Friday, May 10, 2024

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1940: The Last of the First Week

Wrapping things up for the week with five summertime films from 1940:

Women in War
release: June 6
nominations: Best Special Effects (Howard Lydecker / William Bradford / Ellis J. "Bud" Thackeray, photographic; Herbert Norsch, sound)
dir: John H. Auer
scr: F. Hugh Herbert and Doris Anderson
cin: Jack A. Marta

To avoid being charged for the death of an Army officer who tried to rape her, a socialite becomes a volunteer nurse in the British Voluntary Aid Detachment - little does she know the matron in charge is the estranged mother she never met! You got to admire a movie that manages to pull off a pitch like that. It does, thanks in no small part to the writing and performances - for that matter, the direction, keeping those performances pitched at a level of veracity in moments where they could have gone over the top. Explosive finale sees our nurses in the middle of the Battle of France. Bummer that their dull good girl is played Mae Clarke, of all people - and she seems bored with the role!

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise
release: June 21
dir: Eugene Forde
scr: Robertson White and Lester Ziffren, from the novel Charlie Chan Carries On by Earl Der Biggers
cin: Virgil Miller

When a friend and colleague is murdered, Charlie Chan joins a cruise...and the bodies keep piling up. A pretty fun entry.

New Moon
release: June 28
dir/pr: Robert Z. Leonard
scr: Jacques Deval and Robert Aurthur, from the play written by Oscar Hammerstein II & Frank Mandel and Laurence Schwab
cin: William H. Daniels

A radical nobleman (Nelson Eddy) posing as a servant is shipped to New Orleans and falls in love with the heiress (Jeanette MacDonald) he works under. Not to be confused with Naughty Marietta, where MacDonald played a noblewoman posing as a servant shipped to New Orleans. "Lover, Come Back to Me" is the showstopper, MacDonald delivering another one of her brilliant performances, tears in her eyes, voice shaking at just the right moments, I am constantly in awe of just how perfectly she acts in her singing. Harder than it looks: just look at Eddy, who's capable enough but far less thespically skilled. Still, for some reason, these two and colonial New Orleans are a magic combination, two-for-two.

All This, and Heaven Too
release: July 13
nominations: Best Picture of the Year, Best Supporting Actress (Margaret O'Brien), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White
dir/pr: Anatole Litvak
scr: Casey Robinson, from the book by Rachel Field
cin: Ernest Haller

A French schoolteacher, newly arrived in England, is aware her pupils are gossiping about her, so she tells them the true story behind her infamy: that back home, she was a governess who fell in love with a man in an unhappy marriage...and the consequences of his reciprocating that love. Watching it, one knows immediately the sumptuous sets and gorgeous cinematography would get nominations (the costumes would have, too, had that category been around in 1940). And if one were to nominate a performance, Margaret O'Brien as the hateful wife is the one. A Best Picture nomination is surprising. We'll discuss why next Friday.

Pride and Prejudice
release: July 26
wins: Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Cedric Gibbons / Paul Groesse)
dir: Robert Z. Leonard
pr: Hunt Stromberg
scr: Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin, from the novel by Jane Austen and the play by Helen Jerome
cin: Karl Freund

Only the second-ever filmed version of the classic Jane Austen novel, the first ever for the big screen. Yes, Greer Garson is, like, 18 years too old for the role; yes, a lot of liberties are taken and events added; yes, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is defanged a little so that we may adore Edna May Oliver; and yes, we lose a lot of the characters like the Collinses (sidelined too quickly, tolerated when on screen) and the Gardiners (completely excised). But it's fun to watch Garson and especially Mary Boland as Mrs. Bennet. An archery contest underlining Elizabeth's too-sharp wit? Sure! A good time, but the 2005 is still my favorite.

A brief break, then we'll be back Sunday.

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