The Shopworn Angel – Day Five – #40movies40days

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart 1I selected this movie because it was on our VCR at home.  My husband had recorded it and I watched it while cleaning up the kitchen.  Pretty soon I was sitting down and snuffling a few tears at the end.

The Shopworn Angel is Waldo Salt’s first credited screenplay.  He joined the American Communist Party in 1938, and was a civilian consultant to the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II.[citation needed]
Salt’s career in Hollywood was interrupted when he was blacklisted after refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951. Like many other blacklisted writers, while he was unable to work in Hollywood Salt wrote pseudonymously for the British television series The Adventures of Robin Hood.[3] After the collapse of the blacklist, Salt won Academy Awards for Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home, and a nomination for his work on Serpico.
The Shopworn Angel is Waldo Salt’s first credited screenplay.  It’s an oddly subversive anti-war film wrapped in sentimental patriotism. It speaks powerfully of the cost of war.
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Beautiful young men like the young private in the film  get chewed up in the maw of unceasing of greed and fear that launches every war machine.  Is it a good thing or a bad thing to preserve the illusions– honor, glory, courage, country– that allow young men to be sent to certain death?
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Salt was blacklisted after refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951. Like many other blacklisted writers, he wrote pseudonymously for projects in the UK.  After the collapse of the blacklist, Salt won Academy Awards for Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home. He was nominated for his work on Serpico.
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The Shopworn Angel features the second screen pairing of actors Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. He is so young in this picture, barely in his twenties!
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At the time of their first picture together, Stewart was a minor contract player at MGM. When Sullavan brought up Stewart’s name the studio casting-directors had never heard of him.  At Sullavan’s suggestion, Universal agreed to test him for her leading man and he was borrowed to star with Sullavan in Next Time We Love.
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imagesAccording to Wikipedia:  Stewart had been nervous and unsure of himself during the early stages of production of their first film together. He had had only two minor MGM roles which had not given him much camera time or experience. The director, Edward H. Griffith, bullied Stewart during that first production.
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“Maggie, he’s wet behind the ears,” Griffith told Sullavan. “He’s going to make a mess of things.”
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Sullavan believed in Stewart and spent the evenings coaching him and helping him scale down his awkward mannerisms and hesitant speech that would soon be famous around the world.
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“It was Margaret Sullavan who made Stewart a star,” director Griffith later said. Bill Grady the casting director from MGM agreed. “That boy came back from Universal so changed I hardly recognized him”.
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The inevitable gossip in Hollywood at that time (1935–36) was that William Wyler, Sullavan’s then-husband, was suspicious about his wife’s and Stewart’s private rehearsing together. When Sullavan divorced Wyler in 1936 and married Leland Hayward that same year, they moved to a colonial house just a block down from Stewart.
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Stewart’s frequent visits to the Sullavan/Hayward home soon restoked the rumors of his romantic feelings for Sullavan.
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The Shopworn Angel (1938) was their second movie together. “Why, they´re red-hot when they get in front of a camera,” Louis B. Mayer said about their onscreen chemistry. “I don’t know what the hell it is, but it sure jumps off the screen”.
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Walter Pidgeon, who was part of the triangle in The Shopworn Angel later recalled: “I really felt like the odd-man-out in that one. It was really all Jimmy and Maggie … It was so obvious he was in love with her. He came absolutely alive in his scenes with her, playing with a conviction and a sincerity I never knew him to summon away from her”.
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Eventually the duo would do four movies together from 1936-1940 (Next Time We Love, The Shopworn Angel, The Shop Around the Corner and The Mortal Storm).
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shopwornThe plot of The Shopworn Angel is simple.  A dreamy innocent young soldier from Texas, Private Pettigrew (Jimmy Stewart), is awed by big city New York.  Crossing the street he is almost run down by a private limousine.  The cop at the fender bender insists the car’s occupant deliver the soldier to the nearby camp.  The young man climbs in to meet a famous cabaret singer, Daisy Heath (Margaret Sullavan).
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He lies to his buddies and tells them that Daisy is his sweetheart.  The guys insist on meeting her at the stage door. Daisy, taking pity on the awkward Pettigrew, plays along.  Pettigrew mistakes her pity for genuine interest and keeps coming back.
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She is entranced by his simple sincerity, his innocence and his enthusiasm for life.  She is deeply jaded and only cares about career, comfort and luxury.  Her boyfriend finances her show.  They have a contentious relationship based mostly on  party-going and self-interest (she needs him to bankroll the show and she is the draw that brings the customers in).
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In the short period of time before Pettigrew ships out, the soldier and the cabaret singer grow close. He is starry-eyed and Daisy is his dream girl.  He knows he is cannon fodder, being amongst the first wave of soldiers sent to France.  He know he’s going to die, so does she and so does the audience. In 1938, when the film was made, the horrific carnage of the “Great War” was well documented.  And the world was gearing up for another World War.
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Pettigrew’s pure honest example teaches Daisy and her boyfriend Sam (Walter Pigeon) the meaning of real love.  Daisy discovers she truly love Sam and he loves her.  But Daisy can’t break Pettigrew’s heart. She marries him to give him a dream to hold on to.  Sam stands by her and the inevitable happens. Pettigrew dies in battle.
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In this movie love is an illusion but it is also real.  Daisy does love Pettigrew but she knows he has no future.  Sam is her true love.  He proves worthy of Daisy’s love by allowing her to do this one unselfish thing. They delay their happiness to give Pettigrew his.
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Pettigrew talks about spending his whole life pretending– imagining what his sweetheart would be like. Now he doesn’t have to pretend because he has the real thing– her.  But she isn’t really his.  She is just on loan to him for a time.  She has another destiny and he is blissfully unaware of that.
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Perhaps we are all just on loan to each other. Perhaps love is always part illusion and part reality. Perhaps the most important component of love is kindness– and that’s what makes it real.  It is kindness that makes Daisy fully human and worthy of love.  It is kindness that works the same magic on Sam.
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Perhaps an easier all encompassing commandment would be:  Be Kind.  If I could just do that it would eliminate the need for most of the other rules.  Here is my first decision of the journey.  I will be kind.  At least for the remainder of these 40 days I will mentally stop before I say or do anything and ask:  “Is it kind?”
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Of course just this morning, as I walked to my office, any number of rude remarks popped into my head about a particularly annoying jogger, I mourned the gossip and witty sniping I would have to forgo.  And I can snipe with the best of them.
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Be kind!  Blah– Such a simple statement will be incredibly hard to put into practice.  It is the death of one-ups-manship.  It allows no room for desperation or insecurity.  It requires the solid assurance, the simple faith if you will, that I will get what I need.  That I can afford be generous. And that I can be comfortable with being patient.
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Will this make me a doormat or a victim?  Not if being kind extends to myself.  Sometimes the kindest thing is to move on, say no or end a relationship.  The kindness comes in doing so without ill-will, in good humor and with quiet conviction (rather than with excuses, accusations or verbal fireworks).   I’ve been cleaning out physical clutter in my office.  Perhaps being kind is a way to help clean out the emotional clutter in my work.
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Here is the film in it’s entirety:

3 Comments

  1. Reply Mandi 24th March 2012

    Thank you for this lovely article on one of my favorite movies. So nice to see it appreciated…truely a beautiful movie about love, kindness, and humanity. This film melts and breaks my heart every time.

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 3rd April 2012

      It’s a lovely lovely film and deserves to be better known!

  2. Reply KKontaktlinsen 7th May 2013

    Thank you for the brilliant post . Will at present more stop by. Greetings from Cologne

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