A Man Called Id
EDWIN NEWMANwas formerly a State Department correspondent for the United Press, and is note in the London Bureau of the National Broadcasting Company.
by EDWIN NEWMAN
CHACUN à son goût,” as writers addicted to quotations like to say. To me, the most interesting moving picture of recent months has not been one of the highly touted award winners at distant festivals, or the recipient of a cluster of Oscars, or even a venture into the third dimension. No, my vote goes to The Treasure of Kalifa, a Hollywood product the critics ignored. And why? Because it lies in the main stream of contemporary American films: its stars have onesyllable first names. Not ordinary, unimaginative names like James or John, however, but names that serve a purpose, that punch, that express, that reveal.
The stars of The Treasure of Kalifa arc Rod Cameron and Tab Hunter. To pronounce those words is to know what manner of men they are. They arc laconic, tough, informal, no-no rise use Americans. Their names also disclose the nature of the film. It is an action picture, perhaps even an allaction picture, set in the great outdoors. The leading characters, busily engaged in all-action, barely have time to grunt. These are ideal parts for Rod and Tab.
But see the utility of this new fashion. Take a second film that roused little critical enthusiasm, Back to God’s Country. This is another action or allaction picture, plainly set in the frozen North, and it also has two laconic, tough, informal, no-nonsense .Americans, Rock Hudson and Steve Cochran. Rock evidently is the hero, because his name precedes Steve’s in the billing. Rock, in fact, is “in” the picture, while Steve only “co-stars” with Marcia Henderson.
This, I agree, is easy. A man who is “in” a picture is more likely to be the hero than a man who is merely co-starring with Marcia Henderson.
Let us suppose, therefore, that we do not know that the Rock came before the Steve. It still is possible to know at once that Rock is the hero: his name has only four letters while Steve’s has live. Steve may be laconic, tough, informal, and no-nonsense, but he is not as laconic, tough, informal, and no-nonsense as Rock. All this the names make clear.
So far so good. But there are problems. Go back to The Treasure of Kalifa. Rod and Tab are both threeletter names, and their owners are billed together, on the same line. Who is the hero there? The answer must be that both are heroes. They are more: they are tried and trusty friends. It is true that in the film itself their names would he difieront, but it is pleasant to think of a scene in which each stands silently on one side of a corner of a house, gun drawn, unable to see the other, but knowing that somebody is on the other side. This is the suspenseful dialogue: —
Ron (nervously): Tab?
TAB (nervously): Rod?
ROD (tough, laconic, informal, and nononsense): Right, Tab, it’s Rod.
TAB (tough, laconic, informal, and nononsense): (Right. Rod, it’s Tab.
Both men then emerge, grin briefly, and call each other “you old son of a gun.”
There is, of course, a limit to the number of films in which the leading men can be friends, and for the most part the producers juggle plots and casts so that they do not have a man playing the villain who has the same number of letters in his name as the man playing the hero.
But allowing for the worst, suppose that a producer has a four-letter villain already cast when he finds that no twoor three-letter hero is available. Even in this extremity, the new style offers the producer a way out. His salvation is to use a hero whose four-letter name is less orthodox than the four-letter name of the villain. It is thus perfectly clear that in The Great Sioux Uprising, Jeff Chandler triumphs over Lyle Beltger. But Jeff would hardly have a chance against somebody named, let us say, Hook.
There is the additional point that some names are works of genius. By way of illustration, a Biff could easily give a wav two letters to, say, an Os and come out on top. Nobody name of Biff’s gonna be beat by nobody name of Os. Feller name of Lash LaRue, currently starrin’ in Son of a Had man (and not to be confused with Whip Wilson, currently starrin’ in Crashin’ Through) might, do it . Old Lash might heal Biff, specially with the help of his sidekick Fuzzy St. John and extra specially if Fuzzy’s name gits shortened to Fuzz. Otherwise, can’t do hit nohow.
One other thing. This style in names is confined at present to outdoor heroes. It it spreads to nonaction pictures, its usefulness will be reduced. Wlio would want to see, or could tell anything about, Julius Caesar with Jack Gielgud, Jim Mason, and Lou Calhern?