Previously: Part One.
Besides Joseph Losey, one filmmaker, to my knowledge, provided David Wayneâs talents and presence with fully ample and honorable space: star stature. I speak of Henry King and the 1952 film Wait âTil the Sun Shines, Nellie. Wayne, in an interview, named the film as his favorite, adding that it was not a musical (witness to the filmâs relative obscurity, notwithstanding a New York premiere at the Roxy theater). As a vehicle for Wayne, it is neither a camp picnic nor a treasure trove of artistic novelty. Its outstanding texture â and grace â is a subdued, almost muted tone (save for a flare of Prohibition gangster violence toward the end). Yet, Wait âTil the Sun Shines, Nellie remains for both menâs careers, a medallion: its glow tempered, yet constant. It chronicles, in retrospect, the life and modest career from the 20th centuryâs first decades to the present, (1950s) of a barber in the township of Seviullinois (the name playâs coyness â Figaro: get it? â is regrettable: but mercifully, never belabored). Any potential nostalgia, albeit restrained, is darkened when, no long after the arrival of a girl and boy to the household, the barberâs wife deserts him to elope with a seeming friend. The body of the film involves the barberâs muted grief (after one anguished outburst); his insect-like, taciturn patience in pursuing his trade, and, when his teenaged son falls in love with, and marries, the daughter of the runaway couple (and later dies in World War I) receives the new daughter in law, with tacit grace, into his household.
Except for his broken, tearful entreaty for his childrenâs trust and love, that their family may survive, though wounded, the barber betrays little emotion throughout the film. When interviewing as handyman a penniless Negro vagabond, he asks, with unceremonious bluntness, if the Negro, who admits to a prison record, was arrested for stealing. It is merely an impartial inquiry: the patient candor in Wayneâs voice is, in its way, an earnest of respect, a respect that his new handyman fully reciprocates. His daughter-in-law, a performer in a traveling stage show, explains, on their first meeting, her equivocal letters to his son: avowing that she did not want her husband to worry. âBut,â chides her father in law, âYou didnât care if l worried?â The response elicited (so I interpret) some embarrassed giggles from the audience, when I first saw the film: one is reminded in the comic potential â no hairsplitting! â of a barber, and his pragmatic profession of shearing and shaving. But it paid tribute as well, here, to the barberâs blunt, unadorned humanity, as Wayne rendered; sidestepping with his dancerâs punctilio, any overt condescension: i.e. comic âtouches.â
I recall a domestic occasion, representing a few yearsâ passage, when his daughter, entering her teens, and surrounded by a giggling entourage of peers, requests a haircut that will enhance the glamour of her beanie-capped boyfriend: âso he wonât look like a wet smack.â The father responds with no-nonsense briskness: fully armored in the dignity of his profession (as fathers of those early decades were expected and trusted to be), whipping the beanie from its wearerâs head, and motioning him to the barberâs chair. One is left to infer the deep-laid, perhaps rueful, smile; yet, Wayneâs economy, his consistent deference to the film, and his fellow performers, transmits it. Should one call the barber an âenigma?â Not without dismissing the ceaseless, virtually mute eloquence of Wayneâs interworking with the story, and the keenly, discreetly, yet richly evoked, small town/period setting, with its low-keyed celebration of gracious autonomy, and gallant endurance.
A word for the contribution of Henry King, who deserves many: in commemoration and occasional contrition: this latter, by those who have facilely dismissed him: either in toto, or, nearly as foolishly, his latter (â30s â â50s) career. Wait âTil the Sun Shines, Nellie exemplifies, and re-demonstrates, Kingâs proclivity for celebrating spiritual values in a readily accessible dramatic context; enhanced to a pronounced degree by his eloquent renditions of place: not only locale, but locale as interacting with human exigency; be it struggle, or passionately stoic endurance. Certainly, the Tolâable David confrontation of Richard Barthelmess (David) and Ernest Torrence (Hatfield). Yet, equally, years later, The Song of Bernadetteâs opening sequence: when Bernadetteâs father (Roman Bohnen) is awakened by her mother (Anne Revere) and sets out through an ashen dawn, seeking another dayâs temporary work; or, in the scintillating atmosphere of medieval Italian spring solstice, exhaled by the sets, lighting, and triumphantly roguish performance of Everett Sloane, in Prince of Foxes. Wait âTil the Sun Shines, Nellie begins its story proper with a homey lap dissolve: a shaving cream dispenserâs white outlet into the light of a honeymoon train speeding through the night; later, the glow of a hotelâs innocently vulgar luxuriance; a sunken bathtubâs mahogany and aluminum trimming.
It is David Wayneâs steady presence, his abstinence from adornment that illuminates the tone and energy of this: his film triumph. His performance apprises us â his possibly under-appreciative audience â that the supposedly mechanical aspect of an actorâs playing can assist in depicting the look and rhythms of a place; and, as here, revivify a segment of our history. Like W.B. Yeatsâ golden bird in âSailing to Byzantiumâ: telling the Lords and ladies of all that is past, and passing, and to come.