1940s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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NABOB OF NOWHERE
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#201 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Sat Aug 27, 2011 4:44 am

Cold Bishop wrote:Oh, nevermind... this was actually the first film Cavalcanti made after leaving Ealing. :oops: I told you the record was broken! (In which case, Went the Day Well? may be Ealing's greatest picture).
We will agree to agree there certainly, although I'm sure that Whisky Galore will figure somewhere in the lower echelons of my list and I have an extremely soft spot for Hue and Cry which makes for a great 'Kids in a Bombsite' double with Rossellini's Germany year zero, but of a completely different complexion (Hue?).
Favourite Ealing for me is Lavender Hill Mob which is of course out of bounds for this list.

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Finch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#202 Post by Finch » Sat Aug 27, 2011 6:08 am

knives, I had the same experience with Kind Hearts & Coronets: I wasn't in the right mood for it and preferred the likes of Ladykillers. But as swo says, it's a grower and I found that while the Hamer went up in my estimation (still not my fave Ealing though, that'd be Lavender Hill Mob and Whiskey Galore!, with Went the Day Well? in third), I got less fond of the MacKendrick with repeated viewings. Looking forward to seeing Kind Hearts on Blu next week (zavvi just emailed me to say my copy's been dispatched). Peter Bradshaw's commentary should be interesting (his first ever, and Kind Hearts is one of his Top Ten entries).

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#203 Post by Tommaso » Sat Aug 27, 2011 11:56 am

I've finally seen Marcel Carné's Les visiteurs du soir (1942), and must say: I'm completely amazed. A wonderful, dark (though often brightly lit) and romantic fairy tale/fantasy which kept me under its spell for the whole of its almost two hours. That the film didn't exactly have a big budget is very visible in the extremely fake looking medieval castle, but this artificiality only heightens its dreamlike, lyrical, unreal and entirely hypnotic qualities.

The style and the slow pace is impeccable, and Jules Berry's devil is genuinely frightening in his nonchalant wittiness which only barely conceals the disturbing darkness lying underneath (though I don't really buy into the sometimes proposed idea that the film is a parable on the German occupation of France). But most astonishing is Arletty's performance as one of the two minstrels in the devil's service. In man's clothing at first, she has a strong but very cold allure which is continued throughout the film, in which she changes appearances several times but always seems in total command of herself and everyone else (and just note how Carné dwells on her legs in the first of the transformation scenes... and of course he was right to do so :D ). I find her even more captivating in this film than in Les enfants du paradis, which means something.

Very nicely done are also those moments when the two minstrels make time 'stand still', quite similar of course to what Powell would do four years later in A Matter of Life and Death, and equally convincingly heightening the magical atmosphere of the whole of the film.

Extremely beautiful all the time, this is a film that - for instance - Cocteau fans should rather run not walk to see, even though the style is different, less 'realist' perhaps. I guess I'll put Les visiteurs du soir rather high on my list, and it has my very highest recommendation. A must see, I think.

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Gropius
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#204 Post by Gropius » Sat Aug 27, 2011 1:03 pm

Tommaso wrote:Extremely beautiful all the time, this is a film that - for instance - Cocteau fans should rather run not walk to see, even though the style is different, less 'realist' perhaps. I guess I'll put Les visiteurs du soir rather high on my list, and it has my very highest recommendation. A must see, I think.
Seconded. This is, in my opinion, probably Carné's best film.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#205 Post by knives » Sat Aug 27, 2011 11:06 pm

I'm not sure how known this one is, but I whole heartily recommend Walter Lang's Star Dust which is a new twist for me on the A Star is Born story mold. Linda Darnell stars as a small town girl who forces her way into Hollywood via her natural charm. This is where the story becomes unique as she's never an Eve nor really broken down like in the proto type. Instead it plays out as a comedy on the bureaucracy of the studio system. The whole idea of training actors to become stars and developing personas for them seems like the biggest joke. No one is deliberately cruel or mean. In fact the whole lot of them are really swell, but they feed into the system which is a nasty piece of business. I think in it's own bizarre way this inevitable killing is more mean than having a bunch of back stabbers looking for an easy kill. At least there there are some defenses that can be utilized.

A large part in how this succeeds in tone is how perfect the performances are. There has to be a certain degree of caustic naivete present with everybody. You don't act like a bad intentionally, but success is predicated on bad behavior so when Darnell gets in a pissing match with the blond she can't even realize that's what she's doing. Roland Young, who really deserves to be better known, is an other case of stupid murder. He's this good willed and gentile Mephistopheles who breeds and molds these young women trying to make the next Garbo. He genuinely cares and sympathizes with these women, at least until the next group flies by his window. That only makes things worse for them though. I'm trying to describe it, but an example might do better. Remember in Hoop Dreams the scout who brings the two boys to the school? Young plays that exact villain, but is somehow even more deluded to his supposed good deeds for these women.

In it's own way it's frightening, yet the movie also captures why it's so alluring. Darnell never gets the bad mojo that lies in her wake with the cogs to stardom being her worst discomforts. It's light and fluffy for a strange, but ultimately rewarding little tale to tell. The film captures it's lead's ignorance perfectly in it's own tone so that the creepy and kooky things that I've been talking about don't seem so bad at first. Hope it seems only makes the poison worse. The experience is akin to a jolly pop song about suicide. You're rocking and having fun like it's a love song singing the words and not connecting their meaning. Only in this song the hints to the true meaning are sometimes too clear. A girl comes out of a room crying with a sad look, only to reveal that the best outcome is the one to happen. The film plays up the question just long enough though for the question of the other option and what it does to a person haunts only to make what comes next all the more nasty. If this is the happy side to stardom than it's not worth it.

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Lighthouse
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#206 Post by Lighthouse » Sun Aug 28, 2011 3:52 am

Tommaso wrote:I've finally seen Marcel Carné's Les visiteurs du soir (1942), and must say: I'm completely amazed. A wonderful, dark (though often brightly lit) and romantic fairy tale/fantasy which kept me under its spell for the whole of its almost two hours. That the film didn't exactly have a big budget is very visible in the extremely fake looking medieval castle, but this artificiality only heightens its dreamlike, lyrical, unreal and entirely hypnotic qualities.

The style and the slow pace is impeccable, and Jules Berry's devil is genuinely frightening in his nonchalant wittiness which only barely conceals the disturbing darkness lying underneath (though I don't really buy into the sometimes proposed idea that the film is a parable on the German occupation of France). But most astonishing is Arletty's performance as one of the two minstrels in the devil's service. In man's clothing at first, she has a strong but very cold allure which is continued throughout the film, in which she changes appearances several times but always seems in total command of herself and everyone else (and just note how Carné dwells on her legs in the first of the transformation scenes... and of course he was right to do so :D ). I find her even more captivating in this film than in Les enfants du paradis, which means something.

Very nicely done are also those moments when the two minstrels make time 'stand still', quite similar of course to what Powell would do four years later in A Matter of Life and Death, and equally convincingly heightening the magical atmosphere of the whole of the film.

Extremely beautiful all the time, this is a film that - for instance - Cocteau fans should rather run not walk to see, even though the style is different, less 'realist' perhaps. I guess I'll put Les visiteurs du soir rather high on my list, and it has my very highest recommendation. A must see, I think.
Yeah, both belong to the best of the 40s, and will be very high on my list.
Unfortunately thereafter Carne declined quickly. His last collaboration with Prevert Les Portes de la nuit is good, but not on the level of their earlier efforts.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#207 Post by knives » Sun Aug 28, 2011 4:32 pm

Color me impressed. It's not perfect, but Minnelli's adaptation of Madame Bovary ain't half bad. I've always been suspect of Jones' dramatic talents, but she more than pulls her weight around with a performance that I can't get my hands on. She shows such a variety of personality that the years do feel like they're taking place. Actually in general the film turns actors who I haven't been entirely impressed with and gives them a lot to show off with. The biggest problem all of these old oscar ready adaptations seem to have is stuffiness, but Minnelli is fortunately on in this film with a positively wonderful mixture of fluid straight forward shooting and odd ball shadow play. Every when the script is stuck with the histrionics of the era the camera's goofing off gives the film enough timelessness to keep me entertained. Just take a look at that insane ballroom sequence where the film is jumping everywhere looking to do everything. This one isn't really a contender, but it's more than a worthy rest stop.

roujin
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#208 Post by roujin » Sun Aug 28, 2011 9:37 pm

What did you think of the James Mason as Flaubert framing device? I found it pretty awkward myself and wondered why the film even needed it.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#209 Post by knives » Sun Aug 28, 2011 9:45 pm

I actually liked it a lot and wished they went further with it. I'm slightly reminded of the intro to Bride of Frankenstein which makes it prescient that we are witnessing fiction. I would love to see how someone like Godard or Kaufman would use that device.

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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#210 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 28, 2011 9:48 pm

The Mason stuff is there to preempt the moral decrying of depicting the illicit acts of an adulterer. It all sort of works in spite of itself, but the film only really exists in anyone's memory for the aforementioned virtuoso ballroom dance sequence-- arguably one of the greatest and most complicated sequences of the studio era, from a technological standpoint if nothing else. Chabrol paid homage to it (and Under Capricorn, of course) for his own adaptation forty years later

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Gregory
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#211 Post by Gregory » Sun Aug 28, 2011 10:42 pm

I love Madame Bovary and think it's one of Minnelli's major achievements, not just for the great ball scene but for all the beautiful and expressive details throughout, which so wonderfully show the director's understanding of, and empathy for, Emma, which was in no way diminished by her deep character flaws. One's sense of the richness and complexity of the film only increases, I think, when considering it in the context of its connections to thematically related works by Minnelli as an auteur and Jones as a star.
It's a great tragedy because there's nothing remotely fatalistic about it. The film expertly explores the forces that guide her trajectory, and avoids making her either exemplary or contemptible.
I personally don't understand why a viewer who's seen some of Jones's best work would have doubts about her dramatic talents. I don't know what knives means by her "pulling her weight around," and I don't know whether to be appalled, puzzled, or amused by the comment about "the histrionics of the era." Nothing personal meant by this, knives; I guess we just don't have a lot in common.
Last edited by Gregory on Sun Aug 28, 2011 10:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#212 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 28, 2011 10:49 pm

Jones can certainly be a great actress-- she's become almost a go-to joke thanks to her husband's feverish folly in getting her a second Oscar that it's easy to forget that she utterly deserved her first for the Song of Bernadette (still among the greatest if not the greatest religious films Hollywood ever produced). But I think her performance feels a little less affectated here because it wasn't conceived as a star vehicle for her, and Minnelli seems almost indifferent to his protagonist, which also helps to tear down that overeager sheen that glosses some of her more regrettable roles. Though I don't get much out of the film (and indeed, Gregory, you're one of the few I've heard that's willing to go so far out for it), I'm kind of glad someone does for whatever reasons.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#213 Post by knives » Sun Aug 28, 2011 10:56 pm

That's exactly what I meant on Jones behalf. Dramatically you'll never know how much her man is breathing down her neck which does lead to a lot of terrible roles (A Farewell to Arms anyone). I guess I was saying that particular monkey was no where present.

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lubitsch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#214 Post by lubitsch » Mon Aug 29, 2011 4:32 pm

Les Visiteurs du Soir was one of the most terminally boring pre1960 films I've ever seen. Carnes strained poeticism finally comes fully to the fore as well as his funereal pace. As for the political interpretation I however agree with Tommaso, it's positively indecent to suggest anything subversive in this film. If we would interpret all films this way, each film with good vs. bad guys in Occupied France could be read as coded resistance. There are examples of satire on Nazism under Nazi rule but they appear in national prestige productions where they are allowed as icing on the cake like in Amphitryon and Münchhausen.

As for Madame Bovary I think it's Minnelli's best film with The Band Wagon which is a rather common view among Minneli's admirers see e.g. Harveys book. It perfectly merges Minnellis dream vs. reality thematic preoccupation and his visual splashiness with the melodrama genre. Just remember the first time she appears on the film totally out of place in her surroundings. While Renoir and Chabrol keep a drab and steady style throughout their versions, Minnelli realizes the gap between Emmas dream world and the reality. As for Jones I think she's one of the most remarkable actresses of the era, she can believably play a saint as well as a lusty ranch girl baring her teeth like a wild animal. It's a pretty amazing range.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#215 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Aug 29, 2011 8:50 pm

lubitsch wrote:There are examples of satire on Nazism under Nazi rule but they appear in national prestige productions where they are allowed as icing on the cake like in Amphitryon and Münchhausen.
Could you elaborate on this? I've seen Münchhausen, and I enjoyed it, but I felt throughout that there was coding in it that I wasn't understanding.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#216 Post by PillowRock » Tue Aug 30, 2011 12:52 pm

I have not seen Visiteurs, but just from the thumbnail descriptions that I've seen:

When you have a movie produced in the historical context of a country occupied by a conquering army that tells a story of devil's servants coming into a castle and trying to impose their own ideas and plans counter to those of the long time inhabitants ......

It's hard to complete avoid thoughts equating the occupying army with the devil's servants.

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#217 Post by Tommaso » Tue Aug 30, 2011 1:35 pm

Only that at least one of the servants resists his master (who's supposed to be that? Stauffenberg avant la lettre, or a francophile like Ernst Jünger?) and falls in love with one of the ladies of the 'occupied' castle whose inhabitants are also not exactly likeable. The beating heart in the stone statue into which the devil transforms the two lovers in the end has been seen as symbolical for the 'Heart of France', but absolutely no one would get this idea if they don't know that the film was made in 1942 in France. It's far more convincing to me to read this along the line of "even the devil is powerless against true love" or something like that.

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lubitsch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#218 Post by lubitsch » Tue Aug 30, 2011 5:25 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:
lubitsch wrote:There are examples of satire on Nazism under Nazi rule but they appear in national prestige productions where they are allowed as icing on the cake like in Amphitryon and Münchhausen.
Could you elaborate on this? I've seen Münchhausen, and I enjoyed it, but I felt throughout that there was coding in it that I wasn't understanding.
The baron is a wanderer through the worlds, enjoying its miracles and in a telling scene he refuses the advances of Cagliostro who has plans to gain power. There's a dialogue where he says that Cagliostro wants to conquer but he wants to live. Basically he repeatedly meets power figures who aren't shown in a flattering light while he suggests that life is uncertain and no one knows whats best for others or even theirselves. His anarchistic spirit even breaks the film-spectator relationship when he twinkles from the oil painting or winks at the public riding the cannon. There are digs against secret police in the Italian part and a remark about the "broken time" on the moon. The film was written by Erich Kästner whose writing ban was lifted for the production of this film and directed by Josef von Baky who also belongs in a gentle humanist corner while the leading man Hans Albers was a vocal opponent of the regime, but too popular to be apprehended.
Why did Goebbels allow this? Film was still a commercial affair and the prestige gained by such a colorful superproduction, both make up for the subversive content. You can't show internationally in the occupied and neutral countries only films like Heimkehr or Jud Süß, one has to present Germany as a country able to produce attractive entertainment in order to win over those who aren't enemies of the Reich yet. Also a few attacks here or there are ok as long as they don't contradict radically the ideology. There were films which were too depressing or critic and ended up being banned. But interestingly while the superproductions of the free countries are often restricted by censorship, there's a chance that repressive regimes (if they are clever enough) allow the exact opposite and give some leeway. The Berlin Olympic games are another example of this.

However there should be some concrete evidence of resistance in the script, the acting or the direction. Attempting to play the resistance fighter a la Carne is more than just a bit tasteless. Some directors like Rossellini, Antonioni, Liebeneiner, Kurosawa or Imai heavily compromised with their regimes and later tried to play liberals which always leaves a bad taste.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#219 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Aug 30, 2011 5:34 pm

Imai wasn't a liberal, he was a leftist. Not having seen his war-time films, I can't assess just how these compared to silly trash like Kurosawa's Most Beautiful. In the post-war era Kurosawa was a nice, safe "liberal", Imai made much more overtly left-wing films.

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#220 Post by Tommaso » Tue Aug 30, 2011 6:20 pm

lubitsch wrote:Why did Goebbels allow this? Film was still a commercial affair and the prestige gained by such a colorful superproduction, both make up for the subversive content. You can't show internationally in the occupied and neutral countries only films like Heimkehr or Jud Süß, one has to present Germany as a country able to produce attractive entertainment in order to win over those who aren't enemies of the Reich yet.
True, but didn't that go for Germany itself, too? Whereas in the 30s, at least occasionally, Hollywood films and other international productions were still shown in Germany, this basically ended with the beginning of the war. And the war was on its way to be lost already in 1943. What better way to show the audience that things were 'going well', and that Germany could do as good and technically astonishing films as Hollywood or all the other great filmmaking nations of the time , than to do this superproduction which was officially designed to celebrate not only the 25th anniversary of UFA, but also to demonstrate very effectively the German alternative to the US Technicolor system, Agfacolor. If the film indeed looked as good way back then as it does on the recent restoration, at least this last aspect must be regarded as a clear success.

But all these political considerations aside, Münchhausen is simply a vastly entertaining film which indeed has a very good script by Kästner, and is eye-candy all around. The model for the film was obviously the Korda production of "The thief of Bagdad", and in terms of pure visual delight and entertainment it's almost as good as that one.

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Dr Amicus
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#221 Post by Dr Amicus » Wed Aug 31, 2011 6:18 pm

Amongst Ealing's great run of war films where different classes are forced to unify in the great struggle (The Bells Go Down, San Demetrio London, Went The Day Well?) is Thorold Dickinson's The Next Of Kin (1942) - which started off as a propaganda piece for the military, but Ealing expanded into a successful commercial release. Essentially a treatise on Careless Talk Cost Lives, this could have been a dull, depressing piece of fingerwagging - luckily it's a gripping, paranoid thriller which would make a great double bill with the Cavalcanti.
Unlike the other Ealing war films mentioned, here it's the Germans who (largely) mesh into a cohesive fighting (or, rather, espionage) force. Essentially the Brits are trying to keep their latest raid plans secret whilst the Germans use their extensive network of spies (trust no-one!) to piece together what these plans are. The film makes no secret of the outcome - the title refers to the letters that have to be sent following a soldier's death and the opening makes it clear we are about to see the consequences of careless talk..., but this just adds to the tension as Brit after Brit manages to say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Interestingly, the Germans are rarely demonised - they're the enemy, but they're certainly not cardboard caricatures. Indeed, the film opens with Allies spies in action - both sides are up to the same tricks. And, like WTDW, there is more Thora Hird - is it just me or does the thought of the great Thora in action strike anyone else as vaguely surreal?

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#222 Post by knives » Wed Aug 31, 2011 7:14 pm

I just realized I haven't brought up The Shanghai Gesture which is my favorite von Sternberg and possibly the number one spot on my list. I'm sure most have already seen it, but a mention can never hurt. It's rather obviously an extension of his Dietrich work, but I think it becomes even more alien looking like something out of Man Ray's nightmares. The story couldn't be more stupid nonsense, but the way he weaves it as a visual punch is amazing and like nothing since von Stroheim's most extravagant days. I'm almost at a loss of words to convey just how magical the look is to the film and how it plays up all the worst aspects it's actors until even the people become alien. Just an absolutely amazing experience.

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tojoed
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#223 Post by tojoed » Fri Sep 02, 2011 12:48 pm

The Rocking Horse Winner is being released in the UK in October. I haven't seen it in many years, but I think it might be worth consideration, at least, in a 1940s list.

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Dr Amicus
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#224 Post by Dr Amicus » Fri Sep 02, 2011 7:40 pm

On the Imperial War Museum / DD edition of Next of Kin (see a few posts above), are three bonus films from the Army Kinematograph Services (who had commissioned Next of Kin before Ealing expanded it with their own money for a commercial release). None of these were intended for mass viewing but rather were training films for members of the armed services. The best is The New Lot (1943, Carol Reed) - the basis for Reed's later The Way Ahead - an impressive 42 minutes of disparate men bitching about being forced into the army before coalescing into a unified group. In that respect, this is typical of many British war films of the period, but this benefits from a good script from Peter Ustinov (who co-stars) and Eric Ambler which includes a surprising "bullshit", a lot of grumbling, and some slightly surprising reflections on what will happen post war - effectively a hope not to be let down in the way veterans of the Great War were. Similar attitudes turn up in What's The Next Job? (1945, Roy [Ward] Baker) which shows the usual disparate group, but this time being demobbed from active service (or munitions work) and being helped to find work. Worth watching as a barometer of the mood of the times - this must be post Beveridge report but shortly before Labour's election victory - although slightly overwhelmed by its obvious symbolism (the characters are the usual cross section of society who meet up in a pub called The Doves).

Read All About It (1945, Baker) is the odd one out - essentially just a dramatised answer to Why Are Newspapers Different? Unlike the other films whose purpose is clear - how to cope with being a new soldier, what help is available to you after the war - this is not obviously a military film. Not uninteresting as a historical artefact, but much less so than the other films on the DVD - which is a good buy at the current price on Amazon.

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#225 Post by Tommaso » Sun Sep 04, 2011 9:59 am

I used the search function, and am surprised that apparently there hasn't been a lot of discussion about Minnelli's Yolanda and the Thief so far, not even in the Musicals List thread it seems. That film was one of the few Astaire films I hadn't seen before, and even though I heard widely diverging opinions about it, the experience was quite baffling. While one is used to Minnelli abandoning any sort of realism not just in his big stage numbers in other films, Yolanda seems to be intent right from the beginning to strain the viewer's capacity for suspension of disbelief to the utmost. It's not just the probably intentionally fake looking backdrops with which the film starts, but primarily the whole plot which seems so contrived as to border on the ridiculous in places (so guardian angels contact you via the telephone and you believe in them without the slightest doubt even if they want you to give all their money to them...oh boy...). Add to this Fred Astaire cast against his established screen persona as a sly and almost unpleasant crook, and an unremarkable musical score that allows Fred to sing his first song only after the 60-minute mark or so.

I'm not surprised to learn that the film was a huge flop on its release, but that doesn't matter because I have to confess that I loved every minute of it. There are many very nice touches, especially with the real guardian angel near the end, and also some rather exquisite moments of silliness (think of the door-opening scene when Astaire first visits Bremer's place). But the greatest asset of the film is obviously its artificiality, and the Freed unit's set designers and especially the Technicolor people might have achieved a colourfulness and sparkle surpassing even The Pirate in places. So did the costume department: many people's critical faculties must crumble into pieces once they see red-headed Lucille Bremer in that black dress... Not to speak of the great central dream sequence which seems to me a clear inspiration for Powell's "Red Shoes" ballet, though it isn't as emotionally involving, and it's still a step behind Minnelli's greatest moments in Ziegfeld Follies and The Band Wagon.

So at the very least Yolanda is a real feast for the eye, and one must be really thankful for Warner's new transfer (even if they consecrated it to Archive hell), which can only be described as stunning. I guess I have to put the film on my list, just as I have to put Ziegfeld Follies onto it, another Minnelli film, made at more or less the same time, that seems terribly underrated to me and which I'd at least like to mention here. Sure, the comedy bits in that one don't work at all, but just as Yolanda and The Pirate, Ziegfeld Follies contains some of the most entrancing bits of cinema abandoning itself to only itself that you're likely to see in the 1940s.

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