3 Things I Would Rewrite in HUMORESQUE

The movie “Humoresque” is a classic tale of music, obsession, and love starring John Garfield and Joan Crawford. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it; the violin solos are incredible, the acting is excellent, and the dresses Crawford wears are beautiful. It’s a movie I watch about once a year and enjoy every time, despite my yelling at the screen when this brilliant story deteriorates at the edges – and sometimes forms full-on holes. It’s a shame because this movie is so wonderful overall and had the potential to be perfection but misses the mark and ends up classified as “wonderful” instead.

If I could edit this screenplay, here are the things I would change to stitch up the holes and make it seamless and natural. (If you didn’t already guess, spoilers are included!)

  1. John Garfield’s sudden change of heart. In one scene, Garfield disgustedly tells Crawford that he appreciates all the help she’s given him (i.e. jumpstarting his whole career) but ultimately it was a completely selfish act on her part. He also puts her in her place about their relationship being nothing more than business. In the very next scene, they’re at Crawford’s beach house (how did this happen?) and Garfield makes a pass at Crawford, about to kiss her. She’s the one who has to turn him down. How did any of this happen? No one knows. It’s a huge jump, almost as if a scene in between that explained this change of heart was cut out.
    My rewrite: Here’s what should have happened. Garfield and Crawford have their previously mentioned fight, but before they end up at the beach house, a scene takes place where it’s clear that Crawford has backed off of Garfield, not calling him for a few days, not helping him with his career, not showering him with her attention and money like she has been. Garfield starts to realize how much that attention meant to him beyond the money and career help, and he tries to find her but fails, becoming more and more antsy to see her. Finally he reaches her on the phone, at this point a little desperate to see her, and she says she’ll see him only if he makes the concession to come to her beach house, where she wants to be, thereby setting up the switch of power in the relationship from him to her. The perfect transition. Enter the beach house scene.
  2. The convenient good girl. Joan Chandler appears in the film a few times, young and sweet and genuine – Crawford’s exact opposite. She’s seen at the beginning of the film, then reappears randomly a few times later, once to serve as a cause for jealousy and other times for apparently no reason at all. At one point, she attends Garfield’s violin concert after she knows about his feelings for Crawford, and it seems that this relationship drives her over the edge (a little overdone if you ask me), so she runs out of the concert. It’s raining outside and she has to walk past poster after poster of violin-playing Garfield’s advertisements, all paid for by Crawford. It seems to be a surefire sign of the end of her interest in him, and yet she suddenly appears here and there at other concerts of his. Why? No one knows. On top of that, she completely disappears and her interest in him is never resolved (and he never seemed very interested in her as more than a friend anyway). Perhaps at the end of the film it’s insinuated that Garfield might go back to Chandler, but frankly the end is quite underwhelming and uncertain anyway.
    My rewrite: From the beginning, Garfield should have shown more interest in Chandler, clear romantic feelings. Then his abandonment of her would feel much more upsetting. As it stands, most of the time I felt like Chandler was trying to squeeze affection out of him when he didn’t seem interested in the same kind of relationship. If he had shown more romantic interest in her from the beginning, then as he forgets to call her and misses dates with her, we would feel pained. Then when he happens to meet her later on when she’s waiting for an audition and then they have lunch, the situation should have been that he contacted her after all that time specifically to have lunch with her, perhaps because he missed her (it doesn’t have to be spelled out), which would make Crawford’s jealousy more understandable and Chandler’s upset over Garfield choosing Crawford over her much more real. After Chandler leaves the concert in the rain, she wouldn’t show up at any more of his concerts. Finally the “why do we shave every day” scene would be cut (or at least that strange conversation would be cut) and instead we would see her meeting him at the bar he used to frequent with Crawford, clearly at his request. They would leave together quickly after he says some line that makes it clear he’s leaving his whole past with Crawford behind, and they could walk back together to his family’s home. This would sew up both his return to humility as well as to his family and her.
  3. Timely insanity. Crawford ends up going crazy and needs to quiet her uncertainty, confusion, and indecisiveness with suicide in the famous ocean scene. Her insanity doesn’t make much sense because some key aspects are missing to provide psychological proof that her mind would be pushed to such an extreme condition. Yes, Garfield’s music comes first in his life, which is tough for a selfish, self-centered woman to take. But this is countered by the fact that he isn’t unreasonable about putting his music first. In fact he seems to spend all his time outside of rehearsal with her, so what more could she really ask for? Yes, she’s an alcoholic to cover up her own unhappiness, which would make her more unreasonable. But Garfield clearly states that she’s able to give up alcohol when he asks her to. And finally yes, she’s torn between marrying him like she wants to (and he wants to) and leaving because his music comes first, something Garfield’s mother also points out to Crawford. But aren’t these problems relatively superficial? It all comes down to her needing all of his attention and not wanting to share it with anyone or anything, not even a career. She’s obsessive, and while that would be painful, it’s not a solid reason for insanity. It’s a basic personality problem.
    My rewrite: As much as I love the way the drowning scene is executed with such class, I would have to cut this out or rework most of Crawford’s character to make her insanity reasonable. Instead, to keep this edit somewhat confined to the insanity/drowning scene, I would still have her die but from alcohol poisoning. She wouldn’t go crazy, but instead she would go back to alcohol (after she had stopped drinking because Garfield asked her to) and be so desperate to get drunk because of her own confusion and indecision about whether she should marry him or not that she would way overdo it and die of alcohol poisoning.
    Another thing connected to Crawford’s insanity that I would alter is her indecision about marrying Garfield. She’s sure this is what she wants until she sees him crumple up a note she sends him during rehearsal telling him she has urgent news and to meet her immediately. Of course, like anyone would, he puts that note in his pocket and continues rehearsing with the orchestra and conductor. Listen, unless that note says someone died or some horrible accident has happened, a serious musician isn’t leaving rehearsal with a full (paid) orchestra and conductor just for a note from his girlfriend. That’s just not how it works. This clearly shows Crawford’s lack of understanding of this man she’s supposed to love. Instead, I would have her indecision caused by her alcohol addiction (it’s really not easy to give up alcohol when you drink all day and all night); her encounter with Garfield’s mother who would still beg Crawford to leave her son alone, but the mother would visit Crawford instead of vice versa and make the argument that Crawford could destroy her son’s future by both distracting him from his lifelong goals and through the scandal and emotional upset of probable divorce since she has divorced multiple times already; and perhaps a boyfriend from the beginning of the movie coming back to visit her and her remembering how much simpler things were with simple men like him (not as much of an emotional relationship, but one that satisfied her obsessive, selfish side). All of this would serve to add up to her return to alcohol at the end and her death by alcohol poisoning.

Even if these changes extended the movie from 1.5 hours to 2 hours, it would be well worth it to have consistent characters and storylines, accurate psychology, and no holes in the film’s plot and character development. Now that I’ve said my piece, let’s appreciate the beauty that is Joan Crawford’s fabulous resting bitch face in “Humoresque”, one thing I wouldn’t edit out for anything in the world.

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Symbol Sample: Harriet Craig

I am a HUGE fan of symbolism in every artistic medium. I always look for it in literature and movies specifically, and I always include it in my writing, no matter how short the piece is.  Symbolism is an essential part of my work, and the great thing about it is that a reader can choose to look for it and find it, or they can ignore it and still enjoy the piece.

I’ve had lots of people ask me how to layer stories with symbolism, some obvious symbols while others may not be so obvious. It might be best to answer this question through examples in both literature and film that I can show you through a series of blog posts. I’m going to start with an easy one: Harriet Craig.

The movie Harriet Craig (1950) with Joan Crawford and Wendell Corey is a prime example of good symbolism that doesn’t have to be noticed but adds to the enjoyment of the film. Quick synopsis: Harriet Craig is a cold, manipulative control freak wife who will lie to her husband, Walter, about anything in order to keep him all to herself and following her rules. She has no boundaries as to how far she’ll go to make sure her marriage stays in tact – and she covers her tracks well. Her husband is a trusting, loving man who doesn’t catch on to her scheming ways, though his friends and others see her for what she is.

That being said, Harriet has a lot of rules about her house and how it should be kept: make sure the blinds are closed by 11 a.m. every day so the sun doesn’t fade the furniture, keep the expensive vase away from the edge of the mantle, don’t sit on the arm of the chair, never throw anything (like a newspaper) down but instead place it neatly. She treats her husband more like a son and constantly chastises him. A couple of people mention that the house is cold and lifeless “like a thing that died and has been laid out”.

There’s a particular chair in the house that looks ornamental although it’s meant for sitting, but even more importantly it’s stiff and hard. If you watch
harrietcraigchaircarefully, you’ll see that Walter can’t get comfortable on that chair, even with a pillow. Harriet, however, feels perfectly comfortable on it. This is representative of their differences in personality. Walter is a warm person and can’t stand sitting in the stiff chair, but Harriet is a cold person and feels right at home on it. The only time Walter is able to sit on the chair is towards the end of the movie when he rearranges the pillows and lies down on it once he has decided to take back control of his house. He takes control of his comfort in the chair just as he is about to take control of Harriet.

Little things like this are easy to put into your story as light but still important symbolism. Think about what your characters have in common or their differences. Now think about their environments, even their work. How can you implement this same tactic to insert a layer of depth in your story? The good thing about this type of symbolism is that it can be stated relatively outright and still not seem out of place. You don’t have to worry too much about presenting it artistically if you don’t want to; the point of it is to be more towards the surface of the story instead of buried deep inside.