Cheaper by the Dozen, Pro-Life Moment

“Pro-Life” or “Anti-abortion,” however you want to term it, Cheaper by the Dozen, the original 1950 version based on the book of the same name, has an encounter with Planned Parenthood. It took me by surprise since I didn’t expect an issue like birth control to pop up in such an old movie with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy (Myrna is one of my favorites, by the way). I decided to originally watch the film after some quaint reviews on Netflix and that it was based on a true story of an efficiency expert who decided to have 12 kids. I figured it might be similar to Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation with Jimmy Stewart.

In the scene in question, Myrna Loy’s character Lillian Gilbreth is approached at her home for her expertise as a psychologist to speak at a local chapter of Planned Parenthood. The Planned Parenthood lady is shown as stuffy and uptight and there are hints that she is basically a child-hater of sorts. Lillian decides to show her up after receiving her invite by calling in her husband who tromps in with sarcastic politeness and then proceeds to whistle for his twelve children to appear within seconds. This of course stuns the Planned Parenthood lady and thus we are amused. The Planned Parenthood lady comes off looking like a bitter single woman and you can chalk one up the happiness of family excess.

I wonder how many women these days would be amused by the prospect of not having access to birth control, birthing 12 children and having the house run by their dominant husband, Mr. Efficiency Expert? The movie is very lighthearted, sometimes funny, and is what we might expect of the time period, but ohhhhh how times have changed. I will say the movie does reflect a pro-woman stance on education and accomplishment. Mr Gilbreth didn’t want any female dummies in his squad and they were all expected to go to college. However, how does a woman have a career if they are constantly pregnant?  The end of the film indicates that Mrs. Gilbreth goes on to lecture in place of her husband on efficiency and is successful enough to become woman of the year–but then her childbearing years are over for an obvious reason (which I won’t give away if you haven’t seen the film).

I would be curious to see women’s reactions watching this film again as most Christian women these days use birth control to usurp God’s domain–the womb. “He” doesn’t decide when they get pregnant, they do. My wife didn’t care much for the Steve Martin remake and I’m not going to be able to get her to sit still to watch this one. She likes children but not THAT many children.

If you don’t think there are people who are against birth control any more, since this is a movie from 1950, think again. I knew the fringe for a short period in my youth in the nineties (pre-atheist days) when I was involved in the Pro-life movement and they had a no tolerance stance on birth control. They’re still around, though.  Ironically enough, mainstream pro-life women still use birth control even as it can be considered an abortifacient.

I guess I can’t blame people for being sentimental about such movies (it’s a kind of fantasy we love), but if someone came to your door today and suggested the opposite–that you join a group against birth control–you’d probably close the door in their face and think them a nut. Cheaper by the Dozen is a decent film from the past, but it’s one you watch with amusement about how times and attitudes have changed. Looking at the NetFlix members’ reviews I wonder how many of them realize it.

SIDENOTE: Inevitably, someone will comment that Planned Parenthood did this or that in the past (“Margaret Sanger was a Nazi!”). Yes, there are skeletons in the closet, not denying that. The organization is a far cry from the Sanger days and so family planning has had its moments of ignorance too. Debate it all you want, but birth control is here to stay and most women love it.

SIDENOTE 2: Clifton Webb’s Frank Gilbreth character gets on my nerves at times. This is supposed to be a true story and we’re to assume that Lillian is using feminine wiles to steer her loud husband so he isn’t as dominant as he thinks. She is the ideal wife (submissively quiet but also clever enough to get her way). Do we really think that a woman pregnant 12 times never snapped back at her constantly barking husband and wanted to murder him in his sleep? Thankfully the daughters start to rebel in what is the repetition we constantly see with kids who turn into parents and then are dismayed by their own kids’ actions (“Kids these days!). Remember that showing a pretty knee leads to sex.

‘Play Dirty’ Movie Review

Play Dirty (1968) *** Stars

I enjoy WW2 films and the late sixties produced a different variety of war film as attitudes about Vietnam were emerging in the arts. Play Dirty (1968) starring Michael Caine as British officer Capt. Douglas and Nigel Davenport as Cyril Leech, a former criminal turned gun for hire, is a nihilistic view of what most consider to be the successful war won by our greatest generation. There’s no point in reading on if you haven’t seen the film because I will be giving away too many details that result in the controversial ending.

With WW2 films you expect there to be suffering, dying, tragedy, killing–but all acceptable under the guise of patriotism. After all, Hitler had to be stopped, didn’t he? Play Dirty features a BP employee (yes, British Petroleum) with an honorary commission in the British army who is put into combat much to his dismay; his current place of operations was rather cushy and safe. He is paired up with an experimental army made up of criminals, two of which are affectionately gay–no judgment being made on their behavior (which I found surprising for such an old film, though maybe it was acceptable because they were criminal anti-heroes). The private army is already being lead by Cyril Leech who has a disdain for everyone but himself with no regard for tradition (apathy towards burying the dead) or even what we might consider honor (he allows fellow allies to be slaughtered without aid or warning).

The small band of men are sent to blow up a fuel depot in Rommel territory. If you don’t know who Rommel was, he was called “The Desert Fox” and was highly respected by both sides for his expertise in desert warfare. According to Wiki, he was also considered to be humane (for a Nazi) in that he refused orders to kill captured soldiers–even Jewish ones–and then later on was involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Douglas and Leech butt heads all throughout the excruciating journey filled with blowing sand, chapped lips, blown tires, and injuries. The mission is an exercise in futility and what’s worse is that the home command sent them out as a decoy so they could send in another group of men for the “real attack.”

What we usually expect in war movies or action movies is that when soldiers are “used” by their command they prevail despite the odds against them. Capt. Douglas, despite Leech’s cynicism, manages to get only so far and then it all falls apart. That’s because after all the time spent conquering the desert, they find the fuel depot they were supposed to blow up is a fake–the decoy found a decoy fuel depot.

But Capt. Douglas is not deterred. He intends on finding at least one damn fuel depot to blow up. Only problem is that his command now wants them to desist in their efforts as the allies may have the opportunity to capture the fuel instead of destrying it. Due to lack of communication the callous decision is made to simply kill the private army by betraying them to the Germans. And thus all of the men are shot with Douglas and Leech surviving by appearing to be part of the German army and holding out in a stable for the night filled with goats.

At this point, the viewer is thinking, “Give me something here?!” At least shoot the commanding officers that betrayed everyone. …no relief. Morning comes, Douglas and Leech, hearing the invading allies storming in,  decide to walk out with a white flag. They’re shot by an incompetent soldier who didn’t see the flag…shot by friendly fire.

Over the holidays I posted a comic strip featuring the Littlest Atheist questioning God’s plan. Freethunk got a comment on that strip from someone who wasn’t necessarily Christian but thought it was naive to think there was a plan and that the criticism by Bertrand (The Littlest Atheist) was essentially childish. I replied and said Bertrand was being rhetorical and that was the point exactly–there is no plan. Play Dirty, is both anti-war and admittedly pessimistic, because war it is a dirty business among men with no intervention by the gods. Mistakes are made, morals/ethics are often discarded, and while the bigger picture makes sense after the fact, the small stories that got us there are filled with dead ends (no pun intended). When Capt. Douglas and Leech are mindlessly shot at the end of the film we’re left with an empty feeling. They struggled and endured it all for nothing?

How do you answer a movie like that and not fall into the trap of nihilistic defeatism or fatalism? Christians who believe in God’s plan, feel free to comment.

As an atheist humanist I would say the point, the meaning of it all,  is that we keep moving and that we have to admit that some lives are thrown away in vain as we move in a better direction. Is that mild nihilism? Nihilism is a broad subject as I find out every time I read about it, but I’m not sure I’m ready to concede that life is inherently pointless or meaningless just because there isn’t an intelligent designer? Or rather I don’t see why it has to be an all or nothing concept. When I refer to nihilism here it is in response to the common complaint that if there is no objective meaning–no intended plan– that we might as well give up and kill ourselves. That viewpoint annoys me to no end and I hear it from both Christians and Atheists.

I do think it is a lie we tell ourselves that every life serves an intentional purpose but it is also a lie to say everyone and everything is pointless. It begs the question about what actually is pointless. I think buttering toast has a point–it goes in my mouth (yes, sarcastically simple, but you see my point (ha!)). Purpose is attempted by many and just as many fail.  However, to not attempt the struggle is futility–we could even say the struggle itself is noble and has a point, regardless of the outcome–and even the failures of others can be a foundation for the rest of us to succeed. But there is no plan by God. Christians may say lifeless mounds of bodies were part of God’s plan to destroy Hitler, but as The Littlest Atheist noted, “He must be the worst planner ever.” Did it make sense to have Rommel and his fellow German conspirators fail to kill Hitler? Did it make sense to even allow Hitler to be born? God’s purpose is not evident in wiping out six million Jews, who apparently went to hell if they remained Jewish until the very end. Man’s purpose is evident: kill Hitler to save the world.

I know there are both Christians and Atheists that believe in forms of nihilism/fatalism because apparently without God there is no meaning or objectivity to life. I thought the same way when I was a Christian (about atheists) and oddly enough when I lost my faith I seemed to have more purpose in this life and rejected my understanding of those forms of nihilism/fatalism in favor of optimism (maybe I’m naive, I do tend to talk out of my ass at times).  I’ve humorously called my views cynically optimistic, as of course I have a healthy distrust of others, but our world is progressing; we just like to highlight the bad stuff on the evening news and avoid stepping back to see the broader timeline.

And to be clear, religious fatalism/nihilism is just as bad as the atheistic versions, though it often goes unrecognized. The reason for religious defeatism is that Christians consider themselves to be alien to earth (I’m not kidding about this) and that physical life on earth for them is actually meaningless with the exception of making more Christian followers for the afterlife (whether by procreation or proselytizing) to act like drones before the God who designed the whole scheme so he could be worshipped. If Christians were honest with themselves they would admit that they find the same kind of meaning I do on earth–friends, family, art, career, exploration, learning, etc. It is the lazy mind that is defeatist–we make and define meaning, and sometimes I wonder if the meaning is just there and we discover it. After all, the term “meaning” can be pretty abstract (which is why philosophy can hurt your head and spin you in circles).

Play Dirty leaves us feeling empty–you should consider why and what you would do to change that feeling instead of caving into it. …boy, that’s one hell of a tangent to go off on for a war movie, but then that’s what this site is about.

‘Samson and Delilah’ Movie Review

Samson and Delilah - *** Stars

Christians aren’t making epics like Samson and Delilah (1949) these days, or rather Hollywood doesn’t seem to be doing it. We have the Chronicles of Narnia Series, the Left Behind nonsense with former sitcom stars, and then low budget dramas or family heart warmers. I realize budgets are the reason the new Christian film producers aren’t going to come out with Biblical epics, but I hope they work up to it. It’s time to dispense with personal, introspective movies about how God affects “me” and tell a good ol’ fashioned story.

Freethunkers should throw a Cecil B. DeMille party around the holiday season and enjoy it with some spiked eggnog. I love watching The Ten Commandments and other supposedly faith-based movies from the director of the cast of thousands because he created campy soap operas with famous stars which lost all of the grit of the original myths. I just watched Samson and Delilah and it was entertaining as all hell. I do recommend that you review the Biblical story first so you can say “WTF” as the plotline is rearranged and skips elements of the original Heruculean style tale of a man with long hair and the strength of ten Schwarzeneggers.

But what was this movie really about–sex! I’m sure Cecil B. DeMille was a Christian, but there’s no other way to put it. Look at the damn movie poster! All throughout the picture Hedy Lamarr shows as much skin as was allowed at the time–which I believe means no belly buttons, but there was a lot of leg and midriff and form-fitting outfits. Hedy Lamarr is a stunning, if not Americanized version of Delilah and she uses every thing she has to make the screen steam with lust and unquenchable desire. If she can’t have Samson, no one will!

Victor Mature as Samson, looks like a 1940’s version of Sylvester Stallone with his mullet (since Christians were afraid of long hair) and sleepy eyelids. I have to admit, I avoided watching this film for a long time because I felt he was out of place in a Biblical epic, as much as Vincent Price in Ten Commandments, but he worked out well. Maybe not in the way he meant to, which was to be a fine actor in a period piece, but oh well. This film is not about fine acting, it’s the essence of every romance novel book cover ever displayed.

Some viewers, maybe even young viewers, may have a hard time watching Samson kill a lion for no apparent reason then to show off his strength. Rest assured, it was a tame, toothless one. You can tell because when Victor Mature starts to wrestle with him he loses some height and his hair looks funny (or funnier than usual). Wiki says that Cecil B. DeMille didn’t like Victor Mature for the role. He wanted Steve Reeves (who of course went on to do a string of Hercules movies). The famous director was furious that Victor refused to actually wrestle the trained lion himself, which is why you will see shots intertwined of a stunt double then Victor close-up smacking around a stuffed toy–it’s hilarous.

More violence abounds in this family movie when Samson is handed over to the Philistines by his own people and then decides to kill everyone transporting him with the jawbone of an ass. I was surprised by the close-up shots of the jawbone crushing skulls with blood popping out. It was a pretty “ass-whooping” and that animal had a tough jawbone. It never broke, even against armor.

The movie wraps up similarly to the Biblical narrative, with Samson commiting suicide bythe blessing of God and taking his Philistine captors with him. He’s guided to the pillars he’s to push over by a young Saul, or at least there is a hint that this is the same Saul that would become the first king of Israel. Here’s the big question about the events that led up to that event? Why, if Delilah obtained and revealed the secret of Samson’s strength, did the Philistines stupidly allow Samson to grow out his hair? Sure it was strength sent by God but God’d deal was based on hair growth so didn’t somebody think, “Hey, we need to keep this guy’s head shaved. After all, he went apeshit on us with the jawbone of an ass!”

Now to be clear, it wasn’t just the hair. The Bible says Samson was a Nazirite which includes other Biblical figures such as John the Baptist and Paul. According to, these are the requirements of a Nazirite: 

He shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin. All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the Lord.

So hair was one factor, but drinking wine or vinegar or anything from grapes was another. And he can’t go near dead bodies. I guess Delilah could have fed Samson raisens or thrown a dead body on him while he was sleeping and that would have zapped his strength too.

If a Nazirite screws up and has to restart his vows, after a period of separation from God he must do the following (again, according to

Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And he shall present his offering to the Lord: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings.

…Because we all know that God likes a basket of unleavened bread cakes to go with his burnt lamb (or maybe the priests were eating this stuff and it was all a scam).

There have been some other Samson movies if you search Netflix, however, they don’t match up to Cecil’s version. It would be nice (and a cartoonist’s dream) to see Hollywood return to the Biblical epic with big stars and a cast of thousands. Maybe the scripts could even stay true to the scriptures because quite a few believers don’t know their Bibles anyways (and how perfectly brutal and graphic the stories are). The Biblical Samson was a vengeful brute and a tall tale, similar to American myths about Paul Bunyan. I suppose it is possible that a man could wrestle a lion and win or catch three hundred foxes and tie pairs together with torches to burn down Philistine crops…But maybe slaughtering a thousand Philistines with a jawbone of an ass is stretching the truth (did the Bible round up?). Or when Samson visited a hooker in the city and was locked in so he had to lift the gates of the city on his back and carry them off (which they didn’t show in the movie, disappointingly enough)–maybe that’s a small lie, a wee stretch of the truth? Now pushing over the pillars so that a Dagon temple collapsed on the Philistines? I guess it’s possible if the place was poorly built.

What I’m saying is: doesn’t this sound like a myth, a story that has been embellished over time until it was written down? It’s a fun story, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a strongman story. If you like Rabbinic literature try reading more on Samson because apparently his shoulders were huge and he could pick up two mountains and rub them together. My point being that he’s a legend. There might have been a Judge of Israel named Samson, sure, but he wasn’t a tall tale. Probably he had muscles to impress the ladies…after all, he liked hookers. Ahh, family values.

BTW: I’m not sure this movie poster was displayed in America? Hedy Lamarr’s boobs are almost showing?

Dragonwyck – Vincent Price as a Drug-Addicted Atheist

*** Stars

I am not one to malign a movie simply because it depicts an atheist as something other than a good moral citizen. I don’t think that is a befitting criteria to judge an overall film. It may be necessary to criticize a blatant Christian propaganda film generalizing atheists and other nonbelievers as being responsible for all of society’s ills (something Pat Robertson might do). This type of depiction has to do with prejudice, unless it is an excusable satire in which stereotypes are required for laughs. One bad atheist doesn’t spoil the whole lot just as one smelly Christian shouldn’t mean that the entire church stinks (a very odd way of putting it but I’m sure you are now imagining a smelly Christian).

With that said, I do like to examine movies that are morality plays focusing on good religion versus evil no-religion and Dragonwyck, an admittedly enjoyable gothic soap opera, does just that. It features Gene Tierney as the innocent Miranda Wells (the movie poster to the left doesn’t do her justice) and one of my all time favorites Vincent Price as the suffering but scheming Nicholas Van Ryn.
The movie opens with what feels to me as a suffocating existence of holier than thou farm living. Miranda’s father Ephraim, played by Walter Huston, emphasizes prayer and the Bible in all things. When the household receives an invite from Nicholas Van Ryn to allow for one of their daughters to stay at Dragonwyck, a mansion filled with servants and luxury, Ephraim is quick to dismiss it–but Miranda knows how to speak Christianese and says God has talked to her spirit, telling her to go. The whole matter is left up to random scripture picking, which if you don’t know is where you flip through the Bible with your eyes closed and put your finger on a verse (kind of like fortune telling). Whatever verse you pick you attempt to interpret how it relates to your situation. It sounds silly but I saw it done on occasion and I believe I even tried it as a kid. Miranda picks out a verse about Hagar going off into the desert which suggests that Miranda should go to Dragonwyck.
Once Miranda arrives at the mansion she is overwhelmed by it all. It is the life of the rich elite and yet, as the story unfolds, it is the telling of how serfdom was coming to an end, a favoring of the “peasants”. The farmers on Van Ryn’s land are refusing to pay tribute and demand that they own the land they have worked for decades. To make matters worse, Van Ryn has been unable to father an heir and he despises his gluttonous wife who loves sweets more than her own child Katrine. Then there is the ghostly sounds coming from a room with an antiquated harpsichord dwells with a painting overhead of a deceased woman who may or may not be haunting Dragonwyck. The movie does not make it clear if it is only certain characters that hear the noise or if there is actually a ghost, an ambiguity I appreciate and I prefer to think of the family members going mad because of their unhappy lives.
The entire picture of Dragonwyck is meant as a contrast to the hard-working, Bible believing farmers. While I felt Miranda’s family was too stern and judgmental the movie seems to favor them as well as the tenants of Van Ryn. Certainly, I don’t care for the stuffy rich either, but the family of Dragonwych is painted as utterly unhappy with misery around every corner. Van Ryn himself, though the word is not used, is explicitly described as an atheist. Later we find out he is truly a despicable person, almost to be pitied, and it is suggested because of his lack of belief that his only hope lies in power, money, and an heir. When he can’t have them there is no where for him to turn to but drugs.
Oh, and did I mention the murder? I always hate giving away too much, but someone dies within Dragonwyck. At the end of the film, you will be able to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and see how truly miserable the rich are.
This film was based on a book by Anya Seton and deviates somewhat from the Wiki article I read. I would be curious to read it to see if Van Ryn is depicted in the same manner as the film. Well, if we have to have a miserably unhappy atheist, at least it is Vincent Price in the role.