Thursday, June 21, 2007

Indiana (the state) in the movies

Perhaps this happens to many people who spend most of their lives in one U.S. state, but I can’t help noticing that my home state of Indiana has been referenced quite a bit in movies. This isn’t reserved to just movies set in Indiana (like A Christmas Story) or those about Indiana-related topics (Hoosiers). Maybe filmmakers find Hoosiers more “quaint” than people from other states, or maybe it’s just that Indiana easily lends itself to small-town portrayals and (occasionally) stereotypes, both good and bad. Whatever the case, it seems to me that Indiana has been mentioned a disproportionate number of times in movies, compared to most other states outside of California, New York, and Texas. To see what I mean, take a look at this chronological sampling from the last seven decades of film history (excluding the films from the silent era, 'cause I personally haven't seen any of them). Remember, though -- this is merely a sampling. If you're interested in complete lists of movies filmed in or about Indiana, please visit David Smith's very excellent site, When Movies Were Movies,

- Midnight (1939). A romantic comedy in which Claudette Colbert is a show girl who becomes stranded in Paris, France. Initially, she’s less than impressed:
Colbert: Well, so this, as they say, is Paris, huh?
Train guard: Yes, madame.
Colbert: Well, from here it looks an awful lot like a rainy night in Kokomo, Indiana.

- Knute Rockne, All American (1940). Ronald Reagan, in arguably his best film role, portrays George “The Gipper” Gipp, legendary player for the University of Notre Dame’s football team. The university is located, naturally, in Notre Dame, Indiana, just northeast of South Bend.

- June Bride (1948). Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery play two bickering ex-lovers who travel to Indiana to cover a “typical American wedding” for a magazine. Actress Betty Lynn has a particularly memorable line: “Nobody makes love like that in Indiana!”

- The Great Dan Patch (1949). Indiana is full of horses. If you don’t believe me, drive through the small towns north or south of Indianapolis some time and gawk at all the horse farms or people out enjoying a trail ride. Perhaps the most famous horse ever to come out of Indiana was legendary harness racer Dan Patch, born in Oxford, Indiana, in 1896. The film is based on Dan Patch’s life and career, and stars Dennis O’Keefe and Gail Russell. A bit of trivia: Dan Patch is also mentioned in The Music Man. More on The Music Man later.

- On the Town (1949). This classic screen adaptation of the Leonard Bernstein musical was shot on location in New York City. However, quite often throughout the film, the characters played by Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen state that they’re from “Meadowville, Indiana.” If there really is a Meadowville, Indiana, I have yet to find it. Couldn’t they have used Merrillville or Medaryville instead? I guess “Meadowville” sounds more poetic.

- The Desperate Hours (1955). A crime drama in which Humphrey Bogart is the leader of a trio of criminals holding a family hostage in their own home. The standoff takes place in Broad Ripple, on the north side of Indianapolis. Cars with Indiana license plates can be seen all through the film.

- The Iron Petticoat (1956). A Cold War comedy starring Bob Hope and Katherine Hepburn. Hepburn plays Captain Vinka Kovelenko, who defects from Russia because she feels discriminated against as a woman. Hope plays Captain Chuck Lockwood, who shows her the finer points of capitalism. Of course, they fall in love and talk about marriage, but there’s a communication problem:
Hepburn: It's too dangerous!
Hope: Marriage?
Hepburn: Moscow! We're going to live in Indianapolis, Indiana!

- North by Northwest (1959). Cary Grant being chased by a crop duster in this Alfred Hitchcock classic is one of the most famous images in film history – and the scene supposedly takes place in Indiana, between Chicago and Indianapolis: “Prairie Stop, Highway 41.” But the scene wasn’t filmed in Indiana. It takes place in what is definitely a California desert. In order for any part of Indiana to look like that, it would have to (A) go without rain for about two years and then (B) have a bomb dropped on it. Oh, and about Highway 41: Yes, there is a Highway 41 in Indiana, and it does begin in the northwest corner of the state, near the Chicago area. However, it stretches along the entire West side of the state, goes through Terre Haute, and then moves on to Louisville, Kentucky – nowhere near Indianapolis.

- The Music Man (1962). Another stage musical adapted to film. Almost everyone in Indiana knows the song “Gary, Indiana” from this musical. In the movie, Robert Preston delivers the song with apparent great fondness for the town of Gary, but I can’t help wondering if the song is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Every person I’ve ever met from Gary likes to pretend they’re from Chicago instead.

- McClintock! (1963). In this John Wayne comedy western, the character Devlin Warren (played by Wayne’s son, Patrick) talks about attending Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana.

- Support Your Local Sheriff (1969). In this comedy western, character actor Jack Elam has the following exchange with James Garner:
Elam: I was raised up in Indiana!
Garner: Well, that could be either good ... or bad.

- Greaser’s Palace (1972). This surrealistic film, written and directed by Robert Downey, Sr., almost defies description. On his way to Jerusalem to be a star, a zoot-suited Jesus Christ parachutes into the Old West and becomes a song-and-dance man at Greaser's Palace. The Indiana reference comes from a ridiculously long name recited by Allan Arbus’ character, Jessy: “Bingo-Gas-Station-Motel-Cheeseburger-With-A-Side-Of-Aircraft-Noise-And-You'll-Be-Gary-Indiana.”

- Breaking Away (1980). Funny, charming, and clever movie (okay, so I’m biased) about the annual Little 500 bicycle race, held at Indiana University’s main campus in Bloomington, Indiana. In fact, the movie was actually filmed in Bloomington and surrounding areas. The characters spend a lot of their energy making a big deal out of the students versus the “Cutters” – a nickname for the Bloomington locals. I must admit that I spent four years at IU’s main campus, and I never once heard anyone refer to the locals as “Cutters.”

- The Indiana Jones films: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). About the only thing Harrison Ford’s classic adventure hero has in common with the state of Indiana is his name. Apparently, Indiana was also the name of Jones’ dog (and, rumor has it, George Lucas’ dog). Why anyone would name their dog or themselves “Indiana” is beyond me. I suppose it sounds better than “Idaho Jones” or “New Hampshire Jones.”

- A Christmas Story (1983). This classic holiday comedy was written and narrated by Jean Shepherd, who was raised in Hammond, Indiana. The movie’s setting is Hohman, Indiana, which is a fictional town based on Hammond. Griffith, Indiana, which is a real town, is also mentioned in the film.

- Hoosiers (1986). Hoosiers love basketball, oh yes we do – as long as it’s high school or college basketball. If you want an idea of why we love basketball so much, watch this classic film starring Gene Hackman. You don’t necessarily have to like basketball, or Indiana, or even Gene Hackman to enjoy it, but it is arguably one of the best sports movies ever made.

- Sleepwalkers (1992). Based on a story by Stephen King, Sleepwalkers is a horror movie about a half-human, half-cat race of shape shifters a la Cat People. Actors Brian Krause and Alice Krige portray Sleepwalkers who must survive by (cue spooky music) feeding off the life forces of female virgins in Travis, Indiana. I guess there just weren’t enough virgins in Poseyville or Fort Branch.

- Cats Don’t Dance (1997). This animated feature is about a small-town cat, Danny, who heads out to Hollywood to become a song-and-dance star. Where’s the “small town” that Danny is from? Yep, you guessed it -- Indiana. Kokomo, Indiana, to be exact:
Darla Dimple (singing): I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go/There's one thing that I know/You gotta give the people what they want/Or you'll wind up back in Kokomo, Nebraska.
Danny: Uh, Indiana, Ms. Dimple.
Darla Dimple: Whatever.
Trouble is, anyone who thinks Kokomo is a small town hasn’t seen New Pekin, Indiana.

- Forget Paris (1995). Some people might argue that the heyday of the National Basketball Association (NBA) was during the mid-1990s, when the sport was dominated by not only Michael Jordan but a huge “cast” of basketball stars who brought many teams to heights of greatness and popularity. In this comedy, Billy Crystal plays an NBA referee who flies to Paris to bury his father, but becomes detained when his father's casket is missing upon arrival. The movie is filled with scenes of classic NBA stars playing themselves. Included is a scene showing Indiana Pacers then-point guard Reggie Miller during a game highlight. In fact, part of the film was shot in Market Square Arena, in downtown Indianapolis. Sadly, Market Square Arena no longer exists.

- In & Out (1997). In this comedy, Kevin Kline’s character, Howard Beckett, is from Greenleaf, Indiana. Well, we have plenty of green leaves in Indiana, but there’s no Greenleaf. What, Greencastle, Greenville, and Greenwood weren’t good enough? Incidentally, actor Kevin Kline really does have an Indiana connection. He graduated from Indiana University in 1970.

- Friends and Family (2001). Greg Lauren and Christopher Garten play a hip Manhattan gay couple trying to hide the fact that they’re mafia hitmen. Things get complicated when the parents of one of them drop in for a visit from Indiana (“We’re not in Indiana anymore”) -- and the dad also happens to be an FBI agent.

- Kinsey (2004). Why does it always seem to surprise people that Alfred Kinsey, the controversial American sexologist, did his work at Indiana University, in Bloomington? That’s where the Kinsey Institute is located, after all. Since the movie is all about Kinsey, it’s set (of course) in Bloomington, Indiana. However, I don’t think any footage was actually shot in Bloomington. Certainly none of the exteriors look like any part of Bloomington.

- Mean Girls (2004). Lindsay Lohan plays a high school girl who works hard to be accepted by a clique known as The Plastics. Things get ugly, though, when she falls for the ex-boyfriend of one of the clique members. The Indiana reference comes during a rant by Rachel McAdams’ character, Regina: “So then in eighth grade, I started going out with my first boyfriend, Kyle, who was totally gorgeous, but then he moved to Indiana, and Janis was, like, weirdly jealous of him.”

- Ray (2004). It’s not one of Indiana’s prouder film moments, but the movie Ray portrays an incident in which Ray Charles is arrested for drug possession following a performance in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis police in the scene lie their way into Ray’s hotel room (“Western Union”) and then make racist comments about “jungle music.” At least the Indianapolis audience is shown really appreciating Ray’s concert.

- Somewhere in Indiana (2004). This low-budget film is a clever account of a fictional actor based on legendary Indiana actor James Dean. The movie tells the story of two men traveling to Fairview [Fairmount], Indiana, home of actor Eddie Ray [James Dean], who died in 1957 in a motorcycle [car] accident. (In his brief career, Eddie Ray apparently starred in three movies: The Very Tall Texan [Giant], Southwest of Paradise [East of Eden], and Rebel Without a Reason [Rebel Without a Cause].) On the way to Fairview, our two heroes encounter a suspiciously familiar stranger ...

- Madison (2005). Yes, Hoosiers love basketball and auto racing, but many Hoosiers also love boat racing. Boat racing? In a notoriously landlocked state, there’s boat racing? Yes, there certainly is, especially in the southern Indiana towns bordering the Ohio River. It’s a fantastic sport that has to been seen to be believed, and this movie about the annual Madison Regatta (set in Madison, Indiana) is a good way to do so. Go see a live race, too, if you ever get a chance. It’s worth it just to hear the locals yell, “Oooooooh, ROOSTER TAIL!”