Sorry!
[to his friends]
You guys can go without me. Yeah, I'm having Halloween here.
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I am neither Jewish nor Baltimorian (?), but . . .
this was a fine film, if not anything to blow one's hair back, leave one humming, or slipping into the dialogue. The story was set in the mid-1950s, accurately looks the part, and is actually three tales involving the three males in a middle class family.
Yes, there is the treatment of racism and the self-consciousness that it spawns on both sides, and yes, the death throes of anti-semitism (at least among decent people). A middle-aged man finds he has outlived the world in which he came to prosper, and does not know what to do. There is something else: the "grass is always greener" hypothesis in ethnic/social class mixing. One of the protagonists meets his "shiksa goddess" and her lot, longs to cross a divide he does his best to bridge -- and finds his betters have feet of clay for all their poise and social standing.
LIBERTY HEIGHTS is in the best sense a North American story. Leaving one's ghetto, the benefits of learning to do so, and creation of a better world. Note how toward the end, the flawed and even cruel W.A.S.P. society boy becomes better for having accepted the hand of friendship of someone his father might have avoided.
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