Dec 23, 2012

You'd Be Perfect for My Grandson: Inner Sanctum

Authorial intent is not necessary for a gay subtext, but since about 1980, subtexts have usually been the result of actors, directors, or writers recognizing the gay potential in ostensibly heterosexual characters, and playing into it.  Before 1980, subtexts were usually the result of of actors, directors, or writers being unaware that same-sex desire, behavior, or romance existed.  Sometimes they were so utterly ignorant that it is mind-boggling.

Inner Sanctum (1948) is a thriller about an ordinary man, Harold Dunlap (Charles Russell), who accidentally kills his fiancee during an argument at a train station, then goes on the lam in a small town.  He ends up at a boarding house run by the elderly Thelma Mitchell (Nana Bryant) and occupied by the usual colorful small-town characters: a drunk, a failed doctor, a busybody, a sultry seductress -- and Thelma's daughter and grandson. Mike (Dale Belding) is a teenager who desperately wants to escape his small town hell -- and looks heavily embarrassed at being forced to wear a little kid's whirly-top beanie.

When Harold arrives, Thelma aggressively tries to push him into having sex with her grandson: "Oh, you must meet Mike!  Oh, you're just the kind of man he needs!  You must stay in his room tonight!"  Apprised that Mike's room has only a small single bed, she grins knowingly: "Oh, they'll manage!"

But she relents and permits a second rollaway bed to be installed.

I can't think of a good "real" explanation for Thelma's giddy match-making. A masculine role model?

Once they are in the bedroom, Harold undresses, giving us chest and basket shots unusual in film noir.  Mike stares wide-eyed.

"You want to see me with my shirt off?" Harold asks. Mike nods. "Well, come on, have a look."  Mike moves across the room, sits next to the underwear-clad Harold, and examines his muscles.

Ok, maybe Mike saw the accident earlier, and he wants to examine Harold's muscles to see if there's a telltale scar. But it looks very much like a gay teenager negotiating a crush on an older man.

Harold realizes that Mike knows too much, and decides to kill him.  As they struggle, the tenants downstairs hear curious bumping noises from the bedroom, and wonder what's going on.  "Oh, I'm sure they're all right," Thelma says with her knowing grin.

I have no "real" explanation for what she thinks is going on.

The movie ends with Mike saved and Harold turning himself in, and viewers scratching their heads, asking "Was it possible for anyone to be so completely unaware, even in 1948?"

Maybe not.  There's not much information on Charles Russell or Dale Belding, but Nana Bryant, a seasoned theatrical actress, was certainly aware of the existence of gay people, and director Lew Landers often made movies with homoerotic subtexts.

You can watch the entire movie on youtube.