Tuesday, July 4, 2023

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1948: Spring

Happy Fourth! I cannot promise any fireworks with the following set of films, but I do guarantee entertainment...well, from most of them, anyway. 

Sitting Pretty
#10 film of 1948
release date: sometime in April
nominee: Best Actor (Clifton Webb)
WGA Awards winner: Best Comedy (F. Hugh Herbert)

Exhausted parents hire nanny-butler Mr. Belvedere, an unrepentantly snotty asshole and self-proclaimed genius who, despite his prickliness, proves to be a godsend, uniquely handling his rambunctious charges and the conventional locals with ease. Clifton Webb's hilarious as Mr. Belvedere, the film itself is clever and witty, everyone looks to be having a ball. Richard Haydn does villain duties as a nosy neighbor, mincing off against Webb. Adapted from the novel Belvedere; why the title change? Followed by two sequels, later adapted as Mr. Belvedere for television. 

I Remember Mama
release date: April 1
nominee: Best Actress (Irene Dunne), Best Supporting Actor (Oscar Homolka), Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Bel Geddes, Ellen Corby), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White (Nicholas Musuraca)
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning American Scene, Best Comedy, Best Drama

Not to anticipate the rest of the month on only Day Three, but this was one of my favorite movies of 1948. Episodic, with Barbara Bel Geddes regaling us with tales of growing up with her Swedish immigrant family, most of her tales focused on her idealization of her mother, played by Irene Dunne. Deceptively simple, George Stevens and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca make you feel the memories: weirdly artful lighting, sudden swoops and dolly in camera work, they all convey not just memory but mythologizing, of our narrator's determination to canonize her mother. I think Belfast comes the closest in using cinematic language to communicate such feelings.

B.F.'s Daughter
release date: April 2
nominee: Best Costume Design - Black-and-White (Irene)

Barbara Stanwyck is the daughter of billionaire B.F. She falls in love with a Socialist writer and lecturer, and uses her influence to further his career - but is that what he wants? Real adult stuff, navigating values old and new, our expectations for our relationships, the level of honesty we bring to those relationships (and to ourselves). Stanwyck and Van Heflin together? Sexy as hell.

The Lady from Shanghai
release date: April 14

Fella notices a broad, winds up working for her husband aboard his yacht, some noir stuff happens and he gets mixed up with all the wrong people in the worst situations. Dreamy thriller proves a delectable playground for director Orson Welles, his stars, and his cinematographers (Charles Lawton, Jr., is credited, but apparently Rudolph Maté and Joseph Walker also contributed). Welles himself does an iffy brogue, the necessity of which remains foggy to me, but otherwise, it's a fine performance. Glenn Anders is best in show! A humdinger of a final act, taking us through Chinatown cinemas and abandoned amusement parks. Great time.

Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!
release date: April 14

Kid trains mules, gets the girl. Long and short of the plot. Of course, he learns something about standing up for himself, I think. Goes down easy.

release date: April 16

One of those "measure of a man" movies: at a billionaire magnate's party, friends and enemies reflect on their experiences with him and the road he took to get where he is now. Compelling drama about ambition, Zachary Scott's charmless eyes in a boyish face make him exquisitely cast in the lead role. Actually, everyone is exquisitely cast in dynamite parts, from Sydney Greenstreet's ruined businessman to Diana Lynn's dual roles as The Girl That Got Away and The One Who Might Also Get Away. You could make this movie today, barely change a comma, and it would still work, still be relevant.

Anna Karenina
release date: April 27

Yet another adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel about a woman who steps out on her dull politician husband with a hot young soldier and is completely ambushed by it not going well. Love how different every movie version of this story is: this one gives us more time with the "wronged" hubby, making for an effective Ralph Richardson showcase. Vivien Leigh seems so capable, so poised, her unraveling comes as a genuine shock, but she does the work to hint at the frays throughout. Costumes, sets, makeup: beautiful, immaculate, you don't wonder why these people had a revolution.

Letter from an Unknown Woman
release date: April 28
(recommended by Ward Willoughby)

A formerly celebrated pianist-composer receives a letter from a mysterious woman who has loved him from afar - and sometimes, not quite so afar - all these years. Louis Jourdan plays such a great scoundrel, Joan Fontaine does well in a role that takes her from adolescence to motherhood. Earnest weepie, handsome production values.

Fury at Furnace Creek
release date: April 30
WGA Awards nominee: Best Western (C. Graham Baker / Teddi Sherman)

Sons attempt to clear their father's name when he's found guilty of purposely leading settlers into an Apache trap. Wonderful Western about the greed that built America - the town of Furnace Creek may only exist due to corruption, betrayal, the massacre of innocents, and the scapegoating of Native Americans, and the guilty may be punished...but the town flourishes, even though it is established throughout that it is native land unfairly wrested from them. A moral film, whose hero (played perfectly by Victor Mature) recognizes neither law nor God but knows justice must be done! Great comic relief provided by Charles Kemper as town drunk Peaceful. Nominee at the inaugural WGA Awards for Best Written American Western.

State of the Union
release date: April 30

Political operatives plot the rise of a dark horse presidential candidate for their own ends, but the guy's wife may be too good for their purposes. I'm vague on how the scheme Angela Lansbury and Adolphe Menjou are plotting actually works, but I'm certain that this flick plays, oh, and how! Lansbury, only 23 at the time, is delicious as the slick operator using politics to further her schemes (sound familiar?); Menjou's a hoot as a Republican who just wants power and prestige; and, of course, there's the team at the center, Tracy & Hepburn, the moral center even as their spouse characters must deal with how they've pushed each other away...and into the arms of other people. Good fun, great ending. Cut out Van Johnson's waste of a character and the movie'd be perfect!

All My Sons
release date: sometime in May
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning American Scene, Best Drama (Chester Erskine)

Adaptation of Arthur Miller's play about an industrialist whose misdeeds during the War come back to haunt him. Feel like "opening up" the drama to include flashback scenes of the factory run by the industrialist, the prison where the guy who took the fall is, and the surrounding town where other locals can react to the main family with either disdain or strained friendliness...kind of ruins what, for me, the play is all about. Not necessarily about the corruption, the negligence people commit out of greed, the dismissal of unseen suffering - it's about family, the disintegration of trust within the family, the mask coming off when your parents are no longer your parents, the people who taught you right vs. wrong, but grasping, flailing, desperate people. The entirety of the play taking place in the home hits all those points home, helps with the son's arc, makes the familiar into something menacing. Open it up, and what have you got? Ah, but what a cast: Edward G. Robinson, Burt Lancaster, Mady Christians (INcredible!).

Berlin Express
release date: May 1
WGA Awards nominee: Best Drama (Harold Medford)

International intrigue as a group of strangers boards a train where an imminent scientist seeking world peace is assassinated - which has them all asking, who among them is the assassin? Murder on a train: it never fails to entertain! Robert Ryan gets to be a hero for once. A call for peace among nations, even as it recognizes the tensions that will soon plunge the world into a Cold War. One of a number of films shot on-location in the bombed-out areas of Germany, making for provocative backdrops amid these peace talks and murder plots.

Another Part of the Forest
release date: May 18
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning American Scene, Best Drama (Vladimir Pozner)

Prequel to The Little Foxes (which I've never seen) depicting the Southern patriarch who seems to purposefully destroy and alienate his family and his town, dragging everybody down to a level of humility few should endure. Wickedly funny, as engrossing as good gossip. Loved this movie, loved Fredric March's central performance as the crude, sarcastic leader of the family, and he's ably matched by an incredible supporting cast: Ann Blyth as his awful daughter, Edmond O'Brien as his scheming son, Dan Duryea as his idiot son, Florence Eldridge as his long-suffering wife, Betsy Blair as an impoverished gentry neighbor, Libby Taylor as the maid - hell, even the single-scene musicians shine with a few lines and perfectly-timed glances. What a saga! What a drama! What a film!

Tomorrow, the debut of Doris Day, plus: Abbott and Costello meet some monsters.

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