Da Essays and Criticism
by Hugh Leonard

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References to Classic Movies in Leonard's Play

(Drama for Students)

Scene from theatrical production Published by Gale Cengage

References to movies, movie stars, and going to the movie theater (known as the Picture House) are an important element of several of the key memory scenes in Da. The implication, which runs throughout the play, is that Hollywood movies exerted a strong influence on the ways in which Charlie and the people who populated his youth experienced and expressed their fantasies, anxieties, and self-images. The frequent mentions of old movies and classic movie stars throughout the play also add to the element of nostalgia, whereby Charlie recalls the mood and atmosphere of days gone by.

In the opening scene of act 1, Charlie's childhood friend Oliver stops by after Da's funeral. In an effort to make conversation, which remains awkward between the two, Oliver mentions that he ‘‘finally got the theme music from King's Row,’’ a 1941 film, starring Ronald Reagan and Robert Cummings, about two men who discover the dark underbelly beneath the placid surface of their hometown. Oliver reminds Charlie that, although it was a ‘‘good fillum’’ (film), he got in trouble for missing his elocution class in order to see it with Charlie. Oliver clearly enjoys the soundtrack from this film in part because of his sense of nostalgia for his youth, especially his friendship with Charlie. Although this effort to make a connection with Charlie by mentioning this film experience fails, it indicates the strong ties demonstrated throughout the play between old Hollywood movies and memories of the past.

Memories of important incidents in Charlie's life throughout the play are often associated, either directly or indirectly, with going to or talking about movies. In a memory in which Charlie recalls the time his father almost punched his mother, discussion of going to the Picture House reflects his mother's state of mind. In this memory, Charlie is seventeen, and he and Da are waiting for Mother to return home from going to the movies. Da notes that Mother's moods are directly related to how much she enjoys the film she has seen, commenting, ‘‘If the picture in the Picture House was a washout … she'll come home ready to eat us.’’ When she finally returns, much later than usual, Da asks her, ‘‘Was the picture any good itself?’’ to which she responds, ‘‘It was an old love thing, all divorces and codology. A body couldn't make head or tail of it.’’ The mention of ‘‘divorce’’ in this comment reflects Mother's emotional state of independence from Da that evening. It also indicates that the incident that follows, in which Da almost punches her, is a low point in their marriage.

In another memory, Charlie crosses the street to avoid Drumm, his boss at the time, after which Drumm, who had previously treated him as somewhat of a son, turns a cold shoulder to Charlie. Charlie explains that he avoided Drumm that evening because ‘‘I was in a hurry somewhere—to meet a girl, go to a film: I don't know.’’ Although the film itself, if that is indeed where Charlie was headed, is not important, it represents an activity that drew Charlie in the direction of his own desires, away from the overbearing control of Drumm, and indicates an act of independence from this father-figure.

During a memory scene in act 2, Young Charlie is preparing to leave for the airport on his way to his wedding. As he is walking out the door, his arms full of luggage, his father steps forward to shake his hand. Refusing to let go of Charlie's hand, Da asks if he has remembered his airplane tickets, then if he has his passport. The older Charlie, watching this scene, comments sarcastically, ‘‘It's the Beast with Five Fingers.’’ The Beast with Five Fingers is a horror-suspense film from 1947, in which an old castle is (apparently) haunted by the disembodied hand of a deceased one-handed piano player. The hand appears in a white glove, playing classical music on the piano and strangling people in the night. Charlie refers to...

(The entire section is 5,840 words.)