Monday, October 3, 2022

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1946: The Early Worms

The year is 1946, and things are getting interesting. Around the world, of course, the war that's kept all continents occupied since 1939 has finally ended. More wars will come in its wake, some direct responses to those "peace" treaties. In the movie world, long-delayed flicks are finally seeing the light of day, whether they be imports like the British drama Henry V or just long-held studio fare like the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle My Reputation - both filmed in 1944.

I watched 67 films from 1946, including the 36 Academy Award nominees. Traditionally, I've done an overview of those films and their respective categories over two weeks, then presented the rest of the films screened. This time around, I'll do something I haven't done in a while: this first week, I'm reviewing all the films - all but the five Best Picture nominees - in order of release, before deep-diving into their individual, nominated elements. Because, hell, just like any other year, these films' releases weren't separated by Oscar Time and Everything Else - winners came out alongside footnotes. We wanna see the full context, don't we?

Of course, because nationwide releases weren't quite a thing back then, that means some of the films of 1946 had their first US releases before 1946. How so? Well, remember, to get an Oscar nomination, you have to play a week in Los Angeles. You don't have to be released in Los Angeles first, though, and so New York, Chicago, Baltimore, they debuted many a film well before 1946. I'm beginning 1946 with nine such films, films with no known LA release date that I could find, but with initial US releases in 1945.

Beginning with....

I Know Where I'm Going!
release date: hell if I know, but included in the 1946 reminder list

Wendy Hiller knows where she's going!: Scotland, to wed one of the richest men in the country! Bad weather forces her to spend more and more time with the down-to-earth Roger Livesey and his rural friends, and you know what that means in the movies. Climaxes with a stunning effects sequence including storms, fog, and a great giant whirlpool. Kind of reminded me - not in any narrative sense, but in its breezy yet enchanting tone and immediate chemistry between the leads - of Return to Me, which of course came out 54 years later, know, charm and fun side characters and easy-to-root-for leads and all that. A lot of kilts and bagpipes and dancing!

Blithe Spirit
release date: October 3, 1945
winner: Best Special Effects

Rex Harrison is widowed with a second wife, and they've invited a medium to dinner; a seance summons his first wife, chaos and complications ensue. Surprising turns (I was unfamiliar with the play and did not see last year's remake) and impressive effects makeup for the odd makeup choices and seemingly tacked-on ending. Margaret Rutherford a standout from the very beginning as the cozily eccentric medium. Great fun.

Vacation from Marriage
release date: November 1, 1945
winner: Best Original Story (Clemence Dane)

Young marrieds in a rut are separated by the events of WWII and find excitement in their new, separate lives. Funny and sexy, with a memorable supporting turn from Ms. Glynis Johns! Mind, I don't remember much more than the feeling of funny and sexy, and the supporting turn from Ms. Glynis Johns, but there's no automatic scoffing, either, so it must be good.

The Dolly Sisters
release date: November 14, 1945
nominee: Best Original Song ("I Can't Begin to Tell You")

True story of the famed singing duo the Dolly Sisters, Hungarian immigrants who became sensations, with one of them dating and marrying and divorcing entertainer Harry Fox. Highly romanticized, heavily fictionalized account: you'll find no suicide here! Charming enough thanks to Betty Grable and June Haver, but once you know the real details, you wonder what the point of it all was. Oh, and how could I forget the insane minstrel sequence?

Johnny in the Clouds
release date: November 15, 1945

Base life for bomber pilots in England during World War II. John Mills is our audience surrogate, who enters all arrogant and wet behind the ears but eventually becomes the gloomy vet. His storyline often relinquishes space (and interest?) to Michael Redgrave as his mentor, Douglass Montgomery as an American bombardier, Rosamund John as a hotelier. Gosh, the thing about writing and filming such stories both during and so immediately in the wake of the actual events is the naturalism. There's no effortful dignity about this WWII story, just people being people - and that turns out to be beautiful and messy enough.

House of Dracula
release date: December 7, 1945

Dracula fools some scientist guy into helping him "cure" his vampirism; really, he's trying to get close to the scientist's hot assistant. Also, the Wolf Man shows up searching for a cure for his werewolfism, and then the Frankenstein Monster shows up for, like, a minute and change. Following on the heels of House of Frankenstein, it's too much monster mash to be truly satisfying, especially since the Dracula storyline is delightfully eerie on its own, especially once the blood transfusions and sexy nightmares start. There's a skeleton (ha!) of something great here, but they went for the franchise and not for the, uh, art?

Dick Tracy
release date: December 20, 1945

Tracy investigates a series of grisly murders. First in a series of four, and I must tell you, I was not exaggerating when I called these murder grisly. There's a brutality here that other crime films of the period just do not possess, men and women getting slashed and bashed every five minutes. Storywise, it's bizarro, and occasionally the sets and cinematography capture the comics' visual style perfectly. Fever dream aesthetic.

It Happened at the Inn
release date: December 21, 1945

An estranged son from Paris finally joins his family in the countryside - just in time for theft, murder, and romance. A mystery-dramedy with a huge ensemble whose every member leaves an indelible mark, no matter how small the role: there's no confusing anyone, they're all so distinct in name and manner. As easy as it goes down, it's a marvelous fable about how money - the hunger for it, the grasping of it, the fantasies of what it could do - can make people mean, short-sighted, stupid. And then, wow, how it explores compassion and empathy, the different ways people can connect and protect each other, care for each other...there are moments of true beauty in this film.

Scarlet Street
release date: December 28, 1945

Edward G. Robinson is a silly old bank cashier and amateur artist who winds up entangled with a floozy whose abusive grifter boyfriend has get-rich-quick schemes aplenty. Bleak in that way Fritz Lang films often are, just a parade of moments to have you cringing and gritting your teeth. The final moments are perhaps the best way to stay technically within the bounds of the Hays Code while still subverting its spirit. Of the three leads, Dan Duryea is the best.

Tomorrow: two Oscar winners, two legendary detectives, and Barbara Stanwyck.

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