Monday, June 10, 2024

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1941: I Think They Think We're Going To War

You know we're getting closer to "Oscar Season" because every single movie here - even the Hal Roach barracks comedy Tanks a Million, which runs a mere 50 minutes - got an Oscar nomination. Inevitable when most of the categories allow for ten nominees, at least...

Among the films this month: Hold Back the Dawn and Sergeant York. The former, nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, has Charles Boyer once again romancing someone he shouldn't and Olivia de Havilland making good on her Gone with the Wind breakthrough. Sergeant York was more of a phenomenon: the #1 film of 1941, making over $8.3 million on a $1.7 million budget; nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (even though the titular hero's source memoir is credited right there on screen); winner of two Academy Awards; and did more to encourage enlistment than any propaganda or attack on US soil could. Even if this was a year of only five nominees, Sergeant York would have had a spot here.

It's not the only war-themed movie here, either. At this point, America was just waiting for a reason to join the fight, and Hollywood was doing its part to get everyone ready. Besides Sergeant York, you have Tanks a Million, about draftees; You'll Never Get Rich, about voluntary enlistees; and A Yank in the R.A.F., about individual Americans going overseas to join in the fight against fascism. It's interesting that they're all comedies or "light" in tone: don't worry, boys, we're not at war yet, it's a bit of an adventure, a jape, come serve your country and have a ball while doing so. At this point, we are just three months away from reality hitting us in the face.

The films:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
release: September
nominations: Best Score (Franz Waxman), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White, Best Film Editing (Harold F. Kress)
dir: Victor Fleming
pr: Victor Fleming / Victor Saville
scr: John Lee Mahin, from the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson
cin: Joseph Ruttenberg

You know this story. This one's a direct remake of the 1931 film that won Fredric March his Best Actor Oscar. Spencer Tracy is the split personality this time, torn between the prostitute Ingrid Bergman and the high society Lana Turner. No one's attempting an accent, but whatever, they're pretty much all excellent - especially Ingrid Bergman, I don't have to tell you. Like the earlier adaptation, tries to drive home the thin line separating the egoistic Jekyll and the destructive Hyde, though Tracy, I think, is a little less successful (maybe uncomfortable?) at threading that needle. However, Bergman (did I say this before?) is excellent, one of the greatest performances I've seen in terms of fear, but also wonderful in depicting Ivy's recklessness and in-over-her-head-ness - the original Laura Palmer. Love the music hall set, too. Great score!

Lady Be Good
release: September 1
wins: Best Original Song ("The Last Time I Saw Paris")
dir: Norman Z. McLeod, musical numbers by Busby Berkeley
pr: Arthur Freed
scr: Jack McGowan & Kay Van Riper and John McClain, original story by Jack McGowan
cin: George J. Folsey / Oliver T. Marsh

Husband and wife write songs together, but success doesn't sit well with them and she sues for divorce. Eleanor Powell is not the lead, she plays the wife's best friend, but she's top-billed and gets the best number, scuffing the floors of her apartment while dancing with a dog. Isn't she great? Anyway, it's a vehicle for Ann Sothern and Robert Young. Like 'em fine. It's not a great movie but it isn't bad and does have two good songs, "Your Words and My Music" and "You'll Never Know."

Ladies in Retirement
release: September 9
nominations: Best Score (Morris Stoloff / Ernst Toch), Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Lionel Banks / George Montgomery)
dir: Charles Vidor
pr: Lester Cowan
scr: Garrett Fort & Reginald Denham, from the play by Reginald Denham & Edward Percy
cin: George Barnes

A domestic out in the moors has her cozy arrangement upended by the arrival of her mentally ill sisters and a scheming relative. The dedication to a single setting betrays its stage origins and emphasizes the lack of options for our "heroines." Ida Lupino leads and so far it's my favorite performance of hers. Edith Barrett and Elsa Lanchester are great as, respectively, the innocent sister and the paranoid one. Keeps the tension tight and rising, up to the last minute - and it's wickedly funny.

Tanks a Million
release: September 12
nominations: Best Score (Edward Ward)
dir: Fred Guiol
pr: Hal Roach, Jr.
scr: Paul Gerard Smith and Warren Wilson and Edward E. Seabrook
cin: Robert Pittack

Brainiac with a photographic memory gets drafted and proves a nuisance thanks to his perfect memory and precision. Doesn't force our hero to be so goody-two-shoes he can't be selectively honest, though, something that simultaneously endears him to the men while allowing him to get vengeance on his bullies. Funny movie, and it's under an hour!

release: September 25
nominations: Best Score (Miklós Rózsa)
dir: Julien Duvivier
pr: Alexander Korda
scr: Ben Hecht and Samuel Hoffenstein, from a story by Julien Duvivier and Leslie Bush-Fekete
cin: Lee Garmes

A woman and the men who love her reflect on her life and romances. Everyone remembers things differently, of course, and we get some scenes repeated, albeit with different settings, cinematography, and line readings. Very clever, very beautiful (editing, costumes, makeup, sets, score - all groovy). A little dull? At least it gives Joseph Cotten a lot to do, isn't he great?

A Yank in the R.A.F.
release: September 25
nominations: Best Special Effects (Fred Sersen, photographic; Edmund H. Hansen, sound)
dir: Henry King
pr: Darryl F. Zanuck
scr: Darrell Ware and Karl Tunberg, story by Darryl F. Zanuck (as Melville Crossman)
cin: Leon Shamroy

Tyrone Power is a charmless Yank who joins the Royal Air Force and must earn the respect of the British. Top Ten moneymaker of the year. Well, I guess you had to be there.

You'll Never Get Rich
release: September 25
nominations: Best Musical Score (Morris Stoloff), Best Original Song ("Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye")
dir: Sidney Lanfield
pr: Samuel Bischoff
scr: Michael Fessier & Ernest Pagano
cin: Philip Tannura

Broadway choreographer Fred Astaire enlists due to a series of pranks and misunderstandings involving dancer Rita Hayworth, who his boss Robert Benchley is trying to put the moves on. Mistaken identity, switcheroo gifts, jealous wives, fake brothers, three musical numbers - that's all before we even get to the Army! Another classic Cole Porter score, with two pure dance numbers and the nominated "Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye." Astaire and Hayworth are a great team. Additional comic relief provided by Cliff Nazarro as "Swivel Tongue," who speaks in a confusing slang called "double talk," according to IMDb. Maybe so.

Hold Back the Dawn
release: September 26
nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Olivia de Havilland), Best Screenplay, Best Score (Victor Young), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White, Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Hans Dreier / Robert Usher / Sam Comer)
dir: Mitchell Leisen
pr: Arthur Hoirnblow, Jr.
scr: Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, from the story "Memo to a Movie Producer" by Ketti Frings
cin: Leo Tover

Romanian gigolo waiting to enter the US in a Mexican border town seduces an American woman so he can skip ahead of the line to obtain citizenship. More to come on Friday.

Sergeant York
release: September 27
wins: Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Film Editing (William Holmes)
nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Walter Brennan), Best Supporting Actress (Margaret Wycherly), Best Original Screenplay, Best Score (Max Steiner), Best Cinematography - Black-and-White, Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (John Hughes / Fred M. MacLean), Best Sound Recording (Nathan Levinson, Warner Bros. SSD)
dir: Howard Hawks
pr: Howard Hawks / Jesse L. Lasky / Hal B. Wallis
scr: Abem Finkel and Harry Chandlee & Howard Koch and John Huston, from The Diary of Sergeant York by Alvin C. York with Tom Skeyhill
cin: Sol Polito

The true story of the Appalachian conscientious objector who became a war hero. More on Friday.

Tomorrow, the movie that proved some remakes can be better than the original(s)...

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