Sunday, June 9, 2024

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1941: And Now The Season Starts

August is the last month of summer, and in 1941, it was the first major release month for Best Picture contenders. Sure, Citizen Kane came in Spring, but August gave us An Inspirational True Story, A Surprise Comedy Hit, and An Adaptation Of An Award-Winning Stage Production. Oscar-wise, hard to beat that combination.

The ITS is Blossoms in the Dust, a financial success that certified Greer Garson (we last saw her in Pride and Prejudice) as one of the biggest stars of the decade - as you'll see, she had two hits this one month. A bio of Texas philanthropist Edna Gladney, Garson herself would become a Texas philanthropist decades later, spending her retirement years in Dallas and helping to fund various universities' arts programs. Blossoms in the Dust was nominated for four Academy Awards and, I think, helped pave the way to her Oscar win for the next year's Mrs. Miniver.

The SCH is Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the movie with everything: sports, romance, angels, reincarnation, murder. The surprise is how well it did with audiences, critics, and the Oscars, but I suppose every year has at least one of those (Barbie, Juno, Working Girl, It Happened One Night). It's also one of those foolproof stories, a guaranteed success no matter when it comes out: it was later remade as Heaven Can Wait (#5 film of 1978, nine Academy Award nominations) and Down to Earth (didn't break the 2001 Top Ten nor earn any Oscar nods, but it made a profit!). Here Comes Mr. Jordan was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

The AOAAWSP is The Little Foxes. On Broadway, Tallulah Bankhead originated the role Bette Davis played in the film and there was bad blood between them ever since (well, bad on Bankhead's side; Davis was an admirer who wondered why Bankhead wasn't cast). A success on both stage and screen, both were followed by a prequel, Another Part of the Forest, one of my favorite movies of 1948. Strange to me that there's never even been a Great Performances remake; the only other adaptations of this work were all before 1970, the last American one in 1956 - starring, of all people, the aforementioned Greer Garson. The Little Foxes was nominated for nine Academy Awards.

But they were not the only films released in August, naturally. Here are the ten I saw:

Hold That Ghost
release: August 8
dir: Arthur Lubin
pr: Alex Gottlieb
scr: Robert Lees & Frederic I. Rinaldo & John Grant, original story by Robert Lees & Frederic I. Rinaldo
cin: Elwood Bredell

Abbott and Costello are a pair of temps who inherit a creaky old mansion owned by a mob boss - where decades of riches are stashed away. Some jokes and gags would be recycled later for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein ("If you see anything, just yell, 'Oh, Chick.'" "Got it - OH, CHICK!" "What?" "What took you so long?"), albeit with tighter timing. The perfect cast for a Universal flick: our two leads, plus Evelyn Ankers (who'd later be immortalized in The Wolf Man) and resident nice boy Richard Carlson, plus comedienne Joan Davis (finally, a worthy heroine for the boys!), and the Andrews Sisters, who were added in reshoots following the success of Buck Privates. Ted Lewis and His Orchestra also appear, and I've never seen such an odd energy from a bandleader before: laconic, his speech pattern not beholden to punctuation, but rather more like free verse poetry. Anyway, the movie: great fun, has some great haunted house gags, one or two genuine scares, and a resolution that doesn't fully take the Scooby-Doo route of "it's all fake!"

Blossoms in the Dust
release: August 15
wins: Best Art Direction - Color (Cedric Gibbons / Urie McCleary / Edwin B. Willis)
nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Greer Garson), Best Cinematography - Color
dir: Mervyn LeRoy
pr: Irving Asher / Mervyn LeRoy
scr: Anita Loos, story by Ralph Wheelwright
cin: Karl Freund / W. Howard Greene

Edna Gladney devotes her life to the care for "foundling"/illegitimate/orphaned children. More when we discuss Best Picture this Friday.

release: August 20
nominations: Best Musical Score (Cy Feuer)
dir: Joseph Santley
scr: Jack Townley and Robert Harari and Olive Cooper, additional dialogue by Melville Shavelson and Mily Josefsberg, story by Isabel Dawn and Boyce DeGaw
cin: Jack A. Marta

Stupidest plotline where a lazy journalist assigned to cover an international skating star films some random girl instead; the footage launches the random girl, starts the Ice-Capades, and the international skating star only appears in one scene and is immediately rejected because she's ugly. Great ice-dancing footage, though, including vaudeville-esque comedy routines entirely on ice. But couldn't they just make little shorts instead of jerry-rigging a "plot"? It does, at least, boast one of the better "hair of the dog" gags I've ever seen, and Barbara Jo Allen's Vera Vague schtick is a pip.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan
release: August 21
wins: Best Screenplay, Best Original Story (even though the story is from a 1938 play)
nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Robert Montgomery), Best Supporting Actor (James Gleason), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White
dir: Alexander Hall
pr: Everett Riskin
scr: Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Miller, from the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall
cin: Joseph Walker

A boxer dies prematurely and his soul brought into the body of an aging millionaire who's been murdered by his wife and his male secretary. More when we discuss Best Picture on Friday (and other categories next week).

This Woman is Mine
release: August 22
nominations: Best Score (Richard Hageman)
dir/pr: Frank Lloyd
scr: Frederick J. Jackson / Seton I. Miller, from the story "I, Jack Lewis" by Gilbert W. Gabriel
cin: Milton R. Krasner

A woman stows away on a ship bound for fur-trapping, sowing trouble among the men on board. Walter Brennan certainly feels like he has the most screentime and clearest arc as the woman-hating ship's captain whose feelings towards the main girl fluctuate between resentment, fatherly affection, and possibly something more. Franchot Tone is here. John Carroll does a French accent that, frankly, made me like and respect him much more as an actor. Barely any recollection otherwise.

Aloma of the South Seas
release: August 27
nominations: Best Cinematography - Color, Best Special Effects (Farciot Edouart / Gordon Jennings, photographic; Louis Mesenkop, sound)
dir: Alfred Santell
pr: Buddy G. DeSylva
scr: Seena Owen and Frank Butler & Lillie Hayward, story by Seena Owen and Curt Siodmak, from the play by LeRoy Clemens and John B. Hymer
cin: Karl Struss

American-educated Polynesian prince returns home in time to stop a revolution. Dorothy Lamour is the titular Aloma (why was she typecast as "exotic" beauties?), which means there's at least one (very good!) song about the islands and the winds and the sea and flowers. Visually spectacular, from the sets to the volcano climax. Storywise? Actually pretty interesting, as it addresses the legitimacy of both men - the other guy may be a hothead, but at least he's actually grown up on the island, while the Prince, though rightful heir, has been more or less Westernized. White people in brownface, which means a lot of stilted delivery, even from actors who are usually terrific.

The Little Foxes
release: August 29
nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Bette Davis), Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Collinge, Teresa Wright), Best Screenplay, Best Score (Meredith Willson), Best Art Direction (Stephen Goosson / Howard Bristol), Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell)
dir: William Wyler
pr: Samuel Goldwyn
scr: Lillian Hellman, additional scenes and dialogue by Arthur Kober & Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, from the play by Lillian Hellman
cin: Gregg Toland

The members of the Hubbard clan do what they can to keep from going broke - even if it means sabotaging each other. We'll discuss it more on Friday.

Sun Valley Serenade
release: August 29
nominations: Best Musical Score (Emil Newman), Best Original Song ("Chattanooga Choo-Choo"), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White
dir: H. Bruce Humberstone
pr: Milton Sperling
scr: Robert Ellis and Helen Logan, story by Art Arthur and Robert Harari
cin: Edward Cronjager

A band adopts a war refugee, but their "orphan" is a grown ingenue skilled at winter sports who falls for their pianist - just as the band (which includes the pianist's chanteuse fiancee) heads to a winter resort for a gig. Glenn Miller looks pissed at having to be here as the bandleader, but as I said, the pianist is the male lead - that's John Payne, good here as a dully handsome guy. His romantic foil is Olympic ice skater Sonja Henie, who's charming and has the instincts to pull off an unchallenging but nevertheless solid comic performance. Good songs, can you believe this is where "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" comes from?

When Ladies Meet
release: August 29
nominations: Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Cedric Gibbons / Randall Duell / Edwin B. Willis)
dir: Robert Z. Leonard
pr: Orville O. Dull / Robert Z. Leonard
scr: S.K. Lauren and Anita Loos, from the play by Rachel Crothers
cin: Robert H. Patrick

The other Greer Garson movie! Here, a successful author (Joan Crawford) spurns her longtime lover (Robert Taylor) to begin an affair with her publisher (Herbert Marshall), but the longtime lover comes up with a plan when he randomly meets the publisher's wife (Greer Garson). The Old Hollywood tweeter Cristiane Young assures me the 1933 original with Ann Todd is better so I will have to check that out, but this one suits me just fine as is! Marshall, very effective as useless husbands in Bette Davis vehicles, is amusing as the pompous publisher, while Taylor is just the right balance of correct and irritating. But the show here is the one between Garson and Crawford, each unaware of the other's connection to Marshall, chatting together and befriending each other and sharing chemistry. "Why didn't Crawford do more comedies?" one wonders, though maybe she did and just is such a sublime dramatic actress those are more famous, I don't know. I do know I could have gone another hour just watching chit-chat between the two women. Spring Byington's a scream as the socialite who allows her residences to serve as adulterous rendezvous, always with her young, tall, dark, handsome "protege" in tow. The sets - Manhattan penthouse apartment, outside-the-city estate styled like a cottage, etc. - are some of my favorites.

Dive Bomber
release: August 30
nominations: Best Cinematography - Color
dir: Michael Curtiz
scr: Frank Wead and Robert Buckner, story by Frank Wead
cin: Bert Glennon / Winton C. Hoch

Not a movie that's about just any airmen, but air medics! Errol Flynn (a doctor who sparks up in the OR) and Fred MacMurray (a pilot) try to perfect a device that will allow for high-altitude flights without blacking out; meanwhile, a lot of good men are forced to either retire early else they die mid-flight. As a drama about perfecting technology to save lives, engrossing. The personal conflicts, feh. Looks stunning. After twelve films and six years, the final collaboration between Flynn and director Curtiz.

Tomorrow, the Best Pics keeps coming plus a lot of filler flicks.

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