Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The "dead hand": in "The Ultimate Gift", "The Bachelor", even "The Brothers Solomon"


A somewhat obscure notion in American society (less obscure in the UK perhaps) is the “dead hand” whereby an individual can get or keep his or her inheritance only by performing certain tasks or living up to certain conditions laid down in the will. That way, the parent or ancestor maintains “control” over the behavior of his progeny “from the grave.”

Yet, sometimes Hollywood was responded to this concept as if it were a foregone conclusion that it is real. Fox Faith, early this year, released a film “The Ultimate Gift” in which a North Carolina playboy (played by an evolving Drew Fuller) has to perform twelve tasks to get his bequest. The film was directed by Michael O. Sajbel, and is based on a novel by Jim Stovall. The tasks have a lot to do with charity and volunteerism and some manual labor (he has to drill some fenceposts into the ground at a spread at a Texas “King Ranch:”), so the whole tale comes across as “moralistic,” but the ending definitely feels good, even if some of the intermediate confrontations are stagey.

Sometimes this issue is a subject for comedy. In New Line Cinema’s “The Bachelor”, from 1999 (dir. Gary Sinyor, based on a play “Seven Chances” by Jean Havez), Chris O’Donnell is the playboy, who must marry by age thirty, stay married for ten years, and produce biological offspring (yes, he must procreate – please the Vatican.) This sounds like a setup for opera buffet and would work in European farce (definitely in a major key) but it rather offended me as a film.  (See also Oct. 7, 2017.)

More recently, this sort of idea came up in a Saturday Night Live spinoff film, “The Brothers Solomon", from Sony TriStar and Revolution Studios (a major production studio usually associated with Columbia and Fox), written and directed by SNL regular Will Forte, who plays one of the two incompetent brothers (the other is Will Arnett). Their dad is dying, and he has let them know he wants biological grandkids. They actually set up intensive care in their apartment for him, and then don’t seem to understand what artificial insemination really means. No will gets mentioned, although the idea seems implied by the circumstances. This sort of thing does work as a skit on SNL, but it let a bad taste as a feature film. I think that the idea of mandatory marriage was hinted in a couple of the “On the Lot” short films on fox from the aspiring young directors.

I know of a script floating around that explores this problem from a GLBT perspective. I won’t name it, but the problem is important, as are the way many people perceive the “moral” issues underneath it. The problem deserves serious treatment, not just farce.

(See also the posting on Aug. 24, 2007, about "mandatory family responsibility" for the childless in films.)

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