by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
February 8, 2008
A 'MILLION DOLLAR' MORAL DILEMMA
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- The credits rolled but no one got up to leave, at least not until their tears dried; and they were not the tears of a sob story or chick flick that flow while we laugh at ourselves for being so sentimental. We remained in our seats, in sobering thought.
The title was frivolous. The lobby posters suggested a prize-fighting story; the fighter would be a girl training to fight girls and, of course, Clint Eastwood. The Oscar nominations were in, with three nods going to the actors and one to Eastwood for both acting and directing. Now, that's entertainment, I thought.
Horror films are well advertised for those who love that sort of thing. I don't. This movie was safe. I felt secure as I reclined in the adjustable plush seat, settled in with bottled water in the attached cup holder and my husband by my side. I was comfortable.
Being comfortable and secure in the theater is what I came to expect in childhood and adolescence. I grew up at a time when the Legion of Decency screened the movies for appropriateness for young Catholics - young and old alike, come to think of it. We accompanied the list with a pledge spoken aloud each year on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8.
We'd all stand at the end of Mass and say:
I condemn all indecent and immoral motion pictures, and those which glorify crime or criminals. I promise to do all that I can to strengthen public opinion against the production of indecent and immoral films, and to unite with all who protest against them. I acknowledge my obligation to form a right conscience about pictures that are dangerous to my moral life. I pledge myself to remain away from them. I promise, further, to stay away altogether from places of amusement which show them as a matter of policy. I promise to do all that I can to strengthen public opinion against the production of indecent and immoral films, and to unite with all who protest against them. I acknowledge my obligation to form a right conscience about pictures that are dangerous to my moral life. I pledge myself to remain away from them. I promise, further, to stay away altogether from places of amusement which show them as a matter of policy.
And we checked the list or our parents checked it for us and for them. However, there was a time when I have to admit the devil made me do it. The lobby posters for Lady of Burlesque with Barbara Stanwyck were so enticing, beautiful girls in feathered costumes, that I went to see it. It was based on The G-String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee and in my mind's eye I remember seeing a typical backstage murder. The stars didn't undress, the comics were not bawdy and the killer was caught and jailed before the final credits.
However, I was morally obligated not to see it and I can still feel Father Murray's wrath as he said from the altar, "Do not see Lady of Burlesque, it's a b-a-a-d, bad, picture." The guilt remains for my deliberate act of brazenly walking into that theater when I was twelve. It was a hot summer day in New York and the Loews Plaza was "Cooled by Refrigeration." Ah, the temptation.
In those glorious days of the Silver Screen, we knew that no one would get away with "it," meaning anything illegal or immoral. We went from guidelines from the Legion of Decency to the protection of the Hayes Office, followed by the Breen Office and lastly, presently, Jack Valenti and the rating system.
There was a whole decade, the Sixties, that I didn't see any movies. In 1972, the call of handsome Robert Redford had me standing on line for "The Hot Rock," a diamond-theft caper filmed in New York City. I was totally surprised to see the credits roll as Redford crossed Park Avenue with a barely perceptible hop and a skip in his step and the "rock" in his pocket. He was getting away with it. I was shocked.
In "Million Dollar Baby," Clint Eastwood plays Frankie, a fight trainer, who daily attends morning Mass. His priest is getting a little frustrated with Frankie's constantly asking questions on faith and morality. But, when he is faced with a question of what to do Frankie takes it to the priest who is understanding and says that all the things Frankie has ever done and all the guilt he has had to bear over the years would pale compared to the guilt he'd feel over this one act.
As with moral dilemmas, there are two choices; (there is no easy way out) and each choice should be thought through. Frankie does this and it is with love, not malice aforethought, despite what his priest has told him, that he condemns himself to the road to Hell, to the moral graveyard where living souls continue to dwell among us . unable to undo the immoral actions and unwilling to consider there was any other course.
We watched the credits roll on this picture, nominated as one of the five best; but this wasn't over, this was a two-fisted handkerchief motion picture where audible sobs could not be stifled - that is, until the last 60 seconds when, holding our breaths, we could neither sob nor gasp.
We expected the punches and the blood. We snapped our heads back to take the punch and watched blood flow from a broken nose and spurt from gums around the loosened teeth. That's Hollywood.
But when Clint Eastwood as Frankie put his soul into play, taking ours with it, well that's when we were grappled to the mat face down and our souls were trampled on. We are left with a question. Would we do as Frankie does?
We walked to the back door into the bright lights of the lobby, making eye contact but saying nothing to the others leaving; a little shrug, a tilt of the head here and there suggesting the movie was powerful.
Back at the car in drizzling rain, and before I even fastened my seatbelt, I was able to answer my question: Would I do as Frankie did? I would like to think I wouldn't; but, you know? I don't know. And that's the million dollar moral dilemma.