Thursday, December 8, 2011

Remembering Morgan (And It's Not M*A*S*H)

With the news of Harry Morgan's passing, I remembered the first time I saw him act; it was in a 1951 potboiler-type film and his name was Henry. In fact, years later when Mr. Morgan popped up on M*A*S*H I thought Harry? That's Henry, the guy from The Well!"

What a smile!

I was 8 or 9 years young when I saw The Well in the late 1960s on WPIX-TV New York. The film is a racially charged drama that pits white against black amidst the investigation into the disappearance of a black female child. From gossip-mongering townsfolk to prejudicial police officers, violence and beatings erupt as the evidence points to Mr. Morgan as the kidnapper. (The line ...a thing like this could ruin me... and the age of the protagonists imply sexual molestation but in 1951 that's all they could do.)

The Well is uncompromising in its depiction of mob violence, crowd mentality, and the prejudice from which they are incited. Although the idiocy of the white racist characters comes off the worst, the film does not pander by putting the black characters on a pedestal. In fact, The Well puts everyone's warts out there - excepting Mr. Morgan.

Maidie Norman is heartbreaking

The film's actors are uniformly excellent with Morgan and Maidie Norman standouts as the suspect and the missing girl's mother, respectively. (Ms. Norman may have had her greatest success as the housekeeper in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane but she'll always be Dorothy, Olivia de Havilland's assistant, in Airport '77 to me.)

The best thing about The Well is it brings to life Anne Frank's famous quote, Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart. Yes, you've seen this type of thing before; life imitated art a little over a decade ago. But The Well still never ceases to make me well up - with anger and with joy.

RIP, Mr. Morgan.

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