Friday, June 28, 2024

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The Winners - 1941 Retro Hollmann Awards

As the title says. Check out the Top Ten for more on my favorites of the year; look at the nominees to see the full...nominees.

We begin with an overture. Well, not really an overture, it's still an award, but we still begin with instrumentals to set the mood. Here is Best Score in order from #5 to the winner, setting the mood for the night ahead:

Best Score
5. That Night in Rio
Alfred Newman / David Buttolph / Harry Warren
4. Citizen Kane
Bernard Herrmann
3. Blood and Sand
Alfred Newman / David Buttolph / Vicente Gómez
2. All That Money Can Buy
Bernard Herrmann
1. The Wolf Man
Charles Previn / Hans J. Salter / Frank Skinner

And on with the show:

Best Ensemble
The Maltese Falcon
2. The Lady Eve; 3. Ball of Fire; 4. How Green Was My Valley; 5. Ladies in Retirement

There's not a weak link in the entire cast, every person perfectly cast, every actor giving you at least one or three memorable moments - a line reading, a facial expression, a double take. There are the four stars I nominated, of course: Humphrey Bogart as a terse private dick in over his head, Mary Astor as a femme fatale who can play damsel in distress so convincingly she might even believe it, Sydney Greenstreet as a continental crook who delights too much in his own voice, Lee Patrick as the selfless secretary who actually seems to have an agenda besides her own desires. Too: Peter Lorre's fruity criminal, Gladys George as the widow set on a quick recovery, Jerome Cowan as the short-lived Miles Archer, who briefly and believably sketches a man who's the typical idea of a real P.I.: opportunistic, crass, a little lecherous, overrates his intelligence. 

Best Cinematography

1. All That Money Can Buy
Joseph H. August

2. Citizen Kane
Gregg Toland

3. How Green Was My Valley
Arthur C. Miller

4. So Ends Our Night
William H. Daniels

5. Blood and Sand
Ernest Palmer / Ray Rennahan

Best Actor
Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane
Citizen Kane
2. Charley Grapewin in Tobacco Road; 3. Jean Gabin in Pépé le Moko; 4. Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve; 5. Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon

He plays Charles Foster Kane across decades and convinces in every version of him, from the blushing romantic (sure, he's married, but there is a boyish spark when he meets Susan Alexander) to the gifted orator, from the enfant terrible of journalism to the aged emperor of capitalism. I love the ironic twinkle in his eye when he knows he has the upper hand, just I'm haunted by the set of his jaw and cold stare when he doesn't.

Best Sound
Citizen Kane
John Aalberg, sound supervisor
Harry Essman, special sound effects
Truman K. Wood, sound effects editor
Baisley Fesler / James G. Stewart, sound recordists
2. All That Money Can Buy; 3. The Wolf Man; 4. Blues in the Night; 5. Pépé le Moko

We talk a lot about Welles' innovations visually - even sharing a card with cinematographer Gregg Toland - and while, duh, why wouldn't we, it looks incredible, the sound work has always been my favorite aspect of the film. The mixing in of the score at the very beginning, the silence of everything except the score and that death rattled "Rosebud", the perfect rhythm of the "News on the March" cadence, the cacophony of the silhouetted journos, the echo in that tomb that serves as Walter Parks Thatcher's archive - this is all in the first 15 minutes, and already the mood is set: mystery, chaos, an odd coldness all about. This is a tragedy about a man who gains the whole world and loses his soul - the chill of the sound design, subtle but oh so very present, leads you there before we even see a sled.

Best Film Editing
All That Money Can Buy
Robert Wise
2. The Maltese Falcon; 3. Citizen Kane; 4. The Lady Eve; 5. How Green Was My Valley

Standard, solid work with the domestic drama, getting Jane Darwell's reactions when they're most apt, establishing environment and characters clearly, and - if you're watching the original preview/European cut, as I did - unnerves you with devil imagery early on, as Jabez Stone's soul becomes riper for the picking. When Mr. Scratch does finally make Stone's acquaintance, time passes in a fog, events run like a dream - a barn dance becomes increasingly sinister, a housewarming party becomes a ball for the dead, and finally, a jury of the damned hears arguments before a barn court for a man's soul: each closeup, each cut, each linger leaves you dazed. How did this simple farmer's moral tale become so surreal? So nightmarish? So...devilish?

Best Production Design

Pépé le Moko
Jacques Krauss, production design
2. How Green Was My Valley; 3. All That Money Can Buy; 4. Major Barbara; 5. Moon Over Miami

It's as simple as this: everything I thought shot on location was built on a set, and while it's not exactly difficult to fool someone who's never been to Algiers, or indeed Africa, or indeed anywhere outside the United States besides Barcelona and Seoul...they didn't look like sets. Everything felt lived-in, but not too much so, decor for the saloons nearly identical, but with enough difference so that every place felt distinct but also home for whoever drops in. The simplicity helps with the anonymity of the Casbah: Pépé le Moko may know where he is, but I sure as hell don't, not always. And that's the way he likes it.

Best Costume Design

Blood and Sand
Travis Banton
2. The Strawberry Blonde; 3. Moon Over Miami; 4. Blossoms in the Dust; 5. The Little Foxes

Much is made in the film of success as seen through the uniform of the matador, the tailoring more exact, the colors more resplendent, something about gold braids and buttons: the costuming is part of the story, charting our hero's rags-to-riches story, reflecting his friends'  own decisions, embodying the conflict between The Good Traditional Wife vs. That Harlot Rita Hayworth. Character through costume, that's what we want and that's what Travis Banton delivers.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Lady Eve
Preston Sturges
adapted from "Two Hats" from Monckton Hoffe
2. All That Money Can Buy; 3. The Maltese Falcon; 4. Man Hunt; 5. Pépé le Moko

Almost gave it to All That Money Can Buy, but I give the edge to The Lady Eve because what makes it soar is the writing...well, and the brilliant actors. But think of everything that has to be down on paper in order for the brilliant actors to play it: Eugene Pallette getting so frustrated about his delayed breakfast he uses dish covers as cymbals, the fear of a loose snake winding up in a half-clench on a daybed, a bodyguard so intent on observation he mucks up a perfectly good dinner. And all those exchanges, those lines that simultaneously amuse and inform, like when Jean decides to avenge herself against her shipboard romance with "I need him like the axe needs the turkey," only to defend him to her co-conspirator with "He isn't backward, he's a scientist." And now I know there is a difference between beer and ale, but I'm not sure what it is!

It's halftime, with wins going to seven films across nine categories: All That Money Can Buy (2), Blood and Sand (1), Citizen Kane (2), Dumbo (1), The Lady Eve (1), The Maltese Falcon (1), and Pépé le Moko (1). We bring you back to the rest of the nine with our Original Song nominees, starting with #5 and ending with my winner.

Best Original Song
5. "Blues in the Night" from Blues in the Night
music by Harold Arlen
lyrics by Johnny Mercer
4. "When Private Brown Becomes a Captain" from Buck Privates
music by Hugh Prince
lyrics by Don Raye
3. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" from Buck Privates
music by Hugh Prince
lyrics by Don Raye
2. "Chica Chica Boom Chic" from That Night in Rio
music by Harry Warren
lyrics by Mack Gordon and Pedro Berrios
1. "Baby Mine" from Dumbo
music by Frank Churchill
lyrics by Ned Washington

The rest of the show

Best Supporting Actor
Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch
All That Money Can Buy
2. Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane; 3. Claude Rains in The Wolf Man; 4. Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon; 5. Everett Sloane in Citizen Kane

The devil himself: enticing, chummy, frightening, someone you cross only if you don't value your life, someone you trust if you don't value your soul. Huston's eyes dance, his smile charms, his oratory skills are unmatched, folksy-sounding but so precise in his word choice and delivery...of course, he's been around long enough to know what he wants to say. Huston is a master, giving us not just Mr. Scratch's cleverness, not just his wickedness, but his appetite for turning a good man bad: he's not ravenous, it's dessert for him, but who doesn't like dessert? Who doesn't demand it after it was promised? That's Huston's special ability, showing the gluttony of this demon.

Best Original Screenplay
The Wolf Man
Curt Siodmak
2. Citizen Kane; 3. Ball of Fire; 4. That Hamilton Woman; 5. The Devil and Miss Jones

"Even a man who is pure in heart/And says his prayers by night/Can become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms/And the autumn moon is bright." Curt Siodmak insisted to the end of his days that any subtleties or metaphors or commentary found in The Wolf Man were purely coincidental, all he did was write a story in a week with nothing but a title and a deadline. Well, whatever, apparently the man just naturally crafted a tale of father-son tensions, of the brutality that lies secreted within man, of unwelcome foreigners made to feel like monsters merely because of their origins, of sibling rivalry that transcends life and death, of new legends born from a mix of ancient superstition and modern thinking. "Better than Citizen Kane?" Yeah, it gives us all that complexity and a spooky horror flick all in under 90 minutes, that's writing!

Best Visual Effects

Eustace Lycett, special processes
Dan McManus / Joshua Meador / Miles E. Pike / John Reed / Bob Broughton, special animation effects
Gail Papineau / Leonard Pickley, special camera effects
2. Aloma of the South Seas; 3. The Invisible Woman; 4. Topper Returns; 5. I Wanted Wings

People will say that visual effects in animation is just another type of animation and maybe that's so, but it's still the most impressive work of the year. I mean, good heavens, the detail on the snowflakes, the seamless integration of their 3D creation with the 2D of the rest of the segment... The "how did they do that?" art that recreates the origins of the universe - is it computer, hand-drawn, stop-motion, photography, hell, I know I could probably research that, but the fact that I have to is impressive! The way the ghosts in "Night on Bald Mountain" are integrated so that they literally exist on another plane! And then we have Leopold Stokowski shaking hands with Mickey Mouse...

Best Actress
Barbara Stanwyck as Jean Harrington
The Lady Eve
2. Vivien Leigh in That Hamilton Woman; 3. Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon; 4. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire; 5. Greer Garson in Blossoms in the Dust

I said the writing is what made The Lady Eve soar, but I also said the brilliant actors working from the writing were part of it. There's no one more brilliant, more able to recite Preston Sturges as naturally as a spontaneous thought without compromising the rhythm of his writing, than Barbara Stanwyck. She feels brilliant, she is sexy, and she does a bad British accent well - that is to say, you'd only believe her if you were charmed enough not to care, and she certainly charms you enough so that you wouldn't. This is the year where she proved beyond a shadow of a doubt she was as effective at comedy as she was in everything else, full-blown. Frankly, there's an argument to be made in her favor as Best Actress of Her Generation.

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva
The Wolf Man
2. Lee Patrick in The Maltese Falcon; 3. Jane Darwell in All That Money Can Buy; 4. Marjorie Rambeau in Tobacco Road; 5. Theresa Harris in The Flame of New Orleans

Ouspenskaya gets to do a lot of stone-faced cryptic line readings, bits that risk this being seen as a one-note performance. It's not, of course. You see and hear the concern in the climax when she speaks to Gwen Conliffe and Sir John, quietly telling the latter to hurry (she's a little bitter about his skepiticism_ while urgently imploring the former to make her exit as soon as possible (she understands young love, she sees them all the time). There's a quiet catch in her voice when she speaks of her son Bela and his curse, you feel her sorrow when she says, "Your suffering is over, Bela, my son." She gives you the history, the knowledge, the sorrow of a woman who knows this road all too well.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Citizen Kane
Mel Berns, makeup supervisor
2. The Wolf Man; 3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; 4. Sergeant York; 5. The Sea Wolf

Tempting to give it to Jack P. Pierce's transformations of Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi. But I've always liked how Citizen Kane handles the aging of its characters, some better than others. Jedediah Leland is still handsome but not quite the same as his younger version; Mr. Bernstein looks virtually unchanged; Charles Foster Kane himself, as my first film teacher (eighth grade, Mr. Kimmel) put it, "gradually becomes Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi." He meant it as a negative, I myself like how much he actually decays in a short amount of time, coinciding with his becoming increasingly hermetic. It's good work!

Best Director
Orson Welles
Citizen Kane
2. William Dieterle for All That Money Can Buy; 3. Preston Sturges for The Lady Eve; 4. John Huston for The Maltese Falcon; 5. Jean Renoir for Swamp Water

Originally, I'd written a defense of William Dieterle winning, saying at one point, "Welles innovated, but dammit, I just like Dieterle's movie more!" Which gave me pause. There's an award for me liking a movie more, and that's the one below. But there's no denying what Welles accomplished his first time at bat, a certainty and freedom that I don't think he ever had again. The man went at this like he was making The Great American Movie, and for many, he did; that's nothing to sniff at. Besides being historically correct, of course, it helps that the movie is so beautifully made and so much fun to watch! Every performance a gem, every piece of dialogue something to mount on a wall, every set or prop or costume so perfect you marvel at its...perfection. This isn't caving to "greater wisdom," this is using my God-given senses, all of which say this man is the Best Director of 1941!

Best Motion Picture of the Year
All That Money Can Buy
produced by William Dieterle
2. The Wolf Man; 3. Citizen Kane; 4. The Lady Eve; 5. The Maltese Falcon
6. Tobacco Road; 7. Pépé le Moko; 8. How Green Was My Valley; 9. Ball of Fire; 10. Swamp Water

All That Money Can Buy and The Wolf Man are both the most thought-provoking and most entertaining movies I saw from this year - it's the combination that's important. Either would be worthy #1's, and I might make a different decision tomorrow. It ain't tomorrow, it's today, and this is what it is. 

And that's my final word on 1941: the Devil himself reigns above werewolves, journalists, conwomen, and private eyes. Your winners: All That Money Can Buy (4), Blood and Sand (1), Citizen Kane (4), Dumbo (1), Fantasia (1), The Lady Eve (2), The Maltese Falcon (1), Pépé le Moko (1), and The Wolf Man (3).

We wrap up The Winner Is John Ford series with 1952, starting July 7th.

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