Released in 1947, when anti-Semitism was the meaty theme of more serious Hollywood fare (Gentleman’s Agreement, Crossfire), Good News was a vanilla souffle in Technicolor. An idealized musical look at college life in 1927, the movie is one of my feel-good favorites, portraying a world that probably never existed anywhere except the backlot at MGM.
I can’t really recall the first time I saw it, but even as a somewhat precocious child I recognized from the opening number that the movie would border on kitsch. Joan McCracken openly leers at the guys in the dancing chorus while she enthusiastically kicks and struts through the choreography. She actually makes her way to a sitting position in front of two dancing male cheerleaders, whose buns are bouncing over most of the bottom half of the frame. At this moment, the souffle comes dangerously close to turning into cake.
Ms. McCracken also leads another spirited dance number—in the malt shop, of all places—called “Pass That Peace Pipe,” which relies on a stereotypical Native American theme, complete with a tom-tom beat. It’s not quite as cringeworthy as a blackface number would have been, but 21st century viewers might scratch their heads trying to determine whether it’s offensive, awkward, inappropriate, or simply representative of a 20th century sensibility—one that nominated the song for an Oscar.
Good News, like good news or any news for that matter, is more interesting with a bit of additional information, even of the most trivial sort. The aforementioned Ms. McCracken was married to Jack Dunphy at the time the movie was made. After their 1948 divorce, he partnered up with Truman Capote of all people. She went on to marry Bob Fosse and was one of the many women who inspired the character of Holly Golightly in Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. After divorcing Fosse, she died in 1961 at 43.
Connie and Tommy, the part-time librarian and the football hero, spend most of the movie finding, losing, and finding each other again, just in time to end the movie with the robust “Varsity Drag” and presumably living happily ever after. June Allyson and Peter Lawford, who played them, had a more complicated ever after. They accumulated a total of eight marriages, seven spouses (June married one guy twice), and five divorces. Alcoholism, substance abuse, and adultery were also themes in their real lives. Not judging June and Peter here, but sometimes it’s better to leave it at the fade-out.
Other times, it’s necessary to do a fade-in. Especially these days when watching what is referred to as cable news. These outlets have seemingly divided themselves into what I think of as two teams—the Bad News Bearers and the Pheaux News Phakes.
The Bad News Bearers, who have nothing to do with Tatum O’Neal, provide news, wrapped in commentary, and dressed in an ongoing narrative that seems designed to keep their more left-leaning audience a little agitated and tuning in for more.
Getting to actual news here is a bit like eating crawfish. One must break away the body/narrative from the tail/commentary to get to the meat/news. It’s a good deal of trouble, but it’s necessary. Any viewer seeking the actual news should know not to be distracted by questions or statements framed in conditional language. When these folks start with “If Trump/Biden/Bannon/Stone does this/that/the other,” they’re presenting a narrative, and it’s time to check out what’s on Turner Classic Movies.
Then there’s the commentary that includes qualifiers like “It seems to me that” or “This feels like”—which isn’t qualified commentary at all. It’s speculation dressed up as an observation and has as much validity in many cases as what the least prescient of one’s acquaintances might say.
The Pheaux News Phakes are given pseudo fancy spelling here to highlight the pretentious nature of their presenting themselves as news organizations at all. They cater to their right-leaning viewers with narrative and commentary, but there’s precious little meat inside that crawfish tail. By its own admission, for example, Fox News argued in court in defense of the slander suit against Tucker Carlson that he isn’t “stating actual facts” but is engaging in “non-literal commentary.” Whatever that is, it ain’t news.But here’s the good news. No one has to marinate in this. No one has to put the crawfish tail or body in their mouths. As long as the remote is working, one can drift off to another network, where it’s just possible that TCM is showing the real Good News. It’s bound to do you good.