Book Review: You Can’t Eat Peanuts in Church and Other Little-Known Laws

Book Review: You Can’t Eat Peanuts in Church and Other Little-Known Laws by Barbara Seuling

Laws have a purpose.  It is not always a good purpose, but track them to their passage and you will usually see the reasoning behind them.  With the passage of time, that purpose is obscured, and many laws passed to deal with a pressing but temporary need seem arbitrary and pointless.

You Can't Eat Peanuts in Church and Other Little-Known Laws

It is often difficult to repeal such laws; perhaps they happen to favor a particular special interest group, or include provisions that specifically forbid a simple repeal, or they might be helpful if a criminal can’t be charged for their important crimes.   So it’s often the case that these statutes linger on the pages of lawbooks even decades after everyone began ignoring them.

This slim 1970s volume features a few hundred of these obscure laws from around the United States.  They are accompanied by humorous illustrations of people breaking the laws.  In the hardcover version, these illustrations were by Ms. Seuling; the paperback quietly replaced them with ones by Mel Klapholz.

Many of the laws do come off as funny, such as the city ordinance which forbids frightening hats.  Others are just outdated, such as the one requiring a person to walk in front of an automobile to warn of its approach.  Some laws can have their purpose divined if you know your history, such as one about “laundresses” which is clearly aimed at prostitution, and a San Francisco ordinance aimed at Chinese cultural customs.

This is the sort of lightly humorous book sold in tourist traps and hospital gift shops as gifts for people in need of quick entertainment you don’t need to think about too hard.   So there’s no citations or bibliography for further research.  And it’s been forty years, so some of these laws may finally be off the books.

There are probably new books with the same basic premise, so the main reason to look this one up is the illustrations.  Check garage sales and used book stores.

Movie Review: South Pacific

It is World War Two, somewhere in the South Pacific.  Marine Lieutenant Joe Cable (John Kerr) has been assigned to infiltrate a Japanese-held island and report on their military movements in preparation for an American offensive.  He wants to recruit French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi), who is very familiar with the island in question.

South Pacific

M. de Becque is not keen on this idea, as he is courting young and pretty nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor).  His mission stalled for the time being, Lieutenant Cable accompanies rough Seabee NCO Luther Billis (Ray Walston) to the nearby island of Bali Hai.  There Cable starts a romance of his own with native girl Liat (France Nuyen) under the watchful eye of her mother Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall).

But there is a war on, and the Americans are not so free of prejudice as they would like to imagine.  Before the story is over, there will be heartbreak and loss.

South Pacific is a 1958 film based on the extremely popular 1949 musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein, itself based on stories by James Michener.  Outdoor locations were shot in Hawaii, standing in for the far away islands.

First off, the music is great.  Almost every song is a winner.  The dancing is good, and the acting is fairly high quality (some of the dialogue is a bit much.)  And Hawaii is very pretty.

The anti-racism message comes through loud and clear, despite the limitations imposed by the Hays Code (which was pretty strict about portrayals of miscegenation.)  Nellie in particular struggles with her prejudices.  She likes to think of herself as open-minded, as opposed to her mother back in Little Rock, Arkansas.  She’s okay with Emile being twice her age, and having killed a man once (as long as it was for a good reason.)  But him marrying a Polynesian woman and having children with her…that Nellie has a lot more trouble accepting.

I was also amused by something related to my current course in Economics–Bloody Mary is an entrepreneur.  The influx of American military personnel to the island has created a boom market for native handicrafts.  Bloody Mary has hired a bunch of her fellow islanders to make these items, at what are to American standards ridiculously low wages.  But they’re double the wages the French planters were paying for laborers and servants.  This has caused a labor shortage on the plantations.  But rather than raise the wages they pay, the planters complain to the U.S. military about the unfair competition!

The most glaring problem the movie has is the overuse of soft focus and “mood lighting” through the use of color filters.  During the first “Bali Hai” number it kind of works to convey the mystical nature of the island,   But it soon gets out of hand.  The director, Joshua Logan, actually apologized in public; he hadn’t realized how garish the color filters were going to look up on the big screen.

There’s also a pacing issue with the big lump of war movie that shows up in the second half of the film, which is jarring after the rest of the movie has been almost non-stop musical.

Speaking of which, the movie shows its stage play roots by having several minutes of black screen at the beginning while the overture plays, more of this as an intermission,  and at the end with the postlude.   If you are watching this with children who have never seen formal theater before, you may want to explain the idea to them.  Perhaps rig up a little curtain on your TV to be lifted to echo the experience.

As the story is set on a tropical island, there are a lot of shirtless men and some bathing costumes that are risque by 1940s standards.   There’s also brief long-shot backside nudity at the beginning of the movie, apparently allowed by the Code under some sort of National Geographic exemption.  Some viewers may find Bloody Mary’s matchmaking of her daughter to the lieutenant very uncomfortable.  I know I did, the fact that it makes sense in the local culture notwithstanding.

Overall, a flawed film, but well worth seeing for the music and the beautiful scenery (when it isn’t being obscured by the color filters), with a message that is still relevant today.

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