How Leftist Times Have Changed
In light of the current progressive attack on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, alleging rough drunken treatment of a girl at a high school drinking party thirty-five years ago, and citing this alleged misbehavior as grounds for rejecting his nomination and destroying his life and career, I wish to note to an amusing point of comparison from the Ghost of Liberalism Past.
Just the other evening, I watched the 1959 crime melodrama Compulsion, the tale of two brilliant college boys who, soaked in popularized Nietzsche and nihilism, plan and carry out a senseless murder, merely for the thrill of living “above” society’s mores. The film follows a scenario reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rope, but with a long, tedious, politically-loaded courtroom speech from Orson Welles that spoils an otherwise entertaining movie exactly as Chaplin spoiled The Great Dictator — namely by dropping the main plot in favor of ending with a cloying progressive plea to the audience, in this case a plea against capital punishment.
Prior to the weak ending, however, the film — knee-jerk, hand-wringing progressivism wrapped in a psychologically interesting package — features one subplot that caught my particular attention.
One of the killers, the socially awkward Judd (effectively portrayed by a young Dean Stockwell), forms a sincere boyish attachment to another student, Ruth Evans (Diane Varsi, terrible), but the day he is to meet her alone, his partner in crime, Artie (Bradford Dillman) “orders” him to use the opportunity to rape Ruth, as a further means of showing his superiority to normal moral standards.
In the woods with her, a confused and frightened Judd finally talks himself into forcing Ruth onto the ground and throwing himself on top of her. As she struggles, he suddenly catches hold of himself and releases her, breaking into sobs of remorse and shame.
Later, after Judd and Artie have been caught and confessed to their murder, Ruth has the following exchange with her boyfriend Sid (Martin Milner), a graduate school classmate of the two killers, and also a junior news reporter involved in the reporting of the murder case:
Ruth: I can’t help feeling sorry for Judd…and for Artie.
Sid: Sorry for them? Ruth, they plotted a cold-blooded killing and went through with it like an experiment in chemistry.
Ruth: Sid, Judd isn’t like that. Believe me, I know.
Sid: How do you know?
Ruth: Will you just believe that I know.
Sid: No, I won’t “just believe you.” Something must have happened….Well did it? Did something happen?
Ruth: [after hesitating] He tried to attack me.
Sid: Dirty little degenerate!
Ruth: Please! It wasn’t the way you think at all. He made an attempt at it. He couldn’t go through with it, Sid. He was like a child…a sick, frightened child.
Sid: I don’t understand you, Ruth. He tries to rape you, and you defend him.
Ruth: I know, it’s difficult to understand. But see you weren’t there, you didn’t see him like I did, Sid. If you did, you’d have some compassion or sympathy for him, believe me–
Sid: Sympathy? Ruth, you sound as though you’re sorry he didn’t go through with it.
[Ruth slaps him]
Sid: I hope they hang him. I hope he hangs till the rope rots.
Later, Ruth is called as a character witness in Judd’s defense, as the boys’ lawyer tries to spare them from execution.
Back in 1959, the proper liberal sentiment was “compassion,” as Ruth says. We are all criminals inside. We all have terrible urges. It’s just so inhumane to blame a young man — barely more than a boy — for a moment’s madness, especially when he didn’t actually go through with his urge to the end. After all, such urges only make him human, while his ultimate failure to follow through proves he is essentially good in his heart. Can we destroy a boy’s life over such a weak moment?
In this scene, it is Ruth’s boyfriend, angry at his girlfriend’s indiscretion and indignant at her obvious feelings for another boy, who expresses the desire for revenge and severe punishment. The woman is all about “understanding” and “sympathy.” Most interestingly, though she was deeply upset by the episode, Ruth does not regard her own personal trauma as grounds for destroying another person’s life or disregarding his humanity.
How leftist times have changed. A case study in the effects of sixty years of mainstream female Marxism (aka feminism).
By the way, while watching Compulsion, I was continually preoccupied with Martin Milner, who plays Sid. I recognized him immediately from The Twilight Zone series, but couldn’t quite put my finger on which episode. Finally, after the movie ended, I figured it out. It was the doppelgänger episode, “Mirror Image,” one of the most truly eerie and nightmarish of the original series, where Milner plays a compassionate traveler trying to help a haunted young woman, played by Vera Miles.
And whereas Milner, like most of the rest of the Compulsion cast, is somewhat wooden and detached most of the time, in “Mirror Image,” he is a great match for Miles, and the episode one of my absolute favorites.