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

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

#176 Post by domino harvey » Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:15 am

Chabrol's favorite Chaplin as well, on which he gave one of my favorite comments on the inability of words to replicate the magic of cinema, "that's why films cost so much"

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#177 Post by knives » Fri Aug 19, 2011 1:20 pm

It definitely fares better than most of his sound work.

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Feego
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#178 Post by Feego » Fri Aug 19, 2011 2:20 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:Despite Bava usually getting credit for inventing the giallo, it strikes me that Siodmak's superb The Spiral Staircase is the the first giallo, or at least the prototype that assembles the notable elements.
I believe Tim Lucas made this point in one of his Bava commentaries (maybe for Bay of Blood). He pointed out that The Spiral Staircase was highly influential to the Italian horror filmmakers. It is, indeed, a terrific thriller that introduces elements that would not only resurface in later gialli but in Hitchcock's work as well, particularly the fetishized voyeurism. This is my first time participating in one of these lists, and I will definitely be voting for this gem, as well as Siodmak's The Killers.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#179 Post by swo17 » Sat Aug 20, 2011 5:34 pm

zedz wrote:Begone Dull Care, the Whitneys' second and third Film Exercises and Smith's Message from the Sun are also likely suspects in terms of experimental film.
I found these last two here (Film Exercises) and here (the Smith). Is there any better way to see these films? I quite liked them, especially the Smith, but is there a way to tell what segment constitutes Message from the Sun? That YouTube clip is supposed to include three different films.

EDIT: It looks to me like the individual Smith films at that link can be found at these timecodes:

0:05 A Strange Dream
2:01 Message from the Sun
4:12 Interwoven (Part 1)

I think I actually like the first part the best.

EDIT pt. 2: A Strange Dream appears to be represented on IMDb as Number 1 (1939). However, a lot of other sources online attribute it to the late '40s (1946-48). There are also sources (like here and here) that suggest that Smith tried to perpetuate a myth that he had begun making films in 1939, so as not to appear as having merely copied McLaren, Lye, etc., but that he had not in fact started making films until later in the '40s. (So the 1941 date listed for Message from the Sun is probably also too early.) Does anyone know anything more about this? I'm inclined to make an exception and call this eligible for the '40s list, if no one has any concerns.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#180 Post by knives » Sat Aug 20, 2011 8:29 pm

Begone Dull Care is in the McLaren set.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#181 Post by knives » Sun Aug 21, 2011 2:43 am

Is it wrong that I greatly prefer At Land to Meshes of the Afternoon? Both are very good movies of course, but the voice of At Land greatly reminds me of Cocteau and the earliest of Bunuel. It contains this distant observance from it's main body who despite interaction with her world gives off this sense of turning into a director herself. That play on creation and observation really amuses me.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#182 Post by Cold Bishop » Sun Aug 21, 2011 8:17 am

Spotlight #2: Le Main du diable (Maurice Tourneur, 1943)

When people think of Tourneur and the 1940s, the modern mind inevitably turns to Jacques, and the impressive output this decade that took him from low-budget horror films to Westerns and Film noir. But there was another Tourneur at work here, the elder Maurice, who deserves more than his share of recognition. Instead of being some relic of the silent age (where he was neck and neck with Griffith in developing modern film language), his career continued on into the talkies and past America. In fact, it is very likely that the man didn't hit his true stride until the mid 30s-mid 40s. To many of the initiate, this is perhaps the high point. A fable situated somewhere between Faust and The Hands of Orlac, it's based off a novel by the great poet Gérard de Nerval. It starts off as a gothic horror, transforms into a paranoid, claustrophobic chamber drama, and then finally erupts into something that's much closer to "dark fantasy" than "horror" ; not only does the final act evoke such French fantasies of the period like Les Visiteurs de soir and Le Baron fantôme, but it even gets close to Powell-Pressburger territory; not surprisingly, many people have linked the film's finale with A Matter of Life and Death.

It also evokes another French film of the period: Clouzot's Le Corbeau. They share the same star (Pierre Fresnay) and were both a product of the German-run Continental Films. Likewise, both films take advantage of Continental's often lax oversight to create something exceptional. Not only are both films surprisingly grim, but they carry a subversive underside that seemingly bites the hand that feeds them: to make, during the Occupation, a film about a man making a deal with the devil... this is to play with fire. One may even read a sly jab in Fresnay's character's occupation: a frustrated painter. Not only does the film share a similar sense of all-consuming paranoia as Corbeau, but there's increasing sense of culpability and desperation to Roland Brissot's dilemma: the longer he stays part of his pact, the more impossible it becomes to escape it. This film's devil isn't monstrous or suave or cunning: he's emphatically normal, a fat, elderly white-haired man with the appearance of a notary; the perfect devil for an age of traditionalism proscribed by Petain's motto of "travail, famille, patrie." He doesn't quite look like Petain, but the bufoonish "Colonel" in the opening could possibly be said to bear a resemblance to the traitorous bastard. And the film's finale, while not quite invoking the war, does try to put Brissot's dilemma into a historical context (and Frank Lafond argues that Brissot's role as the "last link in the chain" could be mirrored in the Vichyste notion that the French brought the occupation onto themselves... but now we are journeying outside my realm of expertise).

Ultimately, whether horror or fantasy, subversive or coincidental, it's a fantastic slice of 40s cinema just waiting to be rediscovered. And forget the two paragraphs above! These screenshots should be all the convincing you need:
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This is actually available on Blu-ray in France, so I won't post a link here. No english subs. However, the film is available with fansubs elsewhere, and if anyone's enticed, let me know and I'll point them out to you in private. (hint hint)
Last edited by Cold Bishop on Tue Jan 03, 2012 7:24 am, edited 2 times in total.

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ArchCarrier
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#183 Post by ArchCarrier » Sun Aug 21, 2011 12:58 pm

The Philadelphia Story
The first 40s picture I watch for this project, and I couldn't have hoped for a better introduction! It took about twenty minutes for me to get into it, but from then on it's one great scene after another, constantly changing focus, from broad comedy to introspection to romance and back again. High point is the pitch-perfect dialogue between Cary Grant and a drunk James Stewart, filmed mostly in one take. Before this, I had only seen Grant in a comedic role in Arsenic and Old Lace, and compared to that coked-up over-performance he's a revelation.

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zedz
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#184 Post by zedz » Sun Aug 21, 2011 5:08 pm

swo17 wrote:
zedz wrote:Begone Dull Care, the Whitneys' second and third Film Exercises and Smith's Message from the Sun are also likely suspects in terms of experimental film.
I found these last two here (Film Exercises) and here (the Smith). Is there any better way to see these films?
Wow, that's some atrocious PQ on the Whitneys.

A selection of Smith films, including Message from the Sun, is included on one of the DVDs in this set, celebrating Smith's other legacy as Smithsonian folk archivist. At least, that's the way I remember it: Amazon seems to make no mention of the films' inclusion.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#185 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Aug 22, 2011 2:09 pm

Finished off the final mad scientist film Karloff made for Columbia, The Man With Nine Lives, and it's among the weakest. It has the usual plot: ignoramuses interfere with doctor's revolutionary experiments and in the process drive the once harmless benefactor to murder in a relentless quest to prove everyone wrong. This one involves cryogenic freezing as the cure for cancer. If you've ever seen a mad scientist film, you'll know exactly what's going to happen, which is why it's so irritating that the set-up takes 30 of the film's 73 minute run time. Once you get through the interminable preliminaries, Karloff finally shows up, which is a real relief given every other actor in this movie is either bland or shrill, making it all the harder to care if any of them die. Unfortunately the mad scientist role isn't mad or tragic enough to make up for everyone else's blandness, although as usual Karloff does what he can with it. More eventful than The Devil Commands, but takes so much longer to get going, and once it does, doesn't go very far. For Karloff fans or completists.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#186 Post by knives » Mon Aug 22, 2011 8:03 pm

So I accidentally had something of a mini Joan Crawford day today starting with the unheard of by me Flamingo Road which is a story of a racist southern played by a jolly Brit being defeated by a carnie in a bad wig. The film caught me by surprise both from it's uncharacteristic ruthlessness and it's sterling qualities in general. The film doesn't shy away from it's subject matter at all allowing Greenstreet to just wallow in his scheming nastiness. The racism stuff is incidental to the plot, but the script highlights it just well enough that it's impossible to miss and doesn't act stupid.

Actually I think making it such an incidental aspect makes it more effective like in a pre-coder. That said it's just one small part of a pretty nice tapestry. The movie does an amazingly effective job building up this community and it's denizens so that it's problems are known, but naturally complex due to the different shades in which it expresses itself. Naturally Greenstreet shows the worse of everything, but you'll have these really minor character roles that sort of bridge the ideology between him and the main good guy. It's even something of a stretch to call some of the heroes such with them compromising themselves in several ways.

I guess that makes the film reminiscent of classical stories even as it expands itself beyond that. Every person's story seems to be a moral tale with Greenstreet as Mephistopheles. Crawford's lover to be is the strongest case of this being a bum in lawyer's clothing who depends on Greenstreet for his compromised success. I wonder what that makes Crawford then? An angel or some such is the likely answer given Crawford's inate goodness and incorruptibility, but I think the film thinks better of humans than that (whether that compromises the main point or not I don't know). She's a simple human caught in this web. It's an attempt to see if resistance can succeed. Being code Hollywood I think you already know the answer to that, but it's still compelling how they run around that question.

I should mention that in general I have never been impressed with Crawford nor her eyebrows, but she really wipes the floor here. It's really amazing that even against Greenstreet at his most explosive doesn't entirely overshadow her even as she's doing a completely different walk. So kudos there, though this isn't the best of her for the day.

Rather a new dip into the great Preminger pool with Daisy Kenyon is the top of the heap for me. The one two punch of these might force me to reevaluate her as she gives one of the best stressed by the thought of responsibility performances I've seen here. I probably shouldn't do this, but the way her character is formed reminds me a little of Skyler from Breaking Bad. My initial reaction actually was this is a woman of an academy world. There's something to this archetype of a woman who must subvert her position because of a man that causes me to tie it to the proto-woman's lib movement that was boiling forth at the time, but as that show proves it's a bit more universal and complicated than that.

This isn't a case of a pleasant person being pushed into a corner, but rather someone who's already a little insane being forced to implode. In that regard my initial impression of this story was dead wrong. This is not a film tied to it's present, our past, but one that looks very forward to how prejudices stick around and make a supposed free life all the more suffocating. Kenyon is a strong woman who seems to be winning out for much of the film, but (and this goes back to Crawford's amazing performance) as sturdy a person she is society is a thousand times her better. She's a plane hitting a nuclear reactor, something that just doesn't have a chance of survival.

I don't think that this message is sexist though it could easily have been. I'm not sure how exactly to phrase this, but though Preminger makes the story so specific to the woman's experience the problems she faces and more importantly her frustration hit a rather universal note that could apply to all aspects of modern living. The way she puts on this mask for Fonda only to say tired and pithy remarks about the events to Andrews. It just seems like something that everyone has to put up with.

That's probably what makes the more fantastical noir events of later in the film as successful as they'll ever get and also what puts this film in such sharp contrast to some of Preminger's other noirs. He's in general great at giving reality to fiction. He plays up these nonsensical absurdist situations in just the right way to not only convince of the film's reality, but actually believe that it could happen to you. At least for the first half of this film though he grinds into the reality and does place the film more or less in our world. For a while the movie could be The Best Years of Our Lives part 2. The only genuine sign of the usual fantasy is once again in Crawford's grim and broken performance. even upon first viewing she haunts the screen telling showing how the pieces don't fit.

Speaking of fitting in the screen it's interesting how Preminger seems to have more trouble in academy than he would as one of the kings of widescreen. He poses and moves elegantly here, but the screen sometimes can't handle all of his ideas. His compositions need breathing room. This is the first time I've noticed such a thing though so maybe either I am watching closer or just in a mood. Either way there's something funky about how the images end up. there's still that great structure and control to the images, but they just feel like a bad idea. Though if this is a bad idea than I hope to encounter more because that odd feeling from the compositions heightens things for the better. This is a film where even the flaws make it better.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#187 Post by swo17 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:36 pm

Wow, Warners sure loves burying Tex Avery cartoons. I thought it might be useful to summarize here where his work from the '40s can be found on DVD:

A Wild Hare (1940): featured on Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 Winners, 26 Nominees (not on the version that only has the 15 winners)
Blitz Wolf (1942): featured on Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 Winners, 26 Nominees
Who Killed Who? (1943): extra on Presenting Lily Mars
One Ham's Family (1943): extra on Best Foot Forward
Batty Baseball (1944): extra on The Stratton Story
Happy-Go-Nutty (1944): extra on Dragon Seed, in the Katharine Hepburn Collection
Screwball Squirrel (1944): extra on The Thin Man Goes Home, in The Complete Thin Man Collection
The Screwy Truant (1945): extra on The Clock
Swing Shift Cinderella (1945): extra on Without Love, in the Katharine Hepburn Collection
Lonesome Lenny (1946): extra on Undercurrent, in the Katharine Hepburn Collection
The Hick Chick (1946): extra on Ziegfeld Follies
Henpecked Hoboes (1946): extra on Till the Clouds Roll By
Slap Happy Lion (1947): extra on Song of the Thin Man, in The Complete Thin Man Collection
King-Size Canary (1947): extra on Command Decision
Little 'Tinker (1948): extra on The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer
Bad Luck Blackie (1949): extra on Kitty Foyle
The House of Tomorrow (1949): extra on Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
Doggone Tired (1949): not WB, but available on a DVD called Top Ten Forgotten Cartoons
Little Rural Riding Hood (1949): extra on Battleground

There is of course also, by some miracle, the Tex Avery Droopy collection. And then there are some (like Red Hot Riding Hood) for which you will probably have to turn to YouTube.
Last edited by swo17 on Wed Aug 31, 2011 1:39 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Gregory
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#188 Post by Gregory » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:47 pm

Thanks for putting that together, though I think there may some more. Off the top of my head, I remember The Magical Maestro turning up on the Belle of New York disc.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#189 Post by swo17 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:49 pm

I only did this for his '40s films for now.

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Gregory
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#190 Post by Gregory » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:59 pm

#-o Should've checked the year before posting that. It definitely has the feel of his 1940s peak years at MGM.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#191 Post by knives » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:03 pm

If we're talking about hard to find shorts for this list the surprisingly great Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B is available on one of the Woody Woodpecker sets.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#192 Post by knives » Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:19 pm

A rather random pair. These write ups are shorter than I'd like, but I've been watching a lot of uninteresting to me movies lately. I need an other Daddy Long Legs to give me something to talk about.

Woman of the Year is a fairly average screwball that could have been great had it learned what brevity is. I think I'm finally beginning to warm up to Hepburn and Tracy, both who have an acting style that I don't generally appreciate. Here they're mostly marvelous and do the strained couple thing very well. Like I said though the big problem is the length of the film which is about twenty minutes too much. The emphasis on the drama in the second half works really well to make length not an issue, but I can't help feeling that this is a missed opportunity to redo Adam's Rib as something great.

I don't want it to seem like I'm down on the movie because it is very fun and the problems with the length are a minor annoyance at worst, but there's really nothing else for me to say about it. For me it's just an other faceless member of a very important heard. See, even that sounds far more mean than I intend because I would surely recommend the movie to people, but I don't think it's as distinct as other Stevens' efforts.

As to Now Voyager, well, at least it's not Jezebel. The movie is overly stagy with a generic script for this sort of thing. Fortunately the acting is dynamic especially when Rains and Davis are together and that lends an air of excitement to this otherwise rote romance. This sort of film is ultimately why I don't miss the studio caging. That said it also shows why there were so many great actors for this era, the films needed them to stay afloat. Hell even Henreid does some good heavy lifting for the material. I'm not much for actors' showcases, but you could do far worse than this. That said a lot of the twists and turns are absurd, and not in a good way either. The plot is simply put really stupid with Davis' character being sling shot all over the place like some comedic balloon. She transforms on the whim of plot to and fro all these extremes to the point where she isn't defined at all. I commend her for doing anything with this part because it shouldn't work at all let alone the reasonable way it does. File this one under amusing misfire I guess.

Edit: By the way does anyone know of a release of Van Gogh or really a Renais shorts package?

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#193 Post by knives » Fri Aug 26, 2011 5:01 pm

Maybe I'm just in a mood, but I really don't see what makes Kind Hearts stand out from the rest of the Ealing product. It surely can't be just the casting thing, but that's the only thing that seems terribly great next to the half dozen or so other films I've seen from the studio and loved. I'm working on the assumption that this is a comedy, but I really didn't laugh, a first for the studio that even made a horror film that produced one good giggle out of me. There's nothing inherently wrong with the film, it kept my attention throughout, but I wasn't involved either contemplating sleep for the length. It picks up immensely after the initial half hour, but even than it doesn't rise to the heights of a Lady Killers or some similar venture. I wish I had more positive things to say, but this was a very transient experience. That last shot was genius though and makes me want to change my opinion of the film.

Though I'd take a semi-fascinating attempt at being great over an other Esther Williams film. On an Island with You is about my ninth in the past couple of months and I have to say she never made a film that went beyond mediocre (in which she was the main attraction). This one fortunately has Jimmy Durante and Ricardo Montalban to spice things up. God I have never appreciated that over actor more. He really does turn that bland studio product into something that's at least a little fun. All that said these movies are the classic Hollywood version of the really bland Apatow Romcoms. The problem with that is I can't tell if Peter Lawford or Van Johnson was the Steve Carell that generation was cursed with.

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swo17
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#194 Post by swo17 » Fri Aug 26, 2011 5:19 pm

knives wrote:I really don't see what makes Kind Hearts stand out
This was essentially my response the first time I saw it. Perhaps I was expecting something a bit more overstated. Rewatching it recently, the richness of the comedy was much more apparent. You might give it another try in a few months.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#195 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Aug 26, 2011 5:25 pm

It's hard to see how the transcendently nasty Kind Hearts could fail to stand out, even amongst it's elevated Ealing brethren. It's almost an adaptation of Richard III: here again, our 'hero' is the vice, a thoroughly amoral creature who drives the action of the plot via acts of destruction, with the aim of avenging himself on a family he hates and the attainment of nobility. Only, unlike Shakespeare, he's actually a marvelous aristocrat, and fits the role wonderfully well- and you really never bring yourself to dislike him, while in every production of Richard I've seen there's a point where you turn on him (his betrayal of Buckingham, his murder of the little princes, whatever.)

The Ladykillers is not so cynical- batty old Katie Johnson is beloved of Providence, apparently, and we never particularly want anyone who isn't one of the gang to die- nor, to me, so cutting. They're both funny and dark, but Kind Hearts mines a particularly cruel streak of satirical humor at the expense of the class system that I haven't seen anywhere else besides maybe The Ruling Class, which suffers somewhat by the comparison.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#196 Post by carax09 » Fri Aug 26, 2011 6:00 pm

And Joan Greenwood (swoon).

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#197 Post by knives » Fri Aug 26, 2011 7:10 pm

I think Swo has the money on this one. When I said stand out I was referring to the overall experience of watching the movie. Likely my expectations were not only too high, but of a completely different type of film which is just wrong. It probably didn't help that it was the first thing I watched this morning so I was probably too groggy to get everything (how the very obvious Richard III subtext passed me by is evidence enough). I guarantee that if I rewatched it in a week or so my estimation of it would go up. That said I still feel that it's not Ealing's best.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#198 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Aug 27, 2011 2:33 am

[broken record]Speaking of Ealing's best... how about my #1 spotlight.[/broken record]

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#199 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Sat Aug 27, 2011 3:06 am

Cold Bishop wrote:[broken record]Speaking of Ealing's best... how about my #1 spotlight.[/broken record]
Fugitive=Ealing?

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#200 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Aug 27, 2011 4:00 am

Oh, nevermind... this was actually the first film Cavalcanti made after leaving Ealing. :oops: I told you the record was broken! (In which case, Went the Day Well? may be Ealing's greatest picture).

I actually think the screenplay is rather in pace with Ealing comedies however, filled with enough blistering wisecracks and devastating bon mots to fuel most comedies, all exchanged with the rapid-fire pace of a Howard Hawks film. You could almost see the screenplay reworked into a "lighter" comedy to equal The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets. In fact, you could argue the film anticipated much of the "Ealing Comedy" wave... it just happened to lay on the black comedy so thick it quits being darkly humorous and starts being genuinely unsettling.

And Ealing was involved with two of the best British Noirs: Pink String & Sealing Wax and It Always Rains on Sunday*. I was also about to mention No Orchids for Miss Blandish, the most controversial of the "spiv" films and another film I could have swore was Ealing, but seems to be otherwise. Nonetheless, all four films are highly recommended.

*EDIT: I haven't noticed until now that both films, as well as Kind Hearts..., were directed by the same man: Robert Hamer!!! Which bring me to another British Noir, that I could have sworn was 1950, but IMDB says otherwise: The Spider and the Fly. This is about as good a four film run as any director got, and I now need to re-watch them with an auteurist mindset.

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