Monday, July 3, 2023

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1948: An Auspicious Start

Of the hundreds of films that qualified for the 21st Academy Awards, I watched 75. Over the next few days - indeed, starting yesterday - I'm going to talk about those films and my reactions to them, thirteen a day, in order of release - excepting, of course, the five nominees for Best Picture, which I'll get into when I discuss that category on July 20th.

I will mention, though, an interesting fact. Much has been made of Everything Everywhere All At Once sustaining its buzz from its debut at South By Southwest on March 11, 2022, through its theatrical release 14 days later, all the way to being named Best Picture on March 12, 2023, a year and a day later. It is impressive, if only because the Academy tends to be biased in favor of later releases. The year 1948 was no exception - three of the five Best Picture nominees, including the winner, came out in the last quarter. Still, it's impressive that one of those other two nominees came out right at the beginning of the year.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre had its Los Angeles premiere January 14th, 1948, before receiving general release ten days later. In the Los Angeles Times review dated January 15th, Edwin Schallert called it "curiously powerful" and predicted that Walter Huston's performance as an old prospector "would be on the next nominations list, were it not for the fact that [the film] belongs to 1948 rather than 1947." Schallert was right, though: not only did Huston père receive one of the film's four Oscar nominations, he also accounts for one of its three wins. And this was a year when the Awards were held in late March (in fact, a year and two months to the day following its general release)! Director-screenwriter John Huston also found himself up for two WGA Awards: Best Western (a win!) and Best Drama (a loss, to The Snake Pit).

That's how the film year of 1948 started. Here's what came after:

An Ideal Husband
release date: January 15

Oscar Wilde alert! A married politician known for his honesty is blackmailed by some out-of-town floozy into advocating for a mine she's invested in: she knows of some dicey practices in his past. Am I misunderstanding the conflict? Because I have very little sympathy for people who commit crimes and then shrug it off because, hey, they're such a nice guy. Beautiful gowns!

Dangerous Years
release date: January 16

The titular years are adolescence, which supposedly makes youths more susceptible to the crimes depicted in this "what's happening to our society????" drama. High school boys go to a dive malt shop, are coerced into a gang by an older boy who convinces them to knock off some perfume dealer, murder occurs, there's a trial, it's a mess. The cinematic equivalent of a pair of hands wringing into infinity. It's funny how very little changes across the decades. You'd think having such old films like this would convince people that, maybe, we're all making the same complaints year after year and we're in no more danger now than we were then...but no, everyone supposes their generation is The Most Exceptional, as this film does. Which is why it's so dull to watch. Marilyn Monroe makes her screen debut as a teen who waits tables at the malt shop.

release date: February 12

Originally released in its native France in 1932, this is the second part of Marcel Pagnol's Marseille Trilogy, all three of which were combined into the musical Fanny, which was adapted into a non-musical feature film in 1961, as we covered before. Here, the young girl of the title pines for her beau Marius, who's on a five-year sea voyage, BUT doesn't know Fanny is pregnant with his child, and with him out of the picture, she needs a man to save her reputation: enter the 50-year-old Honoré Panisse, who has loved her from afar for, I don't know, long enough? A very sweet, human film. The real lead is Marius's father César - at least, one could think so given the magnetism of actor Raimu. Somewhere between the "theatricality" of the '30s and the "naturalism" of the '60s is this guy, who plays every element of worried father, doting grandfather, concerned neighbor, and comical best friend to perfection. Great cast, great story, great movie.

The Pearl
release date: February 17

A fable about a destitute Mexican couple that finds a pearl. Naturally, they find themselves courted and taken advantage of by friends and neighbors. A showcase for Gabriel Figueora's cinematography, especially in a party sequence with two group dance numbers. This was the bridge between Pedro Armendáriz's Mexican and Hollywood careers, and once you see you him lit by the sun in nothing but a speedo, sweat, and salt water, you understand why he was an international sensation. It's well made, but I found it a little tedious.

Call Northside 777
release date: sometime in March
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning the American Scene, Best Drama (Jerome Cady / Jay Dratler)

James Stewart plays a reporter who constantly mismatches his necktie with the rest of his wardrobe. Oh, he also takes on the case of a man who may be imprisoned for a crime he is not guilty of., I just love watching him work, and this one lets him do it alongside Lee J. Cobb (as his editor), Richard Conte (as the accused man), and Betty Garde (as a witness who gets belligerent). Best, though, is newcomer Kasia Orzazewski as the accused's mother. Hot damn, what an ensemble! Great use of then-recent advances in technology and forensics.

Fort Apache
release date: sometime in March
WGA Awards nominee: Best Western (John Huston)

Friends, I don't remember a goddam thing about this movie. I know Henry Fonda has a mustache and a daughter. I know Victor McLaglen leads a trio of "comic relief" clowns into some hard drinking more than once. And I know somewhere, in the end, is some eulogy about services rendered against the Indians. But I just don't remember the overall look, the plot, the stunts, or anything else. John Wayne is in it, I think? I guess we could count this as a disappointment, as I tend to love John Ford but I just...don't remember much!

Three Daring Daughters
release date: March 2

Jeanette MacDonald and Jane Powell - I've nominated one, given the win to the other (twice!), and here they are playing mother and daughter! MacDonald's a magazine editor whose career is, as it turns out, irrelevant; she's a single mother of three daring daughters leaving them home alone while she takes a cruise and meets conductor Jose Iturbi. They click, they wed, and they must keep it a secret from her daughters who still fantasize about a reconciliation between Mommy and long-absent (never to be seen!) Daddy. Bizarre movie for a number of reasons. First of all, Iturbi is playing himself - I find this odd, because it operates almost like fanfiction ("My favorite musician married my mother!").  I also find the overall plot just strange. Marrying a guy on a whim? Lying to your children about their biological father? The musical numbers pad things, but every time they return to the story, you feel cheated.

The Naked City
release date: March 4
winner: Best Cinematography - Black-and-White (William H. Daniels), Best Film Editing (Paul Weatherwax)
nominee: Best Original Story (Malvin Wald)
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning the American Scene, Best Drama (Albert Maltz / Marvin Wald)

This was the flick that started the whole true crime docudrama craze. Sure, other films before had been "ripped from the headlines" or adapted from federal cases using the real people/locations, but this was the big one. Shot on location in New York City with even apartments sourced from the locals, it's about a pair of cops who bust a killer and bring him to...well, a kind of justice, anyway. Lauded at the time for actually getting on the streets and shooting scenes among the non-actor denizens of New York. A perfect snapshot of the city post-WWII.

The Mating of Millie
release date: March 8
WGA Awards nominee: Best Comedy (Louella MacFarlane / St. Clair McKelway)

A sarcastic bus driver plays Pygmalion for a buttoned-up department store exec who needs a husband so she can adopt a newly-orphaned neighbor boy; naturally, all the makeover and matchmaking he's doing begin to have their effect on him. My favorite Glenn Ford performance so far - he's matched perfectly by Evelyn Keyes as the titular Millie. What a warm, funny flick this is!

The Inside Story
release date: March 14
(recommended by Matthew J. Jenner)

Folksy idiot regales us with a tale of the Great Depression that combats our cynicism and restores our faith in humanity. Kind of Capra-esque, and proves how difficult it is to do what he does so well. I thought it cloying and irritating. Others disagree: it came highly recommended, after all. Eh, whatever, as Drea Clark once put it on Screen Drafts, "Movies have flavors, and not everyone likes the same flavors."

Docks of New Orleans
release date: March 21

Charlie Chan alert! An evocative title, not much actual docks of New Orleans. A pretty clever crime plot, though, even if it lifts directly from Agatha Christie's "The Face of Helen" (if you've never read her short story collection The Mysterious Mr. Quin, you absolutely must - a great blend of romance, mystery, and the supernatural). This is also one of the Chans where Mantan Moreland (as Chan's chauffeur/butler/bug-eyed stereotype Birmingham) gets to showcase his "Indefinite Talk" routine, a reliably funny bit, the highlight of the picture.

The Search
release date: March 26
winner: Best Original Story (Richard Schweizer / David Wechsler), Juvenile Award (Ivan Jandl)
nominee: Best Director (Fred Zinnemann), Best Actor (Montgomery Clift), Best Screenplay (Richard Schweizer / David Wechsler)

In the wake of WWII, military and humanitarian workers strive to identify child prisoners of war and reunite them with their families; this film follows one such case. Montgomery Clift became a star, little Ivan Jandl won awards for his honest performance. For me? It's all about two things: the photography capturing the ruins of post-war Europe, and the performances by Aline MacMahon and Jarmila Novotna, two women trying to make sense of the war and peace in the new world order.

release date: sometime in April
nominee: Best Original Song ("For Every Man There's a Woman")

Semi-musical adaptation of Pepe le Moko (previously, most famously, adapted as Algiers), about a master thief who hides out in the Casbah, just out of reach of the authorities, until he loses his heart to a tourist. I thought this was pretty well done: good songs, fun antagonist in Peter Lorre, convincing performance by singer Tony Martin. Not perfect by any means, but there's something there, you know?

Another baker's dozen tomorrow, including the tenth-highest-grossing film of the year!

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