7/1/08

RVOD028 Right or Wrong? (Making Moral Decisions)

(1951, Educational/Short, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

Goodnight, Harry. Enjoy staring into the abyss.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A variety of fifties folk face a variety of ethical dilemmas.

Summary:

So, Mike threw a rock through Bill's window?Young Harry Green wanders the night with his friends, looking for windows to break. His friends find a suitable warehouse window and proceed to break it. Harry considers joining in, but ultimately does not.

Unfortunately for him, he’s standing in a pool of light, and is thus the only vandal the night watchman can identify. The watchman stares at the phone in full internal monologue mode for several minutes. He knows Harry’s father. Should he turn the boy in, and put him and his family through an arrest? Or should he say he didn’t really see anything? He decides to turn the boy in.

The cops show up on Harry’s doorstep later that night. His mom answers the door. She pauses interminably for her own internal monologue when a policeman asks after her son. Should she turn him over to them, or tell them he’s not home? She decides to let them take Harry away.

Meanwhile the warehouse owner is down at the police station complaining to the night sergeant. The sergeant suggests that since this is the boy’s first offence, and he wasn’t the one who actually threw the offending rock, they ought to let him just pay for the window and have done with it. The warehouse owner disagrees. Gangs of vandals have been breaking windows all over town for quite some time now. If they let Harry go, they’ll never get the names of the boys who were really responsible. He determines to press charges unless Harry turns in his fellow vandals.

With the warehouse owner gone, the sergeant engages in an internal monologue on the subject of interrogation techniques. Should he threaten Harry, scaring him into turning in his compatriots and possibly making him hate authority for the rest of his life? Or should he just let him know the potential consequences and let nature take its course? He decides to do the latter. Harry’s internal monologue regarding his options settles on “not ratting out my friends,” and he refuses to talk.

Harry’s priest shows up to take him home—to the priest’s home, that is—where he offers to let the boy sleep on the couch. He leaves the room, asking, “Is it right to hide a lawbreaker from justice?” Harry stares morosely into the darkness while the narrator goes over the choices made by each of the characters one more time, and then asks us what we would have done.

Thoughts:

Just wait.  She's only going to hold this pose another twenty minutes.For a short that’s supposedly about ethical dilemmas, I didn’t really see all that many of them. Starting with the watchman, why shouldn’t he do the job he’s paid to do? No one’s going to take Harry out back and shoot him if his crime is discovered. Worst case scenario is a fine and maybe probation. Same with the mom’s internal struggle. Why would hiding him from the law even be an option? Aside from my prior and still entirely valid objection, there would be the following consequences if she tried to hide him: a) she’d be teaching him that lying and vandalism are okay, and b) they’d catch him eventually anyway. The warehouse owner is entirely within his rights to demand that the real gang be brought to justice, especially in light of the revelation that this is not an isolated incident. Who is Harry to refuse to turn them in? Why would it be acceptable to let him think that protecting criminals, even juvenile ones, is okay? I guess I can see the sergeant’s dilemma. Lean on him a little for his own good, or just make sure he knows the consequences? Both approaches have their pros and cons, and I could have supported either decision.

As for Harry, I’d be thinking about his priest’s question if I were him. “Is it right to hide a lawbreaker from justice?” No, it’s not, you stupid little patsy. Your so-called “friends” just hung you out to dry. You’re a fall guy, a stooge. There is no earthly reason to hide their identities from the authorities. Once again, the worst thing that can happen to them is a fine and probation. The worst thing that can happen to Harry is that they won’t be his friends any more. All things considered, that probably wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Mike, Bill and Kevin are on hand to get us through this surprisingly effective and funny little short, making particular mention of the interminable amounts of time the characters spend staring off into the distance. Also amusing are Kevin’s response to the charge of vandalism, “[You mean] those railings we loosened at the nursing home?” and to Harry’s protests that it wasn’t him, “It was the one-armed kid!” Near the end, when the narrator asks us what we would have done, Bill's last response sums up my thoughts on the subject, “I also would not have vandalized anything.”