Thursday, May 16, 2024

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1940: And That Makes 82

The last ten films in my 1940 viewings, only two of which did not get Oscar nominations - December, then as now, is The Season, after all. Here we go:

Tin Pan Alley
release: November 29
wins: Best Score (Alfred Newman)
dir: Walter Lang
scr: Robert Ellis and Helen Logan, story by Pamela Logan
cin: Leon Shamroy

Singing sisters and songwriting/publishing best friends team up to take the world of music and theatre by storm. Three tunes of note: the original song "You Say the Sweetest Things (Baby)," reprised throughout as John Payne's character's masterpiece; "The Sheik of Araby," a great dance number centered on the Nicholas Brothers; and "America, I Love You," an immigrant's valentine to the land of possibility, performed multiple times, closing out the film to play over scenes of WWI soldiers returning home (can you tell the War is looming closer?). There's not much to hang a movie on. My main takeaway was the way the film tries to credit "America, I Love You" to its fictional Irish hero when the music is distinctly in the tradition of Jewish music (it was written by Archie Gottler in 1916).

The Philadelphia Story
release: December
wins: Best Actor (James Stewart), Best Screenplay
nominations: Best Picture of the Year, Best Director, Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Hussey)
dir: George Cukor
pr: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
scr: Donald Ogden Stewart, from the play by Philip Barry
cin: Joseph Ruttenberg

On the eve of her wedding, a socialite faces what she really wants with the help of her ex-husband, a pair of reporters, and her asshole father. So charming you actually forget how much of the story blames the men's problems on the fact that our heroine is too, gasp, independent!

Second Chorus
release: December
nominations: Best Score (Artie Shaw), Best Original Song ("Love of My Life" - music by Artie Shaw, lyrics by Johnny Mercer)
dir: H.C. Potter
pr: Boris Morros
scr: Elaine Ryan and Ian McLellan Hunter, contributions by Johnny Mercer, original story by Frank Cavett
cin: Theodor Sparkuhl

Longtime college students finally break out with the help of a beautiful manager and Artie Shaw. Negligible Fred Astaire-Paulette Goddard vehicle, mostly notable for having Burgess Meredith as the second male lead.

Go West
release: December 6
dir: Edward Buzzell
pr: Jack Cummings
scr: Irving Brecher
cin: Leonard Smith

The Marx Brothers fight a corrupt saloon owner and help a young couple in the wild west. See it for the action-packed climax, a train-set chase that literally goes off the rails. Otherwise, the Brothers are sleepwalking through some groaners.

Comrade X
release: December 13
nominations: Best Original Story
dir: King Vidor
pr: Gottfried Reinhardt / King Vidor
scr: Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, story by Walter Reisch
cin: Joseph Ruttenberg

An American journalist in Moscow leaks news items that the Soviets want hushed up; a hotel valet who figures it out blackmails the reporter into wooing his dedicated Communist daughter and getting her out of the country. Advertised as being in the spirit of Ninotchka, with Clark Gable surreptitiously wooing Hedy Lamarr to the side of American Democracy by convincing her she can have an easier time reshaping the capitalist system by going with him overseas. It's very charming: Gable and Lamarr, how does that miss? Vladimir Sokoloff delivers a chilling performance amidst the laughs. Very horny.

Murder Over New York
release: December 13
dir: Harry Lachman
pr: Sol M. Wurtzel
scr: Lester Ziffren, from the character by Earl Derr Biggers
cin: Virgil Miller

Charlie Chan investigates the death of a friend and colleague. An ingenious modus operandi: sometimes these Chan pictures come up with a method so insidious it inches into horror. The sound work goes a long way to supplying the atmosphere. Still think Wax Museum is the best one from this year, but this is a good one.

Behind the News
release: December 20
nominations: Best Sound Recording (Charles L. Lootens, Republic SSD)
dir: Joseph Santley
scr: Isabel Dawn / Boyce DeGaw, story by Allen Rivkin / Dore Schary
cin: Jack A. Marta

A cub reporter tries to prove himself to an alcoholic veteran who doesn't want the bother. A documentary title, a pure pulp story, though not without interesting twists and turns. Strength is in the performances from its two leads, Frank Albertson and Lloyd Nolan. We love Lloyd Nolan, don't we, folks?

release: Christmas Day
nominations: Best Original Score (Victor Young), Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Lionel Banks / Robert Peterson)
dir/pr: Wesley Ruggles
scr: Claude Binyon, from the novel by Clarence Budington Kelland
cin: Fayte M. Browne / Harry Hallenberger / Joseph Walker

Oh, my gosh! OK, so the great territory of Arizona is in line to become the great State of Arizona. We get to follow a single community from shacks to city, from neutrality to both Confederate and Union sympathies during the Civil War. And the tensions between North and South and East and West come to a head in this most central of States, seen through the story of dead-eye-shooting, unscrubbed Jean Arthur. When they make her put on a dress like a "real woman," you're disappointed - she doesn't need lace to be a Woman, she's everything an American woman should be: beautiful, earthy in language, can take care of herself but chooses the comapny of others. Oh, and the way this story develops, with Jean Arthur as the keeper of the flame of Arizona and AMERICA, and Warren William as the exploitative carpetbagger (he's Wile E. Coyote, practically) who uses Arthur's ingenuous belief in the possibilities of this nation as a hook to try to fleece an entire state. Oh, I love this movie.

The Thief of Bagdad
release: Christmas Day
wins: Best Cinematography - Color, Best Art Direction - Color (Vincent Korda), Best Special Effects (Lawrence W. Butler, photographic; Jack Whitney, sound)
nominations: Best Original Score (Miklós Rózsa)
dir: Ludwig Berger / Michael Powell / Tim Whelan
pr: Alexander Korda
scr: Miles Malleson, scenario by Lajos Biro, story by Miklos Rozsa
cin: Georges Périnal

A young King and a thief team up to win back the throne from the wicked vizier Jaffar. Sabu is our titular thief, Rex Ingram (great in The Green Pastures) is the Djinn, everyone else is a white man wearing various shades of tanner. I say that as an "OK, this is what it is, let's deal with it" warning, because if you can get past that - and, indeed, if you're a regular viewer of pre-2000s cinema, I'm sure you have - then you can enjoy this lavish spectacle, an exciting fantasy picture whose influence across the decades is obvious the minute you start watching. I have had Sabu's rendition of "I Want to Be a Sailor" in my head since I watched this movie in January. Also, Ingram's belly laugh. Also, that horrifying statue that comes to life to kill. ALSO, Conrad Veidt's hypnotic eyes. Effects don't quite hold up, but you gotta admire them.

Kitty Foyle
release: December 27
wins: Best Actress (Ginger Rogers)
nominations: Best Picture of the Year, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording (John Aalberg, RKO Radio SSD)
dir: Sam Wood
pr: David Hempstead
scr: Dalton Trumbo, additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart, from the novel by Christopher Morley
cin: Robert De Grasse

Working-class gal is torn between two men, causing her to reflect on her journey to this point. We'll talk more tomorrow.

Yes, tomorrow. Because tomorrow, we're talking the ten Best Picture nominees of 1940, including who won...and who I think should have won.

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