Thursday, October 6, 2022

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1946: In the Summertime...

Summer was a very busy time for 1946 movies - at least the ones I watched. I guess that's usually the way of summer, but it's true here, too. Anyway, the films:

The Stranger
release date: July 2
nominee: Best Original Story (Victor Trivas)

OK, yes, I should have swapped this with The Blue Dahlia yesterday, my mistake. Edward G. Robinson is after Nazi Orson Welles, hiding out in a small town and engaged to an influential judge's daughter (Loretta Young). Good bits of suspense as Robinson follows barely-there clues and Welles, like a cornered rat, strikes out any man or animal that could give him away. A significant dinner scene provides the height of this film's writing and acting. Uses actual concentration camp footage at one point, which I suppose on one hand is a necessary shock to the American system, but on another hand, feels exploitative.

The Green Years
release date: July 4
nominee: Best Supporting Actor (Charles Coburn), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White (George J. Folsey)

A boy comes to live with Scottish relatives after his parents' deaths and is heavily influenced by his warm, fun-loving, hard-drinking grandfather. I know this came first, but I was reminded of The Tender Bar, in that, no matter how well put-together it may be, I'm still just passively watching someone else's life with no real...hook to it. He takes tests, I guess? But I love Charles Coburn and Gladys Cooper, and it's a very nice movie to watch unfold, perfect for a Sunday afternoon.
Specter of the Rose
release date: July 5

A ballet star returns to work following a breakdown in the wake of his wife's death - but is he to blame in the first place? Purple-prosed piss-take of artists and psychological thrillers with a cast of eccentrics constantly performing, either for each other or in front of mirrors. Unusual enough to be worth the watch. Judith Anderson, Michael Chekhov, and Lionel Stander are having a ball!

A Stolen Life
release date: July 6
nominee: Best Special Effects

Bette Davis plays twins: one a shy painter who falls for Glenn Ford, the other a calculating fun time who also sets her sights on Glenn Ford. Even with the same hairdo and accent, Davis differentiates the identical sisters in manner - you can even guess when one is playing the other based on the way she holds objects, the swivel of the hip, the glances. A sly performance. And thank God, the rest of the movie is worthy of it, a melodrama that becomes a sort of thriller based on certain narrative turns that are unexpected but oh, so welcome! The effects are seamless, not just in getting Bette Davis to interact with herself, but in a frightening storm-at-sea sequence. Marvelous!

Canyon Passage
release date: July 17
nominee: Best Original Song ("Ole Buttermilk Sky")

Good guy tries to keep clean and honest as corruption hits his western town. Bare bones and I liked it.

Centennial Summer
release date: August
nominee: Best Musical Score (Alfred Newman), Best Original Song ("All Through the Day")

A family spends a summer celebrating America's Centennial. Following up on the popularity of fair-based musicals like Meet Me in St. Louis and the absolutely perfect State Fair (one of the greatest musicals ever put to film), it sits comfortably alongside both as a prime example of all that can go right with the genre. The story of sisters as rivals for a man's affections is cutthroat and antithetical to the real family feeling being promoted at the time, but if we can accept it for a Bette Davis thriller, why not for these young 20-somethings thrust into the center of a once-in-a-lifetime event? Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell are the duelling sisters, Walter Brennan their ambitious but misunderstood father, Dorothy Gish the conservative matriarch, and Constance Bennett her free-spirited sister - who also plays at tempting hubby away. It's a beautiful and realistic piece about love vs. family, duty to oneself, the courage to demand what it is you want, and the magic of a festival. The title song honestly reduces me to tears.

Night and Day
#8 film of 1946
release date: August 3
nominee: Best Musical Score (Ray Heindorf / Max Steiner)

Biopic of Cole Porter with all the gay stuff cut out, so...biopic of a composer who also happens to be named Cole Porter. This is a bad movie which not even the musical numbers can save, so unimaginatively are they staged - "Night and Day" as danced by people in sun-yellow and midnight-blue leotards? Puh-leez! Cary Grant's wincing even before the horse takes out his knee! Watch De-Lovely instead.

A Night in Casablanca
release date: August 10

Groucho is the new manager of a hotel secretly run by Nazis who bump off anyone who suspects, Harpo is the valet of one of the Nazis, Chico runs a camel taxi business. Climaxes with a huge action setpiece that shows off Harpo's physicality while also sustaining a certain amount of suspense. Doesn't have quite the same energy as their '30s work, but a few gags hit (the sequence where Chico and Harpo make money by providing extra tables in an already crowded ballroom is the piece de resistance).

The Time of Our Lives
release date: August 13

18th-century ghosts mistakenly shot as traitors during the American Revolution try to clear their names in the present day. Costello's one of the ghosts, Abbott's a psychiatrist who just restored the historic home they're haunting, Binnie Barnes is a wisecracker, Gale Sondergaard is a psychic housekeeper (this is the best use of her weird vibes). Now, friends, I have seen many an Abbott & Costello film, and I dare say this stands alongside ...Meet Frankenstein as their best. Funny, but not just a collection of jokes; moving, but without compromising the overall tone; triumphant, but with a kick-in-the-pants final gag that takes the sentimentality right out. Fun effects work.

#9 film of 1946
release date: August 22
nominee: Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains), Best Original Screenplay (Ben Hecht)

A woman is recruited by clandestine services to infiltrate a Nazi ring full of her father's old friends...and plans to revive their disgusting cult in explosive ways. Alfred Hitchcock directs, Ben Hecht writes, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains star: everyone is at the top of their game. A film that posits that single-minded obsession with an ideology disturbs our ability to indulge in the pleasures of life, with sex as just another tool to further your "Cause." Superlative!

Brief Encounter
release date: August 24
nominee: Best Director (David Lean), Best Actress (Celia Johnson), Best Screenplay (Anthony Havelock-Allan / David Lean / Ronald Neame)

A married woman and a married man, both very nice people, have a romance. Who knew adultery could feel so...innocent? That sounds facetious, but it's true, and that's thanks to the sensitivity of the writing, directing, and performances. Editing and cinematography do a surprising job of visualizing memory taking over someone's present. Their story is sometimes interrupted/refracted through the relationships and conversations among the coffee shop girls and their patrons, and gosh, it's a lovely bit of color. I don't know, this movie's great, what more can I say?

The Killers
release date: August 31
nominee: Best Director (Robert Siodmak), Best Screenplay (Anthony Veiller), Best Score (Miklós Rósza), Best Editing (Arthur Hilton)

A pair of killers wipe out a drifter; an insurance investigator looks into the why and who of it all. Expands a Hemingway short story to include that investigation bit, full of crosses and double-crosses and boxing and a femme fatale. I admire the structure of it all. There's a terrific holdup scene done in a single take. William Conrad has such a presence everything around him disappears. But I have to say, I just wasn't into the movie. Mostly dull. Despite launching two of my favorite stars, Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster, it's mostly Edmond O'Brien's show, and I have found that he and I just don't mix.

The Big Sleep
release date: August 31

Listen, I'm not sure what the actual plot is, I just know Marlowe - played by Humphrey Bogart - says a lot of cool things and looks awesome doing it. Something about a bookstore as a front and an heiress with a drug problem? Definitely one of those pulp flicks with a lot of plot. Lauren Bacall is very sexy in it, one murder gave me chills, a lot of fun overall. Sometimes, I don't know the why of it, I just know what I like - this tickled me in every way.

Tomorrow, Gregory Peck plays a nogoodnik; plus, at least three films guaranteed to make my Top Ten.

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