Thursday, November 16, 2017

Maestro, If You Please: Score, 1947

Today was going to be focused on Best Original Song and Best Musical Score, but I had some trouble with two of the nominated films in those categories. Thus, I will focus on those next week. But I still wanted a musical interlude, so, why not present the nominees for Best Dramatic or Comedy Score, a category won by Miklos Rozsa for A Double Life?

Rozsa previously won for Spellbound and would win again for Ben-Hur. He was nominated another 14 times between 1940 and 1961. Indeed, the whole crop of 1947 was made up of heavyweights. This was David Raskin's first nod, but he would be back for Separate Tables. Hugo Friedhofer had just won the year before for The Best Years of Our Lives, and would be nominated another six times after this. Max Steiner, also up in Best Musical Score for My Wild Irish Rose, won his third and final Oscar three years previously with Since You Went Away, though he would continue getting nominations until 1955. And Alfred Newman - deep breath - won a whopping nine times, including this year (just not this category), with nods stretching from 1937 through 1970.

Anyway, after the jump, selections from the nominated films, in ascending order of my rankings (that means bottom's up).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Blonde with the Sympathetic Ear: Supporting Actress, 1947

We continue our trip through 1947 today with Best Supporting Actress!

This year, the category consists of two past winners and three first-time nominees, playing mothers, wives, and sympathetic listeners - literal "supporting" parts. Three are nominated for their work in Best Picture nominees (two in the same movie!). And of course, there is only one winner:

That's Celeste Holm, Broadway's original Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, and here's a fun fact: her next nomination would come two years later for Come to the Stable, a film starring 1947's Best Actress winner Loretta Young.

But did Holm deserve the win? Let's talk, after the jump...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bobby-Soxers and Bigamists: Original Screenplay, 1947

Goodness! I had quite the weekend, so apologies for the lateness of this getting written and posted - but hey! I promised it would start this week, and I darn well keep most of my promises!

And by it, I mean, of course, our look back at the Oscars of 1947!

In my first post about this cinematic year, I set the scene a little bit regarding post-war Hollywood, what movies were focused on, and how a newly-emerging Blacklist would affect the industry for the next decade and change. The class most impacted were the writers, who were seen by the government as the brains behind "subversive" messaging in films...despite long being considered by their peers the low rung on the ladder.

That said, the category of today's focus, Best Original Screenplay, does showcase works whose themes warn against the dangers of capitalism, greed, and institutional decay, two of which were penned by alleged Communists: Charlie Chaplin, a British citizen, had his passport revoked, while Abraham Polonsky was blacklisted. Their films, Monsieur Verdoux and Body and Soul respectively, didn't win; nor did the Italian juvenile prison drama Shoeshine. Instead, the Academy bestowed their prestigious Oscar upon...The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer:

I know usually, I include a clip of the actual ceremony, but in 1947 we were still five years away from the first Oscars broadcast on TV. Actually, a lot was still different in this era. For instance, there were three categories for writing: Original Screenplay, which honored original works conceived of and written by the same source; Motion Picture Story, which honored original concepts/treatments by someone who not credited as screenwriter; and Screenplay, which honored works based on original motion picture stories or pre-existing properties.

Today, we focus on Original Screenplay. After the jump...

Friday, November 10, 2017

It Came True: Murder on the Orient Express, 2017

The day has finally come! I have seen a brand new Agatha Christie movie in the theater! Did it do the Queen of Crime justice? How did it compare to the many other versions we've watched and discussed? Was it any good? My dears, it's the exciting conclusion of Murder on the Orient Express week!

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
dir: Kenneth Branagh

1947, Part Five: Directors Roundup (and A Double Life)

This next batch of ten were all helmed by Best Director nominees - I've helpfully identified the film they were up for beside each name. Fittingly, the final film was nominated for Best Director! It's like there's a theme...

Brute Force
dir: Jules Dassin (Never on Sunday)
scr: Robert Wise, story by Robert Patterson

Prisoners plan a breakout amid the tyranny of a sadistic captain. A bleak tale led by furious Burt Lancaster and brutal Hume Cronyn. Glimpses of life on the outside through flashback are ok, but interrupt the story's flow...and intrude on the claustrophobia. Great sound design.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tell Me More, Tell Me More: Murder on the Orient Express, 2015

With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters tomorrow, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. We've talked about the all-star cast of the original cinematic versionthe updated setting of the 2001 TV Movie, and the serious themes of the 2010 TV movie. Today, a Japanese miniseries gives us...a lot. More spoilers than usual, so if you don't know the material, proceed at your on peril...

オリエント急行殺人事件 (2015)
[Oriento kyuuko satsujin jiken]
dir: Keita Kono

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Law or Order: Murder on the Orient Express, 2010

With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters this Friday, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. We've talked about the all-star cast of the original cinematic version and the updated setting of the 2001 TV Movie. Today, the definitive Poirot takes it on, with a much more dour tone...

Agatha Christie's Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
dir: Philip Martin

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

1947, Part Four: Grab Bag (and Crossfire)

I didn't have a theme for this group of ten, I just watched a bunch of movies. Join us!

Captain from Castile
dir: Henry King
scr: Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by Samuel Shellabarger
Oscar Nominee: Best Dramatic Or Comedy Score

Spanish nobleman escapes the Inquisition and joins Cortez's Mexican expedition. Rousing music, beautiful costumes, and Jean Peters in her acting debut - my God but she's a presence! Flirts with complication by having our hero support Cortez, while not shying away from the conquistador's greed and megalomania, yet seems weirdly divided in its feelings re: Spanish colonization of Mexico.

Timeless?: Murder on the Orient Express, 2001

With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters this Friday, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. Yesterday, we talked about the old school homage approach Sidney Lumet took with the original cinematic version; today, Poirot gets a 21st-century update...with mixed results.

Murder on the Orient Express (2001)
dir: Carl Schenkel

Monday, November 6, 2017

1947, Part Three: Love! Romance! (and Gentleman's Agreement)

This group is all about love stories. There's a pair of married detectives, a woman in love with a ghost, a teenager obsessed with an adult, and multiple (multiple!) incest-y relationships! Wow! Even the socially-conscious Best Picture winner Gentleman's Agreement illustrates its war against anti-Semitism with an increasingly wary romance between two liberal Gentiles, one of whom is pretending to be Jewish.

So strap in, baby! There's some passion to be felt here.

Mourning Becomes Electra
dir/scr: Dudley Nichols, based on the play by Eugene O'Neill
Oscar Nominee: Best Actor (Michael Redgrave), Best Actress (Rosalind Russell)

An American riff on Greek Tragedy about a New England family at the end of the Civil War. You'd think incest and murder would be more interesting. That Russell was even nominated, much less the frontrunner for much of the season, says more about her campaign than her performance. A real bore.

Spirits, farmers, murder, and more - after the jump!

There Is Murder In Your Eyes: Murder on the Orient Express, 1974

Murder on the Orient Express is in theaters this Friday, undoubtedly my most anticipated film event of the year. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie, the world-famous whodunnit has Hercule Poirot traveling on the Orient Express when the train becomes snowbound...and murder strikes. The solution is simultaneously shocking and one of the most famous in literature. The mystery is glamorous, with Poirot interviewing thirteen suspects from around the world, from butlers and car salesmen to diplomats and royalty. It's the quintessential Christery.

Small wonder, then, that it has inspired filmmakers time and again over the years. Including the new film, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh, there are five adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express. We're taking a look at each one every day this week, and what better place to start than at the beginning? Let's go back 43 years, so we can check out...

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
dir: Sidney Lumet

Friday, November 3, 2017

1947, Part Two: Among the Ranks (and Great Expectations)

Today, all ten movies are brought to us by the Rank Organisation, who classic film fans will know by their gong...

J. Arthur Rank was the son of Joseph Rank, founder of one of the largest flour milling and bakery companies in Britain, Joseph Rank Limited - he had money. Yet J. Arthur's start in films was not the result of financing from an industrialist with stars in his eyes (as happens), but of his Methodist faith. A devout Sunday school teacher, Rank often showed religious short films in his class, a practice which became so popular that he eventually started his own distribution company for the purpose, called Religious Film Society. When the Methodist Times complained of the moral quality of films in the mainstream, Rank co-founded the British National Films Company with John Corfield and Lady Yule. The trio bought the newly-formed Pinewood Studios in 1935, and issues with distribution and exhibition for their first film, Turn of the Tide, were solved when Rank bought up distributors and exhibitors.

By 1939, Lady Yule and Corfield were gone, and Rank consolidated his production, distribution, and exhibition shingles under one company: The Rank Organisation. Over the next decade, the Rank Organisation, and the studios within it, would make some of the finest films in British film history. While the initial intention to produce family-friendly flicks with good Christian values seems to be occasionally forgotten, Rank dedicated himself to an equally important task: production of quality cinema. And here are ten such examples, spanning four years in the UK, but all released in the United States in 1947.

Green for Danger
dir: Sidney Gilliat
scr: Sidney Gilliat and Claude Guerney, based on the novel by Christianna Brand

An inspector investigates double-murder at a hospital in wartime England. A thrilling mystery, a talented ensemble, chilling cinematography, witty dialogue, and fascinating observations about life during The War. Great character work, specific in speech, manner, and agenda.

The power of Powell and Pressburger.....after the jump.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

1947, Part One: The Beginning (and The Bishop's Wife)

Even though Agatha Christie Month is wrapped, we'll still be looking at Murder on the Orient Express in all its on-screen incarnations starting Monday. In the meantime, as stated before, this month is dedicated to the movies of 1947 and the 20th Academy Awards.

It's a historic year for Hollywood, but not because of the movies. This is the year that saw the beginning of the Hollywood Blacklist. Earlier efforts to rout out Communist filmmakers were unsuccessful and openly mocked. Hell, Russia was our ally during the War just two years earlier, with friendly relations and pro-Soviet feelings encouraged. But that was then, and as Best Picture nominee Crossfire put it, "We're too used to fighting, but we just don't know what to fight. ...A whole lot of hate and fight that doesn't know where to go." By October, the House Un-American Activities Committee was holding hearings; by November, the Hollywood Ten were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the line of questioning; the next day, 48 Hollywood executives released the Waldorf Statement, assuring the public that no Communist would find work within their hallowed gates. (You can get a fuller account of these events, as well as their effect on individuals, from the 2015 season of Karina Longworth's invaluable podcast, You Must Remember This.)

On this blog, we focus more on the individual films, though to pretend that events outside did not influence their reception is goofy. Pre-blacklist, we find a large output of socially-conscience films dealing with American society post-World War II. Some films are almost propagandistic in their praise of government bodies and officials, sure, but many deal with veteran malaise, housing shortages or prejudice. These themes enter films noir, dramas, comedies, even holiday treats. We'll be looking at these and more over the coming weeks.

Here are the first ten movies. My reactions are honest, and while I've tried to keep in mind the times, in the end, I like what I like.

dir: Anthony Mann
scr: John C. Higgins, suggested by a story by Virginia Kellogg
Oscar Nominee: Best Sound Recording

Patriotic noir trumpeting valiant efforts of treasury department's secret service. Semi-documentary approach breezes by minutiae via narrator, getting to the action. Fine performances, moody cinematography, gasp-worthy twists, surprisingly brutal.

Vincent Price, Uncle Remus, an angel, and so much more - after the jump!