You don't have to watch a recent controversial cable TV documentary about mermaids to see convincing visual evidence that the mythical creatures might actually exist. Just rent a few of Esther Williams' classic Hollywood aquatic musicals - Bathing Beauty, Neptune's Daughter and Million-Dollar Mermaid, to name a few - in which the teenage national swimming champion turned glamorous actress thrilled 1940s and 1950s moviegoers with her graceful underwater maneuvers and lithe, shapely figure.
"There are worse things than Apaches," says Dallas, a fallen woman, looking out at the row of tight-lipped, righteous ladies who are running her out of town. It's the kind of line and scene that makes me wish modern blockbusters gave women more to do. I just finished watching John Ford's Stagecoach (1939), a gorgeously-shot film rife with cringe-inducing racial and regional stereotypes that somehow managed to portray the women in it (well, white women) as complicated people. It's the story of a bunch of passengers - a banker, a lady, a tramp, a Southern gentleman, a whiskey salesman, and a drunk (guess who he sits next to) - traveling in a stagecoach through hostile Indian territory. They are joined by an outlaw, the Ringo Kid, thereby completing the cross-section of society necessary for the film to make all its points about the essential goodness of people, class and station notwithstanding.
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