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

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Sloper
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#126 Post by Sloper » Sat Aug 13, 2011 8:29 am

Since Siddon and knives have mentioned Gaslight, maybe this is the time for me to step in and get all blissed-out about the 1940 Thorold Dickinson version, which has also been discussed a little in the Warner Archive thread:
Gregory wrote:I know the Dickinson has its devotees, but in my opinion the Cukor is much superior.
jsteffe wrote:I think Anton Walbrook's sublime menace in the Dickinson version is reason enough to pay the extra dough for Warner's O.P. flipper edition. Watching him work outside of Powell and Ophuls only underscores to me that he is one of the all-time great film actors. Charles Boyer is also a fine actor and he offers a different--and convincing--take on the same role, but to me Walbrook really embodies the gritty spirit of the play from what I remember reading it years ago.
lubitsch wrote:I'm happy to see that there's a split opinion on Gaslight as I wrote in a just finished article though I had ended it mentioning that the US DVD has both versions allowing a comparison. Looks loke I'll have to rewrite it ... I'd say the British version is a cruel comedy, while the US version is more of a conventional star vehicle (it's MGM and Cukor, so what else could it be?), you sympathize with Bergman but necessarily with Wynyard in the original film. I don't think there's an easy ranking to be done as e.g. with Jekyll and Hyde the other "let's buy the film and bury it while we remake it" film which is clearly inferior to the original version.
Lubitsch, did you mean 'not necessarily with Wynyard in the original film'? If so, I can sort of understand where you're coming from. Ingrid Bergman is pretty much my favourite actress, and she fully deserved her Oscar for this performance: her breakdown during the piano recital is genuinely hard to watch, and overall she's certainly a better actress than Wynyard. On most days I would also prefer Boyer's quiet, reptilian menace to Walbrook's mad-haired, mad-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth psycho, though in some ways the latter's performance is more fun - I love it when Bella swears on the Bible and he lunges in towards her, growling, 'Then you are mad - and you'll get worse until you die! Raving in an asylum!' (Compare Boyer's more matter-of-fact, but equally chilling, delivery of the line about Paula's mother: 'Eventually she died in an asylum with no brain at all.')

In fact, I really like Cukor's film. I saw it before the Dickinson version, and on a first viewing there seemed to be no contest between them: the Cukor, in addition to the great acting, is longer, much more lush, more leisurely, and (with the exception of the Walbrook/Boyer contrast) altogether less restrained. Lubitsch is right that it's a star vehicle, and it lets you wallow in the painful emotions on display. Pauline Kael is quoted on the DVD sleeve as calling it 'good scary fun', which it is.

But that's pretty much all it is. I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but obviously some of the additions - especially the presence of Joseph Cotten and Dame May Whitty (with her 'diggy biscuits') - severely compromise the depth of the film's engagement with its horrifying subject matter. Dickinson's film doesn't limit the psychological damage in the same way, and the beautifully restrained ending leaves you with a sense of loss and anxiety as well as hope.

I've seen Cukor's film maybe five or six times, and don't especially care to watch it again. It's the kind of good scary fun you can get a few thrills out of, but ultimately feels quite shallow. The Dickinson film, on the other hand, I must have seen more than ten times, and it keeps getting better. One thing I've realised, contrary to the way lubitsch sees it, is that the original is actually far more moving than the remake. However hard Bergman tries, there is nothing in her performance quite as devastating as the scene where Wynyard sits in front of her mirror, talking in a monotone about a woman she once heard of who ended up in an asylum. Her sympathetic maid, on the verge of tears, says, 'If there's anything I can do, ma'am.' She replies, 'No. There isn't anything anybody can do.' And then she's alone in the room, watching the lights dim, hearing the footsteps upstairs, and she tries to drown them out with a music box in which a little ballerina dances under a glass screen - we see Wynyard reflected in the glass, clutching her head, nodding in time to the footsteps, losing her mind, until she breaks down and throws herself on the bed. If Wynyard is a slightly weaker actress than Bergman, that oddly makes her performance more touching here - Bergman is always, on some level, the great star, suffering exquisitely in a lovely Joseph Ruttenberg composition. Wynyard is more like an ordinary woman, visibly going mad before our eyes.

I'm ashamed to say I haven't read the play, though I keep meaning to buy a copy, but the reason this story is so powerful and resonant is that, while it may seem an unlikely premise in some respects, it's actually a brilliant meditation on the damage people can do to each other. Anyone who's ever been in a serious relationship, or just has a family, should have some inkling of the real dangers that come with that territory: the levels of trust and dependence, the almost inevitable power imbalance, and perhaps most of all the danger of an insulated private life that no one else gets to see. Gaslight is just an extreme representation of abuses that go on in every relationship. Never mind Suspicion or Rosemary's Baby - once you realise how people gaslight each other to cover their own insecurities, perversions and outright insanities, the real greatness of Dickinson's film becomes apparent.

Lubitsch calls it a cruel comedy, and maybe he's thinking of that brilliant scene where Wynyard looks out of a window at the Punch and Judy show, while her real husband really abuses her in the privacy of their plush living room. A comedy is just what this is for Walbrook's character - this is where the actor's impish sense of humour gives him the upper hand over Boyer - but that only makes the tragedy of what is happening to Wynyard all the more painful. Look at the moment when Pettingell first mentions the name 'Louis Bauer' to her, and she jumps up in terror, thinking this man must be a figment of her imagination or a trap laid by her husband; there's no way this spectacle of a (perhaps irreparably) damaged woman was meant to be received as a comedy. The Cukor film doesn't quite measure up in this respect.

Maybe that's all rather subjective on my part, but Dickinson's film is also a much, much better piece of film-making. It starts out with that beautifully conceived title sequence, with the gaslight flaring up and then the slightly charred, aged paper scrolling down: a lot of the film has that 'gaslit' look to it, with a sort of blurry darkness around the edges (much like the effect in the terrifying flashback sequence in The Queen of Spades). The opening murder sequence is particularly good, featuring a nasty moment of violence that sets the ghoulish tone for the rest of the film. Cukor's film is a good- but fake-looking evocation of Victorian England; the atmosphere and sense of period in Dickinson's film are peerless. I especially love the music hall sequence, with the gaslit footlights, the leering impresario introducing the Can-Can dancers, and the flamboyant cinematography. And much as I always miss Angela Lansbury as the maid, the Nancy in this version has some lovely moments, like when she says to Walbrook, 'Life's gonna be one long 'oliday for you from now on...' And Richard Addinsell's score mixes gentility with dread to miraculous effect. And the pacing of the film is so much more economical and efficient than the Cukor version...

The whole film is a gift that keeps giving - however underwhelming it may seem at first, trust me, to know it is to love it. Definitely my favourite British film.

Of Dickinson's '40s work I've only seen this, The Next of Kin (an uneven but often brilliant and seriously paranoid war film, a good companion piece to Went the Day Well?) and The Queen of Spades, which I agree is essential viewing, especially for a couple of very creepy horror sequences, Anton Walbrook again, and most of all Edith Evans, who was sixty at the time but looks about 112. She manages to be funny, scary and tragic all at once. Seeing her act Walbrook off the screen just by staring at him is a treat.

I've heard The Prime Minister is quite dull, but Men of Two Worlds sounds like it must be, at the very least, a fascinating disaster. Has anyone seen them? I hoped to get around to writing up posts on The High Command and The Arsenal Stadium Mystery for the '30s list, but never found the time. It isn't too surprising that they didn't get any votes, but they certainly hint at the more flamboyant greatness of Dickinson's later films. I'll definitely be raving about Secret People when the '50s list comes around...

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lubitsch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#127 Post by lubitsch » Sat Aug 13, 2011 10:32 am

Sloper wrote:SinLubitsch, did you mean 'not necessarily with Wynyard in the original film'?
Yes, I should proof read my comments more thoroughly but from doing it for articles I've developed quite an aversion to it, apologies.
What I mean with the term comedy is that the relationship between the two is so imbalanced and the whole premise so far fetched, Wynyard so stolid and weak (Bergman has a moment where she rebels and Boyer has to reign her in with one of his tricks) and Walbrook's performance so fiery, it's difficult for me to get emotionally involved in the film. The other film also carries the same silly basic situation (Just why exactly does the murderer wait all these years if the house is empty all the time? And why a wife and why the attempt to drive her crazy?), but Ingrid Bergman is so loveable, so warm, she gets the sad backstory being traumatized by the murder and then she suffers in all virtuoso acting registers while Boyer steps back a bit. It's a classical melodrama and it has a sharp critical edge which is all very fine, but that's as far as it goes.
The Dickinson version doesn't feature characters, it really cuts to the bone, the victim doesn't earn our sympathy, she has hardly any personality, she's just a doormat with which Walbrook wipes his feet. It's so insanely cruel and horrifying and over the top that it's also darkly funny, like mid 70s Fassbinder. To watch Wynyard tiptoeing around her husband is priceless. It's the Victorian marriage as the vilest archetype you can imagine. What the film loses in psychological depth it gains in sociological insight and aggressivity. In the end you just ask yourself: what is this woman going to do now? And who is she exactly? She loves the country, that's all we know. But it really shows that a victim a) doesn't have to be a glamour figure, it's ordinary people mostly and b) the scars can be so profound they'll last forever. With Bergman you have Joseph Cotten handy and they live happily ever after.
I still think the Cukor is a very well made film, beautifully lit in this regard better than the Dickinson in fact, but it's more conventional. And here I stop before my publisher jumps at my throat for posting half of my article here.

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Gregory
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#128 Post by Gregory » Sat Aug 13, 2011 12:17 pm

It seems like my view of these films is quite different from Sloper's and lubitsch's. I don't find either one a comedy in the least, nor too over-the-top, but it seems like every melodrama quite easily gets labeled that (not that anyone here has done so). And with a gothic melodrama, the kind of intense cruelty and suspense tactics are really part of the subgenre, of which I think the Cukor is one of the very best. I'd agree with Sloper that Walbrook's performance in Dickinson's film is quite over-the-top.
I also didn't find the Victorian setting of the Cukor fake, not that I'm any great expert on such details. I know they took extreme care with the decor, bringing in expert collectors and consulting illustrations from British periodicals of the era to give it a late-Victorian feel, which certainly works for me, anyway.
lubitsch wrote:The other film also carries the same silly basic situation (Just why exactly does the murderer wait all these years if the house is empty all the time? And why a wife and why the attempt to drive her crazy?)
I'm a little surprised by these questions. The jewels are extremely well hidden and require countless hours of searching, so he can't just break into the abandoned house and get them. He marries her initially to get the money needed to buy the house, and then to have complete control and keep her out of his way while he suspiciously searches for the jewels -- and, I presume, does whatever he likes with the rest of her money.
In the Cukor adaptation, there's an entire other level to the motivation, which is just one example of how the later film opens out whole different areas of backstory and complexity of the characters, how they interrelate, and the implications of all this in the story and beyond. That is, he marries Bergman's character not only because he knows she has money but also to carry out premeditated revenge-by-proxy against Bergman due to his continued obsession with her aunt, who rejected him. He couldn't control the true object of his desire, but he can control and torment Bergman, the woman she had essentially raised as her own daughter. I think we just take this kind of story for what it is. And the annals of true crime have no shortage of similarly twisted plots and obsessions, I suppose.
The Dickinson version doesn't feature characters, it really cuts to the bone, the victim doesn't earn our sympathy, she has hardly any personality, she's just a doormat with which Walbrook wipes his feet . . . In the end you just ask yourself: what is this woman going to do now? And who is she exactly? She loves the country, that's all we know.
That's one liability in the Dickinson: the main character isn't fully fleshed-out as a character and is far less interesting than Bergman's Paula.
But it really shows that a victim a) doesn't have to be a glamour figure, it's ordinary people mostly and b)
It is classical Hollywood after all, but it's worth noting that Bergman tried not to look glamorous and strong, and she complained during filming that she was being made to look too healthy. (I don't mean to make too much of a leap by connecting "glamour," which lubitch brought up, to strength, but I think they're indeed related in the discussion.) The same could be observed about Now, Voyager (another one that will be on my list), and so on. The kind of filmmaking of that time and place requires a little more imagination on the part of the viewer, I think. Bergman's performance is tremendous, and I find that it resonates strongly with some key qualities of her persona that emerged throughout the '40s, very notably a couple of years later in Notorious. Her strength and vitality are essential to the point here.
...[With the Dickinson,] the scars can be so profound they'll last forever. With Bergman you have Joseph Cotten handy and they live happily ever after.
I don't take that from the latter at all, I see in the ending a woman who may never be able to have a healthy romantic relationship after this, so deeply was she under the spell of Boyer's character. She certainly isn't ready to go off and marry Cotten, and his character is really just there to support her psychologically, to help her find the means to escape and begin healing.
(edited to fix a couple typos)
Last edited by Gregory on Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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lubitsch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#129 Post by lubitsch » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:02 pm

Gregory wrote:I'm a little surprised by these questions. The jewels are extremely well hidden and require countless hours of searching, so he can't just break into the abandoned house and get them. He marries her initially to get the money needed to buy the house, and then to have complete control and keep her out of his way while he suspiciously searches for the jewels -- and, I presume, does whatever he likes with the rest of her money.
Both films differ a bit regarding money, ownership of the house and so on, but the basic situation is the same. Man murders woman for jewels, but can't find them during the night of the murder (in the Cukor film Bergman as young girl frightens him away). BUT then the house stays empty for years and years with the stuff lying around!!! He could search every inch of the house comfortably without anyone interfering. Especially since it isn't even necessary to own the house because he always enters the house via the roof of the neighbouring house which also remains empty. Just what did he do in all these years between - being obsessed by the jewels - lying in the sun on the Riviera or taking strolls through London? Why not slip every night into the house, let's say a year after the murders when it isn't under ovservation anymore and all including the police have lost interest? Instead he waits at least a decade, marries a woman whom he has to deceive about his intentions and whom he finally has to drive crazy which also costs a lot of energy.
Sorry but as a crime thriller the plot makes zero sense at all.
Gregory wrote:The kind of filmmaking of that time and place requires a little more imagination on the part of the viewer, I think. Bergman's performance is tremendous, and I find that it resonates strongly with some key qualities of her persona that emerged throughout the '40s, very notably a couple of years later in Notorious.
I don't think at all it's a matter of filmmaking of its era. There are gritty and realistic films and there are those made by MGM. You can like some of them, but that's most certainly not the only way to film this story. Take e.g. Postman always rings twice. MGM's taste (or rather what they thought taste is) hangs over the whole film, Bergman a singing talent, Cotten as infatuated gentlemen detective, oy. Take also the setting on the island where Boyer and Bergman honeymoon it's the usual studio claptrap. It's a well lit film, sure, but there's indeed a certain artificiality in the MGM version not least thanks to the multinational cast.
As for Bergman we all love her, but the more important she thinks a role is, the more does she begin to give it all and she's already an actress at which you just have to look and you're emotionally touched. She however tends to outact all emotions which sometimes comes across more as a virtuoso performance than really appropriate acting.

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Gregory
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#130 Post by Gregory » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:48 pm

I'm willing to try on my end to keep this discussion going a bit more, especially if others keep chiming in. However, I see so little hope of finding any common ground (or even seeing the film from a remotely similar place) that I find it a little hard to reply to your post above.
Also, I don't think you've put your cards on the table with respect to your biases here: I just remembered that you seem to have really harsh feelings against Cukor and MGM in general that severely color your view of this film in particular, I would think -- see the last post in this thread to give just one example.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#131 Post by domino harvey » Sat Aug 13, 2011 3:50 pm

Round three of my walking tours through the entire 1940s output for selected auteurs

JOHN HUSTON This ends up being one of Huston's more successful decades on the whole, as his gravitation towards the grotesque manifests itself much more organically at this point in his career. His first film as director, the Maltese Falcon (1941), is praised by many, but it's a sleepwalk adaptation of superior source material further hampered by the grievous miscasting of Mary Astor. Much better is Huston's little-seen follow-up, In This Our Life (1942), a delightfully wicked melodrama that pits Olivia de Havilland's doe-eyed saint against Bette Davis' ridiculous (even for Davis) brat. Worth seeing for the ultra-squeamish incestuous relationship between Davis and Charles Coburn alone. Not worth seeing is Across the Pacific (1942), a dumb wartime thriller that reteams Bogart, Astor, and Greenstreet in a silly post-Pearl Harbor actioner. I can forgive the rampant racism, but I can't forgive it being in the service of such a nonsensical thriller. After the break for war work, Huston is back and better than ever with the Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a superior study in greed and despair, one that netted him and his famous pop a couple Oscars. Claire Trevor picked up an Oscar too, for Key Largo (1948), but I have some qualms about the way Huston stages her big humiliation scene-- the cracks show for Huston's direction here more than usual, although it is worth seeing for Edward G Robinson's career-best performance. I like Robinson, but this film shows he could have been a successful character actor instead of an icon. Finally, Huston ends with We Were Strangers (1949), a violent and brutal revolution tale with game performances from John Garfield and Jennifer Jones (rocking her best hairstyle ever).

ERNST LUBITSCH Ah, Lubitsch. Invariably any one of his films is someone's favorite, and none are so bad that such action is cause for outrage. The case has been made for the Shop Around the Corner (1940), but it's always stuck with me as one of his weaker films. The emotion's in the right place, but the laughs and construction aren't up to snuff. But it looks marvelous next to That Uncertain Feeling (1941), arguably Lubitsch's only real misfire this decade. A rather tortuous marital infidelity farce, it never overcomes two strong detriments: a recurring anti-intellectual bent, and Burgess Meredith's assholishness (which is just pushed too far, in a rare miscalculation from Lubitsch). Wartime comedy To Be or Not to Be (1942) has a wicked sense of "Too soon?" to the proceedings that still livens up the screen, and it's a tossup between this and Ninotchka as my favorite Lubitsch Ending. There's no such tossup for my favorite Lubitsch film though, which is undoubtedly Heaven Can Wait (1943). So much of what I look for and get out of classical studio product is borne from my early experience here, and from performances to the script to the appealing rakishness of the protagonist, it's a dream. Lubitsch's final official film as a director, Cluny Brown (1946) is not far behind in my estimation, either. A very funny social piece with some nice patter between Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones, it too places very high on my working list for the decade. (For thoughts on the Preminger-rescued Lubitsch projects, please see my Preminger write-up on the first page)

NICHOLAS RAY It's tough to write about Nicholas Ray in the '40s, since he's such a quintessentially '50s director, but one can still see the early promise and first occurrences of his motifs. Now, of course, if you're French, you think Ray hit it out of the park on his first call to bat, They Live By Night (1948). Indeed, it's a fine star-crossed lovers on the run from the law pic, with good performances and the planting of the seeds of a concern for youth and distrust of institutions that will nurture much of Ray's best work. But it's also a film seen many times before and since. Less defendable is Knock on Any Door (1949), a social problem picture that takes a beguiling position and undermines its own arguments in the end. Worth sitting through for Bogart's performance and Ray's control of the screen, but not much else. Though none of Ray's films this decade are likely to make my list, A Woman's Secret (1949) comes closest. The nearest thing to a comedy in Ray's oeuvre, this noir-ish picture falsely presents itself as something of a puzzle film, but there are so few explanations that the "solution" is hardly the point. Gloria Grahame is very good in her early flashbacks, and there's a lot of goofy fun to be had with the mystery-reading detective's wife, but this ultimately doesn't add up to much.

PRESTON STURGES I've never considered myself a huge Sturges fan, but when looking at his unbeatable record this decade, I need to adjust my perception. He achieves something no other director with this kind of output has: He directed eleven films and while all of them are not great, they are all at their worst still very good. I can't think of any other director with this many films who batted a thousand in any decade (and he only directed one more film after). Sloppiness abounds in his first film as director, the Great McGinty (1940), but the utter charm of the script and performances, coupled with the devilish political commentary, are enough to overlook its flaws. Sturges fares ever better with Christmas in July (1940), which melds his cynicism with affectionate social commentary, with the end result as joyous as the holiday in the title. I've never bought into the Lady Eve (1941) quite as much as others, but you needn't look very hard for spirited defenses. Still, it's quite funny, particularly its raucous finale. Sullivan's Travels (1941) sets another impossibly high watermark in its employment of social commentary in the midst of a very funny script. Like all Sturges films, it seems impossibly quotable. Easily the most ludicrous film of Sturges' career, the Palm Beach Story (1942) is so absurd, particularly its hilarious "fuck you" to the audience finale, that you either go with it or don't. It also has the misfortune of being sandwiched between some of Sturges' strongest work, which doesn't help. The more you know about the Hays office and the code, the more amazing the mere existence of the Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) is. I remember watching this one with my jaw literally agape, flabbergasted that they got away with it. It helps that all this (quite gentle now) perversity is all very funny, with Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton constantly trying to one-up the other in their shameless mugging. As much as I've come to appreciate and admire Sturges as a filmmaker, he's not a name that comes to mind when I think of directorial virtuosity, with the exception of Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), which is as close to a perfect film as I can figure. Sturges employs long takes and claustrophobic framings to sell his fascinating escalation through a storyline that seems ready to unravel and collapse at any given moment. It's a full-stop masterpiece. Though filmed a couple years before its eventual release, most Sturges fans lump the Great Moment (1944) with his less-loved follow-ups all the same, but it's hard to hold the fact that it's Sturges' only non-comedy against the film. It is in fact quite good and shows that Sturges is capable of producing memorable lines and moments even without the benefit of comedy (though there is a wit present). I think better of it than the more beloved dentist-themed comedy of this decade, Walsh's the Strawberry Blonde, that's for sure. Now we get to the more contentious latter section of Sturges' oeuvre, and I am forced to make a bold claim: Not only is the Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) not a bad movie, it is a great one. The animosity for this film, the knee-jerk assessment as being universally considered his worst movie, is mind-boggling. I only recently saw it and my immediate reaction after it was over was simply "What is wrong with everyone?" I know I hold many minority opinions and my tastes are not always easy to predict, but to my eyes this has all the hallmarks of Sturges' best work. Take the scene between Harold Lloyd and Frances Ramsden early in the film, in which Lloyd runs down all his failed romantic intentions towards Ramsden's sisters. The hilarious surface of his admissions is undercut by the depressing nature of his past (in)actions and that mix of cynicism and comedy, of the underlying sadness to the humor, is classic Sturges. Also Sturges cast Ramsden, his unbelievably attractive girlfriend, for her only screen role, whose presence offers further proof that he was one of the luckiest bastards ever. Generally considered the best of post-Paramount pictures, Unfaithfully Yours (1948) strikes me as the least interesting, though it does find Sturges delving into even darker than normal territory. Some good visual gags help matters, but this one never rises above "okay" for me. Finally we have Sturges' only color film, the Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend (1949), a compact western comedy that presents a lot of good ideas with only the mildest interest in exploring them. But what we get is pretty funny, and a lot of your patience with the film is going to depend on your tolerance for sequences like the opening bedroom farce where Betty Grable keeps shooting the same person over and over. Me? I laughed.

CHARLES WALTERS Few directors make their debut as effortlessly as Charles Walters, who graduated from the Freed department to directing late in the decade and proceeded to churn out one of the masterpieces of the genre, Good News (1947). Massive production numbers cozy up to smaller bits, but all are handled with the same intelligent grace and attention-- Walters is determined to make a mark on his first shot, and he does. Easter Parade (1948) shows less ambition but is still a quite good Garland/Astaire musical, albeit one that succeeds more in the minute moments than the larger ones. No one could have salvaged property as damaged and poorly-thought-out as the Barkleys of Broadway (1949), the ill-advised reunion of Astaire and Rogers, so it's hard to blame Walters for the resulting disaster. Blame God for this unnecessary trip back to the well.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#132 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Aug 13, 2011 3:59 pm

Domino, how did you watch The Sin of Harold Diddlebock? I've only been able to find really dreadful public domain releases, is there anything better?

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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#133 Post by domino harvey » Sat Aug 13, 2011 4:06 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:Domino, how did you watch The Sin of Harold Diddlebock? I've only been able to find really dreadful public domain releases, is there anything better?
Not of the full 90 minute version (that I know of)-- I didn't think it looked that bad, but I have high tolerance for crummy prints after some of the harder to find material from the Alternate Oscars project

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#134 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Aug 13, 2011 4:47 pm

Damn. It's not unwatchable, but I'm spoiled and never feel like I can judge a movie properly when it's all blurry and soft. There's clearly a really fun movie hiding in there, though.

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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#135 Post by domino harvey » Sat Aug 13, 2011 5:57 pm

Very good write up on one of my spotlight titles, Juke Girl, by David Sterritt

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lubitsch
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#136 Post by lubitsch » Sat Aug 13, 2011 6:16 pm

Gregory wrote:Also, I don't think you've put your cards on the table with respect to your biases here: I just remembered that you seem to have really harsh feelings against Cukor and MGM in general that severely color your view of this film in particular, I would think -- see the last post in this thread to give just one example.
But notice that I said that I think Gaslight is a good film. I don't know if I have a bias against MGM and Cukor, it's just that I watched many films by this studio and the director and it's hard to overlook certain trends, I'm also neither the first nor the last to notice them. MGM always was a kind of vulgar Paramount, louder, longer, glossier, shallower. Its studio executives tried hard to evict every talented director from the set except for Minnelli whose taste didn't hurt and looked vaguely similar to their own. But it's hardly surprising that the studio struggled from the 40s on to cope with the new developments and more serious films. Depleted of any talent it sank in a morass of remakes of earlier hits which is a very fitting end. And I think it's hard to argue the facts that the lighting in most cases is overly bright and less textured or that the films have an extra 20 minutes that rarely is motivated by any necessities of plot. It's also not very difficult to decode the ultraconservative messages of MGM films, Glenn Erickson at DVDsavant always is good at taking MGM films apart.
As for Cukor the fact that he thrived in the most restrictive studio of them all speaks volumes about him. That he never had any particular visual gifts in the 30s and only was encouraged by Ganin/Gordon to play around a bit more from 1947 on is confirmed by many cameramen. His strength was to directs stars in prestigious vehicles of its era. And as it often is the case with prestigious films of one generation, the later viewers find them embarassing, notice the deep fall from grace of The Informer. These plays and the way the actors are directed represent a certain style of prestigiousness of its era which is often merely stuffy.
As for the criticism of Gaslight you'll find a good part of it in print already in Gary Carey's Cukor & Co from 1971 where he's even more severe than Sloper or me are.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#137 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 13, 2011 7:04 pm

INVISIBLE MAN SERIES. For some reason Universal waited until the forties before turning out sequels to Whale's The Invisible Man. The first and best of these is The Invisible Man Returns, which is something of a misnomer since it's a totally new man, this time played by Vincent Price, who's a perfect choice given that the lead spends most of the movie as a disembodied voice. This one is a wrong-man scenario, where the hero uses an invisibility serum to escape death row and track down the man actually responsible for the death of his brother. Again, like most of the Universal movies, the craftsmanship is solid, the story well paced, and the special effects competent. Fine entertainment, not especially noteworthy. The same year Universal put out The Invisible Woman, a comedy rather than a horror. John Barrymore invents an invisibility machine and uses it on a would-be model, who in turn uses her powers to get back at her boss as well as foil a group of criminals who want the machine for themselves. Noteworthy for a scene where the lead models clothes while invisible. Amusing and slight, not much else to say. Universal then brought out a war-time thriller variation on the theme, The Invisible Agent. In an attempt to tie the series back to the original, the main character is the grandson of the first invisible man. The Germans and Japanese (the latter played by Peter Lorre, doing quite a different Japanese role than his pre-war Motos) know who he is and want an invisibility serum from him. Quick moving thriller with excellent special effects. There's an especially well done scene where soldiers flood a house with smoke to reveal the invisible man, and we watch the latter's outline drag soldiers around corners and into closets, ect. Universal then brought this series full circle with The Invisible Man's Revenge, where again the invisible man is the antagonist, this time some criminal who uses his powers to terrorize a family he believes cheated him. Oddly, the effects work with the most complexity, the opticals, is the most seamless, while all the practical effects are substandard (tons of visible wires). Not much to say about this one. It's pulled off well enough, but it's still the fourth sequel to a movie that didn't need any in the first place.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#138 Post by knives » Sat Aug 13, 2011 10:36 pm

The thing that interests me the most about The Invisible Man Returns is that it in many ways is like a remake of the former without any of the comedic flavour. The story played straight if you will. while the end result is rather good it's a far drop from the original and shows just how unique the voice of the original was. This is one of those cases where it takes only an okay movie to show just how amazing a secretly great movie is.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#139 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 13, 2011 10:53 pm

knives wrote:The thing that interests me the most about The Invisible Man Returns is that it in many ways is like a remake of the former without any of the comedic flavour. The story played straight if you will. while the end result is rather good it's a far drop from the original and shows just how unique the voice of the original was. This is one of those cases where it takes only an okay movie to show just how amazing a secretly great movie is.
What's strange to me is that it's like Universal didn't quite know what to do with the odd tone of the first movie, so they just split it in two and made back-to-back invisible people movies, one serious, one comic. That said, I did find the moment where Price carries on a conversation with the scarecrow he's taking the clothes from kind of funny.

I think both Returns and Revenge really show how special the original is; you see what it would've been if played straight.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#140 Post by knives » Sat Aug 13, 2011 11:01 pm

How could I have forgotten that scarecrow scene. I think, in general, if you give Price enough time to talk you'll get something funny and he definitely elevates the grimness a bit to make the movie more rounded. Under the circumstances I think what we got is probably a best case scenario. I don't think any studio would know what to do with such a strange film so them making good in all the ways they did deserves a hoorah. That said the movie isn't my favorite Price performance of the decade and that's with my not having seen Shock (in Kevyip) nor the Preminger (how I wish this was still in print) yet. I think so far that belongs to Laura (was going to say His Kind of Woman before realizing it's '51)/

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the preacher
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#141 Post by the preacher » Sun Aug 14, 2011 6:43 am

SPAIN

Correo de indias (Edgar Neville, 1942)
El hombre que se quiso matar (Rafael Gil, 1942)
Un marido a precio fijo (Gonzalo Delgrás, 1942)
Deliciosamente tontos (Juan de Orduña, 1943)
Huella de luz (Rafael Gil, 1943)
El clavo (Rafael Gil, 1944)
Ella, él y sus millones (Juan de Orduña, 1944)
La torre de los siete jorobados (Edgar Neville, 1944)
El destino se disculpa (José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1945)
Domingo de carnaval (Edgar Neville, 1945)
Los últimos de Filipinas (Antonio Román, 1945)
La vida en un hilo (Edgar Neville, 1945)
El crimen de la calle de Bordadores (Edgar Neville, 1946)
Don Quijote de la Mancha (Rafael Gil, 1948)
Locura de amor (Juan de Orduña, 1948)
Vida en sombras (Lorenzo Llobet Gracia, 1948)

Filmmaker of the decade: Edgar Neville
As film historians have begun to delve more deeply into the cinema of the early years of Franco’s regime, a certain amount of reevaluation has taken place. Perhaps no artist has received a more welcome rehabilitation than writer/producer/director Edgar Neville. Born in Madrid in 1899, Neville early on showed great literary promise. Producing plays and vaudeville sketches before he was 20, Neville joined in the booming Madrid cultural scene, befriending Ortega y Gasset, García Lorca and Manuel de Falla. In 1929 he was sent to Washington as cultural attaché at the Spanish Embassy; while visiting California, he fell under the allure of Hollywood and soon was adapting films for Spanish-language versions. His friend Charlie Chaplin would later call him the best storyteller he ever met. Returning to Spain, Neville continued working in film, directing his first feature, The Infamous Carabel, in 1935. When the Civil War broke out, despite his friendship with many Republicans (including Buñuel), Neville joined Franco’s film unit; in Rome he shot The Madrid Front, which included a scene of reconciliation between Nationalist and Republican soldiers that was censored before its Spanish release. In both his plays (he always remained active in theater) and films, Neville seemingly felt most comfortable in late-19th-century Madrid, a city of very separate, often ramshackle neighborhoods full of secrets hidden behind high walls and locked doors.

His most emblematic film is The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks, in which a secret community of counterfeiters living beneath the city streets is accidentally revealed. Neville’s characters are travelers whose journeys are suddenly interupted by some extraordinary discovery. His actors — he especially favored Conchita Montes and a very young Fernando Fernán Gómez — are always masterful at maintaining their cool even in the most remarkable circumstances. Neville depended heavily on sets and costumes to create atmosphere, yet the touching The Last Horse clearly parallels the work of the then-contemporary Italian neorealists. Here’s a chance to discover a truly hidden gem of Spanish cinema, a director of great taste and intelligence who, in the most unlikely of circumstances, was nevertheless able to create a personal, distinctive cinema. Discover through this brief sample the cinema of Edgar Neville, Spain’s first true auteur.
Series: Spanish Cinema Now!
Film of the decade: The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks (please, add Tower as my spotlight title)
I can provide download links with English and French subtitles, let me know by PM if you are interested
One of Neville’s most beloved works, and one of the finest Spanish films of the era, The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks takes place in the late 19th century. Basilio Beltrán, a young man about town, asks a café singer known as “La Bella Medusa” out for dinner; she agrees, providing she can bring her mother along. Fearing he doesn’t have enough money to pay for three, Basilio tries his luck in a gambling den; it is here, through a variety of circumstances, that he discovers the existence of an underground city beneath the streets of Madrid, a refuge built by Jews hiding out after the expulsion decree of 1492 and now populated mainly by hunchbacks who survive by printing counterfeit money.

As so often in Neville’s work, a seeming “innocent” gets thrust into a reality he or she hardly could have ever imagined; critics have also seen the imagination of an active underworld beneath everyday reality as a provocative metaphor for the tensions still simmering just a few years after the end of the Civil War.
Series: Spanish Cinema Now!
Cult film of the decade: Life in Shadows
Life in shadows is a film by Llobet Gracia, a Catalan filmmaker coming from amateur cinema, who, during the post-war period, with modest means and far from the official instructions of the Fascist government, looked into the healing power of cinema with relation to personal and collective wounds.

Llorenç Llobet Gracia (Barcelona, 1911-Sabadell, 1976) has always bonded intimately with the world of cinema since his father gave him, in his young age, a Pathé-Baby camera. This childhood experience is re-enacted at the beginning of ‘Vida en sombras’, the only commercial film he made, in 1948, after having developed an intense activity in amateur cinema circles. Produced by himself, under the name Castilla Films, the film, which went through serious financial and censorship obstacles, has a free almost experimental style, outside the established codes of industrial cinema.

The plot, with autobiographical tinges, is about the life of a man born literally in a stall during one of the first cinema showings in Barcelona. His fascination for Chaplin’s short-films and the Pearl White series forge his childhood and, in his yough, he devotes his time to write for cinema magazines and film everything he sees. However, the 1936 coup d’état, ruins everything. While the protagonist, performed by Fernando Fernán Gómez, is shooting war images on the street, his pregnant wife, María Dolores Pradera, dies at home, fatally wounded by a burst of ammunition.

Traumatized by guilt, the protagonist decides to give up any contact with the cinema and chooses to fight in the frontline. After the war, his best friend and a neighbour take him one evening to see ‘Rebeca’ by Hitchcock. The traumatic contact with this film drives him, bit by bit, to rebuild his need to live for the cinema and accepts the professional assignment of shooting a film. As in an endless loop, ‘Vida en sombras’ ends up with the shooting of a sequence that reminds us of the initial sequence, that of the stall.

Built up from a perfect command of ellipsis, this technique allows him to flow along the various biographical moments under review. ‘Vida en sombras’ is a orphic journey into the memory of cinema as an ambivalent tool (both obsessive and therapeutical), where intimacy crashes sooner or later into collective history. Especially memorable is the long sequence where the protagonists, in the house dining room, listen to the news of the Franco’s coup d’état, including a brief connection in Catalan with the palace of the Generalitat [headquarters of the Catalan government], with president Companys. The movements around the flat, between anguish and hope –symbolised in a little statuette of the black Catalan Virgin Moreneta, which on a later scene appears metaphorically beheaded–, are perfectly choreographed in a combination of imposed epic and fragile daily life. Such elaborate sequences as this one indicate an unusual concern for imaginative production. All this considered, ‘Vida en sombras’ –vetoed by the official Franco dictatorship and released almost on the sly, a few years later, at local cinemas– has become one of the essential films of Catalan cinema.
20th Century AC
Cuban writer/critic Guillermo Cabrera Infante/G. Caín showed this film in a Canadian film festival in Spanish without subtitles... when the projection finish the audience didn't move and they ask for seen the film again.
Last edited by the preacher on Sat Nov 19, 2011 6:04 am, edited 2 times in total.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#142 Post by knives » Sun Aug 14, 2011 2:19 pm

The funny thing is that I do have several Edgar Neville films on my to watch list. I'm glad to hear that he is good.

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Sloper
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#143 Post by Sloper » Sun Aug 14, 2011 3:12 pm

Gregory wrote:I also didn't find the Victorian setting of the Cukor fake, not that I'm any great expert on such details. I know they took extreme care with the decor, bringing in expert collectors and consulting illustrations from British periodicals of the era to give it a late-Victorian feel, which certainly works for me, anyway.
I just finished watching the Cukor Gaslight again; maybe calling it 'fake' was a little extreme. I'm no expert on late-Victorian England either, and certainly can't see anything technically wrong here. The long Italian sequence at the start, and especially the scene at Lake Como, is as embarrassingly tacky as I remember, but once we get to Thornton Square the art direction is lovely.

However, we see a lot less of this setting than we do in the Dickinson version, which begins and ends with a lovely crane shot of the square. When Cukor shows us the children playing with hoops in the little park it just reminds me how much more fully inhabited and 'real' the location was in the original. There, of course, you also have the little bakery, Rough and Cobb in the stables, and most of all (as I mentioned earlier) the music hall, a bravura sequence. The location itself is established in a clever and evocative way through the lighting of the gas-lamp and the planting of the tree, and I also love the (admittedly cheap-looking, but then what could be more British?) fog effects. All this, as well as the eccentricity of Rough (great performance from Frank Pettingell), and the prim, doormat-like repression of Bella, seem to me - pardon this hateful phrase - unmistakeably British.

In Cukor's film, the touristy atmosphere established in the Italian sequence continues when we get to London, and the first outing Paula and Gregory go on is to the Tower of London; and apart from the brief glimpse of Scotland Yard and the Dalroys' party, that's all we see of the outside world.

Dickinson's film was entirely populated by Brits, except for Walbrook, and one of the more uncomfortable aspects of that film is its (again, perhaps, very English) suspicion of the suave, moustache-twirling foreigner. The only 'authentic' Brits in Cukor's film are the two maids, who are both beautifully played; the others are either marginal or, in the case of Whitty, a grotesque caricature. The three main players are Swedish, French and American. Okay, Bergman was the best person for the job here, but I don't see why it was necessary to cast an American in the role of Campbell - nothing against Americans, but this piece of casting seems designed specifically to appeal to American audiences, just like the comforting resort to iconic locations such as the Tower or Scotland Yard, and the inclusion of comforting stereotypes like the benevolent bobby or the twittering old bat. Much as I like Joseph Cotten and his Virginia drawl, both are wretchedly out of place in this film. Nothing he is made to do plays to his strengths or serves the role. If a young, eligible man was needed, someone like John Mills or James Mason would have been ideal here.

And this is a very subjective point, but however hard MGM tried to make their Gaslight look authentic, the whole style of the thing, the close-ups, the camera movements, the lighting, the editing, all of it adds up to a handsome, luxurious Hollywood product. Nothing wrong with that - indeed much the same could be said of my favourite '40s film, The Heiress. But I have no real sense that this film is set in London, and though I'm not at all prejudiced against Cukor and have enjoyed most of his films that I've seen, the only Cukor hallmark I notice here is the top-notch acting, especially from the women. I can't agree with lubitsch that the Cukor is better lit than the Dickinson, but again that's probably too subjective to go into now, especially as I don't have my copy of the first film to hand.

Suffice it to say that Dickinson's film holds me entranced visually, aurally, psychologically and emotionally from start to finish, and seems to me a flamboyantly individual work of art, whereas I don't see or hear anything remarkable in Cukor's film and find myself more detached from its human drama every time I see it. As is so often the case with films I watch many times, the flaws keep magnifying, and this time around Cotten and Whitty were especially aggravating - I can't get over that ending, given how beautifullly the original handled this...
Gregory wrote:I see in the ending a woman who may never be able to have a healthy romantic relationship after this, so deeply was she under the spell of Boyer's character. She certainly isn't ready to go off and marry Cotten, and his character is really just there to support her psychologically, to help her find the means to escape and begin healing.
I'd hate to dissuade you from seeing it this way, but Cotten does say earlier in the film how beautiful he thought Alice Alquist was, and the obvious motive for making this character young and American is to make him a reassuring potential love interest the audience can root for. His lines at the end about the night passing and the sun coming out could be read in the way you suggest, but Whitty's arch little 'Well!' as she leans out of the window seems to be pushing us to see a budding romance here.

Remember that, in this version, Gregory is at first figured as the way for Paula to escape from her childhood trauma - significantly, he causes her to give up her ambition to follow in her aunt's footsteps - but turns out to be the cause of that trauma and its perpetuation towards madness and death. Despite the awkwardness of the opening scenes, I do like this extra layer of psychological depth, and it does make the husband's plot more plausible (since Paula inherits the house from her aunt). But then I think Cameron, who was also an admirer of Alice Alquist and has also never been able to stop thinking of her, is set up as the 'real' escape from past trauma; as indeed Paula will requite his childhood desires. And Paula's highly articulate, vengeful fury at the climax suggests that she has regained whatever sanity she has lost, rather than that she is irreparably damaged; Wynyard was much more sinister when she threatened Walbrook with the knife, meeting his mad eyes with her own in a series of grotesque close-ups. When she steps out to look over the square, she seems to be returning to normality and sanity, but she's also facing the world she has been shut away from for a long time. So it's still hopeful I think, but also poignant, and a lot more ambiguous. Indeed, it sounds to me like you're describing Dickinson's ending rather than Cukor's; but perhaps we'll just have to differ on that one.

I sort of agree with lubitsch that the story strains credulity in some respects; as I said above, the Cukor version certainly makes some brave stabs at rectifying this. Some of the problems raised could be resolved: for instance, I don't think the husband could have just gone back into the house after a year or two. Since he was one of the suspects associated with the original murder case, he would have to lay low and adopt a new identity for a very long time, until no one would remember. In both versions, his plan is scuppered because one person does remember. And he couldn't just creep in and look around, as he needs a long time to conduct his search; and as a lone foreigner he would attract suspicion, but an English wife, or a wife who inherits the house from her aunt, serves as effective cover.

But any doubts you have can be resolved by simply remembering that the husband is stark staring mad, and that's what this story is really about. His unfathomable (even to himself) lust for the jewels, which Boyer calls a fire in his brain that was always between him and Paula, and which Walbrook talks about as though he salivates at the very thought of them ('The rubies!'), are just a MacGuffin signifying some deep, unnamed sickness. Sometimes in these kind of stories, the dark secret the wife finds out about is dead wives in the basement (see the book Whitty is reading on the train), or a mad wife in the attic, and here she finds the letter revealing his true identity as Bauer the failed artist/obsessive/madman/murderer. Essentially she finds out that he is sick, and the great distinguishing feature of Gaslight is the husband's solution to this problem: 'It isn't me who's sick - it's you.' As I said in my earlier post, I think this kind of dynamic poisons a lot of relationships, and Dickinson's film explores the theme passionately and unflinchingly; I think Cukor's treats the set-up more exploitatively, as a thrilling come-on for the audience, who don't have to worry because a nice American boy is waiting in the wings to save poor Ingrid from the cad.

I can't deny that I'm also somewhat averse to the remake because of those stories - how true they are I don't know - about MGM trying to suppress or even destroy the original. I'm sure Cukor had nothing to do with that, but it can't help but taint the film, especially in conjunction with all the ways in which it dilutes and compromises the original.
Gregory wrote:That's one liability in the Dickinson: the main character isn't fully fleshed-out as a character and is far less interesting than Bergman's Paula.
You and lubitsch do agree on this; I know I sort of stated my case earlier, but watching the Cukor again now I found myself as impressed as ever with Bergman, but more detached than ever from her character. As lubitsch says, what Bergman gives us is a great star performance: well-researched, restrained and/or histrionic when it needs to be, harrowingly vulnerable but also vital and possessed of a deep inner strength; all qualities you might say are absent from Wynyard's performance. But more than ever, I think Wynyard's is by far the more successful portrayal. She's so un-extraordinary, so normal - there's no room to be impressed by her, you (or at least, I) just feel for her and with her, and, like the sympathetic maid, have this desperate urge to intervene and stop what's happening, whereas with Bergman it's more a case of wanting to see what the actress will do next. That's both the great appeal and the limitation of a star performance.

There are also many poignant details and bits of business in the original, involving Bella's lap-dog, the muffins, the street musicians, the aforementioned Punch and Judy show, her desire to reconnect with her family, that are absent from the remake and enable us (or again, me) to get to know this woman much better than we get to know Bergman. So I disagree that the character is less fleshed-out - she's just more down-to-earth. No potential opera singer here. Just thinking about those details again makes me want to watch the film. It's perfect. (I hope my enthusiasm for it excuses the long and rather defensive post!)

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Dr Amicus
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#144 Post by Dr Amicus » Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:21 pm

Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945) - One of those films which has somehow always passed me by - having recently watched and loved Haynes's TV version I thought it was time to dig this one out of my kevyip. One of my friends back at university used this as an introductory film for classical Hollywood narrative, and I can see why. The opening 20 minutes are remarkable - introducing narrative questions from serious (who killed Monte? How has Mildred lost her business) to the minor (When and how did Mildred start drinking her whisky neat?) and offering text book examples of how framing can denote meaning:
Relatively minor spoiler from 10 mins in:Show
The change to much lower angles in the beach house after Mildred leaves Wally there trapped.
Anyway, it's a cracking example of Classical filmmaking showing just what the studio system was capable of on a regular basis. Crawford is on top suffering-in-furs mode, Ann Blyth plays a great spoilt bitch, Eve Arden gets an Oscar nomination seemingly for half a dozen snappy one liners, and the men are generally emasculated or cheating bastards.

Another recommendation from British cinema - The Seventh Veil (Compton Bennett, 1945), one of the most successful films of all time in the UK. Classical music, Ann Todd, James Mason, cod-Freudian explanations from Herbert Lom and more than a hint of Jane Eyre (and isn't Mason the greatest Rochester that never was?). A strong candidate for my final list.

It's good to see some serious love for Went The Day Well? - when this was one of the first BFI Film Classic books about 20 years ago this was definitely the odd one out and could have been seen as an eccentric choice. Not any more - it seems to have pretty much joined the canon. When we showed it in our film society on Liberation Day (9th May - a local holiday marking when the occupying German forces surrendered) it played to a busy screening and went down extremely well.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#145 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sun Aug 14, 2011 9:54 pm

I saw Key Largo again today, as part of a Bogart festival our theater is doing- it's still a fun movie, and I hadn't known Lionel Barrymore's work last time I saw it, so it was interesting to see him along with the rest of the faces from the 30s- but the main thing that stuck out this time that I'd passed over before was the treatment of the Seminoles.

It's not straightforwardly racist- though it largely seems painfully paternalistic, as they seem like children who require the guidance of Barrymore's character to make their decisions, and who are uncomprehendingly wounded (though acquiescent) about being left out during the hurricane, there is at least a touch of complexity in Barrymore's last line about the subject, "We can't do anything but harm to these people, even when we go to help them." It may be reading too much into the line, but it speaks of both the horrific backstory there and the harm the paternalistic behavior can do.

In a sense, though, the screenplay treats them worse-
SpoilerShow
Though the whole tribe are waiting and suffering outside throughout the storm, it felt as though we were largely supposed to forget it and focus on the intricacies of what was happening within- we only see one cut back to them throughout, so it didn't feel like a tool for Hitchcockian suspense, just an incredibly distracting loose end in the writing. It alos feels as though we're supposed to like and forgive the sheriff, despite the fact that he was all too ready to shoot two unarmed men in the back on incredibly flimsy circumstantial evidence, which seems implicitly due to their race. Rocco had nothing to do with that, and I don't honestly think the blame for it lies with him.
A lot of the discussion of Rocco and what he represented seemed tricky, too- it seemed too obvious to have been overlooked that we get a discussion of what the goals of fighting WWII had been nearly juxtaposed with Barrymore talking about how Rocco and men like him were 'vermin' who ought to be 'exterminated'- but if that was an intentional problematizing of Barrymore's viewpoint, it's not a well developed one. We're never told explicitly what caused Bogey's crisis of faith in this one as we are in, say, Casablanca, but it seems to be that he is convinced that America is now essentially run by gangsters, in the guise of capitalists- a damning point, but one that needed more elaboration to be clear. Of course, I'm guessing the Hayes Code would never allowed such a view to be expressed openly. Thinking on those lines- that this, like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, is an attack on the capitalist system, and that all remarks about Rocco should be read as remarks about reckless capitalist greed, then a lot of it reads clearly, and carries an interesting message- but I feel like I'm building a castle in the air, there.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#146 Post by Murdoch » Sun Aug 14, 2011 10:08 pm

I don't have time to write about it now, but everyone be sure to see Tension (1949), a revenge noir about a man who assumes a false identity to kill the man who stole his wife. If anything it's a fun ~90 minutes with good performances and has one of the sleaziest cops this side of Laird Kregar in I Wake Up Screaming (also be sure to check out that one post-haste if you haven't already).

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domino harvey
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#147 Post by domino harvey » Mon Aug 15, 2011 4:02 pm

Round four of my walking tours of the entire 1940s output for selected auteurs

INGMAR BERGMAN Bergman's early melodramas all tend to run together, and that most of them star Birger Malmsten doesn't help keep them apart. While some fare better than others, none are particularly worthy of being held up next to Bergman's more mature work. Indeed, the best Bergman film of the forties was one he only scripted, the Molander film, Eva (1948). Bergman's own career behind the camera has a rather drab start with Kris / Crisis (1946), a city corrupts country couzin lark that unfolds pretty much as you'd expect. More interesting is Det regnar på vår kärlek / It Rains on Our Love (1946). in which we're given the typical young lovers v. the world plot, but with a nice sense of the flamboyant, with a friendly lawyer as a Greek chorus-ing guardian angel and a landlord as the devil-- hey, he's at least half right! Bergman pushes the melodramatic horrid family trope a little far with Skepp till India land / A Ship Bound for India (1947), which lays it on pretty thick, though there's something to be said for the tawdriness of the plot-- handicapped kid steal dad's stripper girlfriend, dad tries to kill son. Bergman overcompensates in the other direction and comes out with his best results yet with Musik i mörker / Music In Darkness (1948), a gentle romance helped greatly by the presence of Mai Zetterling's blinded musician. Bergman didn't have much luck on his first trip to the portside well, and Hamnstad / Port of Call (1948) fares no better. Breaking out the mold is Fängelse / Prison (1949), an interesting filmmaking drama that shows what can happen when Bergman is given more control over his material. Arguably the strongest of his output this decade. I doubt anyone will make any arguments for the worth of Törst / Thirst (1949), a tired by the boxcar numbers finish to Bergman's decade of youth-centered romances.

DON SIEGEL Siegel's first two pictures are a little too eager to please, but there's some value to be had nevertheless. Period-noir the Verdict (1946) is a twist ending murder mystery, and like all surprise ending films, it loses a lot of its impact when you figure out what's going on thirty minutes before the film tells you. Despite how ridiculous the plot is, it's strongly acted and the direction, while dipping a bit too deep into expressionism, is competent. I don't even know how to begin defending Night Unto Night (1949), though-- it is one of the more bizarre films to come out of the Hollywood machine and is good evidence against anyone who claims the studio system couldn't produce straight-up weird movies. Ostensibly a social problem picture about the acceptance of epilepsy (!), it instead turns into almost a ghost story as Ronald Reagan's afflicted scientist tries to study himself for a cure while romancing a mentally unstable widow. Broderick Crawford's romance novel cover painter pops up now and then to exchange some clunky philosophy with Reagan, and this is the kind of film that builds everything up to a massive tropical storm and then ends before any damage is even done. None of this even begins to sell the strangeness though, which is achieved through Siegel's mise-en-scene, as the aforementioned over-affinity for expressionistic stylistic conceits is pushed past anything reasonable and you'll either laugh or be in awe at the audaciousness of such a grandstandingly austere treatment to this melodramatic nonsense. Myself? I can't decide. I can say that the Big Steal (1949), while bearing no resemblance to the previous two films, is far superior in every way, but it's not exactly a film showing any defining hand. A filmed vacation, a total fluff folly reuniting Mitchum and Greer and throwing in William Bendix, this is such a guilty treat, a total joy of a film that has no qualms about being entertainment first, and it figures quite high on my list. Siegel eventually drops most of the overly-stylistic affectations of his early work in the coming decades, to his benefit I'd say.

ORSON WELLES I always wonder if Welles doesn't have a slightly inflated sense of worth due to how badly kicked around and held back he was all his career. We all like to root for the underdog, and as much as the studio system helped most pictures, Welles pretty much got the shit end of that stick over and over. But you can't take the achievement of Citizen Kane (1941) away from him, and perhaps that too is another reason for its continued boostering: It's an unsullied Welles film, and a good one at that. At the risk of being kicked out of the clubhouse, I am not a fan of the Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and indeed doubt even miles of added footage could save some of the basic character problems inherent in the picture. From here we have a rather contentious period of movies Welles may or may not have directed. Despite being credited to Norman Foster, Journey Into Fear (1943) seems pretty apparent as a Welles film, albeit a strange one. A good cast helps the hopelessly convoluted noirish spy plot scripted by Joseph Cotten. Robert Stevenson's Jane Eyre (1943) too is rumored to have Welles' hand involved in some capacity beyond his starring role, and while I see some stylistic similarities between this and Welles' other work, particularly Macbeth, the accepted line on this one was that he was mostly hands off, and I'll believe it. Ineligible since it doesn't actually exist is It's All True (194X), Welles' unfinished anthology film shot in Brazil. Existent footage popped up in the 1993 documentary of the same name, which also features Welles telling a story of how a voodoo priest put a curse on him after being told the studio was shutting down production-- it might go a long way towards explaining Welles recurrent misfortune! The Stranger (1946), a decent noir pic with Edward G Robinson and Loretta Young, is a nice trifle, but never feels like anything more than a paycheck film, which it is. Much more fun, and indeed my favorite Welles of the decade, is the total mess of the Lady From Shanghai (1947), a film that arguably benefits from the complete nonsensical studio interference as it produces a giddily self-propelled ride of escalating confusion. Despite some visual flourishes, not even Welles can overcome the same fate that befalls most Shakespeare adaptations in Macbeth (1948), as it turns into a compendium of famous scenes glued together with the thinest of narrative. But I will give Welles credit for the bravura long take treatment of the first murder, which has an energy lacking elsewhere in the film.

BILLY WILDER Few talented directors have as uneven an output as Wilder, and the frustration starts early with his first film, the interminable the Major and the Minor (1942). I can't stand infantilism comedies as a rule (even Hawks can't escape the sheer torture of Monkey Business next decade), and this one is really dumb. If you can buy Ginger Rogers, who looks like she's pushing forty, as twelve, then maybe you are a more ideal audience. Despite this, there are a few good period jokes (I liked the visual gag about the girls' school where all the young ladies have Veronica Lake hairstyles) to save this from being a total washout. Much better is Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo (1943), handily his best this decade, a strong wartime suspense film that takes the logic of a trapped man scenario to its darker extremes. I harbor no ill will towards Double Indemnity (1944), but I've never bought into its reputation as a great noir or a great film or even a great Wilder movie. I am mostly alone here, though. The Lost Weekend (1945) reteams Milland with Wilder in a rather silly Serious Film about alcoholism that somehow swept the Oscars. Just as inexplicable as that film's success is the bad reputation of the Emperor Waltz (1948), which while not funny, is still a pretty charming lark with amusing performances from Bing Crosby and Joan Fontaine's haircut. Wilder finishes the decade with his most cynical film yet, A Foreign Affair (1948), a precursor for some of his later, worst work. Poor Jean Arthur, a few years past her sell-by date, is emotionally manipulated in rather brutish fashion by a repellent Colonel (and then mocked by Marlene Dietrich) in post-war Berlin. The negativity in this one's a little hard to stomach, though there is a nice sequence of physical comedy involving Arthur and some file cabinets. An accurate preview of Wilder's worst excesses to come.

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Lighthouse
Joined: Sun May 29, 2011 11:12 am

Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#148 Post by Lighthouse » Mon Aug 15, 2011 6:07 pm

I also never cared much for Double Indemnity.

Another overrated "classic" is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I re-watched it a few months ago, and I still don't understand how it became so famous. Too much studio sets, too much talk, too much sentimentality towards the end and Bogart is not convincing in most of the scenes towards the end. And of course the ending itself is the usual way these type of films usually end. Huston has made much better films.

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Tom Hagen
Joined: Mon Apr 14, 2008 12:35 pm
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#149 Post by Tom Hagen » Mon Aug 15, 2011 7:01 pm

I'm going to start on the '50s now, just so I can productively keep up with you guys.

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knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#150 Post by knives » Mon Aug 15, 2011 8:50 pm

You know you're in for a treat when the opening card of a film gets a good laugh. Cluny Brown is probably the best Lubitsch I've ever seen. A lot of that is owed to Jones who gives the performance of a life time here taking her soon to be stock character and just relishing in it with such glee that any potential two dimensionality is thrown out the window. even in the joking moments there's a lot of sadness that she helpfully conveys. She's fully realized mostly because of how the performance draws one in rather than any written depth.

That's not to suggest in the least that the film succeeds only because of the performances. They simply accelerate the quality. In fact this is one of the smartest and funniest scripts I've seen from the man. A perfect balance of humour and character turned into a painful story. If any of his films are still strongly felt in the comedy world it has to be this one. Wat I think I like best overall on the script is how it improves in little ways on To Be or Not to Be. That film is one of my favorites ever and a true list contender, but it's ultimately rather simplistic and determined. A lot of the moral ambiguity for the characters is brought on from his other films and he's willing to shoot in all directions which i feel makes the satire on the WWII politics far more biting and funny. The Nazi's naturally are terrible, the resistance is arrogant and star struck, and the civilians range from stupid to ignorant. The take is ultimately more complex than what I suggest, but the general sense of anything goes is a major boost in my eyes.

I should also clarify that the script does do a lot of work for Cluny (if anyone's a stereotype it's Allgood). That sadness and various other ticks are provided in the script, but as written it would have been easy to either go too maudlin or too MPDG. The writing for her has depth, but in it's stab at complexity it's also rather uneven and needs such a great performance to balance things out so that she keeps her goofiness in the sadder moments and is able to choke up tears even as she's giving the most blatant double entendre until 'the hammer is my penis'. It's a real risky part that Jones turns into a great character.

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