Wednesday, July 5, 2023

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1948: Summer Songs

Summer is upon us, and what do you suppose the folks in 1948 were watching? By the looks of this lineup: musicals. Not just because four of the films below are musicals, but because two of them ended up among the highest-grossing films of the year - though, naturally, the two I prefer are neither of them.  Sprinkled among those songs of the summer: Charlie Chan (not a season goes by without him!), a lot of noirs, and the greatest crossover any Cinematic Universe ever thought to put out...


Raw Deal
release date: May 21
(recommended by Matthew J. Jenner)

A prisoner escapes, seeking the crimelord for whom he took the fall; with him are his sweetheart and his female caseworker. Moody crime flick. One interlude has Whit Bissell as a weirdly pathetic/sympathetic murderer on the run, hunted down like an animal, dogs and itchy-fingered cops in hot pursuit. Raymond Burr is wonderful as a villain with a too-tenuous grasp on power; Claire Trevor equally great as a coarse girlfriend with a too-tenuous grasp on her man. John Alton is the D.P., making every scene, even supposedly standard shot-reverse-shot conversations, into works of jaw-dropping art.

Green Grass of Wyoming
release date: June 3
nominee: Best Cinematography - Color (Charles G. Clarke)

Final entry in the Flicka series sees two families acting as friends and rivals, with the son of one in love with the granddaughter of another, their horses competing at the Ohio Governors Cup. Ehhhhhhh. Nominee at the inaugural Writers Guild Awards for Best Written Western.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
release date: June 4
(recommended by Matthew J. Jenner)

Middle-class city family builds a dream home in Connecticut, runs into more trouble than they banked on. Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are the Blandings...es - need I say more? Those two riffing off each other, you know it's comedy heaven, even before the actual slapstick (stuck doors!) and frustrations (she's approving improvements without consulting him!) and one-liners ("Just a private joke between me and whoever my analyst is going to be.") start! Delighted by the horror with which these parents greet their kids' "indoctrination" against America by their teacher - plus ├ža change. Laughs from beginning to end.

The Pirate
release date: June 11
nominee: Best Musical Score (Lennie Hayton)

An actor poses as a famous pirate to woo a bored young woman. Original songs by Cole Porter, great work by one of the best to ever do it, including "Be a Clown," "Love of My Life" and "Mack the Black." Gene Kelly at his pants-scorchingly hottest. Judy Garland's lovely and hilarious. Where was this movie's WGA nomination for Best Musical, I ask you?

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
release date: June 15

A pair of couriers get mixed up with Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. Of Universal's 32 canon entries in their Classic Monsters series of films, this stands among the ten best. You've got Abbott & Costello, hilarious in their individual reactions to the supernatural; the return of Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, 17 years after originating the role and launching this franchise; a playful yet eerie score by Frank Skinner; and great writing ("If I had two cigarettes, I'd give you one. If I had two pairs of shoes, I'd give you a pair. And if I had two girls... Why don't you light that cigarette, put on your shoes, and take a walk for yourself?"). Just the best.

The Street with No Name
release date: June 25
WGA Awards nominee: Best Film Concerning American Scene (Harry Kleiner)

FBI agent goes undercover, infiltrating a ruthless gang led by Richard Widmark. What an opening: masked men burst into a nightclub, raise hell, kill brutally. Widmark's great, of course, playing psycho once again but less gleefully than in his nominated Kiss of Death turn from the previous year. This is a moodier, more calculating menace.

The Emperor Waltz
#8 film of 1948
release date: July 2
nominee: Best Musical Score (Victor Young), Best Costume Design - Color (Edith Head / Gile Steele)

Traveling gramophone salesman romances a countess while trying to make a sale in turn-of-the-century Austria. Bing Crosby, what a charmer; Joan Fontaine, this might be the most I've liked her (I vaguely remember enjoying her in Island in the Sun when I watched it almost a decade ago, but it's been a while).  Lots of fun, fine costumes (Edith Head expected a win) and makeup. Really enjoyed Richard Haydn's portrayal of Emperor Franz-Josef.

Romance on the High Seas
release date: July 3
nominee: Best Musical Score (Ray Heindorf), Best Original Song ("It's Magic")

It's such a convoluted plot setup. Basically, there's a happily married wealthy couple - so happy, in fact, each suspects the other must be cheating. The wife pretends to takes a cruise, hiring a singer to take her place so she (the wife) can stay home and spy on her husband. The husband, suspicious of the wife's cruise, hires a private investigator to keep tabs on his wife aboard ship...though the P.I. has no idea what the wife looks like. See where this is going? Jack Carson and Doris Day (in her debut) are our leads - the P.I. and the singer, respectively - and they play terrifically off each other. Yes, there's the surprise, that after all those machinations to get to the plot, the whole film turns out to be a delight - dynamite, in fact. Among the musical highlights: "It's Magic," "Put'em in a Box...," and "The Tourist Trade." Great sets and costumes!

Easter Parade
#5 film of 1948
release date: July 8
winner: Best Musical Score (Johnny Green / Roger Edens)
WGA Awards winner: Best Musical (Sidney Sheldon / Frances Goodrich / Albert Hackett)

When his partner strikes out on her own, a hoofer trains a new dance partner. Another blend of past hits and new material by Irving Berlin. Fred Astaire and Judy Garland have chemistry, but it's not of the romantic kind, I don't care what the movie says. Some great numbers, of course, with "A Couple of Swells" and "Drum Crazy" as standouts.
 
Shanghai Chest
release date: July 11

A dead convict's fingerprints are found at the scenes of multiple murders - every victim somehow responsible for the man's incarceration. Charlie Chan solves another one! One of the duller entries, though there is a sequence at a mortuary with a game performance from Milton Parsons as the undertaker.

Key Largo
release date: July 16
winner: Best Supporting Actress (Claire Trevor)
WGA Awards nominee: Best Drama (Richard Brooks / John Huston)

Guy comes to a dead friend's hotel in the Keys to pay respects, visit the family, etc; ah, but a gangster's hiding out there with friends...and just in time for a hurricane to trap them all there! Great thriller with, gosh, just about everything you could think of. A hero so traumatized by war and the world that he can only watch, helplessly. A villain desperate to keep his pride and influence intact, stepping on everyone, comfortable carrying out his threats, yet there's the unease of waning power behind him. Marvelous supporting cast. Terrific set that perfectly captures the look and feel of a place long battered by hurricane winds and worn by saltwater spray. A third-act storm sequence that tightens your chest. Sharp writing - this was one of three nominations for John Huston at the inaugural WGA Awards. 

Deep Waters
release date: July 22
nominee: Best Special Effects (Ralph Hammeras / Fred Sersen / Edward Snyder / Roger Heman, Sr.)

A fisherman bonds with an orphan being looked after by his social worker fiancee. Jean Peters and Dana Andrews are, in my mind, flawless performers, but even they can't make sense of characters who seem like complete strangers despite having been together long enough to be engaged. The script's confusion rubs off on their scenes together. Great when they're apart, though, each demonstratinh fine chemistry with young Dean Stockwell. Nominated, no doubt, for a climactic storm sequence.

The Amazing Mr. X (aka The Spiritualist)
release date: July 29

A widow falls prey to the machinations of a medium - but is he truly more gifted than even he suspects? The twists come quickly, unrelentingly - and we welcome them all! Seance scenes capture the hypnotic quality of a meditative state: you can practically smell the headache-inducing incense! Turhan Bey a marvelous, that mischievous grin providing all the charm, those shifty eyes a sign of true villainy. Once again, John Alton is the cinematographer - my God, the man's a genius!


Tomorrow: finally, we meet our second Best Picture nominee.

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