The "Von" could read the phone book for my applause.
Copyright 10 December 1930 by James Cruze, Inc. Distributed by Sono Art-World Wide Pictures through Educational Exchanges. New York opening at the Selwyn: 12 September 1929. U.S. release: 1 January 1930. 10 reels. 8,049 feet. 89 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: An egotistical ventriloquist has a row with his live-in girlfriend/stage partner. They separate. A few years later, however, they are both appearing in the Manhattan Revue. But not together. And now the ventriloquist is the headliner.
NOTES: Although Mordaunt Hall accorded The Great Gabbo a rave review in The New York Times, he did not list the movie as one of the Ten Best of the Year. However, he did place it in his supplementary list.
In private life, Betty Compson was Mrs. James Cruze.
COMMENT: Just about every newspaper critic except Mordaunt Hall hated The Great Gabbo. True, it has shortcomings. But I love it. Anyone who enjoys spectacular stage numbers clothed with scads of dancing chorus girls will soon forgive the somewhat stagey off-stage scenes with Mr. Von Stroheim, Miss Compson (and the voice of Master Grandee). And even they are enlivened with a few ritzy songs.
In any case, the "Von" is such a consummate actor, he could read the phone book for my applause. My only complaints are that the picture runs just a mite too long and that the color sequences are printed up in black-and-white. Hopefully, this has now been rectified.
Fonda regarded this film as the high point of his career. So do I.
Copyright 24 January 1940 by 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. New York opening at the Rivoli: 24 January 1940. U.S. release: 15 March 1940. Australian release: 23 May 1940. U.S. copyright length: 11,586 feet. 128½ minutes. Australian release length: 12,011 feet. 133½ minutes.
NOTES: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award, John Ford, Direct¬ing (defeating George Cukor's The Philadelphia Story, Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, Sam Wood's Kitty Foyle, and William Wyler's The Letter).
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Annual Award for Supporting Actress: Jane Darwell (defeating Judith Anderson in Rebecca, Ruth Hussey in The Philadelphia Story, Barbara O'Neil in All This And Heaven Too, and Marjorie Rambeau in The Primrose Path).
Also nominated for Best Picture (Rebecca), Actor, Henry Fonda (James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story), Screen¬play (The Philadelphia Story), Film Editing (North West Mounted Police), and Sound Recording (Strike Up the Band). Oddly, the film was not nominated for its superb Cinematography.
Best Motion Picture of 1940 - New York Film Critics.
Best Direction, John Ford (for this and The Long Voyage Home) - New York Film Critics.
Best American film of 1940 - National Board of Review.
Number two (to Rebecca) in The Film Daily annual poll of U.S. film critics.
Fox's top money-maker of 1940.
On a personal note, actress Dorris Bowdon wed Nunnally Johnson in February 1940.
Negative cost: $850,000.
COMMENT: So much has been written about The Grapes of Wrath and it has such a reputation as one of the greatest movies of all time, that it is in danger of being regarded by today's cinemagoers as a museum piece. This would be a tragedy. Although the political and economic events which shaped the book and the film have receded into history, the power of its story, the vividness with which its human tragedy is unfolded, and the collectively forceful eloquence of its players are undimmed.
Ford and Darwell deserved their Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards. Fonda was cheated out of his. (I mean James Stewart's role in The Philadelphia Story is a supporting one, not a lead. Furthermore, Stewart plays the part with all his usual mannerisms - nothing special nor distinctive at all).
I could go on for pages about the dramatic impact of The Grapes of Wrath - how it socked me right out of my seat the first time I saw it. And every time since. It's a masterpiece. Brilliantly directed, breathtakingly photographed, atmospherically set and scored, persuasively written and arrestingly played. Fonda regarded it as the high point of his career. So do I.
Well produced but somewhat lacking in entertainment value!
NOTES: Beulah Bondi was nominated for an AMPAS Award for Best Supporting Actress, losing to Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse.
George Folsey was one of three nominees for Best Black-and-White Cinematography, yielding to Tony Gaudio's Anthony Adverse.
Shooting commenced: 27 April 1936. When initial shooting shut down is not known. Certainly, the studio was still dickering with the film on 15 August 1936.
COMMENT: Joan Crawford's rare period picture wasn't received well by the fans. Yet Joan looks very attractive in her Adrian costumes and curls, and is beautifully photographed throughout by Folsey. Maybe what the fans were objecting to is that this is a very long film with very little action. Instead we have lots of political speeches in which Lionel Barrymore hogs the camera in his usual superficially bombastic style, fulminating at tiresome length about preserving the union, egged on by other cardboard caricatures of well-known political figures.
Beulah Bondi is the worst offender, James Stewart is not far behind. At least Franchot Tone manages to invest Eaton with a degree of charm, while Melvyn Douglas gives Randolph a similar degree of conviction. Taylor is not out of his depth as the superficial fun-loving Bow Timberlake and there is a happy selection of character players to help things along. The film is superlatively well produced.
Conflict is the essence of great entertain¬ment. Here we have not only conflict between young and old, but between go-ahead and conservative, between the money-grubbing and idealistic. The characters are cleverly shaded, their opposing points of view made more palatable and sympathetic by giving them human qualities with which audiences can identify. The old priest may be a bit crusty and cantankerous, he may be over-set in his ways, he may be naive and even simplistic, but his heart runneth over with pure gold. All the same, he is somewhat refreshingly removed from Hollywood's usual conception of the do-gooder priest.
His young colleague is much more the smilingly humanitarian stereotype - though even he is allowed a few unusual quirks. For instance, he sings, (You have to remember that although we now completely accept Crosby in a priestly role, such casting was a major deviation from the norm back in 1944. Although time has now diminished the dramatic impact of this mind-boggling break with tradition, McCarey deserves a great deal of credit for pushing ahead with this unthinkable innovation despite the strenuous objections of Paramount executives).
The casting of Crosby and Fitzgerald could not have been more felicitous. Although Crosby's career was already in full swing (in 1943 he was voted by U.S. exhibitors as the country's number four box-office star), Going My Way catapulted him into super-star status. From 1944 to 1948 he was the most popular star in America (and Australia as well), only dropping into second position in 1949 due to the huge success of Bob Hope's The Paleface. In fact, Going My Way was second only to The Paleface as Paramount's most popular Australian release of the 1940's.
For Fitzgerald, Going My Way lifted his career from the character-player league to major star.
The other players lend excellent support, although the film failed to make any appreciable impact on their overall careers. It is Crosby's and Fitzgerald's movie. Although Stevens takes time out to sing Carmen, she doesn't stay in the memory. It's Crosby's jaunty air, his crooning of "Too-ra-loo-ra", his swinging on a star and his breaking down of Fitzgerald's distrust and antipathy that we remember.
As might be expected, the movie is superbly crafted in all departments. In fact, in his book on The Films of Bing Crosby, Robert Bookbinder wisely points out that the very excellence of Crosby and Fitzgerald in his picture's leading roles tends to overshadow McCarey's contribution. Some critics would argue that this is as it should be: the more perfect a director's work, the more unobtrusive. On this basis, McCarey certainly deserved his Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' award for Directing as well as his award for Original Story.
Producer: Jerry Wald. Copyright 28 November 1942 by Warner Bros Pictures, Inc. New York opening at the Strand: 30 October 1942. U.S. release: 28 November 1942. Australian release: 21 February 1946 (sic). 94 minutes.
NOTES: As not a single one of Jack Benny's legendary radio shows were ever broadcast in England or Australia, the cinema comedian had but small followings in those countries. A pity.
The stage play opened on Broadway at the Lyceum on 18 October 1940, running a moderately successful 173 performances with Ernest Truex, Jean Dixon, Dudley Digges and Percy Kilbride. It was directed by George S. Kaufman and produced by Sam H. Harris.
COMMENT: A very amusing comedy with sharp, witty dialogue. Admittedly, there has been little attempt to open out the stage play, but with Benny in such delightfully sarcastic form, plus a brilliant assortment of character actors to fill out some meaty support roles like Charles Coburn, Percy Kilbride (repeating his stage role) and Franklin Pangborn, this is scarcely noticed.
Keighley's direction keeps things moving at a pretty fast bat. A bit of war-time patriotic propaganda is worked into the script, but this is so ingeniously done, it is likely to meet with little resistance. Hattie McDaniel is superb and the art director has done a superlative job in creating the run-down house of the First Act.
The picture antedates in some respects Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, but the treatment here is light and breezy with jokes tossed off at machine-gun pace, whereas Blandings was rather heavy-handed with all the gags scrupulously telegraphed well ahead. Production values are first-rate.
SYNOPSIS: A ruthless murderer marries his victim's niece and endeavors to gain control of her fortune by driving her slowly mad.
NOTES: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Award, Best Actress, Ingrid Bergman (defeating Claudette Colbert in Since You Went Away, Bette Davis in Mr Skeffington, Greer Garson in Mrs Parkington, and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity).
Also won the award for black-and- white Art Direction (defeating Address Unknown, The Adventures of Mark Twain, Casanova Brown, Laura, No Time For Love, Since You Went Away, and Step Lively).
Also nominated for Best Picture (Going My Way), Best Actor, Charles Boyer (Bing Crosby in Going My Way), Supporting Actress, Angela Lansbury, (Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart), Screenplay (Going My Way), black-and-white Cinematography (Laura).
Number 7 in The Film Daily annual poll of U.S. film critics. This film was a
re-make of a 1940 British National picture directed by Thorold Dickinson, starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard.
COMMENT: Three ace screenwriters have managed the almost impossible task of turning Patrick Hamilton's superbly suspenseful stage play (called "Angel Street" in its 1941 Broadway season) into a somewhat less exciting motion picture. Director Cukor and his players put up a magnificent battle, but at crucial moments the screenplay lets them down. Nonetheless, Bergman makes a captivating victim, and Boyer, cast against type, is chillingly effective as her tormentor.
The marvelously Victorian sets are atmospherically lit by the brilliantly skillful Joseph Ruttenberg.
OTHER VIEWS: "Much of the fearful immediacy of the play is sadly lost in the film." - Bosley Crowther in The New York Times.
The most beautiful Technicolor film of the forties.
Copyright 12 September 1944 by Paramount Pictures Inc. A Mitchell Leisen production. New York opening at the Rivoli: 20 Septem¬ber 1944. U.S. release: October 1944. U.K. release: 12 February 1945. Australian release: 5 July 1945. Sydney release at the Prince Edward: 29 June 1945 (ran six weeks). 12 reels. 10,127 feet. 112½ minutes.
SYNOPSIS: 17th century England: Married noblewoman falls in love with a French pirate.
NOTES: Dreier, Fegté and Comer won The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual award for Best Art Direction (color).
COMMENT: Few novelists have been as fortunate in having their works transferred to the screen as Daphne du Maurier. Not only in quantity, but also in quality her film adaptations excel. No less than three Hitchcock picturizations (Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, The Birds) lead a list that includes the lavishly-produced Hungry Hill, the highly regarded My Cousin Rachel, and the partially unsuccessful though still fondly remembered The Scapegoat. Only The Years Between (1946) is completely forgotten today (and that some what undeservedly, in view of its marvelous cast: Michael Redgrave, Valerie Hobson, Flora Robson, Dulcie Gray).
What about Frenchman's Creek? Would you believe that although the film was often screened on television some years back, it was never shown in color! I hope no-one watched it. Frenchman's Creek is one of Technicolor's noblest achievements. Never before (or since) was money spent with such reckless regard for a studio's solvency in order to achieve the most artistically pleasing, the most aesthetically satisfying effects in sets and costumes. Incredibly, cinematographer George Barnes was nominated for an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Award - but not for this film - for the dazzlingly colored but considerably less impressive The Spanish Main.
However, the art directors did carry off the prize - and never was that award more deserved! If ever a movie was a scenic designer's dream come true that movie was Frenchman's Creek. Director Mitchell Leisen was himself an art director (it is significant that of the thirteen AMPAS nominations Paramount achieved for Art Direction from 1940 to 1949, no less than seven were for Leisen pictures). With his approval and encouragement, Drier, Fegté, Comer and Pene du Bois (a Broadway scenic and costume designer who also worked with Leisen on Lady in the Dark and Kitty) were given every opportunity to take advantage of the period settings.
The director of photography and the Technicolor consultants were likewise exhorted to aim for absolute perfection in artistry and lighting. As a consequence, shooting proceeded at a snail's pace with numerous delays caused by adjusting and re-adjusting the lighting arrangements while the cast sat around doing nothing. Frenchman's Creek ran months over schedule and almost trebled its original generous budget. Paramount shareholders held Buddy De Sylva (the famous songwriter-turned-producer) directly responsible for these excesses and he was fired as the studio's production chief.
Somehow Leisen managed to escape the ax but was henceforth regarded with suspicion by the Paramount management. He was often described to me by producers as a wantonly extravagant director to whom "money was of no importance". Although not entirely deserving this reputation, it pursued him for the rest of his career. He found it extremely difficult to obtain work after his Paramount contract expired early in 1951.
Frenchman's Creek also marked a turning point in the career of my favorite actor, Basil Rathbone (he and Bruce were seconded to the production in the middle of their Sherlock Holmes series). Aside from his delicious spoof in The Court Jester twelve years later, this was Basil's last role as a period swashbuckling menace (although, alas, he has no scenes to demonstrate his superlative swordsmanship). As usual, he is absolutely riveting, making a marvelous foil for Joan Fontaine's entrancingly love-troubled heroine. Both are costumed to the hilt. Few actors can wear period clothes with as much flair as Rathbone; and not many actresses can model stunning gowns with the same spirited charm and grace as Joan Fontaine.
The rest of the cast is no less engrossing. De Cordova is perhaps a little weak as the Frenchman, but Nigel Bruce, Ralph Forbes, Cecil Kellaway, Billy Daniels, Harald Ramond and Moyna Macgill are wonderfully effective.
Some critics have complained that the script is a trifle slow, but when such beauty, such artistry, such elegance so continually shines from the screen, who cares? I regard Frenchman's Creek is the most beautiful Technicolor film of the forties.
Bergman is great! Otherwise a bit of a disappointment.
Undoubtedly the major project of Sam Wood's career. This itself is a wonderful oddity that could only occur in fabled Hollywood. Sam Wood was a staunch anti-Communist who was directly responsible for the McCarthy witch hunts and here he is dedicating himself to a film in which the Communists are presented as heroes! Admittedly, the script makes some attempt to confuse these political realities by calling the Communist Loyalists "Republicans" and the opposing Fascists "Nationalists", but this subterfuge will fool no-one.
Anyway, the wheeling and dealing which went into the making of the film is almost as interesting as the film itself. Briefly, Wood was forced to make The Pride of the Yankees for Goldwyn (in order to secure Cooper's services) in the middle of production. He had actually commenced Bell late in 1941, filming non-Cooper scenes in the High Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California. Bell was then suspended while Wood made the Goldwyn picture, resuming production in June 1942 in the Sonora Pass district of the Sierras. The company remained on this difficult location (at an elevation of ten thousand feet) until the first week in September. Returning to Paramount studios for interior scenes, shooting was finally completed by the end of October.
For all its difficulties and subsequent acclaim, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a bit of a disappointment. True, it captures a great deal of the Hemingway spirit and flavor, the locations are often breathtaking and Bergman never gave a more poignant or moving performance, but the film (even in its shortened form) is too long to sustain the interest of even the most indulgent audience. The problem of course is Dudley Nichols' screenplay. Verbose and over-talkative on the one hand, lacking in plot development and tension on the other (just about all the action excitement is saved for the climax), its characters are one-dimensional "types" and its story moves sluggishly to an absolutely foregone conclusion.
Of the supporting players, only Katina Paxinou (who fully deserved her Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' award) manages to rise above the speechiness of her dialogue to clothe her character in real flesh and blood. Tamiroff (assisted by moodily shadowy photography) over-acts his villainy to such an extent one seriously questions the sanity of the other players who are taken in by his gross and clumsy attempts at deception. This further robs the script of tension.
Fortunately, Cooper and Bergman do rather better. Cooper is always reliable, though his slow mannerisms tend to make a slow plot even slower and he is just a little too credulous (and too idealistic) to be always 100 per cent sympathetic. But he is 90 percent believable and his restrained performance is far more engrossing than the ripe scene-chewing indulged in by Tamiroff, Sokoloff and company.
Bergman of course is absolutely perfect. The screen literally lights up whenever she is on-camera. Equally luminous as her performance in Casablanca yet totally different in scope and character, Bergman proves herself to be the cinema's foremost dramatic actress of the 1940s.
In addition to Bergman's winning portrayal, the film's other assets are its most attractive music score and its wonderful photography. Wood and Menzies make such effective use of the High Sierra locations, they tend to show up obvious studio matte and model work. Menzies brilliantly planned the dramatic camera angles so that compositions and lighting frequently stir the senses.
Certainly worth seeing - but don't expect a totally gripping, totally involving entertainment (except when Bergman is on screen).
Producer: Charles Brackett. Copyright 3 May 1943 by Paramount Pictures, Inc. New York opening at the Paramount: 26 May 1943. U.S. release: 4 May 1943. Australian release: 30 September 1943. Sydney opening at the Prince Edward (Paramount's number one Australian showcase): 24 September 1943 (ran 4 weeks). 8,728 feet. 97 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: British army corporal poses as a waiter at Rommel's headquarters.
NOTES: A re-make of Hotel Imperial (1926) directed by Mauritz Stiller from a script by Jules Furthman, starring James Hall, Pola Negri and George Siegmann in the Tone, Baxter and Von Stroheim roles, respectively.
COMMENT: From the very moment that Erich Von Stroheim strides on to the screen, we know we're in for a real treat in Five Graves to Cairo. Fortunately, this occurs quite early in the action. Just enough preparatory work is laid down by the screenwriters to whet our appetite. Von Stroheim enters at exactly the right moment and he stays with us until the action really comes to an end.
True, there is an ironic little epilogue which neatly (if sadly) ties up a major plot strand, but otherwise this is Von Stroheim's movie, and he makes the most of it. The other players, particularly Peter Van Eyck, Franchot Tone and Anne Baxter lend excellent support. Von Stroheim's interpretation is, of course, miles removed from James Mason's in The Desert Fox (1951). Mason's Rommel comes over as a softie compared to the Von's far more powerful characterization.
Fortunio Bonanova's self-admiring general griping about the way the Germans treat their Italian allies is a typical Billy Wilder creation, adding just the right touch of comic inanity to an fascinating and tautly suspenseful plot.
Unfortunately, to my mind, Akim Tamiroff tends to overplay the cowardly proprietor of this Hotel Imperial, thus dissipating some of the atmosphere so carefully built up by Wilder's dramatically delineated compositions and Seitz's superbly lit cinematography. Nonetheless, extremely high production values, including a Rozsa score, effective locations, eye-catching sets, the intriguing title and clever plot, plus Eric Von Stroheim's gripping scene-hugging (though it must be admitted Tone stands up to him well enough) and Anne Baxter's surprisingly effective and most credible performance, more than compensate for any of the blubbering Tamiroff shortcomings.
An extremely strained and wholly indifferent comedy-thriller. Most of the labored jokes and the way overdone comic relief situations back fire or fizz out like damp squibs, despite (or maybe because of) desperate play-acting by the inept hero who has no charisma whatever.
I will admit that the inept script, plus the heavily way-overdone and over emphatic direction does not help. Nor do most of the players come to the hero's rescue. Even normally reliable people are defeated by the totally unfunny script and the producer's labored direction.
Admittedly, the film has been lensed on a copious budget. and production values are not bad.
Unfortunately, the charmless hero figures in just about every scene and thus succeeds in spoiling just about all of the producer's attempts to make this old dark house shine with genuine merriment and even a bit of suspense.
In fact, I am puzzled. Who is this movie actually designed to entertain?
Copyright 6 November 1943 by Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc. No recorded New York opening. U.S. release: 6 November 1943. Australian release: 18 July 1946 (sic). 5,026 feet. 55 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: An upcoming politician is blackmailed by a talking crow.
COMMENT: Obviously designed as a spoof, this dreadful little movie does not succeed on any level, thanks to leaden direction, incompetent scripting, abysmal acting and impoverished production values. Admittedly, I did chuckle once or twice.
I don't want to give the impression that every movie produced in Hollywood's golden age rates as a potential crowd-pleaser. (Even the studio didn't number this one too highly. No New York send-off and, after sitting on the shelf for some years, released in Australia in the dead of winter).
I also want to set the record straight about Gene Lockhart. Gene is a fine actor. But he seems to have limitations. He gave a brilliant performance in Algiers because he followed the director's instructions to the letter. Here, he is cast on his own devices, yet he does nothing. He finds himself in a rare starring part, but makes not the slightest attempt to entertain the audience. Does he put on a funny voice? No! Does he try a peculiar walk? No! Does he run through a series of odd facial expressions? Not a one! Gestures? No. Talk out the side of his mouth? No. Whistle? No. He does absolutely nothing. Nothing! It's incredible, but true. He just stands there (or sits there) stiff as a board and says his lines.
At least Jerome Cowan puts a bit of extra verve into his portrayal. It's still not successful, but at least he tries. Even Lou Lubin, struggling against poorly conceived camera angles, is obviously aware the movie is supposed to be funny. True, Cowan, Lubin, Harmon and Emerson are constantly stymied by Lederman's weak, flaccid and almost totally inept direction (or rather lack of direction), but at least they bend themselves into knots in futile efforts to make their lines amusing!
On the other hand, maybe Gene honestly thought the movie simply wasn't worth the effort. And there he was right!
Copyright 30 October 1936 by 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation. New York opening at the Palace: 16 October 1936. U.S. release: 16 October 1936. U.K. release: 17 April 1937. Australian release: 25 November 1936. 5,825 feet. 64 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Romero plays a suave and unscrupulous jewel thief and Trevor plays an insurance detective who joins his gang.
COMMENT: Oddly enough, this is not a romance but a straight gangster thriller. Such romantic elements as there may be, are purely perfunctory or functionary so far as the jewel thieves plot is concerned. Although it is basically serious, there is some humor, as in the episode with Paul Fix's Communist agitator which is verbally recapped twice later on, as cheap and flashy Ralf Harolde inadvertently defends the Constitution.
Director Alan Dwan handles it all in his usual super-efficient style (very effective use is made twice of overhead shots) and, as usual with Sol Wurtzel's Fox "B"-features, production values are exceptionally lavish.
There is a grand cast, headed by Claire Trevor, looking very glamorous in a heady variety of Herschel costumes (we don't like his hide-all furs in the fashion show sequence but then this is rather short in length). This film is virtually right in the middle of her Fox period as queen of their "B"-features and if this is any sample, justifiably so crowned.
Cesar Romero plays the chief villain with polished unpleasantness, while Douglas Fowley has one of his typical roles as a shady go-between. Lester Matthews makes a suave counterpoint to Romero's ruthlessness, whilst Robert McWade is his usual grouchy self as the heroine's dad. Lloyd Nolan plays the detective with customary ease (we love the scene with Murray Kinnell's ingratiating old crook with which the film commences).
Natalie Moorhead, queen of the "Z"-graders, has a small but effective role as a decoy.
Dwan has directed at a rapid pace, skimming his camera through Duncan Cramer's expansive sets. Seitz's photography sparkles even more than the fancy jewels on display (they are probably glass anyway, though they certainly look real enough even in close-up).
Production credits are generally first-class and altogether, by "B"-feature standards, the film provides first-rate entertainment - definitely not one to come late for, as the film jumps off with a punch right from the start, the necessary explanations being rather cleverly handled in the exchange between Nolan and Kinnell (Nolan's typically fast delivery is an asset here as is Dwan's fluid camera), and then the film jumps straight into action.
For star power - past, present and future - it would be difficult to beat.
SYNOPSIS: Swedish maid runs for Congress.
NOTES: Loretta Young won Hollywood's most prestigious 1947 award for Best Actress, defeating Joan Crawford (Possessed), Susan Hayward (Smash-Up), Dorothy McGuire (Gentleman's Agreement) and the inside favorite, Rosalind Russell (Mourning Becomes Electra).
Charles Bickford was nominated for Supporting Actor, losing to Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street.
COMMENT: It has been suggested that the remarkable popularity of this film was largely due to the scarcity of comedies in 1947. True, there were not comedies in abundance - if you exclude a respectable number of musical comedies - but the film's appeal probably lay as much with the homespun theme (Swedish girl wins over Washington) and its relevance to America's vociferous immigrant population as anything else.
Certainly if ever an actress did not deserve to win an award for a particular performance, that actress was Loretta Young as the farmer's daughter. Caricaturing a Swedish accent and acting the wide-eyed innocent with all stops out, Loretta gives the worst display of ripe old hamming in her entire career.
Fortunately, the support cast is much more agreeable. Bickford (by no means one of my favorites - I usually found his acting too heavy) is delightfully smooth and Ethel Barrymore (as usual) steals the show from one of the most solid line-ups of character players ever assembled in a moderate "A" feature. In fact for star power - past, present and future - it would be difficult to beat.
The world of the legitimate theatre has always fascinated Hollywood. Whether proceeding from envy or malice or simply the honest desire to take a swipe at the opposition, there can be no doubt that the Holly¬wood view of the theatre is much more satiric, caustic, trenchant - even jaundiced - than Hollywood's view of Hollywood. A Double Life is a typically outstanding entry in this genre. With the aid of superb photography and classy production values (including a meticulous attention to detail), the excitement, atmosphere and grease-paint flavor of back-stage are vividly conveyed.
The cast is absolutely marvelous. In the central role, Colman gives an outstandingly sympathetic, utterly believable, overwhelmingly charming performance. It was undoubtedly the most difficult role of his career. To fully describe its range and subtlety would be to give away some of the tension in the ingeniously suspenseful plot - for those who have not yet sweated on the edge of their seats. It is enough to say that Colman paints his richest, most sublime portrait. His Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award was not only thoroughly justified, but it serves as a vindication of the perspicacity and impartiality of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's voters. Colman's brilliance is all the more impressive when it is remembered that Cukor's reputation is wholly as a director of women. (In fact Gable had him fired from Gone With The Wind precisely because of this reputation).
The supporting players are uniformly excellent, though Shelley Winters and Edmond O'Brien must be singled out for special commendation. Millard Mitchell also contributes a memorable study, and Betsy Blair is allowed to shine in her brief scene. Often forgotten are the players in the plays themselves, ranging from the delightfully escapist Gentleman's Gentleman to the melodically moody Othello - but we hereby praise their efforts too!
Technically, A Double Life is a magnificent tour-de-force: Krasner's film noir lighting, Parrish's sharp editing, Harry Horner's appro¬priately seedy sets and Rozsa's schizoid music are mesmerically integrated and controlled by director George Cukor.
Peopled with a fascinating gallery of colorful characters, etched against a masterfully observed background, caught up in an enthrallingly bizarre plot, A Double Life is one of the cinema's most gripping entertainments.
Copyright 1 May 1942 by Paramount Pictures, Inc. New York opening at the Rialto: 24 June 1942. U.S. release: 9 May 1942. Australian release: 9 July 1942. 6,124 feet. 68 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Gangster asks his accuser to find his estranged daughter.
NOTES: Movie debuts of both Macdonald Carey (from radio) and Anthony Mann (from TV).
COMMENT: Anthony Mann who directed the acclaimed live television drama The Streets of New York in 1939 was finally snapped up by Hollywood and auspiciously assigned this noirish, Runyonesque thriller to which he brought not only some of his characteristically atmospheric touches but his ability to coax thrilling portrayals from often indifferent actors. Eduardo Ciannelli delivers the best performance of his life here, a rendering that is so striking it will literally knock your socks off.
J. Carroll Naish, another extremely variable player, lags not far behind (the scene in which he measures Carey up is quite chilling). Carey himself comes across with pleasing vitality, and there's a knock-out study of a woman on the ledge by Jean Phillips. In a much smaller role, Joan Woodbury also makes quite an impression. And there's a great line-up of support players as well.
Considering the film's "B" running time, production values are welcomely lavish, with moody photography, extensive sets and heaps of extras.
Anything more unlike an M-G-M film of the later thirties or forties would be difficult to imagine. It doesn't have the M-G-M visual look because Ced Gibbons didn't do most of the art direction for this one and so Barrymore's office looks appropriately dingy and old-fashioned and the Jordan home looks fusty and late Victorian. Oddly enough, Jean Harlow's apartment does look like Gibbons' work, being done all in white, while Harlow models some ravishing Adrian costumes.
Mankiewicz's script is a brittle comedy of manners, played to perfection by a talented cast under Cukor's direction. Whilst larger than life, the performances are not allowed to degenerate too far along the road of theatrical posturing. It is a tribute to Cukor's skill that such noted scene-chewers as Lionel B, Wallace B, John B, Marie D, Billie B and May Robson can play together at all, let alone so convincingly ensemble and all comparatively subdued.
Jean Harlow is not outclassed and in her arguments with Beery, the sparks really fly. The support cast is great too, particularly Grant Mitchell as an unwilling guest. The only player who doesn't really impress is Edmund Lowe who seems to have strayed in from some "B" picture. Not only is he utterly unconvincing, he's charmless too. In fact the two qualities are related - he's unconvincing because he's so charmless.
The screenplay crackles with wit, which its age has not dimmed. Only the drama (the wrestling for control of Jordan's shipping company; a has-been super-egotistical actor planning a come-back on the stage), now seems somewhat clichéd and naive.
Copyright 16 October 1936 by 20th Century Fox Film Corp. New York opening at the Roxy: 9 October 1936. 7,108 feet. 79 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Bowery street waif becomes Broadway star, despite opposition - "You know how I hate the theatre and all it stands for. If you leave this house you may never expect to come back to it."
COMMENT: A compendium of every cliché known to Victorian melodrama, but I liked it. At least one of the worst sequences of unbridled sentiment is missing from the current TV version and one cannot but applaud its removal. The film is somewhat light on songs and one could have wished for at least another production number to cap or offset the agreeable minstrel-type finale.
Casting is well-nigh perfect (Mr Fetchit's part is not nearly as obnoxious as usual) and the script provides meaty parts for Frank Morgan and Helen Westley. Direction and photography are pretty ordinary, however, and the sets and costumes have to contend against their current presentation in an indifferent TV print. Still, the sound has been re-recorded and it comes across to-day with a fidelity and clarity (thanks to peerless original recording) that must make Douglas Shearer and M-G-M squirm with envy.
OTHER VIEWS: 2018 prints are still missing 5 or 6 minutes (including all of Herman Bing and Arthur Aylesworth) but all the songs have now been pleasingly restored, thus giving the melodramatic story a balance which greatly improves the entertainment value of the whole. In fact the skill of such support players as Frank Morgan and Helen Westley helps carry the story. Berton Churchill has a characteristic part too and if the hero and his heroine are a bit wet (Astrid Allwyn makes an agreeably tempting siren but her part is tiny) their parts are small enough to make little difference. John Carradine plays a confidence man with his usual affable rascality, while Stepin Fetchit is mildly amusing as Morgan's servant ("Pour? Pour what?").
Copyright 10 February 1942 by Loew's Inc. Presented by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. New York opening at the Capitol: 9 April 1942. U.S. release: March 1942. Australian release: 3 December 1943. 9 reels. 8,549 feet. 95 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: The title is a misnomer. Andy doesn't court Donna Reed. He dates the poor girl a couple of times simply to please his dear old dad.
NOTES: The governors of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences granted a Special Award to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio "for its achievement in representing the American Way of Life in the production of the Andy Hardy series of films". (Given at the 1942 Awards Ceremony on 4 March 1943).
Number 12 in the 16-picture series.
COMMENT: Probably the worst entry in the entire series, this one has only the latent attractiveness of both Cecilia Parker and Donna Reed to recommend it. The writer has invested it with a multiplicity of plots - all of them phony soap opera, concerning such trivia as the length of Marian's hem-line (the film's attitude is archly ultra-conservative - a hem-line three inches above the ankle is definitely OUT) and will Mrs Hardy be able to balance her bank book? Oh yes, the plot has its serious side too: Will young Melody Nesbit be able to overcome the social stigma of her parents being divorced?
All this rubbish is carried forward (with surprisingly jerky continuity) in excruciatingly long dialogue scenes which allow Lewis Stone to preach his cornball, reach-me-down philosophy at length. George B. Seitz's direction is not only as dull as usual, but less than competent.
Production values are distinctly minor, the film ending abruptly to save the expense of a finale featuring the football dance.
Citizen Kane was voted the year's best film by the New York Film Critics
Citizen Kane was voted the year's best film by the New York Film Critics. Ford narrrowly defeated Welles for Best Director.
Citizen Kane was also honored as Best Film by the National Board of Review, while Orson Welles shared Best Acting with twenty other players - including George Coulouris for Citizen Kane.
Citizen Kane came in number four on the Film Daily's 1941 poll of American film critics (behind Gone With The Wind, Sergeant York and The Philadelphia Story). A large group of international critics polled by Sight and Sound in 1971 were somewhat more generous. They named Citizen Kane as the Best Motion Picture of All Time.
In 1947 author Ferdinand Lundberg sued Welles, Mankiewicz and RKO for copyright infringement, claiming that Citizen Kane was partly based on his biography, "Imperial Hearst". The trial resulted in a hung jury, the case being eventually settled out of court when RKO paid all legal and court costs and a sum of $15,000 to Lundberg.
Shooting: 29 June 1940 to 30 October 1940. French release title: Le Citoyen Kane First shown in Paris: 3 July 1946.
COMMENT: It's a while since I've seen Citizen Kane. Must be nearly 5 years. Admittedly, television is not the best way to view the movie - in fact any movie made before 1970 - but beggars can't be gourmets. (I am speaking of course of public television. It would be unthinkable to watch Citizen Kane sprinkled with commercials). This explains why my recent reactions tend to vary. Sometimes I turn off the set at the finish and I think, Oh Lord! What a movie! And I sit alone in the dark for an hour, too ecstatically exhausted to move. Other times I think, Yes a great movie! Marvelous performances all around (all the more impressive when you are reminded in the film's wonderful end credits reprise that most of the principal players "are new to motion pictures") and some absolutely breathtaking scenes, but... Perhaps a little slow in places, perhaps a little too laborious, forced even? Perhaps Joseph Cotten's scenes could be trimmed? The voice of conscience is always a trifle boring, and Cotten is hardly a sparkling player anyway. Such heretical thoughts! I well remember the first time I saw Citizen Kane. Back in 1956 it was. The rights had been sold. An independent cinema in a distant suburb held a farewell screening of the 16mm print. Even in these far from ideal conditions, the film burst over me. It took months to recover from the shock. Citizen Kane was the most exciting movie ever made. Every single frame was an adventure in pictorial tension. It was so innovatively moody, so overpoweringly bizarre, so enthrallingly daring, so fascinatingly credible, who but a genius could have lit its sets, mastered its script and so admirably coaxed its colorful legion of players? First opinions are often the best!
Copyright 7 April 1950 by Cardinal Pictures, Inc. A Harry M. Popkin Production, released by United Artists. New York opening at the Capitol: 11 May 1950. U.S. release: 7 April 1950. U.K. release: 29 May 1950. Australian release: 3 November 1950. 9,143 feet. 100 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Quiz contestant shoots the works for $40 million - or nothing!
COMMENT: Ronald Colman may not have been as popular with the general American moviegoer in the early 1950s as he was in the 20s, 30s and 40s, but certainly Champagne for Caesar was a big hit amongst U.S. and Canadian connoisseurs. True, on paper the film isn't half as amusingly satirical or delightfully witty as it appears on the screen. Full marks not only to Whorf's clever direction but to the absolutely inspired performances by just about every member of the cast.
In fact, all the principals are so zestfully appealing, it's hard to decide who to congratulate first. It's tempting to join the chorus and single out Vincent Price, but I loved Art Linkletter's parody of assumed TV geniality just as much. As well of course as Colman's determined take-the-money-at-all-costs contestant.
I particularly enjoyed two of the minor players: Byron Foulger as the hopeless pianist and Ellye Marshall as an extra with nothing to hide.
Celeste Holm, aided by Ivano's translucent lighting, is a little inclined to overdo her "act", but it all fits into place.
OTHER VIEWS: Caesar is a parrot - and such a parrot! But the rarely reticent Caesar provides but one of many diversions in this entertaining satire on TV quiz programs and corporate huckstering. Ronald Colman, as adept at light comedy as heavy melodrama, is perfect as the intended victim of wonderfully wacky tycoon Vincent Price. Barbara Britton is attractively svelte and vulnerable as Colman's unmarried sister, whilst Art Linkletter provides a most amusing study of the jokesy quizmaster. Winningly photographed and set, the film is directed by Richard Whorf with surprising style and panache. - G.A.
The boss of Enterprise Studios was Garfield himself, and he it was who seconded Rossen to the directorial helm of this production. It turned out to be one of the best films of his career and one of the best three or four boxing films ever made. Shot in 55 days. Domestic gross: A very profitable $3,034,014.39.
COMMENT: There is an excellent book by Ronald Bergan called Sports in the Movies (Proteus, New York, 1982). Bergan says quite correctly that more movies have been made about boxing than any other sport. The reason for this popularity is simply that everyone likes a winner - especially a winner who overcomes numerous obstacles - and boxing offers more obstacles than anything else.
It's not just the skill and training required to be proficient at the sport, nor the real likelihood of bodily injuries, but the fact that the game is the preserve of racketeers and gangsters. To quote Bergan: "Money, money, money is what makes the boxing world go round. The boxer is... manipulated by others for profit... Money is the leitmotif of Body and Soul in which John Garfield is 'not just a kid who can fight. He's money'."
As the kid, Garfield certainly gives one of the most impressive performances of his life. It's a role he was born to play - and he doesn't cower behind a stand-in for the fight sequences either. That's him taking the punishment and dishing it out. The realism of the ring has rarely rung more true.
Polonsky has denied that the role was especially tailored for Garfield, but Charlie Davis has all the chip-on-the-shoulder cynicism, the driving ambition to claw his way to the top at any cost, the almost psychotic determination to be morally ruthless warring with vestiges of decency, the guilt and fear-ridden confusion, - in fact all the characteristic personality traits that Garfield was able to imbue with such sympathetic yet fascinating credibility.
The actor threw himself into the part with an energy and an enthusiasm that simply electrifies the screen. It's a demonstration of the power and vigor behind a force that doesn't drive clean because of the character's doubts and vacillations, his all too-human passions and weaknesses.
Garfield is often identified as the first of the screen's rebels. This is true. What isn't usually realized is that he started by playing a rebel who is passive - cynical, yes, but already defeated. As his career progressed, the rebel becomes more active - still cynical, worldly-wise and disillusioned, but now compulsively self-willed to pay any price for success. Think of it: Four Daughters through to The Postman Always Rings Twice and Body and Soul. Garfield's career declined because he abandoned this image in favor of the committedly good guys of Gentleman's Agreement and We Were Strangers.
Surrounded by a fine supporting cast (Pevney is especially chilling as the gangster) and aided by some of the most skillful technicians in Hollywood, Garfield has indeed made Body and Soul "the apex of his career". (Quoting from Rebels: The Rebel Hero in Films by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein, Citadel Press, New Jersey, 1971).
OTHER VIEWS: It's a striking commentary on Hollywood and its waste of talent that Garfield . . . should have had to wait so long and impersonate so many ruinously rep¬etitious types before he could realize his full capabilities.
Archer Winsten in The New York Post.
Garfield received only two award nominations in his entire career - both of which he lost. He was not even proposed for The Postman Always Rings Twice. Where's the justice in that? Garfield was undoubtedly the most socially committed actor to appear in Hollywood. To quote Polonsky: "They killed him for it". (Hollywood Voices edited by Andrew Sarris, published by Seeker & Warburg, London, 1971).
(Garfield was nominated as Supporting Actor in Four Daughters, but lost the count to Walter Brennan in Kentucky).
Dedicated to Edna Gladney. Copyright 2 July 1941 by Loew's Inc. Presented by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. A Mervyn LeRoy production. New York opening at Radio City Music Hall: 26 May 1941. U.S. release: 25 July 1941. Australian release: 24 December 1941. 10 reels. 8,947 feet. 99 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Public-spirited woman campaigns to have birth registration records amended so that the legitimacy (or otherwise) of children is not recorded.
NOTES: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Annual Award for Art Direction in color was shared by Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary and Edwin B. Willis (defeating Blood and Sand, and Louisiana Purchase) . Also nominated for Best Picture (How Green Was My Valley), Best Actress, Greer Garson (Joan Fontaine in Suspicion), and Color Cinematography (Blood and Sand).
Number 10 in the annual Film Daily poll of U.S. film critics.
COMMENT: This first of the nine movies Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon made together hardly augured well for Mr. Pidgeon's future career. Not only is his name half the size of Miss Garson's on the film's credits, but his role is rather small. His character dies half-way through, leaving all the dramatic running to the oddly popular Garson. (I can understand that the actress' "grand manners" and air of patronizing refinement could make her popular in some feminine quarters, but I always found her artificial and - if given her head - cloying. She was well cast in Mr Chips and Pride and Prejudice where her roles called for brittle snobbery).
The script has an unfortunate habit of telegraphing its punches well ahead, enabling Greer to glide with ease from one domestic crisis to another. Nonetheless, the drama does come across effectively in some of its key scenes, particularly the address to the Texas Senate (with which scene the film ought to have closed. Instead it drags on for another 20 minutes or so, lovingly tying up a tedious sub-plot about a nursed-back-to-health crippled boy). Partly this is due to the excellent mounting (photography, sets, costumes) and production values MGM have poured into the picture, but mostly to the quality of the support cast.
With the exceptions of Felix Bressart, Clinton Rosemond and Theresa Harris (who seem to be reveling in their ridiculously stereotyped roles), all the support players give interesting, if not fascinating performances. Most of the other roles are brief - limited to one or two scenes - but those players make their mark. One must be singled out for special praise: Marsha Hunt who overcomes a lack of depth in the writing to give Charlotte an appealingly tragic dignity.
LeRoy's direction is competently bland, while other technical credits (especially the costumes and photography - Miss Garson makes a stunning first appearance in a blue costume and picture hat) are highly professional. The only exception is Stothart's unbelievably heavy-handed music scoring with its consistently "Mickey-Mouse" use of "appropriate" tunes like "Two Little Girls In Blue" and "Deep In the Heart of Texas".
Producer: William Cagney. Copyright 15 June 1945 by Cagney Produc¬tions, Inc. Released through United Artists. New York opening at the Capitol: 28 June 1945. U.S. release: 15 June 1945. U.K. release: 27 August 1945. Australian release: 27 June 1946. 8,442 feet. 94 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Pre-war Tokyo. Newspaperman uncovers Japanese master plan for world conquest.
NOTES: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Annual Award for Art Direction (black-and-white), went to Wiard Ihnen, production designer, and A. Roland Fields, set decorator (defeating Experiment Perilous, The Keys of the Kingdom, Love Letters, and The Picture of Dorian Gray).
Domestic rental gross: approx. $3.4 million.
COMMENT: If ever an award for Art Direction was well-deserved, Blood on the Sun is it. Even the film's billing and publicity people were aware of the art director's contribution. For once, Ihnen receives a single full-frame credit. In point of fact, he prepared a detailed storyboard for the entire picture, indicating all frame arrangements and camera angles. Director Frank Lloyd (who was the Cagneys' second choice when Warners refused to loan out Michael Curtiz) followed Ihnen's plans scrupulously, - from the opening one-take action shot of the riot outside the newspaper office to the dazzling crane shot through the pier pylons at the climax. The sets hit the eyes with such a marvelously dramatic impact, that the ears take little notice of the nonsensical story and the ridiculous posturing of familiar Occidental players pretending to be Japanese.
Aside from its vivid, powerful sets, however, Blood on the Sun is very much a product of its period. Collectors of naively racist philosophy will have a field day here. Particularly noteworthy is Cagney's final line: "Love your enemies? But first - get even!" Cagney's own performance sums up this credo as he wrestles and judos his way through hordes of Japanese, proving the superiority of the white to the yellow warrior - much to the delight of his fans.
Unfortunately, the rest of the players are either weighed down by their make-up or overawed by the fist-popping Cagney. Only Leonard Strong as a not over bright Secret Service agent ("We took our families to see the cherry blossoms!") makes any impression.
The other major feature of Blood on the Sun is Miklos Rozsa's tingling music score - which should have been nominated for an award but wasn't. Rozsa did win for Spellbound, but in my opinion Blood on the Sun is at least equally exciting and dramatic. All Rozsa fans should definitely invest in a sound track of this one as well.
Producer: David O. Selznick. Copyright 20 August 1932 by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. New York opening at the Mayfair: 9 September 1932. Los Angeles opening at the Orpheum: 2 September 1932. London opening at the New Gallery: 10 January 1933. 9 reels. 80 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Comparisons with Tabu (1951) are obvious. Instead of a native in love with a tabu maiden, substitute a white man. However, the comparison is a bit unjust as Tabu has rung the principal change on the 1912 stage play.
NOTES: The stage play opened on Broadway at Daly's on 8 January 1912 and although it ran only a moderately successful 112 performances in New York with the legendary Laurette Taylor in the lead (playing opposite Lewis Stone, no less), it became a big hit throughout the USA and Canada in road and stock companies.
The film was re-made as Tabu in 1951 by 20th Century-Fox with Debra Paget, Louis Jourdan and Jeff Chandler.
COMMENT: Frankly, I prefer Tabu, but there are many people who regard this version of the story as the more entertaining. Certainly it has a lot going for it, including the splendidly exotic Dolores Del Rio as the native girl and my favorite movie philosopher John Halliday as the worldly-wise yachtsman. "Looks like you'll have to run for native prince," he advises deck-hand McCrea. "On the Democratic ticket!"
The photography, however (at least in the print under review), leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the location material is far too dark. The much-vaunted Max Steiner music score also falls short by comparison with Tabu.
An article in Time (7 August 1944) about the return of injured veterans, provided Goldwyn and his wife with the idea for the film. Accordingly, Goldwyn asked Mackinlay Kantor, a former Air Force correspondent who had been stationed in England, to write an original story based on his experiences. Kantor delivered the result, a 434-page novel entitled "Glory For Me", written in blank verse, in January 1945. Goldwyn then handed it to Robert E. Sherwood to use as the basis of a screenplay.
After shooting for more than 100 days at a cost of over $2,000,000, Wyler edited his 400 reels to 16 - 2 hours and 52 minutes worth. Even though he was frustrated in his wish to cut it down by a further half-hour, Wyler considered it the best film he had yet made. His technique is faultless: His use of the mirror stratagem re-appears, this time in duet for the comic purpose of doubling the image of Fredric March in the megrims of the morning-after; the window enclosing remote (and now relevant) action can be found in the drugstore sequence where it brackets the managerial office with the busy salesroom below; the sparingly-used close-up has a poignant effect when it rests upon the wistful countenance of Harold Russell or details Teresa Wright's shattered face, caught in a moment of anguish.
A particularly impressive episode is Derry's visit to the bomber graveyard - Wyler composes a symphony for this scene out of visual and orchestral effects.
The music is excellent, Friedhofer's musical motifs frequently growing out of the scene itself, be it Hoagy Carmichael's piano jingles, Marie's strident radio, or the jungle rhythms of a nightclub band.