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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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#551 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Feb 02, 2012 6:10 pm

The definitive thing about Gregory Peck is that he's the perfect opposite to anyone you would ever want to cast in any role resembling Captain Ahab in any way

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#552 Post by knives » Thu Feb 02, 2012 6:19 pm

I really need to see that film. His white Jesus thing is probably what puts me off of him the most. Even Wayne's American saints were usually assholes at least.

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Brian C
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#553 Post by Brian C » Fri Feb 03, 2012 1:56 am

knives wrote:After watching like five of his films for this project in a row I feel confidant saying that Gregory Peck is the largest black hole of bore to touch the silver screen until Robert Redford.
This made me laugh. Hell, Spellbound alone would be enough to make it true, as would Roman Holiday, although that's for the next decade project.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#554 Post by knives » Fri Feb 03, 2012 2:04 am

The worst is actually one I saw before this project, The Keys of the Kingdom where he plays imperialist Jesus helping out 'those poor barbarian Chinese' through white liberal guilt. Bah, without a Vincent Price cameo that film would take away all the goodwill Stahl has from Leave Her to Heaven.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#555 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Feb 03, 2012 2:06 am

What about his irredeemable son-of-a-bitch in Duel in the Sun?

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#556 Post by knives » Fri Feb 03, 2012 2:08 am

Haven't seen that one.

Edit: For those who haven't picked up the BFI Jennings set yet TCM is playing at 8:20 pm London Can Take It.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#557 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Feb 03, 2012 7:19 am

It's an interesting role, cast against type from his usual brand of stiff, sexless dignity: here, he's mean, sneering, even virile. If the film was made a few years later, I could have seen Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster campaigning hard for the role. In fact, Pauline Kael, who was no Peck fan, had this to say about the film: "Peck actually manages to bestir himself enough to play of hunk of egotistic hot stuff - maybe the name Lewt McCanles got to him, or maybe the producer, David O. Selznick, used electric prods."

It's a very interesting film that I'm almost afraid to watch again: I feel that I like it more for its ending - which is truly a can't-believe-your-eyes explosion of camp hysteria and sado-masochistic amour fou - than for anything in the 2+ hours preceding it. Nonetheless, its racial and sexual politics, while undoubtedly muddled, are among the most intriguing and daring of the decade. If Selznick wasn't so determined to run it through his usual wringer of "prestige" overproduction (and it might not have, had Teresa Wright not gotten pregnant), it probably would have been an amazing film. As it is, it's a flawed classic that seems to have one overripe or over-touched moment to match every great one.

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Tommaso
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#558 Post by Tommaso » Fri Feb 03, 2012 12:04 pm

So, as the end of the listmaking period draws nearer and nearer, here's my final recommendation, and probably the one that I most want people to see, if only because it's so unique.

Opfergang (Veit Harlan, 1944)

I really don't know how to introduce this film properly without falling into (hopefully not totally unjustified) superlatives. So a look at some imdb opinions might be helpful. One reviewer calls it "transcendent film art", another an "eternal masterpiece", and a third one describes it as "disturbing and morbid". All of them are right, I think. Veit Harlan was always a director who wasn't afraid of going to extremes, but never more so than in Opfergang, a film that is an unbroken 90-minute assault on the senses with images and dialogues you're not likely to forget soon.

The story can be described as pure melodrama, of course. A young woman from Sweden (Kristina Söderbaum) living in Hamburg in the summer months attracts a newly married explorer, Albrecht Froben (Carl Raddatz) who has just returned to his native city. But although she seems to be 'life itself', she suffers from a tropical disease which is slowly killing her. Froben is torn between Äls and his wife Octavia (Irene von Mayendorff), who is seen as a kind of 'heavenly' counterpart to the earthy Äls. The film underlines these associations with some references to mythology, but is basically concerned with exploring the qualities of life and death and their intimate, probably unseverable ties. And the more Äls gets closer to death, the more 'beautiful' the film becomes, all culminating in a final sequence that might be among the most outstanding the German cinema ever produced. 'Jaw-dropping' is a mild expression for it.

But even before that, the film has some of the most 'decadent' passages made in any film of the 40s: a family spending a bright Sunday morning inside with curtains closed, and reading Nietzsche poetry; Äls musing about some birds mistaking the light from a lighthouse for the sun and crashing against it, an extended carnival sequence which is so excessive - not only given that this was made right before the final downfall of the nazi regime - that it suggests the last rebellion of life before the inevitable end. And so Söderbaum is shown as 'more alive' than anyone else in the film, her scenes riding on a white sand beach and shooting arrows at a target suggests the power of an amazon, and I like to imagine that Leni Riefenstahl's "Penthesilea" film project, conceived at around the same time, might have looked a little like this if that film had actually been made.

The "Opfergang" or "Sacrifice" of the title is nominally that of Octavia, who in self-denial appears in the clothes of her husband (who has also fallen ill because he saved Äls' child when a typhus epidemic breaks out and in the process catches the diesease) at the gate of Äls' house, sending a last greeting to the dying woman who loves her husband. But on a more metaphysical level, one could also speak of a sacrifice by Äls, who dies so that the happiness of the married couple might have a chance. And the 'sacrifice', so the film often seems to suggest, might be beautiful and might be preferred to 'pining away' in weakness.

All this might sound like a film going terribly wrong, but the contrary is the case. Somehow Harlan manages to stretch the believable and genuinely touching to the utmost limits without crossing over into 'camp'. It's a very 'musical' film, not just because of the almost continuous music on the soundtrack, but because all its parts come so perfectly together as if the film was a well-composed symphony. Some of Opfergang makes me think of late Visconti, but perhaps it's a film that doesn't have a real comparison.

Unbelievably, the film has never been released on dvd, probably only because of Harlan's notoriousness. But it's available as a whole on youtube (unsubbed), most likely in several other places as well, and English subs are around, too. And if someone can't find a suitable version, you might send a PM to me…

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#559 Post by knives » Sun Feb 05, 2012 7:06 pm

Caught a few of Dom's favorites over the last few days and they're actually worth talking about. The best is probably Juke Girl which does genuinely give Thieves' Highway a run for it's money (though I think over all they're about the same quality). It has that nice ugly quality to it which makes Reagan's charms work all the better. A lot of the compliments that have been made for the Dassin apply here too though I think the 'girl' in this case is a far more interesting and better developed character and the politics are more at the fore said much more plainly than you'd expect from the period or the star. Not going to be on my list, but I do hope it's not orphaned all the same.

Likewise Mrs. Miniver was far superior to the staid affair I was expecting (the name and BP win, speaking of only one more for the decade left for me, caused me to believe it would be another period piece). It ultimately doesn't have the punch of The Best Years of Our Lives, but has such a great understanding of everyone's psychology that it sort of has to become great. It's most fascinating in how there's no real conflict, yet all the fire and anger is still present. A war film without the war I guess is the best description I can come up with for how it has all of it's action occur offscreen. It works so perfectly at the intimate and the large that it becomes a real good haunt improving as I'm distanced from it. Again I'm not likely to vote for it, but I hope it makes the cut all the same if just for the scene where the boats come into the harbor.

Finally for the week of better than I was expecting movies is She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It's a fun laid back affair with some good comedy and great characters, certainly better than the previous cavalry film. Lately, I don't know, I've grown tired of Ford's schtick and it's been a while since I've been enamored by one of his films and while this isn't the one to restart that spark it still serves a good reminder of what that initial attraction was for. Cute film is all I can muster for now.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#560 Post by swo17 » Mon Feb 06, 2012 3:04 pm

Not sure yet if it will make my list, but I'm glad to have watched Peter Pewas' Der verzauberte Tag. Winnie Markus is certainly a charmer as Christine, and Pewas has a great visual sense that, especially in the film's finale, rivals the poetic superimpositions employed by Vigo in L'Atalante.

Also...

Record of a Tenement Gentleman (Ozu, 1947)
A very fine film about an old widowed woman who reluctantly takes in an abandoned child, and who, in the process of trying to pawn him off on anyone else, somehow comes to grow fond of him. Quietly touching and fittingly comical, as you'd expect. But there's a sequence toward the end, where the woman is searching for the boy in the streets, that's quite striking stylistically, calling to mind the finale of L'eclisse. I really hope people seek this one out, though it's unfortunately unavailable in R1 and the R2 is OOP and quite pricey at the moment.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#561 Post by Cold Bishop » Mon Feb 06, 2012 4:14 pm

knives wrote:Caught a few of Dom's favorites over the last few days and they're actually worth talking about. The best is probably Juke Girl which does genuinely give Thieves' Highway a run for it's money (though I think over all they're about the same quality). It has that nice ugly quality to it which makes Reagan's charms work all the better. A lot of the compliments that have been made for the Dassin apply here too though I think the 'girl' in this case is a far more interesting and better developed character and the politics are more at the fore said much more plainly than you'd expect from the period or the star. Not going to be on my list, but I do hope it's not orphaned all the same.
I redirect your attention back to page 17. Frankly, Border Incident is the migrant thriller to beat, even if manages to be more pessimistic than Thieves Highway.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#562 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Feb 06, 2012 4:52 pm

I'm working on making my preliminary list- have we actually talked about I Walked With a Zombie or Curse of the Cat People yet? They're both unquestionably making the cut for me, and I don't remember having any in-depth conversations about either, just a few mentions at the beginning of the project. Forgive me if there's something I missed, though.

For me I Walked With a Zombie works best as a sort of shadow-Jane Eyre, which hybridizes the original narrative with the revisionism of The Wide Sargasso Sea and combines feminist concerns with colonialist ones in a hugely successful way. I'm not sure I could say exactly what the message of the work winds up being, but I'm not sure I care, either- the impression I was left with was that even so simple a decent act as teaching medicine could be perverted and twisted when it was part of an imperialist occupation and that the world shown was one in which women held all the important forms of power.

It's also one of the most visually striking Lewtons, letting the gothic undertones that were subtextual in a lot of the cycle run rampant and creating a Fall of the House of Usher atmosphere that both reinforces the sickliness of colonial privilege and heightens the sense of emotions most of the cast is suppressing. It explodes in the voodoo scenes, but those would be far less effective without the careful spadework done within the places that ought to feel safe- even Sir Lancelot's calypsos seem ominous here. I think the primary reason I'm not voting for the Stevenson Jane Eyre (which is excellent in many ways, though flawed) is that Zombie seems to do everything it does well and more, apart perhaps from the Orson Welles performance.

Curse of the Cat People was an even bigger surprise, a touching and sensitive movie about the world children inhabit and the unconscious damage that a parent's refusing to understand that world can do- it feels almost like gaslighting here, a dreadful sense of having your personality taken away by constant and infuriating claims that one is behaving irrationally. The title and the Cat People connection are so tenuous that it's almost a joke, but by giving Simone's character a chance to be heroic and making the dull squares who seemed to be Cat People's heroes the heavies of the piece, the connection actually made me like both movies better- it's doubly obvious with whom the creators' sympathies lay in the original, and the backstory for Oliver and Alice made them more than the two dimensional conformist archetypes they might have seemed otherwise in Curse.

I'm not used to movies about or starring children that seem to have any idea of what children are actually like, but I think Curse and The Fallen Idol manage not only to show real children and to make the viewer empathize with them. but to force you to understand how titanically important things that seem trivial to adults can be.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#563 Post by swo17 » Mon Feb 06, 2012 4:55 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:I'm not used to movies about or starring children that seem to have any idea of what children are actually like, but I think Curse and The Fallen Idol manage not only to show real children and to make the viewer empathize with them. but to force you to understand how titanically important things that seem trivial to adults can be.
If this is your thing, be sure not to miss Tetzlaff's The Window!

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#564 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Feb 06, 2012 5:02 pm

Oh God, from Domino's description that one sounds almost more than I could handle.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#565 Post by Cold Bishop » Mon Feb 06, 2012 6:37 pm

Lewton actually did model Zombie on Jane Eyre... I think these two are the crown jewels of the Lewton cycle, alongside his masterpiece, The Seventh Victim. It's interesting to note that all three are really Lewton trying to break free completely from the conventions of a horror film. There is no real villain or monster in Zombie, and the conventional conflict between rational normality and diabolic witchcraft is really pushed aside: instead Tourneur and Lewton build up the layers of hidden secrets and past transgressions into an impenetrable fog of unresolved and unspeakable guilt (the final image of Ti'Misery is no mistake), and then wanders around lost in it. I guess the "ambiguity" is too much for some, and it definitely seems impossible to suss out a completely coherent "meaning" from the film. "This is a sad place" and the film is less a narrative than a meditation on that inherent, almost physical sadness.

Victim takes that sadness even further, and places the threat of satanists and assassins secondary to the terror of mere existence. It really defies categorization, and I've already said I don't consider it a horror film at all.

Curse... is barely a horror film as well, and RKO forced Lewton back on reshoots to horror it up (the black cat scene being the more obvious one) although he managed to avoid DeWitt Bodeen's original "chase" ending (which actually sounds like it could been great in Lewton's hands). It's definitely one of the great films about childhood ever, made with a gentle, perceptive touch, even as the looming sense of loneliness and alienation almost makes it a prequel to The Seventh Victim. Both films saw Lewton stretching his conceit of making art-films under the auspices of b-horror films perhaps too far, recoiling in the much more conventional Karloff films (which are all immensely underrated).

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#566 Post by Shrew » Tue Feb 07, 2012 3:10 am

The Seventh Victim has a hell of a last 10 minutes, but (save the Horror moments) the rest of it doesn't do much for me. The procedural aspect gets endlessly extended by various twists until its waylayed by a horrific love ...quadrangle? Even though the ending literally pulls the chair out from under the insipid love affair's feet, it's not enough to put the film above the other big Lewtons.

Speaking of filmmakers with overly large bodies of excellent work, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock is indeed pretty great, if both somehow over- and understuffed. Lloyd's physical and verbal timing haven't deteriorated, but he also manages to embody his pathetic put-upon clerk to a near-frightful level (which seems at times similar to the diminshed Buster Keaton of later years). Sturges also manages to fit all his players in, but some end up woefully underserved in the shuffle (the return of Rudy Vallee is terribly disappointingly not milquetoast enough). By focusing on Harold's biggest kerfluffle in his drunken spree Sturges manages to mine a great deal of humor out of one ridiculous situation, but one can't avoid feeling that perhaps some of the other suggested insanity might be equally rich (even though I concede that its absence may be the point, and one that keeps the film from becoming The Hangover 0).

The film's big problems are one: as charming as Frances Ramses is and as well as she plays her introduction (which is mostly just saying "yes" in increasingly loving ways) she can't seem to get Sturges' dialogue off her tongue quite quick enough in the ending. And while the narrative conceit makes the romance obviously perfunctory, the trick comes off as more aggravating than the one in The Palm Beach Story (perhaps because that one was still full of romance, arbitrary as its ending is). Second: The big stunt sequence goes on forever, and starts tipping over the edge of funny into frightening (but perhaps that's because I pitied the poor lion). It keeps escalating in danger but not in comic ingenuity, which makes it more of a suspense sequence. That would be fine, but it throws off the pace and tone of the film so near to the end. Sturges has better work, but this is still so fun (if just because of the Diddlebock induced yell) that it'll probably make the bottom half of my list.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#567 Post by knives » Tue Feb 07, 2012 11:11 pm

Some kind soul is selling internationally the OOP disc for Preminger's The Fan for only about 11. I'm not sure if it will come in time, but it's certainly worth checking out (based on Preminger's track record during this period).

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#568 Post by Cold Bishop » Wed Feb 08, 2012 12:27 am

Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks (Edgar Neville, 1944)

What a bizarre, intriguing film. The title promises a horror film, and while it begins like another tale of Faustian bargaining, it quickly leaves spine-tingling macabre behind for something else. The supernatural persists in the film, but it is as often close to the light comedy of Topper or Blithe Spirit than any haunting. With that said, the film can barely qualify as a comedy. The film's narrative is informed by all sorts of film serials, adventure films and comic strips, but the film is never simply b-movie pulp. Labeling it a Strange Film would be a more accurate summation than calling it a Horror or Fantasy or Thriller. It takes the trappings of a pulp thriller and pushes it to the borders of the fantastic and the surreal, never resting in either region, but existing in the hazy borderlands between. In this respects, it's one of the few post-silents that could genuinely be called Feuilladian, with more than a hint of Caligari, and a dash of La Nuit de carrefour's particular brand of inscrutability. But Neville trades in Renoir's nebulous gloom for a lighter, charming exuberance. Neville was a famed raconteur (Charlie Chaplin called him the greatest storyteller he ever met), and while this wasn't his story (based on a novel), he seems take great pleasure in simply telling it. The excitement that comes in peeling back the layers of apparent normality to find something hidden is captured in Neville's joy in pushing his story further and further into the underworld. It's all great fun, although I question whether it's truly substantial. I guess some socio-political resonance (be it specifically Francoist or much broader European) could be read into the story, with it's focus on secret societies, marginalized peoples, and even an invocation of persecuted Jews. But any coherent allegory seems elusive. Much like the aforementioned I Walked With a Zombie, it doesn't seem interested in any sort of didacticism. Instead it establishes many parallel and criss-crossing strands of cryptic characters, bizarre scenarios, shadowy environments and evocative iconography, and then sets out dazed in the ensuing labyrinth. As such, it's a film for those who understand the true pleasure of a maze comes in getting lost within it, not conquering it.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#569 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Feb 09, 2012 1:05 am

Macbeth (Orson Welles, 1948)

I've just finished this, and I feel as though I'm badly in need of critical context. I went into the movie expecting to be blown away, as I generally am by Welles- and I wasn't disappointed, but I'm not sure of how I feel, either. It's a powerful movie, turning the problem of a visibly low budget into a virtue by ensconcing everything in shadows and mist, and endlessly focusing on the psychological and spiritual weakness of Macbeth himself- we never see a powerful Macbeth, a friend of Banquo, a loyal soldier to Duncan, and a great warrior in his own right. We see only the Macbeth who is alternately poisoned by scheming, by cowardice, or by despair- it's like coming into Richard III after Richard is crowned, or skipping Ivan the Terrible Part 1.

It almost seems a shame, because Welles plays alluring monsters so well- he doesn't ever allow himself the charm he had in The Third Man, nor the power he would have in Touch of Evil. He's a figure who's impossible to like in a way that Richard never is, as he doesn't even seem to enjoy his scheming. Macbeth is always a brooding character, obviously, but in Throne of Blood or the Polanski version of the play, he is both more human and more impressive. Here, he has isolated himself as soon as he hears the witches' prophecy, and only see a glimmer of the manly courage he is so desperate to attribute to himself when all his schemes and prophecies have fallen about his ankles. He's despicable, and a difficult figure to spend time with.

So in that respect, the movie is less alluring than Olivier's Shakespeare movies- which always seem to allow you to get close to the protagonist- or the Ivans, which overcome their dourness with the ambition and grandiosity of the staging. But there's something about the haunted world it conjures- in which Macbeth's kingship seems pathetic more than monstrous, impossible to hold and impossible to enjoy, and the poison in his soul seems to be our primary focus- that makes sense for Shakespeare made in the world of noir, the postwar world in which tyranny no longer had even the surface sheen of patent leather and fascism. It's something that's going to stick with me. But I have no idea of how to vote for it.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#570 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Feb 09, 2012 5:36 am

Quai des Orfévres (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947)

I think the biggest question about this movie, for me, is whether I'm supposed to loathe the detective and his methods as much as I do. I thought that was the point for a fair amount of the movie- he's really nasty about Jenny's past, he endlessly browbeats Maurice (and evidently you don't get a lawyer for questioning in the French system), he pulls some exceedingly skeezy stuff with the cab driver who is identifying Dora, and he runs a pretty nasty warrantless search on Maurice and Jenny's apartment. As a document of cruel authority, it's not Brute Force, but it's fairly thorough.

But there are any number of things that make me think I'm supposed to like the man, and the whole ending of the movie makes it seem as though he (and by extension, the police force) are actually valiant men whom it's best to put your trust in. Giving him a sweet relationship with his adopted son is fine, it rounds the character off without lessening the critique, but as horrid as things get I feel as though I'm supposed to walk away thinking everyone is fine, they're fine.

Aside from that- Knives remarked a while ago that the opening parts felt like a poor man's Renoir, and I think he's not far off- I wasn't hugely enamored of La Bête Humaine, but I think the way similar psychodrama is handled here highlight's Renoir's mastery of the field in an way unflattering to this one. The characters develop both depth and humanity later, but when the actual murder scene pops up the only one I give a damn about is Dora, as she's the only one who doesn't seem to come out of every single backstage drama ever.

I think I would like the movie better if it focused more on Dora, or at least less on Maurice- his self pitying mopery gets old pretty fast, and in spite of the rather neat structure which makes everyone a plausible suspect, we spend nearly all our time with him. I did enjoy Dora's little exchange with the inspector at the end, but I'm not sure it was enough to make the movie one that felt particularly impressive.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#571 Post by knives » Thu Feb 09, 2012 8:52 pm

Time for more Tales of Disinterest!

Lassie Come Home and The Yearling
Children in the '40s had a tough time looking for entertainment if this load is really the best Hollywood could come up with. If the kid weren't so actively despicable I'd say the Brown picture was the better of the two, but the poor man's Black Beauty wins by default here because it's such a non entity. Perfectly okay laundry cinema if you catch my meaning.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois
This really hurts with the Ford in it's shadow, but if you ignore that very different feature this is an other perfectly enjoyable better than it should yarn from Cromwell. Massey's makes for an excellent Lincoln looking and acting the part perfectly (if playing up the hick act a little too much) and Ruth Gordon is just weird to see as someone under fifty. Though Cromwell (who looks identical to his son) himself steals the show with an extended cameo as John Brown. The film does run the misfortune of the politics surrounding Lincoln being more interesting than the romantic stuff, but it's certainly a film I can highly recommend as more than a curiosity if not as a great film.

Crossfire
Certainly better than the other antisemitism film, but it's not one of Dmytryk's best with both leads sleeping through the film and harming a rather good script as a result. There's a lot of good to recommend, but it's all cut by the lack of conviction with the performers.

One Upon a Honeymoon
Really the year of the Nazi huh? The movie's at it's best when it's toying with it's tone and hurts when it goes too comedic or too dramatic (Roger's freakout could have been the greatest moment in Carey's career with just a few changes). During those moments when it creates very uncomfortable laughs and a uncertain alliance for the characters it legitimately is as great as things could get and I love the Notorious routes the plot goes in (in particular the radio broadcast). It's a film that comes across as the lesser take of several great films and that is what prevents it from being great to me.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#572 Post by knives » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:54 am

Sorry to double post, but I just bumped into a real late great one. I think Dom recommended this, but Our Town is easily the greatest moment in Sam Wood's career (at least that I've seen). It's kind of hard to say where exactly the punch comes from, but this is unlike anything I've seen from the man. At one shade it works like this proto-Amarcord with this hilarious fourth wall breaking narrator and fairly dark growing of age story in the other way it looks to be reminiscent of Linklater's approach to community. It's a celebration of all the weird little cracks that prevent the world from being a picket fence bore. A lot of the traits I see the film rebelling against, not angrily but with honesty, tend to be pointed as Eisenhower traits rather than Roosevelt. The movie doesn't go out of it's way to shout down conformity and uniform ideas, but it shows just wonderfully how society pressures people to be one thing when they could be any other sort of thing. Naturally there are people just like the main thing and there's no harm in that, this fortunately is a film without villains or drama, but that's true of those of the buck also.

There's just this beautiful love of people being people and an understanding of them as that. About a third a way through the picture for example these three women one of whom looks like the wicked witch of the west pop up and I thought I was getting the villain in some sort of town gossips. This film's version of Jacqueline deWit in All That Heaven Allows basically, but instead I received just an other face of the town. This surprised me the most forcing me to think of my own prejudices, some set up be Hollywood narratives others just a part of me, towards the roles certain people play in communities. It's so rare to see a film genuinely make me think and not just silly little exercises or in a way that reinforces my thinking. No, this movie really has made me confront myself in a meaningful and helpful way.

This unassuming little picture really has done what few other films have and I can't urge people to see it enough. The DVD is wonderful too, much better than what I assume is PD origins suggest with two shorts, a rare von Sternberg and an absolutely wonderful Menzies which precedes Fantasia a decade, that by themselves are worth a purchase.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#573 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Feb 10, 2012 3:47 am

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford, 1949)

Well, I was hugely more impressed by this than I thought I would be. It's full of parts I don't like- I don't like Ford's sense of comedy, the romantic subplot seemed somewhat queasy at points, the scene where Red Shirt and company are burning the gun trader alive seemed upsetting and dehumanizing, and of course I have a hard time sympathizing with the US Calvary in their participation in what was essentially a long, drawn out genocide.

Fortunately, though, the movie doesn't focus on any of those things, not really- it seems to have its heart in the scenes of a long line of men riding against the backdrop of Monument Valley, with almost shockingly bright colors, in the understated love between Wayne and his troops, and in the sense of community that has developed among these isolated people. And, delightfully, it's a Western that celebrates a war that doesn't happen- rather than reveling in scenes of slaughter, we end on a dance, a sense of re-integration (though implicitly, Wayne's character will never successfully become a civilian.) There's even a nod towards integrating the former Confederacy and the Union.

And while the attitude towards the Indians in the end is unpleasant (wishing to humiliate them to punish them for their temerity in leaving the reservation seems crueler in many ways than wishing to fight them outright) I think it has to be put into a context in which even differentiating between different tribes and acknowledging that they weren't bloodthirsty savages who knew only war was quite progressive. Moreover, I don't think the movie demands our love for Wayne and his men based on the nobility or necessity of their mission- it asks us for it based on their humanity and loyalty. I can accept that.

I was deeply afraid I was going to hate Wayne for the first half hour or so, particularly when his 'never apologize' line springs up, but I think playing him as a hardened older man with grey in his hair gives a different inflection to a lot of the Wayne mannerisms, and makes his normal air of patronizing condescension come off as something genuinely fatherly rather than just dickish. He's lovable, in a way I don't think I've seen from him outside of Stagecoach.

I'm going to have to think about this, but I'd be surprised if it didn't wind up being my top Ford of the decade.

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puxzkkx
Joined: Fri Jul 17, 2009 12:33 am

Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#574 Post by puxzkkx » Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:29 pm

I just saw Shadow of a Doubt for the first time. 10 minutes in I was prepared to call this one of the best ever - the eloquence of its images and construction hit a profound tenor of both unease and the kind of dramatic dawn that should come with any great coming-of-age story. It loses dramatic force as it wears on - especially after the
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Maine suspect is killed and the script becomes more intent on treating Uncle Charlie as a dastardly villain than as an icon of toxic disillusionment,

and it has another one of those godawful, abrupt Hitch endings: the one part of the film that I don't think he ever gets right. In this case it could easily be a bow to Hays Code pressure to
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kill the villain off before the credits,

but I find that even Hitch's later films suffer from pacing problems in their final quarters. This is still a magnificent film, a remarkable (and visually marvelous) examination of generational divides, government and citizenry and the concept of the false security of suburbia, with its finger on the pulse of a markedly American kind of social distrust.

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matrixschmatrix
Joined: Tue May 25, 2010 11:26 pm

Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#575 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:03 am

Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944)

This definitely feels like Lang trying to do Hitchcock, far more than anything else I've ever seen of his- the whole wrong man/Macguffin set up feels like an almost intentional 'homage' to the Hitch style. It's very successful in some ways- the early scene with Milland chasing the mystery man through the bombed out field managed to make the war feel directly and viscerally present in a way I've never seen from Hitch, and Milland's own, dark backstory gave his otherwise blank slate character a bit of a haunted edge. The Carla character was well realized, too, getting across a real feeling of the nightmare that she'd fled from and which she felt returning, though I wish her character had been given a bit more of a chance to be active.

Overall, though, it just didn't have the tension that makes this kind of movie come alive under Hitch- Milland rarely seems in any real danger. I think Lang was trying to do Hitch so hard that he didn't play to his own strengths: while Hitch generally only reveals the enemy plot near the end of the movie, Lang will usually tell you exactly what each side is trying to do, and let the film play out as a series of moves and countermoves. By keeping the enemy conspiracy in the dark, he lets the movie drift into something of a no man's land between the two styles. It's brisk and entertaining, but it feels like for whatever reason it could have been better.

I also can't help but to think I'd have enjoyed the movie more if the print was a bit sharper- I can imagine that I would have an entirely different reaction if I didn't feel like I was watching the thing through cataracts, so I'd still be excited to buy a Criterion release.
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I also thought it was lovably, Langishly cold to have the climax of the movie be Carla gunning down her brother- so that our romantic couple comprises two people that have killed loved ones, albeit for excellent reasons. What the hell was with that little 30 second shot of them in the car at the end of the movie, though? I wonder if that was a studio insert, it felt incredibly weird and out of place.

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