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The Expression of the North/South Conflict in Great Day in the Morning (Jacques Tourneur, 1956): Western Conventions and Southern Motifs, Subversion and Satire

L’expression du conflit Nord/Sud dans L’Or et l'amour (Jacques Tourneur, 1956) : conventions du Western et motifs du Southern, subversion et satire.
Gilles Menegaldo

Résumés

L’Or et l’amour est l’un des rares Westerns à évoquer la guerre de Sécession au moment où elle advient. Le film de Tourneur propose un exemple d’hybridité générique, associant les codes du Western et de nombreuses références à la culture Sudiste. Le réalisateur d’origine française subvertit les conventions du Western en déjouant les attentes et met en scène des personnages ambigus ou ambivalents. Les scènes nocturnes sont nombreuses et Tourneur joue des lumières et ombres pour traduire les ambiguïtés. A certains égards le protagoniste Owen Pentecost, originaire de Caroline du Sud incarne le charme et le charisme du gentleman sudiste mais il se comporte aussi parfois en « Southern rogue ». D’abord en position de pouvoir, il perd graduellement le contrôle de la situation quand la guerre éclate, mais parvient à sauvegarder l’or pour la Cause Sudiste qu’il décide finalement de rallier. Comme dans bien des films qui ont le Sud pour décor, les femmes jouent un rôle majeur, manifestant une grande énergie et résistant à l’autorité masculine. La rivalité entre Ann Alaine et Boston Grant constitue une importante trame narrative dans un contexte de conflit guerrier entre deux factions. Le film convoque certains tropes du Southern pour contraster deux cultures avec une visée satirique. Tourneur exploite, non sans ironie, une vision romantique de la Culture sudiste et dénonce le fanatisme mais aussi l’hypocrisie des partisans de l’Union alors qu’il tend à souligner l’idéalisme des partisans du Sud.

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  • 1 Taïna Tuhkunen, Demain sera un autre jour. Le sud et ses héroïnes à l’écran, Pertuis: Rouge (...)
  • 2Great Day in the Morning (1956) is a strange Western which Tourneur imbues with a sense of (...)

1Jacques Tourneur was a French director who was mostly famous for his horror movies produced by Val Lewton for RKO between 1941 and 1946 (Cat people, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man) as well as for his films noirs (Out of the Past and Nightfall). His Westerns are far less known and, until recently, difficult to find. Tourneur directed four films that can clearly be labelled Westerns (Canyon Passage, 1946; Wichita, 1955; Stranger on Horseback, 1955; Great Day in the Morning, 1956) and one film that can be described as a “Southern” (Stars in My Crown, 1950).1 Great Day in the Morning associates Northern and Southern culture and plays with the conventions of both genres although it remains primarily a Western, albeit a strange one.2

  • 3 The story is based on a real series of happenings during the struggle between abolitio (...)
  • 4 Anne of the Indies is a pirate movie which already staged the rivalry between two wome (...)

2Adapted from a novel by Robert Hardy Andrews published in 1950, Great Day in The Morning closes the series of Tourneur’s Westerns. The story is set in 1861 Denver, still a small mining town, in the Colorado Territory shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War.3 The film shows the confrontation within the community between partisans of the North and the South before the onset of the war, extending Tourneur’s experiments with colour started in Anne of the Indies (1951).4 Great Day in the Morning can be seen as a Western version of Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1947), with the hero Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack) running a saloon in a town tense with intrigues due to the impending Civil War. Like Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca, he is fairly evasive when asked about his past and starts off by trying to remain neutral in the conflict, before finally taking sides.

  • 5 Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, New York: Vintage Boo (...)
  • 6 “Dixie” was a popular marching song of the Confederate States of America during the Ci (...)

3While almost all Westerns tend to focus on the aftermath of the Civil War,5 Great Day in the Morning deals with the Civil War as it was actually taking place. Another similar exception is The Woman They Almost Lynched (Allan Dwan, 1951), a black and white movie produced by a small studio, Republic Pictures, whose plot centers on the conflict despite the declared neutrality of the Mayor of the little town (Bordertown) located on the border between a Northern and a Southern state. Women play a prominent role in The Woman They Almost Lynched. The Mayor is a strong-willed, authoritative, rather “manly” woman, and two of the main characters are women who, at one point in the film, have a gunfight while men are reduced to passive spectators. Dwan’s film introduces a few historical characters such as Jesse James, Quantrill and his wife Kate – famous Southern renegades who took advantage of the war context to rob and kill. The film also features a Confederate captain who acts as a spy, the Federal Army which comes to the Mayor’s rescue, while the Confederate soldiers are mentioned but remain off screen. Both Quantrill and the South fight over the ownership of lead mines. Many references are made to Southern culture including the Southern song, “Dixie”6 and New Orleans. The film closes when the end of the Civil War is announced and the reunited lovers plan to go South.

  • 7 Diana C. Reep, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have: The Saloon in Western Films,” (...)

4Great Day in the Morning shares several of the above-mentioned features, namely the idea of division and tension between Unionist and Confederate factions, the presence of an undercover spy, rivalry between two strong female characters, the motif of the singer/entertainer (playing “Dixie”), as well as the strategic issue of mineral resources (lead, gold) in the pre-Civil War context. As in The Woman They Almost Lynched, the saloon plays an essential part, both as the site of action scenes with the partisans of the North confronting the Southern minority, and as the backdrop for some tragic events.7

5The film’s narrative structure and Western elements will first be explored, before examining how the conventions of the Western genre are subverted by Tourneur, who uses some tropes of the Southern – that of the “Southern Gentleman,” which he deflates, and that of the “Southern Belle,” as a symbol of pride of place. The final part of this article will examine how the conflict between Northerners and Southerners is staged and how its protagonists are represented before focusing on Tourneur’s satirical intent.

Narrative Structure and Western Conventions

  • 8 Jim Kitses, Horizons West – Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Sam Peckinpah: Studies of Autho (...)
  • 9 The actor was to become famous for his impersonation of Eliot Ness in the iconic TV series (...)

6Great Day in the Morning makes use of the binary oppositions of the Western that Jim Kitses defined in Horizons West, between the wilderness and civilization, the individual and the community, the East and the West, or refinement and savagery.8 Several of these polar oppositions of the Western appear in the narrative, which is structured around two main lines that intersect at various key moments of Tourneur’s film. The first narrative line deals with the individual story of the Southern hero, Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack), a gambler and gunslinger from North Carolina.9 Soon after his arrival, Pentecost wins the Circus Tent saloon in a poker game, with the cheating help of Boston Grant (Ruth Roman), a singer, entertainer and former employee of the previous boss Jumbo Means (Raymond Burr). The latter is a staunch Unionist who counts on the forthcoming outbreak of the war to develop various business interests, including selling weapons to the Federal Army. The second major event is the moment when Owen kills Jack Lawford (George Wallace) in self-defence, a gold miner with whom he shared a contract on a claim. This leads to an important subplot as Owen adopts Lawford’s orphan son Gary (Donald MacDonald). The action charts the rise and fall of Pentecost’s control of events, using the outbreak of the Civil War to mark the beginning of his decline. Although he succeeds in helping the Southerners, he ends up alone and hiding from the Union army until he manages to escape.

  • 10 “She’s a good girl: modestly dressed, polite, virginal, prudish, stuck-up, upper class, an (...)
  • 11 Pam Cook has examined the “impoverished range of female stereotypes on offer (mother, scho (...)
  • 12 Will Wright, Six Guns and Society, A Structural Study of the Western, Berkeley, University (...)
  • 13 Margaret Ripley Wolfe, Daughters Of Canaan: A Saga of Southern Women, Lexington : Universi (...)

7The other subplot is a romance plot which concerns the rivalry between two women, contrasting the sophisticated straight-laced lady from the East (Ann) and the saloon girl (Boston), both of whom are in love with Owen. Although Ann embodies “the traditional role for young unmarried white women in the Western,”10 that of the (often) blonde schoolmarm, and Boston is the (just as often) dark-haired saloon girl, Tourneur moves beyond the hackneyed gender stereotypes of the Western.11 The rivalry between the two women is expressed by the colour schemes, emphasizing the contrasts between the blond Ann and the dark-haired Boston. Ann wears pastel colours, half-tinted, while the saloon entertainer wears vivid, even gaudy dresses, ranging from emerald green to purple and eventually red in her death scene. Boston fights to keep her man, but does not try to tame him and remains submissive to his male authority, while Ann struggles against her own desires and her sexual impulses. When facing Owen, she tells him: “I am half-ashamed of being in love with you.” Boston’s character may seem more empowering, for she knows what she wants, although she epitomizes the “good-bad girl” who undergoes a tragic, sacrificial fate. With the trope of the “good-bad girl,” Tourneur reuses the classic oppositions of the Western genre, which Will Wright identifies as “inside society/outside society, good/bad, strong/weak, and wilderness/civilization.”12 These oppositions foreground the ambivalence of Westerners on the Frontier – Dallas in Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939) may have inspired the character of Boston, who though coming from the North, has some qualities of a Southern heroine: strength, resilience and “gumption.”13 She also supervises Gary’s counting exercises on the blackboard and she is the one Pentecost acknowledges as his true love at the end. While the saloon girl from the North is endowed with a civilizing role, Ann brings culture from the East by opening a dress shop. Although the latter provides a false testimony to save Owen from being hanged, she has ambivalent feelings towards him as shown in a subsequent seduction scene at night.

8The second main narrative strand concerns the confrontation between Northerners and Southerners as illustrated by the credit sequence which opens on a still shot dominated by two flags, placed on either side of the screen, that of the Union and that of the Confederacy while an intertitle unrolls, setting up a parallel between the war for possession of the land and the Civil War: “The Indians fought the white man for the possession of the land and the white men fought each other for the same land. It was a small but bloody rehearsal of the War between the States which was soon to follow. It had its patriots and its profiteers and its noisy flag wavers.” All these features come together in this Western set in early 1861.

  • 14 The word “Secesh” (sometimes, as here, used as an insult) is an abbreviation of “s (...)

9The events take place in Denver during a historical crisis a few weeks before the outbreak of the War in April 1861. The majority of the citizens are partisans of the North, while a minority comes from the Southern states (Georgia, Alabama). Altering geography, Tourneur uses Silverton, a small mining town to take advantage of the landscapes of the Rocky Mountains. The opening scene provides a good illustration of the conflict to come. The solitary white hero, Owen Pentecost, is saved from the Indians by the intervention of two white men and Ann, the white woman they are escorting to the city. However one of the saviours, Zeff Masterson (Leo Gordon), a fanatic partisan of the Union, is obviously an example of a “noisy flag waver” who, realizing he has saved a Southerner, confronts him by delivering a volley of insults and almost shoots him. The clash between the two men is expressed by means of dialogue, but also through looks and gestures, the scene in a sense crystallizing the North-South conflict. Masterson expresses his contempt with a snarling voice: “I can smell a Southerner a mile off. Smell I don’t like. Nor the breed. High and godly, slave-trading, slave-beating rebel secessionists. Not fit to live, none of you.” He is more than proficient in insults: “Johnny Reb,” “cheap, bastardly, cheating Secesh,14 whiplashing, slave beating, secessionist.” Masterson voices here some facts about the South (rebellion against the US government, slavery, “the peculiar institution” in particular), but he also expresses preconceived, oversimplified ideas, typical of the propaganda of the time. Interestingly, Tourneur’s Western thus becomes a space of confrontation between North and South, even though the Southern hero behaves quite differently from what we might expect, not taking sides and trying to remain neutral when the conflict breaks out.

  • 15 John G. Cawelti, The Six-Gun Mystique, Bowling Green: Bowling Green University, 19 (...)
  • 16 “Popular images of Native Americans have tended to concentrate on two polar ends of an opp (...)

10Nearly all the defining traits of the Western seem to be present, both in terms of content (setting, narration, themes, motifs) and style. John G. Cawelti points out the importance of the “fresh and open grandeur of the Western landscape,” which he views as “the setting for a regenerated social order once the threat of lawlessness has been overcome.”15 Great Day in the Morning significantly opens in medias res on an outdoor scene in the mountains (a typical Western locus) to stage a gunfight between a solitary white man and a group of unidentified Indians (a Ute tribe in Andrews’ novel). Thus, the protagonist is inscribed into a wild landscape where Native Americans are represented as anonymous savage warriors, easily disposed of despite their weapons and number.16 There are other outdoor scenes in Great Day in the Morning, one in the mining claim, which becomes the setting of a deadly confrontation between the hero and a duplicitous gold digger who refuses to share his profits (as agreed by contract) or the shooting lessons with Gary in the forest. The final scene takes place in a more restricted space, a dark cave, where Owen seeks refuge before being found by Kirby, the Union captain. It is the site of a cathartic scene close to a waterfall (a symbol of purity and renewal), where Owen, unaware of Boston’s death, confesses his love for her: “The word love never comes easy to me,” and also proclaims his allegiance to the South and his wish to join the Confederate army as a “plain private.” This ending is indeed the beginning of a possible redemption for Pentecost, but it is also particularly anti-heroic, avoiding action and bravery and leaving several blanks in the narration contrary to the classical closure of the Western, which traditionally solves the contradictions inherent to its structural oppositions between civilization and the wilderness, the individual and the community, with a spectacular showdown.

Subverting the Western Codes

11In Tourneur’s film, the typical codes of the Western are subverted because the narrative is elliptical and syncopated, and because characters remain opaque or ambivalent. The foregrounding of ambivalent and ambiguous characters and situations leads to a series of unpredictable, irrational acts, with individuals constantly behaving against spectatorial expectations. Their attitudes tend to be extreme and uncontrolled. Jumbo is overcome by jealousy, rage and frustrated desire. When Boston looks for Gary who has run away after being told the truth about his father’s death, Jumbo pretends the boy found refuge in his saloon. He then lures Boston inside, locks the door, corners and stabs her, made furious by her jibes. He thus gets his revenge on the woman who betrayed him by falling in love with a more seductive Southerner, who, however does not quite behave like a gentleman.

  • 17 Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, New York: Da Capo (...)

12Thus Tourneur plays with cinematic codes to rework the Western genre. For instance the anti-hero Pentecost is constantly dependent on circumstances and other characters, especially women. As already underlined, after saving Owen’s life and discovering his Southern identity, Masterson insults Owen and threatens to kill him. Boston betrays her employer Jumbo, while he expects her to cheat for him during a card game. Although shocked by Owen’s killing of Lawford she witnessed, Ann saves Owen from hanging by lying to provide him with an alibi. Just as unpredictably, Kirby, the Federal captain, spares Owen’s life and allows him to escape (against all military rules) when he learns that the latter is finally not a rival for the love of Ann as he had feared. The cycle of violence and hatred may be broken despite the many individual and collective conflicts. But the war goes on. The spectator is thus deprived of the expected showdown and of a spectacular ending, a grand finale. Symbolically too, the last chase features empty wagons used as decoys to drive the federal soldiers away from the carriages transporting the gold. The world appears as utterly deceitful and ultimately based on illusions. These narrative and discursive choices are by no means typical of the Western. Film critic Andrew Sarris pinpoints the manner in which Tourneur moves away from the codes of the classic Western to bring it to a “new, unaccustomed level of subdued, pastel-colored sensibility.”17 For Sarris, Tourneur’s unique take on the Western originates from the fact that he was a French director looking at American myths with a foreigner’s eye.

13In Tourneur’s narrative, Pentecost is an oddity. A temporary master of the Western town, he advocates personal interest, yet gives half of the gold to the miners with whom he shares the mining claims. Later on, against his confessed cynicism, he adopts Gary, the child whom he made an orphan and even teaches him how to shoot, which may betray a death wish, something incompatible with the values of the classic Western hero. As he says to Ann only half ironically: “When the boy learns to shoot straight, he’ll fill me full of lead and save me the trouble of committing suicide. Isn’t that what you think?” Finally, he deprives himself of what he was initially striving at, getting hold of the $100,000 he claimed to help the Confederate miners carry the gold they had away to the South, out of the range of the Union Army, thus contradicting his a-moralism and affected selfishness. At that moment, he shows unexpected generosity, however cutting short all marks of gratitude from the Southerners: “Shut up about it before I change my mind.”

14Romantic triangles abound in Great Day in the Morning. However the hero is involved with two strong-willed women; each in turn is involved with another man. Love relations do not fare any better. The relation between Ann and Owen, barely started, is interrupted and never renewed. Erotic encounters end in misunderstanding and frustration. Pentecost is drunk when he unintendedly breaks into Ann’s room. When Boston puts him to bed, she evidently expects to have sex with him but he falls asleep. The reverse shot of her face betrays her disappointment. For the rest of the film, Pentecost treats Boston with relative indifference. The only time he yields to her desire (“Kiss me hard”) and kisses her is when he is about to leave town with the Southerners and their gold, just before she is murdered, a dramatic and ironic twist. Meanwhile he pursues Ann, but walks out on her at the very moment she yields to him. The obsessive dimension of desire and the complexity of the political context preclude a Manichean worldview. Emotions turn in one instant into their opposites; extreme views are confronted and feed upon each other. There are always potential reversals that may destabilize the spectator. The general darkness of mood and the open-ended ending might prefigure more modern melancholic Westerns.

  • 18 David Meuel, The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962, Jefferson, NC: McFarland (...)
  • 19 Jean-Loup Bourget, Hollywood: La Norme et la Marge, Paris: Armand Colin, 2005, 68-69.
  • 20 Chris Fujiwara, Jacques Tourneur, The Cinema of Nightfall, Jefferson (NC) and London: McFa (...)

15Ambivalence and ambiguity are particularly conveyed by the impressionistic use of light and shadow, another of Tourneur’s stylistic traits, more frequent in horror films or films noirs than in the classic Western. However some Westerns of the 1940s and 1950s are clearly influenced by film noir aesthetics – The Ox-Bow Incident and High Noon are two famous examples of what David Meuel calls noir Westerns.18 Great Day in the Morning is one of these, all the more so since Tourneur is a master of film noir.19 Indeed, several scenes are shot in chiaroscuro. For instance, Owen’s seduction scene with Ann turns sour as is illustrated in a major confrontation scene at night. She reproaches him with teaching Gary how to shoot and turning him into a potential killer, determined to avenge the death of his father. She also refers to Owen “murdering” the child’s father, omitting that he did it as self-defence. As the conversation turns more intense and heated, the faces are rendered less visible, and until the moment the couple embraces, they are set in complete shadow against a dimly lit wall. At first, Ann resists Owen’s embrace, then locks her arms around his neck. Contrary to our expectations, Owen pushes her away, both from him and the camera, which changes the composition of the two-shot. Pentecost acts like a Southern gentleman, refusing to take advantage of her weakness, but his demeanor is rather brutal and humiliating, closer to the attitude of a “Southern rogue” like Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) in Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939). As he walks away off-screen to the right and she turns to follow him with her eyes, her face fully disappears into shadows, a movement Chris Fujiwara explains as follows, “[d]arkness signifies a barrier between what can and what cannot be known about the characters.”20

  • 21 Ibidem, 8.

16The closing scene in the cave is particularly ambiguous. The cave is used to both mask and frame the action. Darkness, here, is paradoxical as it undermines the idea of a resolution provided by the dialogue. The lighting of the cave reduces the physical difference (size and bulk) between the two antagonists. The darkness, the flask of water, Kirby’s generosity and Pentecost’s ambivalent confession are the symbolic pretexts by which the narrative suggests a resolution without actually reaching it. Probably the most striking unresolved point (among several others, including Gary’s fate and the arrival of the Confederate gold to its destination), coincides with Owen leaving the frame, still ignorant of Boston’s death, that Kirby might have reported to him. Tourneur also avoids the cliché of the two lovers’ reconciliation. The film ends on Pentecost gulping down a drink of water from the gourd Kirby handed over to him. He turns his back to the camera, before he passes through close to a cascade, a possible sign of renewal. This lack of resolution is not characteristic of classic Westerns, nor is it typical of a classical Hollywood narrative. Chris Fujiwara indeed points out that Tourneur’s heroes are “fallible, fluid, and motivated unpredictably by various desires and attachments. We never see them definitely as figures who stand either for or against the community.”21 In the classic Western, the opposition between the individual and the community is usually resolved at the end, with the gunfighter hero helping the community exist in the wilderness. My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946) is a famous example of resolution in the classic Western.

17The transitions between shots are often confusing and abrupt, reflecting the breakdown of the character’s relationships, as they also parallel the breakdown between the North and the South. The use of straight cuts rather than dissolves between scenes increases discontinuity. For instance, there is a straight cut from the close-up of Boston’s hand falling on the saloon floor after being stabbed to death off screen to a long shot of the Union soldiers waiting outside the warehouse where the Southerners are ready to try and escape with the gold. Earlier in the film, after the confrontation between Boston and Ann in the upstairs hall of the saloon, the film cuts abruptly to a shot of Masterson, in the street, waiting to put up his sign announcing the lying in state of the three men killed in the previous shootout. Tourneur thus offers a distant, ironical approach, playing with the conventions of the Western genre that he mingles with some aspects of Southern culture in order to confront different sets of values against a war backdrop.

The Expression of the North/South Conflict and Tourneur’s satirical intent

18The Conflict involves two antagonistic groups. Debates about whether a state would support the North or the South in the coming conflict were of burning importance during this period of strong political tension. Just as Germany was divided in Berlin Express (Tourneur, RKO, 1948), so is America coming apart into North and South in the film.

19Although they show a united front, the Northerners are strongly differentiated. The first group is comprised of average citizens who mostly appear in street scenes, for example when Lawford’s corpse is brought back on a cart. People crowd around the corpse, implicitly accusing Pentecost of murder. A telling scene is the moment when a citizen from Missouri, advocating peace and brotherliness, is bullied and savagely beaten up by Masterson. At first, the group of witnesses seems horrified or shocked by this outbreak of violence, but they finally endorse the same attitude of rejection, kicking the man’s body sprawled on the ground and promising to tar and feather him. The second group concerns the Northern citizens who are more openly involved and wish to enrol and replace the Union soldiers who have not yet reached town. They are active in various ways. As soon as war is declared, they invade the saloon and try to get rid of the Southerners. Later on, they become part of a temporary (substitutive) army raised by Federal officers. Among these activists, the most conspicuous is Masterson who performs various evil deeds, though not as many as in the source novel where he is the one who murders Boston, not Jumbo. The latter plays a specific part. He pretends to be a staunch advocate of the Northern cause, but in fact only seeks to take advantage of the situation to benefit his own business. Lastly, two characters are secret agents, hiding under false identities. When the war breaks out, they reveal their true status. One is Kirby, Ann’s suitor who first appeared as a hired man and then took a mining claim, the other colonel Gibson who pretends to be a writer. A scene between them reveals their scheme to the spectator, who then knows more than the other characters.

20The Southerners (other than Pentecost) represent a much smaller and homogeneous group. We mostly see three of them, Rogers, Ralston and Robinson, whom we meet when they come to inquire about the newcomer from the South. They then side with Pentecost during the card game and again during the gunfight against Masterson and his group in the saloon. They are also suspicious of Pentecost, fearing him to be unreliable and manipulative as they have their own secret to hide. These Southerners (mostly from Georgia) are, in fact, those who have been digging gold for several years and amassed an important quantity worth two million dollars that they intend to give to the Southern cause. It is because he has heard of the gold that Pentecost has come to Denver, as he admits to the miners. His original motivations are purely material: “Gold is not from North or South.”

21Through Pentecost the outsider, several references are made to Southern culture. Boston immediately identifies him because of his unusually smart clothes. She asks Owen what he is doing “far from his plantation” and even though there are no explicit upper-class signifiers in his role, he looks indeed more refined and gentleman-like than anyone else in the film. His elegance—he wears a dark suit and a bolero style jacket, and is unusually sophisticated for a Western hero—also leads Ann to associate him with Southern chivalry, which she rejects, asserting openly her independence from male authority: “No Southern chivalry for me, Mr Pentecost.” Boston also plays “Dixie” on the piano and many references to the South are provided by various characters in the dialogues. Southerners express nostalgia and longing to go back to their native land whereas Northerners show their hatred and their desire of revenge after the fall of Fort Sumter. For the Unionists, the great day in the title is the one when “they’ll mark down the whole dirty breed of slaveholders and rebels.” Jumbo’s new saloon is called “The Free State Saloon” and is adorned by a drawing featuring a Northerner extending a hand to a Black man while he tramples the body of a slave-owner.”

22While the Southerners keep a low profile and are on the defensive, as they are mostly concerned with getting the gold out of town, many incidents are stirred by the Union activists. The saloon attack leads to the death of a priest, one of the film’s most sympathetic characters as he ultimately stands in deep opposition to the war effort. Even the children are instrumentalized by the Northern activists. They parade in mockery of Lawford the dead gold-digger and his son. After the saloon attack, Masterson and his followers exhibit their dead companions, covering their coffins with the Union flag. This leads to a strong reaction on the part of captain Kirby who denies the citizens the status of soldiers and takes off the flags. When the activists parade in the streets, low-angle shots depict grim-faced men marching against a dark sky to express their urge to avenge the surrender of Fort Sumter, the first victory of the South which leads its partisans to express their optimism, while the more realistic Pentecost reminds them that Lincoln has the money and the guns. The torches brandished by the Yankees parading in the streets after the defeat of Fort Sumter also recall those held by the Knight Riders in Stars in My Crown, which suggests a critical approach of the antagonistic groups and especially targets the Northern activists.

23Great Day in the Morning is clearly satirical, and displays patriotism – whether Northern or Southern – in a doubtful light. Southerners are represented as blind supporters of their “Cause” (not yet a “lost cause”) devoid of personal motivations or interests, as testified by the following outcry at Owen’s demand of being given $100,000 to hire him, his brain and his gun skills: “It ain’t no gold to give away, every nugget is another cannon for the South.” Fanaticism lies on both sides, but it takes on more evil forms on the Northern side. The Southerners seem more idealistic; to the miner’s assertion that “[b]lood is thicker than water,” Pentecost answers somewhat cynically: “Mine is more expensive.” The Union partisans are more deeply indicted. Conspicuously, they are the ones who initiate most of the acts of violence, leading to the death of the priest during the shootout when he attempts to put a stop the bloodshed. Masterson’s sadistic impulses obviously find an outlet in his fanatical patriotic commitment, which enables him to justify his taste for violence. His impulses are channelled in bullying and the exercise of military discipline, as he trains the would-be soldiers, asserting his authority, experience and know-how. The officers themselves are not devoid of selfish interests. Colonel Gibson in particular pokes fun at Lincoln’s habits of praying for peace and he judges his attitude “namby pamby.” He is impatient to go to war and is also ready to enrol ordinary civilians to further his own interests as he states half-jokingly, in an ironic comment on Lincoln: “I pray to become a general.” The way the Union Colonel is prepared to casually sacrifice the townspeople as cannon fodder till his regular troops arrive, also adds a sinister touch to his portrayal. It is one of several anti-war points made by Tourneur whose movie denounces the duplicity of ideological discourses. Jumbo Means stands as the prototype of the war profiteer (reminiscent of the carpet-bagger stereotype). He uses patriotism as a front for illegal activities, smuggling rifles in boxes supposed to contain bibles and offering his services to provide equipment for the soldiers, hoping eventually to re-assert his control over the city as he stated early on in the film. He also stands as the main villain of the piece, fuelling aggressiveness and violence in the community and eventually yielding to his own murderous impulses.

24With Great Day in the Morning, Jacques Tourneur offers an example of generic hybridity, associating the codes of the Western with numerous references to Southern culture. The French-born director also subverts a number of conventions of the genre, going against expectations and presenting rather ambiguous or ambivalent characters. To some extent, Owen Pentecost embodies the charm and charisma of the Southern gentleman, but he also acts like a Southern rogue. At first in a position of power, he gradually loses control over the situation and goes against his own impulses and interests, showing even a form of death wish. As in many films set in the South, women play a prominent part and they do show great energy, resilience and resistance to male authority. The rivalry between Ann and Boston constitutes an important narrative thread, but what is ultimately foregrounded is not so much the reunion of the couple Ann/Kirby which is not even shown on screen, but the sacrificial murder of Boston, ironically unaware of Pentecost’s feelings while he remains uninformed of her death as he ultimately confesses his love for her. Even though the film does not openly take sides, it does exploit a romanticized vision of Southern culture, denouncing the hypocrisy and fanaticism of the Northerners while it emphasizes the idealistic stance of the Southerners.

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Bibliographie

BOURGET Jean-Loup, Hollywood: La Norme et la Marge, Paris: Armand Colin, 2005.

CAWELTI John G., The Six-Gun Mystique, Bowling Green: Bowling Green University, 1971.

CHADWICK Bruce, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, New York: Vintage Books, 2001.

COOK Pam, Screening the Past: Memory and Nostalgia in Cinema, New York: Taylor & Francis, 2005.

FUJIWARA Chris, Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall, Jefferson (NC) and London: McFarland, 1998.

KITSES Jim, Horizons West – Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Sam Peckinpah: Studies of Authorship within the Western, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1970.

INDICK William, The Psychology of the Western: How the American Psyche Plays Out on Screen, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2008.

MAYER Geoff, McDONNELL Brian, “Tourneur, Jacques”, Encyclopedia of Film Noir, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007.

MEUEL David, The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2015.

REEP Diana C., “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have: The Saloon in Western Films,” in Paul Loukides and Linda K. Fuller (eds.), Locales in American Popular Film, Bowling Green, OH: Popular, 1993, 204-220.

ROLLINS Peter, Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

SARRIS Andrew, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.

TUHKUNEN Taïna, Demain sera un autre jour. Le sud et ses héroïnes à l’écran, Pertuis: Rouge Profond, coll. Raccords, 2013.

WOLFE Margaret Ripley, Daughters Of Canaan: A Saga of Southern Women, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995, 82.

WRIGHT Will, Six Guns and Society, A Structural Study of the Western, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977.

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Notes

1 Taïna Tuhkunen, Demain sera un autre jour. Le sud et ses héroïnes à l’écran, Pertuis: Rouge Profond, coll. Raccords, 2013. Some features of the Southern are: a plantation setting with a big colonial mansion, sometimes in ruins, a nostalgia for the Antebellum South, the weight of the past, Gothic elements, strong female characters, including the stereotypical “Southern Belle” and other stock characters like the Southern gentleman.

2Great Day in the Morning (1956) is a strange Western which Tourneur imbues with a sense of fatalism and irony, characteristics not readily associated with this genre.” Geoff Mayer, Brian McDonnell, “Tourneur, Jacques,” Encyclopedia of Film Noir, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007, 424.

3 The story is based on a real series of happenings during the struggle between abolitionists and “sesech” on the frontier, 1858-1861.that he did it as self-defencoriginated from the fact that he was a French director looking at American myths with a foreigner'dthat he did it as self-defencoriginated from the fact that he was a French director looking at American myths with a foreigner'd

4 Anne of the Indies is a pirate movie which already staged the rivalry between two women, Captain Ann Providence (Jean Peters), who falls in love with a duplicitous French Captain (Louis Jourdan) masquerading as a pirate, and Molly (Debra Paget), the hero’s wife.

5 Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, New York: Vintage Books, 2001.

6 “Dixie” was a popular marching song of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. In 1861, it was played at Jefferson Davis’s inauguration as president of the Confederate States, and later on adopted as its unofficial national anthem.

7 Diana C. Reep, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have: The Saloon in Western Films,” in Paul Loukides and Linda K. Fuller (eds.), Locales in American Popular Film, Bowling Green, OH: Popular, 1993, 204-220.

8 Jim Kitses, Horizons West – Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Sam Peckinpah: Studies of Authorship within the Western, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1970.

9 The actor was to become famous for his impersonation of Eliot Ness in the iconic TV series, The Untouchables (ABC, 1959-1963).

10 “She’s a good girl: modestly dressed, polite, virginal, prudish, stuck-up, upper class, and usually a brunette (whores tend to be blonde).” William Indick, The Psychology of the Western: How the American Psyche Plays Out on Screen, Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Company, 2008, 61.

11 Pam Cook has examined the “impoverished range of female stereotypes on offer (mother, schoolteacher, prostitute, saloon girl, rancher, Indian squaw, bandit)” in the Western. Pam Cook, Screening the Past: Memory and Nostalgia in Cinema, New York: Taylor & Francis, 2005.

12 Will Wright, Six Guns and Society, A Structural Study of the Western, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977, 59.

13 Margaret Ripley Wolfe, Daughters Of Canaan: A Saga of Southern Women, Lexington : University Press of Kentucky, 1995, 82.

14 The word “Secesh” (sometimes, as here, used as an insult) is an abbreviation of “secessionist” (Confederate soldiers who fought for the South during the Civil War).

15 John G. Cawelti, The Six-Gun Mystique, Bowling Green: Bowling Green University, 1971, 25.

16 “Popular images of Native Americans have tended to concentrate on two polar ends of an oppositional spectrum of the imagination – alternatively conjuring an image of the innocent ‘noble child of nature’ in stark counterpart to that of the ‘vicious savage.’” Peter Rollins, Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998, 62.

17 Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, New York: Da Capo Press, 1996, 142.

18 David Meuel, The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2015, 21.

19 Jean-Loup Bourget, Hollywood: La Norme et la Marge, Paris: Armand Colin, 2005, 68-69.

20 Chris Fujiwara, Jacques Tourneur, The Cinema of Nightfall, Jefferson (NC) and London: McFarland, 1998, 231.

21 Ibidem, 8.

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Référence électronique

Gilles Menegaldo, « The Expression of the North/South Conflict in Great Day in the Morning (Jacques Tourneur, 1956): Western Conventions and Southern Motifs, Subversion and Satire », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XVI-n°1 | 2018, mis en ligne le 11 juillet 2018, consulté le 20 septembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/9381 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.9381

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Gilles Menegaldo

Professeur émérite de littérature et cinéma à l’université de Poitiers, Gilles Ménégaldo est le fondateur et l’ancien directeur du département Arts du spectacle. Membre fondateur et ancien président de la SERCIA, il a écrit de nombreux articles sur la littérature fantastique et de SF anglo-saxonne et le cinéma hollywoodien. Auteur de Dracula, la noirceur et la grâce (avec A-M Paquet-Deyris, 2006) il est l’éditeur ou le co-éditeur de 30 ouvrages collectifs parmi lesquels : Frankenstein (1999), HP Lovecraft, mythes et modernité (2002), R. L. Stevenson et A. Conan Doyle (2003, with JP Naugrette), Dracula (Sept. 2005), Jacques Tourneur (2006), Film and History, (2008), Manières de Noir, (2010), Gothic NEWS, (2011), Persistances gothiques dans la littérature et les arts de l’image, (2012), European and Hollywood Cinema: Cultural Exchanges, (2012). Dernières publications d’ouvrages : King Vidor, odyssée des inconnus, (avec J-M Lecomte, CinémAction, sept. 2014, Le Western et les mythes de l’ouest (avec L. Guillaud, PU Rennes, 2015), Sherlock Holmes, un limier pour le XXIème siècle (avec H. Machinal et J-P Naugrette, PU Rennes, nov. 2016), King Vidor, odyssée des inconnus (avec JM Lecomte, CinémAction, 2016), Lovecraft au prisme de l’image (avec C. Gelly, le Visage vert, 2017), Tim Burton, a Cinema of Transformations (PULM, février 2018).

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