Blue Velvet (rewatch)
One of the keys to Blue Velvet is that, at least in the heightened collection of Americana that is Lumberton, Jeffrey is closer to a bad boy than when viewed from the vantage point of 1986 (or now). The earring is of course the tell-tale sign, but it is evident throughout: the slight unrecollection of Detective Williams, the appellation of “Ivy League” from Sandy’s jilted boyfriend, the approving comments of the high school girls. Lynch’s vision is less of total innocence corrupted and only partially restored than the exposure of that which was hidden in plain sight — like an ear only uncovered when searching for rocks to lob at a beer bottle in a fit of stifled discouragement. Sandy is the innocent (and luminous), but Jeffrey is something more undefinable and complex: the boy investigator, the lover of mysteries both benign and seductive, the detective *and* the pervert.
The Awful Truth
There are far too many standout scenes in this staggering masterwork, but perhaps one of the most representative of The Awful Truth‘s genius is one of its most seemingly direct, with its central couple and their farcical paramours (one of whom, Dixie Belle, holds this as her only scene in the film) together in a club. In purely narrative terms, this scene’s utility is to provide the inspiration for Lucy’s “drunken” performance near the end of the film, but it possesses a dynamic that speaks to the ensuing hijinks within the scene and through the rest of the film. McCarey isn’t necessarily subtle with how he conveys the prevailing relationships, but it remains both effective and hilarious: through much of the scene, the divorcing Jerry and Lucy are captured in a two-shot, while Leeson and Dixie Belle are shunted off into their own separate singles, a decision that enhances the spouses’ connection by way of discomfort at their present states.
In the spirit of the film, this initial situation is spun out further, with not one but two full performances. Jerry is in many ways the figure in charge here, remaining as the spectator, but just as important is the genuine sense of glee on Leeson’s face, the shameless committment of Dixie Belle, the sheepish embarassment of Lucy. And one of the film’s finest bits of subtlety is here, as Jerry moves seats, first to the space vacated by Dixie Belle, and then to Leeson’s. It is a mastery of space, an assertion of dominance, which plugs directly into the tug-of-war at The Awful Truth‘s core, and that he does it with a full grin makes it all the more pleasurable.