Monday, June 3, 2024

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1941: New Year, New Stars

Now we can get into 1941 properly, with nine films from the first month of the year:

Hudson's Bay
release: January 3
dir: Irving Pichel
pr: Darryl Zanuck
scr: Lamar Trotti
cin: George Barnes / J. Peverell Marley

The story of a pair of French-Canadian fur trappers and a banished English nobleman, and how their explorations and hard work led to the founding of Canada's oldest corporation, the Hudson's Bay Company. Paul Muni is trapper Pierre Radisson, using an accent that truly must be heard to be believed: impossible, parodic, yet so consistent and without ever damaging his ability to use his inflections to carry across subtext and emotion, you must admire it. Vincent Price is King Charles II of England, a delight. Would love to see a restoration of this, as even in the faded, non-HD copy I streamed, the photography was quite striking.

The Son of Monte Cristo
release: January 10
nominations: Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (John DuCasse Schulze / Edward G. Boyle)
dir/pr: Rowland V. Lee
scr: George Bruce, from characters created by Alexandre Dumas
cin: George Robinson

The son of the great duellist Edmond Dant├ęs lends his help to save a kingdom that has been taken over by a military dictator. Not very memorable, but not terrible. Does The Count of Monte Cristo need a "son of" sequel?

So Ends Our Night
release: January 21
nominations: Best Original Score (Louis Gruenberg)
dir: John Cromwell
pr: Albert Lewin / David L. Loew
scr: Talbot Jennings, from the novel Flotsam by Erich Maria Remarque
cin: William H. Daniels

The story of refugees expelled from Germany, stripped of citizenship, and forced to wander between borders, paperless, constantly in danger. Fredric March plays the political enemy, Glenn Ford the young Jew. An angry movie, its fury pointed not just at a government that would do this to its own people, but to a world that aids and abets it. The bitterness is there in the source novel's title: Flotsam. March is great. William H. Daniels' cinematography is properly moody when necessary, never ostentatiously beautiful, perfectly executed in certain suspense scenes. What a finale!

High Sierra
release: January 23
dir: Raoul Walsh
pr: Jack L. Warner
scr: John Huston and W.R. Burnett, from a novel by W.R. Burnett
cin: Tony Gaudio

This is the movie that made Humphrey Bogart a headliner. He plays a just-released bank robber recruited to pull off a big heist and, of course, complications ensue in the usual ways: bad conspirators, women, conflicts of the soul, etc. Some scenes shot on location at Mt. Whitney: breathtaking! Loved seeing Donald MacBride, usually barking orders as an impatient, comic relief policeman in B-pictures, as a softspoken, bedridden crime boss, a sensitive portrayal of a bad man. Ida Lupino (the bad girl!) and Joan Leslie (the good girl!) are the women, playing their initial parts and the turns their characters take beautifully. But the star is Bogart, who's marvelous as an aging crook who's finding it increasingly difficult to adapt to this world. 

Ridin' on a Rainbow
release: January 24
nominations: Best Original Song ("Be Honest with Me")
dir: Lew Landers
scr: Bradford Ropes and Doris Malloy, story by Bradford Ropes
cin: William Nobles

Singin' cowboy Gene Autry plays Gene Autry, not quite the law, as far as I can tell, but who's charged with investigating the connection between a showboat and a recent bank robbery that ended in murder. Exists out of time, that's fun.

Tall, Dark and Handsome
release: January 24
nominations: Best Original Screenplay
dir: H. Bruce Humberstone
scr: Karl Tunberg and Darrell Ware
cin: Ernest Palmer

Hot mob boss Cesar Romero falls in love with department store babysitter Virginia Gilmore, so he fakes being a single father in need of a nanny. A very funny, very sweet movie. Charlotte Greenwood plays the widow of one of his old rivals who is devoted to the man who ended her husband because, well, he was honorable and a good guy about the whole thing - to give you an idea of the tone. Ah, but there's an added twist that makes for a hilarious finale. Charming!

release: January 29
wins: Honorary Award to Leopold Stokowski and associates "for their unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music", Honorary Award to Walt Disney / William E. Garity / J.N.A. Hawkins "for their outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures"
pr: Walt Disney / Ben Sharpsteen
cin: James Wong Howe

A collection of classical music pieces set to animation. My personal favorites: the opening abstract piece "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor"; "Rite of Spring" set against the creation of the Earth, the rule of the dinosaurs, and their extinction (this number in particular made me think, "Yes, this is cinema perfected"); and, duh, "Night on Bald Mountain," with its demons and goblins dancing before Chernabog on Walpurgis Nacht. This was a roadshow film, premiering in November 1940 in New York City before coming to Los Angeles in January.

Buck Privates
release: January 31
nominations: Best Musical Score (Charles Previn), Best Original Song ("Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B")
dir: Arthur Lubin
scr: Arthur T. Horman, special material for Abbott and Costello by John Grant
cin: Jerome Ash / Milton R. Krasner

The movie that made Abbott & Costello big box office stars! A pair of hucksters join the draft and are soon in the army...their sergeant being the very cop who busted their civilian con games. Has a subplot with a love triangle or whatever, I don't know, I think that was an attempt to try to do with the boys what MGM did with the Marx Brothers, making them ostensible leads who would act as guardian angels to two lovers. Thank God they got over that! Costello is also more worldly and conniving than he'd later portray, even in Hold That Ghost not long after. The runner with the craps game, the age gap joke, "When Private Brown Becomes a Captain": dynamite. Love this movie!

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
release: January 31
dir: Alfred Hitchcock
scr: Norman Krasna
cin: Harry Stradling, Sr.

A husband and wife learn their marriage license was not legally obtained, leading them to reassess their commitment to each other. Much like Too Many Husbands, some conflict hinges on the husband's best friend being in love with the wife - can't anyone make new friends? It works, though, thanks to the talents of this particular cast (Carole Lombard! Robert Montgomery!) and to the writing, which mostly uses that conflict to explore relationship hypocrisies and the challenges of "starting over." It works, in the end.

Tomorrow, a French film that took five years to get to our shores, a Preston Sturges flick, and more...

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