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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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#401 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:21 am

knives wrote:Belle Starr
(...) Basically for Tierney/ Andrews completists only.
No, even we think it's a piece of shit

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puxzkkx
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#402 Post by puxzkkx » Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:43 am

Michael Kerpan might be the one to answer this, but I'd love to hear from anyone else - is Kinoshita's Rikugun/Army worth the trouble of tracking down with English subs? Kinuyo Tanaka is in it and figures in an apparently legendary sequence shot at the end.

Also, I'd like to challenge Lubitsch re: Hara. I've only seen her in her Ozu films and I completely understand the criticisms of her constant grimacing and her wholesome-virgin persona (these annoy me in Late Spring, actually). However I think elsewhere Ozu used her in ways that deconstructed that persona. For example in Early Summer she's at odds with traditions of omiai etc, traditions that I see as shorthand for pre-war imperialist attitudes in almost all of Ozu's post-war films, and while devoted to her family she deviates from them where it matters most. In Tokyo Story her character is shown to be playing the good daughter-in-law out of an unfulfilling feeling of duty, and in The End of Summer she is shown as a spinster who has let her life pass her by whilst playing the 'good daughter' role. In all of these films but the latter two especially, her smile really is a grimace most of the time and she gives off a unique vibe of desperation and loss from the edges of scenes, especially during her entries and exits to and from the frame. She was never as versatile as some of her contemporaries, though.

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the preacher
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#403 Post by the preacher » Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:55 pm

MEXICO
Ahí está el detalle (Juan Bustillo Oro, 1940)
El baisano Jalil (Joaquín Pardavé, 1942)
Historia de un gran amor (Julio Bracho, 1942)
Una carta de amor (Miguel Zacarías, 1943)
Distinto amanecer (Julio Bracho, 1943)
Doña Bárbara (Fernando de Fuentes & Miguel M. Delgado, 1943)
Flor silvestre (Emilio Fernández, 1943)
Santa (Norman Foster & Alfredo Gómez de la Vega, 1943)
María Candelaria (Emilio Fernández, 1944)
México de mis recuerdos (Juan Bustillo Oro, 1944)
La barraca (Roberto Gavaldón, 1945)
Campeón sin corona (Alejandro Galindo, 1946)
Enamorada (Emilio Fernández, 1946)
La otra (Roberto Gavaldón, 1946)
La diosa arrodillada (Roberto Gavaldón, 1947)
La perla (Emilio Fernández, 1947)
Los tres García (Ismael Rodríguez, 1947)
Esquina, bajan…! (Alejandro Galindo, 1948)
Gángsters contra charros (Juan Orol, 1948)
Maclovia (Emilio Fernández, 1948)
Nosotros, los pobres (Ismael Rodríguez, 1948)
Río Escondido (Emilio Fernández, 1948)
Los tres huastecos (Ismael Rodríguez, 1948)
Calabacitas tiernas (Gilberto Martínez Solares, 1949)
Una familia de tantas (Alejandro Galindo, 1949)
El gran calavera (Luis Buñuel, 1949)
La oveja negra (Ismael Rodríguez, 1949)
Pueblerina (Emilio Fernández, 1949)
Salón México (Emilio Fernández, 1949)

The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, part I: The forties.
Although "Una familia de tantas" is the most acclaimed movie by local critics and "Nosotros, los pobres" was the greatest box office success I'm going to highlight a couple of different movies.

Filmmaker of the decade: Emilio Fernández.
The Pearl, 1947
In a poor fishing village, an Indian couple living in a straw hut find their baby bitten by a scorpion. The white doctor refuses to treat the poor couple, but a curandera helps the child. Later the father, Quino (Pedro Armendáriz), finds a large pearl in the ocean that may be worth millions. Suddenly everyone wants to be friends with the poor couple, including the pearl-collecting doctor. As greed and frenzy inflame the village, Quino and his wife (María Elena Marqués) must flee, and eventually they are hunted like animals. La perla is one of Emilio Fernandez's greatest films, from his most successful period. Based on a short novel by John Steinbeck (who also wrote the screenplay). Steinbeck's fable-like tale works perfectly with the Fernandez-Figueroa style (too bad they didn't collaborate more often!). Available on its own DVD or paired with another Armendariz classic, Distinto amanecer.
Film of the decade: The Other One (Roberto Gavaldón, 1946)
This twisted film noir stars Dolores del Río in a dual role as rival twins. Maria is a poor manicurist while Magdalena is the recently widowed wife of a millionaire. Always the “bad girl,” Maria hatches a murderous plan to take her sister’s place,only to discover—upon assuming her sister’s identity—that Magdalena wasn’t quite the “good girl” she made herself out to be. As a woman tormented by inner demons and grappling with the unimaginable truth of her sister’s secrets, del Río turns in a riveting performance on par with Joan Crawford at her melodramatic finest. Assisted by cinematographer Alex Phillips and production designer Gunther Gerszo, Gavaldón transforms the sophisticated spaces of Mexico City’s upper classes into a world of baroque shadows and foreboding. La otra was remade by Hollywood in 1964 as the Bette Davis vehicle Dead Ringers. -UCLA Film Archive
Both Fernández and Gavaldón signed even better films later (Víctimas del pecado / Macario), but these two are great examples of their talent.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#404 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:56 am

Subtitles for the latter may be forthcoming, if anyone's interested.

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Wu.Qinghua
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#405 Post by Wu.Qinghua » Fri Jan 06, 2012 7:23 am

Ah, there's the post on Mexican 40s cinema. My favorite Mexican movie which will rank pretty high on my list, will most likely be Fernandez' marvellous feature Maria Candelaria (Mexico 1943). I guess it has found a dodgy DVD release in the US some years ago; the unsubtitled Mexican disc I've seen, is also rather shabby, but the movie itself offers a lovely and very well-made and beautifully shot melodram which was awarded in Cannes in '46 and differs very favourably from all the war-related 40s stuff by its focus on social affairs and indigenous Mexicans, on racism and social ostracism as well as by taking up the cudgels for the poor and the outcast. There's a short introduction for a cinematic screening of the film to be found on Youtube, which though not being great may offer some help in watching the film and which does contain no spoilers.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#406 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:38 am

The preacher - given that time's running out, would you recommend I watch any of these following films I can get hold of - The great madcap, Alla en el rancho grande, Black anguish, Gran casino, Maria Candelaria. If there are any of those I definitely shouldn't miss, which ones?

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the preacher
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#407 Post by the preacher » Fri Jan 06, 2012 10:30 am

The Great Madcap
An uncharacteristic Buñuel but a funny family comedy with brilliant dialogs. If you prefer the more surreal Buñuel then this is not your movie.

Allá en el Rancho Grande
A remake of the 1936 hit starring singer Jorge Negrete. I have not seen it but probably not worth.

Black Anguish
Never heard of the film or the (female) director.

Gran Casino
Definitely a minor Buñuel.

Maria Candelaria
One of the most famous classics directed by Indio Fernández. A rural melodrama beautifully photographed by master Gabriel Figueroa.

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Wu.Qinghua
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#408 Post by Wu.Qinghua » Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:04 am

The Illegals aka Lo tafihednu (Meyer Levin, USA/Palestine 1947)

This film has, as far as I know, never been released on DVD, and I doubt you'll be able to track it down elsewhere. Maybe someone else has also already seen it and likes to add a few points to mine? 'Illegals' is a somewhat bristle, but fine docudrama about the migration of European Jews from Central Europe to British-governed Palestine in the aftermath of the Shoah and the War, which Levin made for 'Americans for Haganah'. The film begins amidst the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto and combines the fictional story of a young couple which is crossing several borders illegaly on its way to Palestine with documentary material portraying Jewish institutions involved in the operation as well as the undercover journey itself which in this case ended when the ship and the film crew were brought up by the British navy in sight of the coast of Palestine.

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Gropius
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#409 Post by Gropius » Sat Jan 07, 2012 4:23 pm

Two more noteworthy shorts, both of which will be on my list:

The Eye and the Ear (Stefan & Franciszka Themerson, 1945) [YouTube]: An experiment in 'visual music' in the most literal sense, using photography and animation to create visual counterparts to songs by Szymanowski. In contrast to the somewhat lighter tone of McLaren or Fischinger, this is presented rather seriously, in the manner of a formal scientific experiment, and the technical voiceover may put some viewers off. The Themersons - Polish émigrés in Britain - apparently lost interest in film after this project, which seems a shame. (Their earlier propaganda piece, Calling Mr. Smith, has dated less well.)

Pacific 231 (Jean Mitry, 1949) [YouTube]*: Working in a modernist lineage that includes the city symphonies of the 20s and the industrial documentaries of the 30s, Mitry expertly fits footage of a single train journey to the existing musical piece by Arthur Honegger. Clocking in at around 10 minutes, it is a work of satisfying structural integrity, of a kind that had become all too rare by the 1940s.


* also on the Kino Avant-Garde 2 set, which includes a number of 40s American shorts of interest

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#410 Post by knives » Sat Jan 07, 2012 4:39 pm

If we're talking shorts (and admittedly these aren't as classy as your suggestions) I'd like to throw out Horton Hatches the Egg and the original Woody Woodpecker short. The later makes Tex Avery entirely redundant and is the greatest work of slapstick ever while the former is a beautiful combining of the sensibilities of Dr. Seuss and Termite Terrace by who may very well be their best director ever Bob Clampett.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#411 Post by knives » Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:51 pm

Lydia
"Haha, remember that time you tried to rape me? That's a good memory."

I Was a Male War Bride
Who would thought that the film with the premise of aren't men and women different would be one of the best ever? While I think I still prefer Ball of Fire this has to be Hawks smartest movie that I've met. The premise is just begging for failure, but due to a mixture of respect for the audience and respect for both genders we get a complex look at the meaninglessness of gender roles ultimately that is relevant even today. It's not just that those roles are flipped here which goes a long way to show how they're pointless, but also how both genders get propped up unfairly by the values society places on them. The movie very easily even with it's point of view could have been a bland showing of how hard it is to be a woman or some other generic point, but instead it goes a long way to show the stupid prejudices against both genders that exist. My particular favorite moment of these is when Grant is just trying to find a bed. That sequence may be the best non-Archers one of the decade. It doesn't hurt either that in addition to intelligence the film is just hilarious. It pulls off every kind of joke beautifully and with extreme assurance. Hell it even manages to make potty and transvestite humour work.

Brute Force
Really with just a few cosmetic changes this could be the equal to Caged and Dassin's best. There's a lot of great things to offer here, but I'm sure everyone already knows them. Instead I'll lodge my complaints. Take out the flashbacks and the film will not only be just as powerful, but also better paced. All of the present day stuff hints at what the flashbacks tell rendering them useless (and also if you took them out Reservoir Dogs would be a better movie too). The other big thing is that despite Cronyn's excellent performance his character makes the film feel all the more usual for his blatant villainy. In his first scene there was the promise of an other Lermontov afoot where I might necessarily agree with the character, but his heart would be in the right place and I'd feel sympathetic to his point of view. Instead we get basically a Nazi which renders the film less complex emotionally. There are a few Hollywood parts to the film I can forgive or that I feel make the film better (what comes of their escape attempt is surely a Hays code thing), but that one hurts the film significantly for me. It doesn't need a villain.

Whistling in the Dark
So Conrad Veidt wasn't always a Hollywood Nazi I guess. Red Skelton is the real surprise here as this is the first time I didn't want to murder him on screen. The plot is fairly generic, but done so swiftly and with enough fun that I can't help but be won over despite the film being nothing special.

Escape
Now had LeRoy made every one of his movies as good as this one he'd be an absolute favorite. This is an other Nazi film that is surprisingly smart even if it runs into one to many silly propaganda moments. The cinematography has a noir-ish veneer to it while the central story of a man trying to free his wrongfully imprisoned mother is deftly handled and explored fully. It actually reminds me a little of The Third Man with it's American lost in Germany thing and even how it views his relationship with Europe compared to his naivety. Of course this film has a more pro-American sentiment to it, but there's still this sense of one man's failure at any cost present. Definitely one of the better members of the genre.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#412 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:50 pm

knives wrote: Brute Force
The other big thing is that despite Cronyn's excellent performance his character makes the film feel all the more usual for his blatant villainy. In his first scene there was the promise of an other Lermontov afoot where I might necessarily agree with the character, but his heart would be in the right place and I'd feel sympathetic to his point of view. Instead we get basically a Nazi which renders the film less complex emotionally. There are a few Hollywood parts to the film I can forgive or that I feel make the film better (what comes of their escape attempt is surely a Hays code thing), but that one hurts the film significantly for me. It doesn't need a villain.
I have mixed feelings about this point. On the one hand, I think it's true that as a systemic examination of the horrors of imprisonment, the movie would have been better off if everyone involved genuinely thought themselves a good person- as is usually the case with systemic evils- and it is difficult to see Cronyn as anything other than a fully self aware sadistic Nazi. On the other hand, I thought he seemed cruelly and terribly realistic. Prisons still attract more than their share of sadists now, and it's my understanding that monsters not unlike Cronyn were as much the rule as the exception at the time in the real system. Moreover, part of the systemic critique the movie makes is about the way in which the prison system allows Cronyn to act unchecked, while everyone else is utterly powerless- surely, that would be less compelling if Cronyn weren't such a cruel and fascistic man.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#413 Post by knives » Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:33 pm

I see that point of view and I agree it could work, but his encounters with the doctor and the playing of Wagner seemed to push it too far for me. There was a way to make him fascist and disagreeable without talking down to the audience which the film occasionally slips into with that charcter.

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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#414 Post by domino harvey » Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:44 pm

Thought you were talking about Mankiewicz's Escape (from 1948-- the confusion is reasonable!) and I was pretty puzzled on so many of your points haha

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#415 Post by knives » Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:48 pm

I would've thought mentioning the director in the first sentence would have cleared that up. My mistake. Is his Escape any good? Finally got Dragonwyck and will hopefully watch it tomorrow.

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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#416 Post by domino harvey » Sat Jan 07, 2012 9:04 pm

knives wrote:I would've thought mentioning the director in the first sentence would have cleared that up. My mistake. Is his Escape any good? Finally got Dragonwyck and will hopefully watch it tomorrow.
It's not bad but very minor Mankiewicz. Dragonwyck is anything but minor, though! Good double duty title for the horror list as well

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#417 Post by knives » Sat Jan 07, 2012 9:13 pm

Yeah I've seen my chance and am just blowing through '40s/ '50s horror films right now.

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#418 Post by Tommaso » Sun Jan 08, 2012 7:56 am

As we're indeed getting frighteningly close to the deadline, here are two more French films which will both figure in the Top 20 of my list, and incidentally they both star Madeleine Sologne.

La foire aux chimeres (Pierre Chenal, 1946): This one really blew me out of my socks. I like Erich von Stroheim in general, but this must be one of his very, very best performances. He plays a disfigured man, shunned by the ladies, who finds love with a beautiful blind girl and does everything to make a happy home for her. But then the girl has an operation which makes her see again, and of course she's shocked about Stroheim's appearance, but she is also torn between her repulsion and her thankfulness to him. And so she goes on pretending to be blind... Well, very blunt plot summary for a very complex and visually stunning film. Someone called this "the dark side of Beauty and the Beast" or something to that effect, and that puts it very well. Sologne looks positively ethereal here, and both her and Stroheim's acting is deeply touching. Add to this camerawork which owes a lot to the visual aesthethics of silent films, great use of light and shade and mesmerising 'atmosphere'. This is a masterpiece, and should really get a proper release from the likes of Criterion.

L'eternel retour (Jean Delannoy, 1943). This is at least a little better known as it has a very good restored release on a French dvd, and thankfully it's also floating around with some fan subs. Although Delannoy is the director of this, it's actually a complete Cocteau film, who not only wrote the script, but whose 'presence' can be felt everywhere, and not just because Jean Marais plays the male lead. It's a modernisation of the old Tristan and Isolde story, very stylish, with Marais and Sologne both being 'ultra-blonde' giving this a rather 'Germanic' touch. Absolutely captivating performance by the two leads, fantastic cinematography which again enhances the 'mythical' aspects of the story.

Apart from these two, I also watched Dieterle's Kismet, basically because I like Marlene Dietrich and colourful Hollywood 'Arabian nights' movies in general, but I must say I found it a complete letdown. Well, Dietrich's much talked-about dance number may be quite acceptable, but the film suffers from a stagey script, and the generally dull acting brings this close to parody in places. Awful. Don't even begin to think of The Thief of Bagdad here.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#419 Post by Cold Bishop » Mon Jan 09, 2012 3:10 am

Juke Girl (Curtis Bernhardt, 1942)

Very fascinating and entertaining film. It lies in The Grapes of Wrath's shadow, unmistakably from the opening frames: the overstuffed jalopies and talks of dusted-out farms standing as the last remnants of a Depression already swallowed up by the War economy by the time the film hit the streets. But if Grapes of Wrath is the hardcover edtion de luxe, full leather binding, bevelled and gilded all around, then Juke Girl is the pulp paperback turning yellow around the edges. It's fast, snappy, unpretentious, moving breezily between moments of two-fisted action and cornball warmth. With it's story of blue-collar professionals battling for survival, it's also informed by They Drive By Night, and it's no doubt why A.I. Bezzerides got the assignment. Without passing any judgement of superiority, I think it's fair to say the film is more fun and affable than the Ford, more lively and energetic than the Walsh. Ronald Reagan has never been more charming, even if he is saddled with a Henry Fonda impersonation (Just three months after starring opposite Bob Cumming's Fonda in Kings Row :)); I'm still not convinced the guy has much range as an actor, but these two films are good example of scripts operating at his wavelength. Ann Sheridan is back, perfecting her hard-bitten b-girl persona to a tee: how she never became one of film noir's major femme fatales is beyond me. The entire cast is an ensemble of colorful character actors from top to bottom, from Howard Da Silva's thuggish foreman to Betty Brewer's street-smart teenager, all of which lends to the film's almost effortless sense of entertainment. Curtis Bernhardt keeps everything moving along briskly, and he makes great use of the location shooting. The gloomy expressionism that would foreground his later film noirs and noirish melodramas are absent (a noir this is not), but it pops up occasionally, such as the rowdy moments of violence, or the lovely scene where Reagan takes Sheridan home. The politics, while eyebrow-raising given the star, are actually carefully trod: Reagan may be a labor organizer, but he never organizes a union. In fact, I guess a hardcore Reaganite could try to justify to film in terms of the free market: Talbot and Garcos are entrepreneurs who strike out on their own, and with hard-work and ingenuity make a success of themselves, which then trickles down to the non-union farmers in the form of higher, competitive wages. :P I kid, but not really.

As to the question of the later A.I. Bezzerides film, I hardly think it negates Jules Dassin's Thieves Highway (the coda does a good job of that on its own). I also don't know that it's a case of "smarter" progressive politics so much as the application of said politics. Thieves Highway almost exists as a dark, distorted mirror version of Juke Girl. In the Bernhardt, Reagan is able to direct his dissatisfaction into political action and labor organization; the Dassin is what happens when the avenue for social change is no longer available, the unrest manifesting itself into bursts of petty anger and personal vendetta. The former film still reflects the optimism of FDR's America, still holding despite the dark clouds drifting in from across the oceans. In the latter, post-war disillusionment and cynicism has firmly entrenched itself into the American psyche... and the progressive movement. One can almost see a clear (d)evolution between the two films with the interveaning years. Reagan's charismatic man-of-the-people goes to war and comes back Richard Conte's bitter loner. Ann Sheridan's has continued down her path until she's dropped right out of the juke joints and onto Valentina Cortese's street corner. Garcos has continued to be beat down by life until he lies crippled in his home. Gene Lockhart has only grown less polite and more brutal in his method as turns into Lee J. Cobb (or perhaps more appropriately, Howard Da Silva has managed to worm his way into control of the business). It's a more destructive and pessimistic response, but I never thought the Dassin film is condoning Conte. Sure, it's sympathetic as hell to him, but the movie is a warning about what happens when we allow the exploitative system to go on, but then close and forbid all avenues of progressive action.

In fact, the pessimism of the later film is always bubbling under the optimistic surface of this film. The warehouse fight between industrialist and worker is a grim evocation of the persistence of class tensions even after successful reform. I'm of two minds about the last minute transformation into a murder-mystery, leaning, as it does, far too heavily on the Walsh film. Yet, for such a populist film, it's surprising that it ends with the masses mobilizing not into a union but a terrifying mob. This is the strength of the proletariat at it's most irrational and destructive. The image of them stomping through the streets of Cat-Tail is a labor march turned black. That the film cuts away at the end is also a bit unsettling.
SpoilerShow
That it is implied, but never resolved, that the mob lynches Madden is surprising given the code. Even as punishment for a murderer (and profiteer), it is reactionary and ugly.
It's a sour note that rubs up abrasively against the optimism that closes the picture, perhaps unconsciously hinting at the darker mood brewing.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#420 Post by YnEoS » Mon Jan 09, 2012 1:28 pm

Debating weather or not I should create a list for this or not. Didn't get a chance to participate much in this project's discussion but I could easily come up with a top 50, and between now and the deadline I could probably fill a few of the big titles I haven't seen yet, and catch up on everyone's spotlight titles.

Weather I participate or not though, I would like to strongly recommend everyone give this film a try if you haven't seen it.

The Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, 1948) - This is definitely not a film for everyone, and it will probably rub a lot of people the wrong way. But I find the atmosphere of this film utterly captivating in a way I haven't seen in any other film before. A gothic romance that deals very heavy handedly with emotion is in many way self-aggrandizing. So when the film opens with not just 1, but 2 quotes you'll either find it delightfully excessive as I do, or absolutely nauseating. But the jaw dropping cinematography and the haunting music all hits me very deeply and I can't help but be swept away by the whole thing. It's excesses and pure unrestrained emotion are part of it's charm.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#421 Post by swo17 » Mon Jan 09, 2012 2:17 pm

Some rewatchings from the past week:

Brute Force (Jules Dassin, 1947)
While I agree with knives that it would probably work better without the flashback sequences, this film would have to do a whole world of wrong to cancel out everything else that it gets right. I don't know whether the film needed a villain or not, but it has one, and he just happens to be one of the great screen villains.

T-Men and The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror) (Anthony Mann, 1947/1949)
Both of these are to some extent about noble men taking on the guise of their enemies to take them down from the inside. The guys undercover perhaps don't appear to have to muss themselves up enough to gain the confidence of their marks, but lest the films be thought of as too tame, the violence on display here is quite shocking considering the times (assuming you’re not watching a censored print). Most remarkable though is that, despite the core similarities, these are two completely different films--one a "from the police files" procedural, the other a brilliantly stylistic, action packed period piece about the French Revolution--and both are exemplary films of their type. Though unfortunately, both of these desperately need better home video releases.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle, 1941)
Walter Huston is the devil, and if that isn't enough for you, there are also Dieterle's wondrous visuals to marvel at throughout the film.

We Were Strangers (John Huston, 1949)
If you can buy that a ragtag bunch of native Cubans would speak to each other in broken English, this is a pretty thrilling revolutionary tale featuring one of my favorite movie happenings--the secret digging of an underground tunnel.

The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1945)
Perhaps not terribly effective as a whodunnit, but the real draw here is the style of the work, coaxing terror out of the shadows in what I believe is one of the first serial killer POV movies. Having the main character be mute is a nice touch as well. If you're in R1-land, try to avoid the MGM release if you can, and get the OOP Anchor Bay instead.

Christmas in July (Preston Sturges, 1940)
I'll already have enough Sturges on my list without this, but how can I not also make room for a film that is never less than a delight for one moment of its brief runtime? Powell's coffee slogan is simultaneously brilliant and terrible, but what really sells the line is how committed he remains to it, despite the pleas of many that it doesn't really make much sense. I was also struck while rewatching this how much the Coens' The Hudsucker Proxy owes a debt to it.

Yellow Sky (William Wellman, 1948)
The ending of this film is just adorable, which is probably not the best way to finish what is otherwise one of the most bleak filmic explorations of man's elemental greed, but I suppose I'll take it over turning the DVD off four minutes early.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#422 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Jan 10, 2012 12:51 am

I just watched Hail the Conquering Hero- it's a lot of fun, as you'd expect any Sturges film of this period to be, and I agree with Domino that it shows more virtuosity from Sturges the director than you'd normally expect to see (the opening shot, crawling around through the bar, is virtuostic without calling much attention to itself.) It also feels like one of the heights of Sturges' theme of communication interrupted, particularly in the initial ceremony to welcome Woodrow home- I don't think anyone finished a sentence for about ten minutes of screen time.

That said, it's only in the middle of the pack of the Sturges movies I've seen, for me at least. It's sweet, but it feels less dense than some of the movies that work better for me- certainly, it's less ambitious than The Great McGinty or Sullivan's Travels, and the plot seemed to push the lead into doing basically the same thing over and over for about 90% of the movie- such that I never really cared about him one way or the other. The Marines themselves seem to fade away for a decent stretch. It's certainly a good movie, and I wouldn't be surprised if it made my list (in the 40s or 50s) but it didn't click well enough to feel like a favorite.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#423 Post by Shrew » Tue Jan 10, 2012 2:48 pm

See, Hail the Conquering Hero is my favorite (then Morgan's Creek). There's so much going on but Sturges deft handling never makes it feel digressive or winding off track. The marines don't fade away so much as they must step back to share the light with everything else: Woodrow and his mother, his girl, her fiancee, the mayor, his wife, the townspeople, the electoral committee, the looming shadow of the war. It all weaves in and out between each plot with such ease that you forget that there is so much plot, and it may be the quickest paced of all Sturges. And Woodrow's repeated attempts and frustrations to just come out with the truth make the ever mounting absurdity of the situation all the more hilarious (and threatening).

It also has the distinction of its ending, which manages to resolve all this insanity in a perfectly reasonable way through Woodrow’s speech. It isn’t a miracle or a cop-out or a wacky coincidence like Sturges usually needs to untwist all the crazy contorted plot, but a simple unfurling of the truth. The town’s reaction doesn’t seem miraculous at all, and it allows for both a cynical skewering of American politics and convincing argument that all is not lost.

Am I alone in considering Sullivan’s Travels my least favorite? Yes, it’s depiction of poverty with all its warts is an appreciated antidote to all the glorification of simplicity social pictures often thrust upon their subjects. But it just isn’t that funny in comparison to his other work, the romantic subplot is shoehorned in, and the pacing suffers from the stuttering and stopping of McCrea’s various failed attempts to enter impoverished society. It’s still pretty great mind you, but I just don’t see why it’s always the go-to for Sturges. With everything else that’s available, it probably won’t make my list.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#424 Post by Cold Bishop » Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:39 am

Manon (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1949)

WOW. Even by Clouzot's standards, this is an incredibly bleak and cruel film. No wonder he considered it his personal favorite.

You think he's playing nice when it begins. For someone who just escaped losing his career, the first scene has unmistakable overtones: the film opens with a moving and powerful passage dealing with Jews escaping towards Palestine. For someone who just barely escaped losing his career because of fascism, this sudden interest seems less than accidental, if not manipulative. You half expect the film to be Clouzot's apologia for collaboration, an expectation only bolstered by the fact that one of his two leads is accused of that very thing. But if you're expecting Clouzot to make amends, you couldn't be more wrong. Many people seems to label this film as "Clouzot's Revenge", an attack on the society that was so eager to condemn and ostracize him just years earlier. With good reason. This movie steamrolls through post-War France, and finds a thoroughly demoralized and corrupted country. The dark heart at the center of Le Corbeau has spilled over, beyond the provinces and the era of Vichyisme. I think it even anticipates The Sorrow and the Pity in the way it goes against the post-war Gaullist Myth, pinpointing opportunism as part of the very nature of French society. It opens with the bombed-out remains of a small town, where the local population has turned into a mob, eager to shave the heads of any female "collaborators" and parade them through the streets. From there, it folds out and finds a nation of black marketeers, pimps, prostitutes, schemers, gold-diggers, traffickers... anything to make a buck. "Respectable" people are only the hypocrites who prosper from these types, then turn up their noses.

In fact, this condemnatory atmosphere is perhaps also the film's chief flaws: it's a film of unlikable characters, and this hardly excludes the leads. People who find misogyny in Clouzot's work are not going to be won over. Cécile Aubry's character is unapologetically greedy and conniving, the sort of girl who's own brother doesn't hesitate to call a "slut" in passing. Michel Auclair's maquisard is the sort of masochist whose constant dumb actions would make Sternberg shake his head in exasperation. But Aubry's Manon is more femme naive than femme fatale, and the innocence with which she sins almost registers as a rare patch of honesty in a two-faced world. Auclair's Robert tries and tries to fly straight, only to be ground into the dirt everytime. These are two characters who try to hold on, in different ways, to the Gaullist promise of post-war triumph and prosperity. But the harder they try to hold on, the more it slips into the mire, dragging them with it.

If the film deserves a vote on the list, it's for its ending more than anything. As the film progresses, the Jews escaping the Middle East seems as much a response to the toxic environment of post-Fascist Europe as for Nazism. But no way is Clouzot going to allow such optimism to emerge from his film untested. Clouzot seems to have watched the final shot to Sternberg's Morocco, and using that as a reference point, crafts a whole reel around it. It's violent, grueling, agonizing stuff, pointing towards the tension-fraught journey and barren wastelands that would make The Wages of Fear so memorable four years later. But it's the mixture of eroticism and the macabre which launches this film into the stratosphere (One wonders if Bertollucci had it in mind when crafting his film of The Sheltering Sky). The final scene may lay the allegorical signifigance on a bit thick, but it, like the best moments of this film, ultimately possesses a violent and dark romantic poetry which imprints itself on your mind. Ultimately, it's a tale about a couple who's promised heaven on earth, but when they try to collect, lose it all.
Last edited by Cold Bishop on Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:06 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Max von Mayerling
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2004 6:02 pm
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#425 Post by Max von Mayerling » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:27 pm

I would love to see this. Poking around on the web, it seems like it is pretty difficult to access.

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