All this fuss over shoes might strike the modern reader as quaint~~after all~~there are not many students~~or adults either~~who would pass for fashion plates today.
In our time, for the very first time in history, clothes do not make the man~~at least not always.
Ours is a modern~day in which the rich frequently seek to wear rags and the mostly badly dressed boy at school might well be the son of the richest man in town.
This turnabout in fashion sense is a most recent and most assuredly, and blessedly, transient state of affairs~~but for now~~well then~~there it is~~
Certainly in the 1950’s, when Major Boswell got ’round to putting together his film “A Good Pair of Shoes,” it was not the case that children were proud to wear rags.
There was a great deal of embarrassment attendant upon not having presentable clothes for school and Major Boswell made good use of that theme in his little film.
In that film, the desire of the school boys to have appropriate clothes and nice shoes does not strike the viewer as quaint at all~~even through the prism of our, own, shabby, modern epoch.
Major Boswell introduces us to “Johnny, ” the protagonist of “A Good pair of Shoes. ” A victim of cruel, grating poverty, and societal indifference and neglect, Johnny steals shoes from a store to replace the charity case hand-me-downs that have caused him to become the butt of jokes and the subject of that unique strain of cruelty found only among school children.
The cast-offs shoes have also driven a wedge between Johnny and his girlfriend. Johnny’s mother laments that she is not capable of understanding how Johnny had come to be arrested for this theft as her son “already had a nice pair of shoes~~from The Christmas.”
Mom cannot make out how this year~~the charity of Christmas had brought her Johnny boy not a Noel Blessing but rather a curse to wear upon his feet. Mom cries bitterly and prays to an, apparently disinterested or pre-occupied, God, for guidance and resolution.
For those who have an interest in such matters, Johnny’s shoes were spats, or, more aptly and accurately, spatterdash leggings, and, while in good condition and likely once quite pricey, spats, by 1950’s Detroit, were a curiosity children could simply not appreciate.
Johnny’s theft was a clumsy, boyish, attempt to set right his embarrassment over having to wear Christmas spats~~ignorant~~as were the others~~that he wore high fashion upon his feet~~
Johnny’s Christmas spats were to him a curse~~when~~paradoxically~~they had once been~~when first bought by a long~forgotten owner~~the very height of fashion~~
Major Boswell uses his saga of Johnny as a springboard to letting the viewer know that The Volunteers Of America had in place for sometime in Detroit~~at least since the Depression era 1930’s~~a concerted program that would have obviated against Johnny’s having to stoop to petty theft to assuage his boyish embarrassment.
In conjunction with the Detroit school system and with the able assistance of the Detroit Council of Churches, The Volunteers Of America expanded an existing city~wide clothing drive that, in its first year of operation, helped to clothe 9,000 school children and in its second year 20,000. The need was very great~~poverty was massive~~but equally so was the outpouring of alms and other aid~~freely given~~from the citizens of Detroit.
The Volunteers Of America have been a positive, helpful presence and guiding hand to the misbegotten in the Motor City for more than 100 years. In September 1897, Captain N. M. Cook organized the Detroit post. By the time Major Boswell took over the post, its exploits in the hands~on dispensation of charity to the poor were already the stuff of legend.
Major Boswell’s film, “A Good Pair Of Shoes,” is an attempt to dramatize on the screen the often~hidden demon of poverty and her twin sisters~~shame and crime.
Does Boswell’s movie work in that context~~that is~~does it satisfy its predicate goals? Does the viewer come away with an understanding of poverty and of the programs that The Volunteers of America have set in place to alleviate it? As with any film, we must ask~~is this movie watchable? Interesting? Provoking?
I must say that Boswell is a clever producer in this sense. He had a very modest budget and had to make do as needs must. As the film’s narrator, he asks these very questions of his audience before they can even posit them on their own~~does this story I now tell interest you? Grab your attention? Stir your emotions?
That asked~~the answer is~~the film is an all ’round winner because it does arrestingly address universal concepts~~one of the predicate conditions any film or book or painting must meet to be worthwhile.
Anyone can understand the concepts of poverty, loneliness, shame, isolation, greed, envy, cruelty and~~reciprocally~~their antithesis~~goodness, kindness~~a helping hand~~freely given.
Another predicate condition of the film’s viability~~the compellingness of Johnny and the other characters, also brings Boswell’s work home a fleet, keen winner. We all can, beginning to end, easily grasp the conceptual framework into which Boswell places his protagonist and likewise, we are all moved by the role renditions of Johnny and the other characters.
So, then, what of this little movie?
It is difficult for the reviewer to summon cogent opinions of any movie without making comparative observations.
That said, given the utter dearth in recent years of anything even remotely watchable, universal, compelling or thought~provoking emanating from any of the major commercial movie houses, this little moral play, brought to us on a frayed shoe~string, is well worth the viewing.
Everyone can find something to like in “a Good Pair Of Shoes.”