Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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1941: Takesies Backsies

If yesterday was an embarrassment of riches, today is more standard fare: some good, some OK. We've got Oscar nominated films you don't remember, non-nominated films that went on to become classics, and one movie that had its nomination removed...

The Devil and Miss Jones
release: April 11
nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Charles Coburn), Best Original Screenplay
dir: Sam Wood
pr: Frank Ross
scr: Norman Krasna
cin: Harry Stradling, Sr.

Boss goes undercover and winds up befriending and supporting pro-union staff. The kinds of films they made in a pre-Cold War FDR-led America! A comedy with heart that says, "Sure, you can make millions, but you don't have to treat employees like chattel!" And shouldn't the people in charge know the very basics they demand of their workers? Great performances, smart writing.

That Night in Rio
release: April 11
dir: Irving Cummings
scr: George Seaton & Bess Meredyth & Hal Long, additional dialogue by Samuel Hoffenstein, adapted by Jessie Ernst, from the play The Red Cat by Rudolph Lothar and Hans Adler
cin: Ray Rennahan / Leon Shamroy

Remake of Folies Bergère de Paris. A nightclub singer is a dead ringer for a wealthy baron; when the baron has to leave town to save his business from bankruptcy, his partners get the nightclub singer to impersonate the baron to maintain a facade...but the wives of both men will be harder to convince. Grade-A work, a great mix of songs, sets, cast, and script - and direction, duh. Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche also appeared together in Down Argentine Way, but she gets a chance to actually play a role here. She also sings "Chica Chica Boom Chic", iconic. Ameche has two roles, barely distinguishable but who cares, we're having fun!

The Great Lie
release: April 12
wins: Best Supporting Actress (Mary Astor)
dir: Edmund Goulding
scr: Lenore Coffee, from the novel January Heights by Polan Banks
cin: Tony Gaudio

Oh, there are so many different things happening in this plot-heavy melodrama. Bette Davis is the longtiem flame of George Brent, he marries alcoholic pianist Mary Astor but it turns out her divorce isn't finalized so the marriage isn't legal so he goes back to Bette and marries her, but Mary is pregnant and Bette wants the baby and George disappears and is thought dead and... Too much happening, and all for the sake of George Brent. Movie picks up when Astor and Davis spend an entire act secluded in a cabin, Astor playing bitch-in-heels, Davis suffering nobly. Ehhhhhh.....

Sis Hopkins
release: April 12
dir: Joseph Santley
scr: Jack Townley & Milt Gross & Edward Eliscu, story by F. McGrew Willis, based on a character created by Rose Melville
cin: Jack A. Marta

Remake of a 1919 Mabel Normand comedy (now lost), which itself was adapted from a popular stage character at the time. A wealthy plumber sends for his backwoods niece who joins his sub-deb daughter (Susan Hayward!) at school, where she sings, dances, and is made to feel a fool - oh, but she wins 'em over. Something about that Judy Canova...she's sincere in her approach, a shockingly talented singer (not shocking that she's talented, it's the extent of that talent, here she is doing hillbilly schtick and suddenly she's singing arias, not very well, but not so embarrassingly), and a real cutie besides (she's also from Florida, though born closer to Georgia than to Lake Okeechobee). Originally nominated for Best Art Direction - Black-and-White, the Academy later rescinded that the request of Republic Studios, who made the picture. Why, I do not know.

That Uncertain Feeling
release: April 20
nominations: Best Score (Werner R. Heymann)
dir: Ernst Lubitsch
pr: Sol Lesser / Ernst Lubitsch
scr: Donald Ogden Stewart, adaptation by Walter Reisch, from the play Divorçons by Victorien Sardou and Emile DeNajac
cin: George Barnes

Analyst Alan Mowbray convinces Merle Oberon she's subconsciously unhappy in her marriage to Melvyn Douglas - and so she starts fawning over tortured artist Burgess Meredith. Fun.

Penny Serenade
release: April 24
nominations: Best Actor (Cary Grant)
dir/pr: George Stevens
scr: Morrie Ryskind, from a story by Martha Cheavens
cin: Joseph Walker

Irene Dunne listens to a series of records, each song reminding her of a moment in her relationship with husband Cary Grant - the courtship, the marriage, the heartbreak, the tragedies, the end of it all. Starts like a rom-com and gets increasingly more dramatic, allowing Grant a big climactic crying scene. Interesting narrative device, I could easily see this being reworked for a modern audience, feels like you could do one every twenty years. Ah, anyway. Big-hearted movie.

The Flame of New Orleans
release: April 25
nominations: Best Art Direction - Black-and-White (Martin Obzina / Jack Otterson / Russell A. Gausman)
dir: René Clair
pr: René Clair / Joe Pasternak
scr: Norman Krasna
cin: Rudolph Maté

Marlene Dietrich arrives in New Orleans determined to marry rich...but she falls for hot sailor Bruce Cabot first. Recaptures that sexy, free-wheeling quality that made Dietrich's The Devil is a Woman a sultry delight, and I mean in terms of the attention paid to costume and set design and the almost unbridled horniness of both script and Dietrich's performance. Theresa Harris plays Dietrich's maid, their chemistry reminds one of Shanghai Express, albeit in a much lighter tone.

Tomorrow, a brief glimpse at what many consider the Greatest Film of All Time...

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