High Barbaree

It was yesterday, it was sixty years ago. I saw a strange title on a billboard. A short while later I heard the movie was playing at the Endicott, down 13th Avenue, the closest theater to my house, where admission was exorbitant: a nickel during the week and a dime on Sundays. I went, with a raggle-taggle of friends.

HIGH BARBARY was the feature. To be more historically precise, they spelled it with a double ee—HIGH BARBAREE (I think). It was a war drama, I knew that, and an airplane figured in it. That it was a serious, eerie tale I had no doubt, but jingling in my head on the long, hot, summer walk was an imbecilic set of syllables: "Hey, bob-a-ree-bob!" which was a scrap of sounds people were repeating in the neighborhood, which must have come from a hit song or a movie.

Out of this mixed fudge of memories I see Van Johnson, a blonde, freckle-faced, All-American-kind-of-guy, bidding farewell to June Allyson, a blonde, freckle-faced kind-of-girl, before marching off to war. But before he goes an uncle of his, an old salt, who barely steps onto land long enough to wet his whistle, arrives to tell him of his most recent failure to find the uncharted island somewhere in the Pacific that he has been searching for all his life. Thomas Mitchell plays the old salt with delightful, wheezing enthusiasm.

The youth goes off to fight the Axis and becomes a pilot of a fighter plane flying missions in the Pacific. A Japanese Zero shoots his plane down, killing the rest of his crew. Unaccountably, his plane doesn't sink and he floats for days in the desolate waters, in an eerie stillness, under a blinding sun.

Thirsty, lonely, nearly delirious, the young pilot's mind drifts back to his uncle and the tale of the uncharted island in the Pacific where there is ease and plenty, peace, harmony among men, where warm breezes sway the palm trees, where life is sweet and joy prevails. Drifting interminably the youth dozes and awakens and dozes again until he seems to lose the distinction between dreams and reality. Then, arising out of sleep, his eyes roll to the waste of waters and there, but yards away, is an island with waving palm trees and a smiling, brown, bare-chested man in a Polynesian loincloth is coming down the beach to the water as if to meet him. He is extending his arms as to greet him and welcome him to the island. His approach is kind and his smile is benign, so benign. He beckons the boy as if he has been expecting him.

Thus, High Barbary, one of thousands of simple movies inspired by The War that somehow or other has remained with me.

If you enjoyed this bit of bloggaree, click here to find more!