Friday, July 7, 2023

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1948: The Season

Today marks the last day of the mini-reactions (I don't know if they're in-depth enough to count as reviews or critiques). This bunch takes us from October 1st straight through Christmas Day, what today would pass as Awards Season. Not so different then, frankly: of the 16 titles we bring up today, nine would go on to Oscar nominations with six winning at least one, accounting for 50% of the night's overall winners! It's true, for everything there is a season...

Apartment for Peggy
release date: October 1st
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning American Scene, Best Comedy (George Seaton)

Now here's an interesting scenario: housing is so unaffordable for a pair of newlyweds - the husband has just returned from War and is attending college - they rent a room from a semi-retired professor. Lucky him: he had just made the, for him rational, decision to end his life. Naturally, they all become a happy family. Very sweet film, a re-teaming of director George Seaton and Edmund Gwenn following the previous year's Miracle on 34th Street. There is a quality to Jeanne Crain's performance, however, that I just wasn't clicking with. I quite like Crain, so I don't know if it was the cloying way Peggy was written or Crain's inability to successfully find her, but I felt kept at a distance.

The Loves of Carmen
release date: October 7
nominee: Best Cinematography - Color (William E. Snyder)

Not an adaptation of the famous opera, but rather of the same story that inspired said opera: a soldier falls in love with the temptress Carmen, bringing them both to ruin. A re-teaming of the cast and creatives behind Gilda, and once again, they deliver sexy, entertaining, suspenseful, thrilling cinema. Every role, no matter how brief, is fascinating in the writing and in the performances. Earned its single nomination...I may be tempted to argue for its deserving even more. We shall see.

The Three Musketeers
release date: October 19
nominee: Best Cinematography - Color (Robert H. Planck)

Gene Kelly is headstrong D'Artagnan, who joins the titular musketeers as they save France from a plot cooked up by Cardinal Richelieu (Vincent Price, having fun as always) and Lady de Winter (Lana Turner). Kind of becomes a Lana vehicle, and thank heaven for that! In her autobiography (one of my favorite books of all time), Turner says working on this film allowed her to finally let go, relax, and enjoy acting - she credits Price with encouraging her in this direction. And you know what? It's one of her more effortless performances - and, of course, she's radiant! Gorgeous scenery (costumes, sets, cinematography). A fun film!

Night Has a Thousand Eyes
release date: October 20
(recommended by Matthew J. Jenner)

A mentalist (Edward G. Robinson) suddenly gains genuine psychic abilities - and, to his horror, finds himself tortured by loved ones' imminent tragedies. Now doesn't that sound like an interesting movie? It is, too, for a good chunk of the runtime, the chunk that focuses on our mentalist coming to grips with his new gift and what it means not just for his future, but for his fiancee's (Virginia Bruce) and business partner's (Jerome Cowan). At some point, it becomes sort of a murder mystery, and I'm sorry, I find that aspect thoroughly uninteresting - though there is a dreamy quality to the climax. Uneven.


Soon after Night Has a Thousand Eyes came our next Best Picture nominee, The Red Shoes, the #1 film of 1948. From Powell & Pressburger, the team behind Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and I Know Where I'm Going!, comes this tale of a ballerina torn between love and her career. Five days later (October 27), Laurence Olivier's take on Hamlet came to American screens, courting both controversy and awards. It wound up with four Oscars, including Best Picture. Two days after that...back to non-Oscar business.

June Bride
release date: October 29th
WGA Awards nominee: Best Comedy (Ranald MacDougall)

Rom-com about former lovers working on a magazine story about a small-town wedding - only, get this, she's the boss! I loved this movie up until the last reel when it betrays everything established about its heroine in an effort to protect good, old-fashioned American values (the terror with which some of these post-war films greet women in the workplace is not to be believed at times). Yeah, Robert Montgomery's an ass, but he makes great strides, growing and softening as he spends more time in this small town - and with ex-girlfriend Bette Davis, who of course is giving only gold. Surprised this hasn't been remade in some capacity, even for Hallmark or something, it's such a fun time.

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands
release date: October 30

Suffering from PTSD after the war, a drifter accidentally kills a man in a fight and runs off, finding solace and hope in the arms of a sympathetic nurse...not knowing there was a witness. What a title! What a setup! What a bore! Robert Newton, at least, is having a scary good time as the villain.

When My Baby Smiles at Me
release date: November 10
nominee: Best Actor (Dan Dailey), Best Musical Score (Alfred Newman)
WGA Awards nominee: Best Musical (Lamar Trotti)

A vaudeville performer's alcoholism takes a toll on his marriage and his career. I love the whole cast: Dailey and Betty Grable are back after the terrific Mother Wore Tights, with support from Jack Oakie, June Havoc, and James Gleason. And yet. There's something to be said for economic story-telling, but this feels more like a highlights reel with musical acts stitching it together than an honest-to-God film. Feel like it needed more time.

Three days later came our fifth and final Best Picture nominee, The Snake Pit, about a woman's experience in a mental institution. A hit film on every front: rave reviews, #7 film of the year, six Oscar nominations (and one win), and, most significant of all, directly responsible for mental health reforms in twenty-six states! Talk about impact!

Unfaithfully Yours
release date: November 14
(recommended by Matthew J. Jenner, Brian Eggert)

A conductor suspects his wife has been unfaithful and fantasizes of three different ways to approach her about it. Not as misogynist as that first fantasy sequence had me worrying! Clever enough to treat the dissolution of a marriage with the stages of grief, our "hero" entertaining fantasies of anger, sorrow, and acceptance before making a final decision...with hilarious results. Later remade in 1984, which we'll discuss next month.

Miss Tatlock's Millions
release date: November 19
WGA Awards nominee: Best Comedy (Charles Brackett / Richard L. Breen)

An actor is hired to impersonate a moronic, estranged relative of a wealthy family - and winds up inheriting millions! Game cast - hell, game film, one that gets away with a love story whose chief obstacle is the threat of incest. That sounds much more wicked than it is, which is impressive. Directorial debut of actor Richard Haydn (Uncle Max in The Sound of Music, but also a co-star in The Emperor Waltz and Sitting Pretty).

Joan of Arc
release date: December 22
winner: Best Cinematography - Color (Joseph A. Valentine / William V. Skall / Winton C. Hoch), Best Costume Design - Color (Dorothy Jeakins / Barbara Karinska), Honorary Award for [I swear to God I am not making this up] Adding to the Film Industry's Moral Stature in the World Community (Walter Wanger)
nominee: Best Actress (Ingrid Bergman), Best Supporting Actor (José Ferrer), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration - Color (Richard Day / Casey Roberts / Joseph Kish), Best Film Editing (Frank Sullivan), Best Dramatic or Comedic Score (Hugo Friedhofer)

Adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's play about the titular warrior saint. I genuinely remember thinking, "I can't believe this film has a reputation for being dull!" while watching it. That wasn't that long ago, but try as I might, I can't recall more than two scenes from it. It looks great, I give it that.

The Paleface
release date: Christmas Eve
winner: Best Original Song ("Buttons and Bows")
WGA Awards nominee: Best Comedy, Best Western (Edmund L. Hartmann / Frank Tashlin / Jack Rose)

Western comedy about a cowardly dentist who teams up with Calamity Jane and gets mistaken for a gunfighter. Jane Russell is terrific as Calamity, a great foil to Bob Hope. Often very funny, but that's Bob Hope for you.

Command Decision
release date: Christmas Day
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning American Scene, Best Drama (William R. Laidlaw / George Froeschel)

Military brass clash over the execution of a dangerous mission: bombing raids over German factories producing new jet fighters. Clark Gable is the man who says, "Whatever the cost!" but doesn't sleep easy; Walter Pidgeon argues caution; Edward Arnold is the congressman stressing over the optics. Scenes where the characters take turns monologuing at each other betray its stage origins; fortunately, I happen to love movies with such scenes. And I think it's pretty straightforward about that thin line between courage and foolhardiness to make the calls one has to make in War. Love the sets, love the ensemble.

Portrait of Jennie
release date: Christmas Day
winner: Best Special Effects (Paul Eagler / J. McMillan Johnson / Russell Shearman / Clarence Slifer / Charles L. Freeman / James G, Stewart)
nominee: Best Cinematography - Black-and-White (Joseph H. August)

Struggling artist meets an odd girl in Central Park; his career takes off as he paints her portrait, several times - especially as she seems to have aged every time he meets her... Romantic fantasy stars Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones, and I can't help thinking that I would have liked it just a little more were it not Jones in the title role. Joseph August's nomination is well deserved.

Here endeth the reviews/recaps/reactions, Sunday, we get into the nominees proper, beginning with Best Motion Picture Story: Louisiana Story, The Naked City, Red RiverThe Red Shoes, and The Search.

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