Thursday, July 6, 2023

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1948: Between Summer and Fall...

We now go into the end of Summer and beginning of Autumn - a lineup that includes a Best Picture nominee! Actually, there are a lot of nominees here: of these 13 films, only three of them weren't recognized by either the Academy or the WGA. One is a Poverty Row Charlie Chan film, one os a documentary, and the other is...Rope! Read on...

A Foreign Affair
release date: August 20
nominee: Best Screenplay (Charles Brackett / Billy Wilder / Richard L. Breen), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White (Charles Lang)
WGA Awards nominee: Best Comedy (Charles Brackett / Billy Wilder / Richard L. Breen)

U.S. congresswoman visiting occupied Berlin with a delegation investigates a possible ex-Nazi nightclub singer with the help of a shady soldier...who's having an affair with the possible ex-Nazi nightclub singer. Refreshingly frank, sexy, funny. Who else but Billy Wilder would make a rom-com with Nazis at the center? Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich play off each other perfectly - but credit, too, to the underrated John Lund, credible as seducer, lover, hero, and jackanapes.

That Lady in Ermine
release date: August 25
nominee: Best Original Song ("This is the Moment")
WGA Awards nominee: Best Musical (Samson Raphaelson)

Newlywed aristocrat finds herself drawn to the leader of an invading army, her lookalike ancestress gets involved. At times it feels like two different ideas stitched together without the kinks being fully worked out. At other times, it's cheeky fun. Ernst Lubitsch's final film, though an uncredited Otto Preminger finished it when Lubitsch died early on. Nominee at the inaugural WGA Awards for Best Written Musical.

The Golden Eye
release date: August 29

Charlie Chan investigates the strange goings-on at a mine that's suddenly become profitable. A lot of wandering around caves in the dark in this one. Perhaps that's your thing. I think, visually, it's pretty dull, at least they way this movie does it. Bad news for Chan fans: this is his last one for the year.

The Luck of the Irish
release date: September 3
nominee: Best Supporting Actor (Cecil Kellaway)

A writer's life is upended after a trip to Ireland when he is followed home a large, mischievous, well-meaning leprechaun. Very much in the same vein as the previous year's Miracle on 34th Street: both fantasies, both FOX releases - even Cecil Kellaway, the leprechaun of this film, was a cousin of Miracle's Kris Kringle, Edmund Gwenn! And just like Miracle, it's a heartwarming film, one that seems like it should be a run-of-the-mill, forgettable, feel-good distraction for a Sunday afternoon...but whose lessons and performances creep up on you in the days and weeks after. "I offered you gold. 'Tis not my fault you prefer a pebble."

Luxury Liner
release date: September 9
WGA Awards nominee: Best Musical (Gladys Lehman / Richard Connell)

George Brent is a cruise ship captain whose daughter Jane Powell is, as far as I can tell, hopelessly in love with him - so she stows away on his ship! Weird movie, I rebuke it!

release date: September 9
nominee: Best Sound Recording (Daniel J. Bloomberg)

All his life, Danny Hawkins has been bullied over his father's execution; one night, he finally fights back in self-defense...a decision with dire consequences. Two-time Academy Award winner Frank Borzage brings his flair for human stories; cinematographer John L. Russell captures the moody, dreamy quality the title suggests; Gail Russell takes an unusual character turn and makes you believe it. Really interesting work.


And then, right in the middle of September, came Johnny Belinda. Based on the 1940 play, this story of an illiterate deaf-mute woman who finds herself pregnant after being raped and the doctor who tries to help her earned star Jane Wyman the Academy Award for Best Picture. That was just one of its twelve nominations; it also earned the distinction of being just the fourth film to be nominated in all four acting Oscar categories. Naturally, too, it found itself up for the WGA Award for Best Drama. Those kinds of accolades happen when you've a hit on your hands: a Warner Bros. release, Johnny Belinda ended 1948 as the fourth highest-grossing film of the year. 

More on Johnny Belinda in two weeks. Meanwhile, let's move on, three days later...

Red River
#2 film of 1948
release date: September 17
nominee: Best Motion Picture Story (Borden Chase), Best Film Editing (Christian Nyby)
WGA Awards nominee: Best Western (Borden Chase / Charles Schnee)

Cattle rancher John Wayne adopts a boy who grows up to become Montgomery Clift; the two butt heads over how to manage a cattle run from Texas to Missouri. Clift's sensitivity is dismissed, Wayne's increasing ruthlessness is despised. Russell Harlan's spectacular cinematography is worth watching alone, but thank goodness, he's capturing a thrilling, often funny, very true story of loyalty, leadership, sacrifice. Not a flaw to be seen, that I can recall.

Rachel and the Stranger
release date: September 23
WGA Awards nominee: Best Western (Waldo Salt)

A pioneer widower buys a new wife to help around the house, but is a poor companion for her...until his single, hot friend shows up and decides he likes the new lady of the house. Well, other than the climactic Indian raid, a pretty fine film. The leads are all great: Loretta Young, William Holden, Robert Mitchum. And it's an interesting story that makes us consider what survival really meant for an expanding country - it's not just eating and living to see the next day, but keeping a semblance of society, maintaining a working unit, and connecting with people.

Sorry, Wrong Number
release date: September 24
nominee: Best Actress (Barbara Stanwyck)
WGA Awards nominee: Best Drama (Lucille Fletcher)

Adaptation of the famous radio play about an invalid whose connection gets crossed on the elephone - and she overhears a conspiracy to commit murder. "How did they make such an audio drama into a film?" I asked myself when I heard about this adaptation. Well, they didn't, exactly: the claustrophobia, the paranoia, the ambiguity, it all goes out the window, the plot opening up to track the difficult relationship between our heroine and her increasingly distant husband. Takes all the teeth out of a genuine thriller. Nice sets, though.

release date: September 25

I dare say of all the films on this list, this one is the most famous, the most recognizable. In this riff on the Leopold & Loeb case, a pair of students who consider themselves intellectually superior to most everyone else prove their worth by murdering a friend - then hosting a dinner party over the guy's corpse, the guests none-the-wiser, all of them either family or a friend of the victim. Hitchcock uses the stage origins to his advantage, never leaving the one set, filming continuously, making for claustrophobic, anxious thrills. Wicked sense of humor. James Stewart's having a sly bit of fun as an effete college professor. 

Strange Victory
release date: September 25

A documentary that wonders what the hell we fought a world war for, if all we were gonna do once we got back to America was impose the same inhumane treatment against minorities we got mad at the Nazis for. Sobering. A scene where a just-delivered baby is met with an onslaught of racial slurs makes the film's point plenty.
Louisiana Story
release date: September 28
nominee: Best Original Story (Frances H. Flaherty / Robert J. Flaherty)
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning American Scene (Frances H. Flaherty / Robert J. Flaherty)

A Cajun family's life changes with the arrival of oil drillers in their swamps. I saw that premise and went, "Oh! An environmentalist film from the '40s! Sign me up!" Friends, it is not that, but rather about how this swamp family's sense of the modern world is expanded - along with their bank accounts, since the wildcatting is happening on their land and they get a piece of the action. Financed by Standard Oil. Lovely visuals of the bayou - and that score, what a symphony!

Cry of the City
release date: September 29
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning American Scene (Richard Murphy)

Richard Conte's no innocent this time - he's a criminal, a cop-killer, and he'll go to any lengths to protect the woman he loves - all while Victor Mature is hot on his trail. A character actor paradise: Berry Kroeger as a crooked lawyer, Shelley Winters as a helpful broad, Hope Emerson as a terrifying criminal, and Betty Garde as a sympathetic nurse.

Tomorrow, the last of the 75 films screened - including brief looks at the last three Best Picture nominees.

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