The Big Night, 1951

Saturday, May 18th, 2002 | Film

I’ve been thinking about this Joseph Losey film, The Big Night, from 1951, starring John Barrymore, Jr. (Drew’s dad). It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I’m thinking of just one scene (well, and one thing the dad tells his son, “Sometimes a man loves one woman in the whole world. If she turns out to be the wrong one, well…that’s just tough”). Okay, so the big night in question is the 17th birthday of Barrymore, Jr. He sees his father brutally and very publicly beaten, and spends the rest of the film seeking his father’s attacker, intent on revenge. His passage through the night and what it reveals becomes an allegorical passage into adulthood. The scene that I’ve been thinking of is the scene where the dad gets beaten up. He is forced to take off his shirt–he’s a big powerful man, and hairy–and he acquiesces to the beating with no resistance. His vulnerability and shame are intensified by his nakedness. Typically, body hair, and particularly chest hair had been used in films of that time to connote a kind of monsterish masculinity, yet in this film, it is used to enhance nakedness and vulnerability. It was one of the turning points in my development as an artist, to see how metaphorically charged the hairy male body can be.

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