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The Guilt Of Janet Ames (free)

  • Chazen Museum of Art 750 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Morally speaking, Henry Levin's 1947 drama The Guilt Of Janet Ames is not a good movie. It calls out for a lower-screen crawl reading: "This is what people actually believed in the 1940s.". In that historic sense, though, this is worth a watch, not only for a laugh, but to get an inkling of how seriously married women of the day were expected to cater to their presumably shell-shocked and abusive husbands. The titular Janet Ames (Rosalind Russell) becomes a widow when her husband hurls himself on a grenade in World War II to save his fellow soldiers, and at its moral core, the film suggests that he didn't have to give up his life, but became more likely to because his wife wasn't supportive enough.

Two years after her husband's death, the pretend-sick Mrs. Ames makes a list of the men her husband saved so she can go yell at them. A drunken ex-journalist (Melvyn Douglas) who can hypnotize people with his stories then leads Mrs. Ames through a Christmas Carol-style adventure in which she meets these fine, obstinately naive men and their much cooler wives. Mrs. Ames is at first somewhat startled by the man's mind-control superpowers, but eventually falls for him, as she learns to look past his horrible character flaws. One of the surviving men (Sid Caesar) gives a comedy routine that can only be characterized as startling, in which he impersonates a (hilariously foreign) Freudian psychologist and mocks the very idea of therapy. The film's dramatic performances and genuinely courageous storytelling techniques redeem it as a work of cinema, but in hindsight it's an unintentionally damning look at a ludicrous post-war American ideology. —Reid Kurkerewicz