When we were in middle school, we had, it seemed, a big red target stamped on our back.
There were a few girls who couldn’t resist this target, and they were unfailing in their efforts to remind us of our Low Social Status and Bleak Future.
As it turned out, our future wasn’t bleak at all, but even if it were, it would be pointless to bear a grudge. We were, all of us, a bunch of dopey kids.
We were recently reminded of this glamorous time in life when we watched Truman Capote’s The Thanksgiving Visitor (1967), a made-for-TV movie based on a short story by the Breakfast at Tiffany’s author.
The story takes place in Depression-era Alabama where a boy named Buddy (Michael Kearney) lives with his three “maiden aunts” and their “bachelor brother”. Narrator Truman Capote tactfully explains these circumstances are due to “a disturbance in my more immediate family.”
Buddy is the victim of a bully, one Odd Henderson (Hansford Rowe III), described as the meanest person in Buddy’s life. Odd is the kind of bully who rolls you for your last dime.
But Buddy isn’t entirely judicious, either, and twice in the film he tries to publicly humiliate Odd, a boy from a large and Very poor family.
In one scene, Odd struggles to read a passage aloud in class, and has trouble pronouncing the word “oceana”. Buddy interrupts Odd and snarls, “It’s oceana, stupid,” for which he is immediately reprimanded by the teacher.
Imagine, then, Buddy’s horror, when his favourite aunt (Geraldine Page) invites his arch-nemesis to Thanksgiving Dinner, in hopes of mending the rift between the two boys.
But Thanksgiving gives Buddy a second chance to publicly humiliate Odd, with an unexpected result.
The story pivots around three characters: the sensitive boy, Buddy; the bully, Odd; and Buddy’s aunt, Miss Sook (Page).
This is Geraldine Page’s movie, and she is utterly magnificent as Buddy’s proxy mother/best friend. She defends him against All Comers and shamelessly spoils him. (It was she who gave him the precious dime, only to learn it was stolen by Odd.)
Watch her as she sets the table for Thanksgiving Dinner, the way she carefully lays out the tablecloth, worn and patched, but never mind that because This is the linen of treasured family memories.
Although Buddy is Extremely Displeased that Odd has been invited to Thanksgiving, Page-as-Miss-Sook knows how to pacify him. She reminds him that one day she will sell her heirloom cameo – a gift from her beloved father – so the two of them can journey to New Orleans and Live It Up.
Now watch as she shows the cameo to Mr. Pruitt (Pierre Epstein), the proprietor of a mobile pawn shop. She is ready, at last, to sell her heirloom for the sake of her nephew.
Alas, Mr. Pruitt declares the cameo a Fake, and the Dream of New Orleans falls to the ground with a thud.
The Thanksgiving Visitor is based on Truman Capote’s childhood in rural Alabama. It was originally published as a short story in McCall’s magazine, before it was adapted for television. It’s a sequel, of sorts, to Capote’s popular 1956 short story, A Christmas Memory.
Revenge and forgiveness are themes in The Thanksgiving Visitor, but they’re not platitudes. The script acknowledges how hard it is to forgive someone, especially when revenge seems like the more Satisfying Option.
We hope you get the chance to see this movie, although it’s tricky to find a decent online version. We want you to see Geraldine Page – considered by many to be the best actress of her generation – in one of her many award-winning roles.