Thursday, May 9, 2024

Pin It


1940: Some Gems and a Dreg

It took five days but, we have finally arrived at a critical juncture: my least favorite movie of 1940. I don't say "worst" because I understand there are people out there who like it; I don't understand that all. Read on:

release: May 3
nominations: Best Score (Anthony Collins)
dir/pr: Herbert Wilcox
scr: Alice Duer Miller, from the play by James H. Montgomery
cin: Russell Metty

The fortunes of a working-class upholsterer's assistant start to change when a wealthy playboy falls in love with her. Based on a 1919 musical that was, at the time, the longest-running show on Broadway, this Irene doesn't have a song until nearly an hour into the film, when she attends a life-changing ball. That said, if we agree that characters in musicals sing when ordinary talking isn't enough, Irene's timing is perfect. Everyone's been doing fine with their dialogue until she shows up in that blue dress (the moment presented in Technicolor, another clever way to heighten the feeling of magic the evening has on our heroine); suddenly, seeing her like that, all the world's a song. It's not the most revolutionary story, but the execution!

American Matchmaker
release: May 6
dir/pr: Edgar G. Ulmer
scr: Shirley Ulmer, dialogue by B. Ressler, story by Gustav H. Heimo
cin: J. Burgi Contner / Edward Hyland

Edgar G. Ulmer, director of my beloved The Black Cat, directs this Yiddish rom-com musical written by his wife about a New York playboy who, five times engaged and five times unlucky, opens up a matchmaking business. A great supporting cast, astute observations about class and culture in this new generation of mid-20th-century Jewish-Americans (the mother rattles off Yiddish, the son's Yiddish is deliberate in manner, the good-time sister fluently switches between Yiddish and English within a single sentence; besides language), and catchy songs. There are some shots and editing choices that made me go, "My Edgar G. Ulmer?" but it's a very charming film. 

Our Town
release: May 9
nominations: Best Picture of the Year, Best Actress (Martha Scott), Best Original Score (Aaron Copland), Best Score (Aaron Copland), Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Lewis J. Rachmil), Best Sound Recording (Thomas T. Moulton, Samuel Goldwyn SSD)
dir: Sam Wood
pr: Sol Lesser
scr: Thornton Wilder & Frank Craven & Harry Chandlee, from the play by Thornton Wilder
cin: Bert Glennon

Adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer-winning minimalist stage play about small-town American life. A full production with scenery and a tacked-on happy ending. The third act sequence where heroine Mary meets the ghosts of the town's past is so interesting in concept, one appreciates anew the limitations of the screen and the uniqueness of live theatre. What I'm saying is this: this is not a good movie. It is a drag and a bore and what could pass for allegory or synecdoche on stage becomes, on screen, wooden people moved about by wistful nostalgians. And just when things are beginning to get deep and thoughtful and meaningful - as in that graveyard scene - the rug is pulled out to reassure us that there's no such thing as a sad ending in Grovers Corners. At least everyone got paid.

Edison, the Man
release: May 10
nominations: Best Original Story
dir: Clarence Brown
pr: John W. Considine, Jr.
scr: Talbot Jennings and Bradbury Foote, original story by Dore Schary and Hugo Butler
cin: Harold Rosson

The life and inventions of Thomas Alva Edison. Good movie! The invention of the lightbulb and the subsequent use of electricity to light a neighborhood: that whole sequence of events, a good chunk of the latter half of the film, offers exciting laboratory adventures, a showcase for its ensemble of male character actors, set design that manages to recreate how utterly surreal the commonplace used to be, and compelling images. Spencer Tracy's at the center as Edison, dogged, imperfect - but always right!

My Favorite Wife
release: May 17
nominations: Best Original Story, Best Original Score (Roy Webb), Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Van Nest Polglase / Mark-Lee Kirk)
dir: Garson Kanin
pr: Leo McCarey
scr: Bella Spewack & Samuel Spewack, original story by Bella Spewack & Samuel Spewack and Leo McCarey
cin: Rudolph Maté

A woman declared dead having spent seven years lost at sea returns home...just as her husband has remarried. For some reason, husband and first wife decide to play a game of deception on everyone around them, engaging in a back-and-forth of oneupmanship that targets his new wife, the first wife's desert island companion, and even, to an extent, their children. A film about abhorrent, cruel, selfish people. Apparently this and Too Many Husbands are comic riffs on the old Enoch Arden story, but it is curious that two films should be so inspired, taking different approaches while still failing to be genuinely interesting or pleasing to watch. Lots of films were more forgettable or duller, but this hateful canker has to be the worst film of 1940.

Waterloo Bridge
release: May 17
nominations: Best Original Score (Herbert Stothart), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White (Joseph Ruttenberg)
dir: Mervyn LeRoy
pr: Sidney Franklin
scr: S.N. Behrman & Hans Rameau and George Froeschel, from the play by Robert E. Sherwood
cin: Joseph Ruttenberg

A remake of my beloved Waterloo Bridge, just shy of ten years after the original. An achingly beautiful romance of doomed love at the outset of WWI, here framed as a flashback experienced by an officer arriving back in London on the eve of WWII, making this the first film we've covered to address the events in Europe. Remember, the United States would not enter the War until the following December, but films were beginning to roll out boosting support of our British cousins and mentally preparing us to take sides. Anyway, Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor are the lovers, she is excellent, he is handsome. The highlight of the film is a dance at a nightclub set to "Auld Lang Syne," the band snuffing out candles one by one until it is just couples silhouetted at the windows. A haunting, catch-in-your-throat moment.

release: May 17
nominations: Best Special Effects (Farciot Edouart / Gordon Jennings, photographic; Loren L. Ryder, sound)
dir: Louis King
pr: Anthony Veillier
scr: Allen Rivkin, story by Steve Fisher
cin: Allen M. Davey / William C. Mellor

Years ago, a typhoon stranded a little girl on an island in the South Seas. Now, fate has delivered into her territory a worthless, drunken reprobate. Naturally, they find solace in each other: she dries him out, he offers companionship, they are both insanely hot. And then another typhoon hits. If all you want is an entertaining diversion, you could do worse. This one has great effects, great-looking stars, and great music. Never a dull moment...but don't try to the math on ages, please, it's all a bit murky.

Lillian Russell
release: May 24
nominations: Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Richard Day / Joseph C. Wright)
dir: Irving Cummings
pr: Darryl F. Zanuck
scr: William Anthony McGuire
cin: Leon Shamroy

The story of the early-20th century singer and actress and her rise to fame, framed through the men in her life. The most interesting aspect, to me, was the tension in her childhood home between her paternal grandmother and her mother, outspoken suffragette and general radical Cynthia Leonard, played magnetically by Dorothy Peterson. It's a nice movie overall. Alice Faye's a good actress, she's got real warmth in her scenes with Edward Arnold (reprising the role of Diamond Jim Brady, which he played in the 1935 biopic Diamond Jim). 

Tomorrow, we wrap up this first week.

You May Also Enjoy:
Like us on Facebook

No comments: