Monday, July 24, 2023

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Top Ten of 1948

Yesterday, I stated that I found the Best Picture nominees of 1948 to be...lacking overall. On Friday, a friend of mine messaged to tell me he found my Best Actress rankings of 1948 to be lacking overall, so truly, there's no accounting for taste. As you're about to find out!

I started with 75 films:

It took a lot to narrow it all down to these. With apologies to the almost-made-its - Call Northside 777, FannyA Foreign Affair, Panic, Raw Deal, Red River, and The Red Shoes - I present my Top Ten of 1948, in alphabetical order:

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
dir: Charles T. Barton
pr: Robert Arthur
scr: Robert Lees & Frederic I. Rinaldo & John Grant
cin: Charles Van Enger

Forgive me, there's no way this wasn't making my Top Ten. I've loved this movie since I was a kid; age cannot wither its wit and creativity. Bringing back Bela Lugosi is a stroke of genius: he brings the original menace of Dracula but proves to be game, straight-facedly poking fun at the iconography. Abbott and Costello, of course, are terrific, the latter especially given multiple chances to show off his knack for physical and reactive comedy (his best moment is his own amazed reaction to pulling a tablecloth). What an inventive way to breathe some life back into a franchise that had gone stale! What a way to bring your two biggest guaranteed moneymakers together! It's a treat!

The Amazing Mr. X
dir: Bernard Vorhaus
pr: Benjamin Stoloff
scr: Muriel Roy Bolton and Ian McLellan Hunter, story by Crane Wilbur
cin: John Alton

Due respect to great classics like The Red Shoes and Red River, this B-movie thriller about a medium who may be cheating gullible women out of their money by hoodwinking them with his charming accent, nice eyes, and showmanship, really rang my bell, I mean wow! A well-crafted narrative with twist upon twist ratcheting up the suspense as it turns the tables once, twice, thrice. Well-cast, too: if you're going to have your leading lady engaged but not excited by her fiance, who better to cast than nice-but-bland Richard Carlson? And who better to intrigue her than the odd but compelling Turhan Bey? It makes sense, in the end, that the film can't help but like the little charlatan: his tools of manipulation - costuming, music, lighting, thesping, even visual effects - these are the tools of showbiz, and his tricks allow the filmmakers to pull some of their best (Alexander Laszlo's weirdo score, John Alton's every-frame-a-beauty cinematography). A knowing, winking sense of fun throughout. What a trip!

Another Part of the Forest
dir: Michael Gordon
pr: Jerry Bresler
scr: Vladimir Pozner
cin: Hal Mohr

One need not be familiar with The Little Foxes to enjoy this prequel. Case in point: me, someone who's neither seen The Little Foxes nor read the play. Here, you've got a wealthy Southern family resented by everyone in their small town, led by a megalomaniac resented by everyone in his household - even his favorite child is only sweet so far as she can manipulate him, not realizing just how limited her own power is. A deliciously fun drama taking aim at parasitic familial relationships, the drag of class consciousness, the necessity of exploitation to accumulate any kind of wealth, and the misbegotten pride of the Confederacy. No heroes here, just a bunch of blustering dunces, a whole town of 'em, everyone apoplectic and huffing into their mustaches, no one taking a long look in the mirror. And gosh, just so damn funny!

Beauty and the Beast
dir/scr: Jean Cocteau
pr: AndrĂ© PaulvĂ©
cin: Henri Alekan

You will believe in magic while you watch this movie. Seventy-seven years after its initial release in France, it's still the standard-bearer in how to do that makeup right: unquestionably a beast on screen, but nothing is buried beneath the costume and fur, a performance of eyes and movement... Indeed, the whole film is balletic, with Cocteau getting gowns and fog billowing in slo-mo, everyone running beautifully, even dying elegantly. It's a sense of theatre and wonder: the glitter that rains in front of the camera, the men made-up as side-eyeing furniture, a casting decision that forces one to examine Belle's idea of beauty and beastliness...or it makes us look at the duality within each person? Lots to discuss, after you get over the thrill of watching our lovers literally float heavenward.
I Remember Mama
dir: George Stevens
pr: Harriet Parsons
scr: DeWitt Bodeen
cin: Nicholas Musuraca

This ensemble really is just aces: Irene Dunne, of course, but you knew that. Outside of the nominated performers, there's the quiet reliability of Philip Dorn as Papa, the breadwinner but taking on the traditional role of passive mate in these stories; Peggy McIntyre as haughty older sister Christine; Hope Landin and Edith Evanson as the fearsome aunts. Sometimes you watch a film about family, you can't believe any of these people met an hour ago, much less spent a lifetime together; you never doubt that in I Remember Mama. Indeed, that authenticity of feeling is everywhere, from the city streets to the lace in the window to the set of the women's hair. It's that authenticity that keeps it from being treacly - it may be the best parts of Mama that we get to see over and over again, but it is reality. This is the film that lets you see the work that goes into being a homemaker.

Key Largo
dir: John Huston
pr: Jerry Wald
scr: Richard Brooks and John Huston
cin: Karl Freund

The Florida Keys are the Southernmost Point of the United States - the problems of the nation tend to trickle down there. The veterans: back from war with memories of friends killed, of killing anonymous men and boys, home to pick up the pieces. The gangsters: they didn't kill for a better world, but thought they could buy or beat their way to the top and stay untouchable; they fight back at a changing world by denying that it is. The women: they who waited for their boys to come home and suddenly found themselves alone, even (or especially) when they came back, waiting for someone to prove themselves worthy of this new world, wanting to strike themselves. This post-war "is this all there is," come together just in time for a hurricane. What is courage? What is strength? Is there such a thing as good violence?

The Pirate
dir: Vincente Minnelli
pr: Arthur Freed
scr: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich
cin: Harry Stradling, Sr.

Gene Kelly and Judy Garland: what a team! And what a pair for this particular story, where Gene hypnotizes Judy into thinking he is not a traveling troubadour, but rather the legendary pirate Mokoko, aka Mack the Black, a villain she has idolized beyond reason. Little does either suspect the real Mokoko is closer than they think... Poking fun at the troubling forever trend of making romantic heroes out of bad people, The Pirate says yes to indulging fantasy, yes to having fun, yes to being irresponsible but genuine (as opposed to presenting a patina of responsibility while cultivating insincerity). Garland's performance is a masterful follow-up to The Harvey Girls in both comic chops and selling the hell out of a song; Kelly is whew and wow! Come for the fun, stay for the fun!

Romance on the High Seas
dir: Michael Curtiz and Busby Berkeley
pr: Alex Gottlieb
scr: Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, additional dialogue by I.A.L. Diamond
cin: Elwood Bredell

This must be one of the most convoluted "high-concept" screwball-ish comedy plots to exist, but the end result is a genuinely nice, romantic movie! You've got a married couple where each suspects the other of cheating, not because they're resentful or distrustful, but because friends and society have convinced them that there's no way someone could love you that much - it's a film about not thinking you're worthy of the love you have! Then you've got our actual main characters, a private eye and a nightclub singer, each sent on a cruise in place of one side of that married couple, each thinking the other is an adulterous cad, both unable to resist the real chemistry between them - it's a film about abandoning pre-conceived notions and just letting love win! And amidst all this plot: songs!

dir: Alfred Hitchcock
pr: Sidney Bernstein / Alfred Hitchcock
scr: Arthur Laurents, adapted by Hume Cronyn
cin: William V. Skall / Joseph A. Valentine

Hitchcock's funniest? Always difficult to say for sure, but surely this one's in the running. The most insufferable know-it-all bitches you've ever met hold a party to demonstrate their superiority over everyone, only to fray at the edges in ways expected and otherwise. I guess that's one way to describe the plot, other than re-stating the whole "they kill a classmate, throw his body in a trunk, use it as a dining table, and invite the classmate's dad, fiancee, and mutual friends over." Throughout, there are conversations about art, the latest theatre, astrology, justice, each subject by one killer to subtly taunt the guests while his accomplice gets sweatier and sweatier. Suspense and comedy of manners? Darling, you're just my type!

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
dir/scr: John Huston
pr: Henry Blanke
cin: Ted D. McCord

Tomorrow, the nominees for the 1948 Hollmann Awards!

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