Bob Dylan At The Movies: Sweetheart Like You (Part II)


By Larry Fyffe

In a funny film noir ‘All Through The Night’, Humphrey Bogart plays gangster-turned-gambler ‘Gloves’ Donahue. He and Leda are chased by Nazis through the streets of New York – she finds out how it feels to make a deal with those who participated in ‘The Night Of The Broken Glass’.

The Geman Nazi Party blames Jews for destroying the economy. Its leaders prey upon the negative attitude that many Christians of the time have toward the Jews, i.e., blaming them for the death of Jesus.

Bob Dylan’s lyrics of the song ‘Sweetheart Like You’, though in a fragmented Post Modern format, reflect the movie to some degree.

Dylan’s Bogart persona talks to ‘sweetheart’:

You know you can make a name for yourself
You can hear them tires squeal
You could be known as the most beautiful woman
Who ever crawled across cut glass to make a deal

In the movie, Leda tells the gambler that his reputation as a no-good, double-crossing chiseller has preceded him. In the song, Dylan turns the tables, and warns ‘sweetheart’ to be on her guard:

You know, the news of you has come down the line
Even before you came in the door
They say that in your father’s house there’s many mansions
Each one of them got a fire-proof floor
Snap out of it baby, people are killing for you
They smile to your face, but behind your back they hiss
What’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?

Indeed, they claim that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and everyone is welome in His house:

In my Father’s house are many mansions
If it were not so, I would have told you
I go to prepare a place for you
(John 14:2)

But Dylan’s persona has his doubts; the lyrics indicate that to be accepted into Christian society those of the Jewish faith have to show tangible signs that they are worthy. They have to outpray Christians in the House of the Golden Calf. ‘Sinnier than thou’ is the name of the game; the other method to redeem onself, not that appealing, is to give the Eternal Footman your coat to hold while you wait for Doctor Death – what Frederich Nietzsche calls ‘the morality of slaves’.

With venomous words, Dylan sings of the New Babylon:

Got to be an important person to be in here, honey
Got to have done some evil deed
Got to have your own harem when you come in the door
Got to play your harp until your lips bleed
They say that patriotism is the last refuse
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they put you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king
There’s one step down from here, babe
It’s called the land of permanent bliss
What’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?
(Bob Dylan: Sweetheart Like You)

Most of the characters Humphrey Bogart plays in movies are very cynical – they have little faith in human goodness, and sarcastically doubt sincerity – a cynicism that hides a heart of gold.

Bob Dylan, in many of his songs, performs in the manner of such characters:

Well, I’m grinding my life out, steady and sure
Nothing more wretched than what I must endure
I’m drenched in the light that shines front the sun
I could stone you to death for the wrongs that you’re done
(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)

Whether he’s upset at an individual, at people in general, or the United States in particular, Dylan clings to the hope of a better future, an optimism that’s found in the lyrics of the traditional songs of America, and in the poems of the Romantic Transcendentalists like Walt Whitman.


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  1. Uh, Larry, it’s “people are jealous of you,” not killing for you. But still, your summary provides food for thought. I especially appreciate the cut glass connection to Kristallnacht – never thought of that. It is conceivable that Dylan uses movies, etc. as springboards to creativity. Why not?

  2. Ed, the version I listened to says ‘killing’….thanks, but I was well aware that others versions say ‘jealous.’

  3. You’re right though….I should have stuck to the ‘standard version’ instead of going with a whim of the moment.

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