#159) The House I Live In (1945)
OR “A Man and His Musings”
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Written by Albert Matlz
Class of 2007
The Plot: While on a smoke break from recording his latest album, Frank Sinatra (Frank Sinatra) witnesses a group of kids bullying another child because he is Jewish. Frank stops the boys and teaches them an important lesson about what it truly means to be American. And then he sings a song and…oh I get it. The house is America! It all makes sense now!
Why It Matters: The NFR says the film “exhorts the message of religious tolerance and post-war hopefulness.” And then they just tell you what happens in the short.
But Does It Really?: Meh. It’s an interesting little time capsule of America picking up the pieces following the war, and it’s fun to see Sinatra early in his career, but the film very much shows its age, and then it’s over before it can really make an impact. I can’t help but wonder what other movies could have gotten this spot on the list. For now let’s just say my opinion of this film is “The Fence I Sit On”.
Everybody Gets One: Producer Frank Ross was best known for his work on this, the 1939 version of “Of Mice and Men”, and the 1953 epic “The Robe”, the first CinemaScope film. Ross also wrote the screenplay to the 1943 comedy “The More the Merrier” starring his then-wife Jean Arthur.
Wow, That’s Dated: A quick reference to smallpox, casual pipe smoking in a recording studio, and – brace yourselves – frequent usage of the term “Japs”. And with the amount of WWII films I have yet to cover, this will only get worse.
Title Track: The title song was written in 1942, with music by Earl Robinson and lyrics by Abel Meeropol. Both men were members of the Communist party whose work dried up through the Blacklist. Yeah, we’d hate for America to be subverted by two songwriters preaching religious tolerance.
Seriously, Oscars?: In lieu of competing in the Live-Action Short category, the Oscars went ahead and gave “The House I Live In” an honorary Oscar, one of the rare shorts to achieve this honor. The film also won a Golden Globe in the short-lived category “Best Film Promoting International Understanding”.
- In addition to the composers, screenwriter Albert Maltz would be blacklisted within a few years of this film’s release. Sinatra tried to get Maltz a screenwriting job in the early ‘60s, but a public outcry led to Sinatra backing down. You can cut the irony with a machete.
- I guess I’m just used to older Sinatra, but I was struck by how young Frank is in this. He was 29 during filming, and that’s a face of a man who’s still married to his first wife and has yet to have an infamous career slump.
- Any write-up on Abel Meeropol will be quick to mention that he also wrote “Strange Fruit”, and this page will be no different.
- Say what you will about Sinatra, no Auto-Tune.
- In a nice bit of cost cutting, the conductor in the film is played by this film’s composer, Axel Stordahl.
- “Nazi werewolves”. It’s not just the phrase Frank uses to describe the bullies; it was also the name of my high school alt-rock band.
- But seriously, are they Nazis that turn into werewolves, or werewolves that believe in some sort of “master species”? I feel like this is some uncharted science-fantasy historical fiction territory. Get on it, Internet!
- Yes, never persecute any one religion, because we all worship the same God. …Wait, what?
- Oh my god, stop saying “Jap”! It’s kinda hard to take this film’s social message seriously when they keep vilifying the Japanese.
- Wow, these kids are really patient while Frank sings at them. The kids I know would have bolted two bars in.
- Sinatra included “The House I Live In” in his repertoire for many years, even singing it at the Statue of Liberty rededication in 1986.
- Paul Robeson covered the song in 1947, including the verse about racial equality deleted from this film.
- Ladies and gentlemen, Patti LaBelle!
Listen to This: Nine years after “The House I Live In”, Sinatra recorded the album “Songs for Young Lovers”. In the interim years he had gone through a slump, a divorce, a comeback, a second marriage (to Ava Gardner, no less), and an Oscar for “From Here to Eternity”; and this, the definitive Sinatra album, defines this era of the Chairman’s career. “Songs for Young Lovers” was one of the first 50 recordings selected by the National Recording Registry in 2002.