Archive for the ‘1940s films’ Tag

The Great Lie (1941): I Ain’t Gonna Lie on Maggie’s Farm No More   2 comments

 

Rich country girl, Maggie (Bette Davis) loves Peter (George Brent). Peter loves Maggie, but he can’t commit. In a weak and drunken moment, he marries Sandra (Mary Astor), a globe-trotting concert pianist. She’s sort of awful though so when a paperwork glitch nullifies their marriage, Peter marries Maggie.


“You’ll do.”

All is happiness and light until Sandra drops a bombshell—she’s pregnant. When Peter’s plane is lost during a mapping expedition to the Amazon, Maggie has an idea. She’ll take Sandra to a secluded cabin where she’ll have her baby privately, then Maggie will claim the child as her own so the kid has a dad, at least on paper. The two women travel to Arizona, where Maggie takes care of the difficult Sandra during her pregnancy. When Maggie returns, she has a new baby with Peter’s name.


“No, I don’t have any eights!”

Despite her heartbreak at the loss of her husband, Maggie soldiers on and focuses on raising her son, who she names Peter, after his father. Maggie is a wonderful mother and young Pete thrives with the help of Maggie and maid superwoman, Violet (Hattie McDaniel). Things proceed swimmingly until Peter returns from the dead and eats the rest of the cast. I’m kidding, but that would be an interesting plot twist, wouldn’t it?


“This is a human child, right?”

Peter comes back to Maggie and is overjoyed to see her and to meet his son. He’s a loving and dedicated husband and father and he, Maggie, Young Pete, and Violet live happily ever after. Not so fast, bub. Sandra finds out Peter is back from the jungle and she wants him AND her baby. During a tense visit to Maggie’s farm, Maggie has a head full of ideas that are drivin’ her insane. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


“Don’t trust her, Pete.”

Anyway, Sandra threatens to tell Peter that Young Pete is hers, claiming Peter will leave Maggie since the baby is the only thing holding their marriage together. This is a film made in 1941 in which a boozy career woman has a child out of wedlock, so you can guess who wins.


“Dammit.”

The Great Lie is a terrific melodrama with great performances by all the leads. Bette Davis is lovely as the good girl with confidence issues. In the beginning of the film, Maggie’s idea of domestic bliss is a little too dull for Peter. He’s not ready to settle down. Brent plays Peter as a bit of a playboy, but overall, he’s a decent guy. When he finds out his marriage to Sandra isn’t legal, he offers to remarry her. Of course, he wants her to give up a gig to do it. You could call that dirty pool, but she wants him to give up his job to follow her around while she plays concerts too. It’s more like the two alpha personalities just don’t mesh. I like how he handles the news about Young Pete, too.


“I double dog dare ya!”

Davis and Brent are good together. She always said Brent was her favorite leading man and the two were close on and off the set. They had a passionate affair, but stayed friends even after it ended, making eleven films together.


“Race ya!”

Brent is more talented than he gets credit for because he makes it look easy. He excels at playing the cad with a heart of gold. Clark Gable does that too, but I’ve always preferred Brent. He’s smoother and doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. Keeping his thoughts and feelings closer to the vest makes him more mysterious and more appealing.


“It’s sweet of you to wait four years for me to commit, then watch me marry and impregnate someone else. Is supper ready?”

Mary Astor, as Sandra, is fantastic! She’s a demanding prima donna with genuine talent who wants everything done yesterday. She’s accustomed to getting her own way and is put out when anyone challenges her. She’s not evil though. Astor could easily have played this as a one note character, but she gives Sandra depth. Maybe the marriage wouldn’t have lasted, but not because Sandra doesn’t love Peter. When Sandra sees Maggie, Peter, and Young Pete living so happily together, she wonders if she’s made the right choice. The forties were not exactly the ‘have it all’ decade. Sandra has chosen a career and perhaps she has moments in hotel rooms in Sydney or Budapest when she regrets not having a family. The audience sees flashes of these thoughts as Sandra holds her baby.


“TA DA!”

The Great Lie is fleshed out by a cadre of veteran character actors. Lucile Watson, Jerome Cowen, Grant Mitchell, Russell Hicks, and the charismatic, Hattie McDaniel lend their enormous talents to the film. Warner Brother had an impressive well of talent to draw from and that’s obvious when watching any film they made, especially in the 1940s.


“You’re paying me scale?”

Edmund Goulding directed The Great Lie and two other Davis/Brent vehicles, Dark Victory and The Old Maid, along with a gang of other films, including the amazing, and completely different, Nightmare Alley and The Razor’s Edge. This is a low-key melodrama with sympathetic characters who act like normal, flawed human beings. There are some noble moments, but overall, the story, written by Lenore Coffee from Polan Banks’ novel, is realistic. Sure, everyone is rich and no one has to go to the bathroom, but it’s a movie. The film also looks and sounds great thanks to Orry-Kelly’s gowns and Max Steiner’s music.

I was thinking this plot could have taken an entirely different path. What if Maggie brought Sandra out to Arizona to steal her baby, kill her, and bury her under a cactus? Then, Peter comes back to Maggie after fighting off piranha and anacondas and junk and finds out he has a baby. He’s thrilled until detectives come calling at the farm asking where Maggie was for nine months a while back. Oh, and why were she and Sandra going to Arizona anyway? When a thirsty man, stranded in the desert, cuts open a saguaro to survive, he notices a woman’s shoe poking out of the dry ground. After he makes it back to civilization, he tells the story to a doctor with ties to law enforcement. His friend, a local deputy with political aspirations, digs up he body, connects the dots, and bingo! Maggie’s doin’ hard time and Peter’s looking for wife #3.


“These new taffeta jail duds are stunning.”

I digress. The Great Lie is an entertaining story made by a talented director, a veteran cast of lead and character actors, and produced at the height of Warner Brothers’ powers.

This is a good one.

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It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)   2 comments

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Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) lives a drab, joyless life. Married to dull, but decent George (Edward Chapman), Rose keeps house for her husband, his two nearly grown daughters from a previous marriage, and their small son. She’s worn out from rationing, slum-living, and her uneventful life in the East End of London.

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“There’s another dead bishop on the landing!”

One Sunday, while preparing Sunday dinner, Rose finds escaped-convict Tommy Swann (John McCallum) hiding in her family’s air-raid shelter. Tommy was serving a prison sentence for a violent robbery committed years before on the day he was to have married Rose. He begs Rose to hide him until nightfall when he’ll make his escape. She tries to resist, but still loves him so she promises to keep him safely locked away in her bedroom for the day. As her husband and children go about their Sunday routines, Rose becomes more tense. She knows she should turn him in, but she loved him once. As the day progresses, Tommy tries to seduce Rose and his attention brings back thoughts she hadn’t entertained in years. Rose is torn. Should she give Tommy over to the police or chuck it all and go on the run with him?

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“Surprise!”

To complicate matters further, Rose’s stepdaughters, Vi (Susan Shaw) and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) are old enough to feel claustrophobic in her home and Vi, the elder of the two, can barely contain her resentment. As it gets closer to nightfall, Rose can’t take the pressure and starts picking fights with everyone in the family. The bickering reaches a fever pitch on a usually calm Sunday afternoon.

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“A noise? Nah. Must be your imagination.”

All the time Rose agonizes about having a convict under her bed, the law, led by Detective Sergeant Fothergill (Jack Warner) combs the streets for Tommy. Fothergill knows Tommy’s old criminal associates might have a line on where he’s holed up so he presses them for information. This adds to the overall feeling of pressure in the film. During Fothergill’s investigation we get to see the melting pot neighborhood where all this drama takes place. As the camera pans through the busy market, we hear a smattering of Yiddish among the English-speakers. It’s a working-class mix of different cultures with a lot of personality.

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Must be a special on eel pie.

It Always Rains on Sunday, listed as a crime drama or film noir, also resembles some French films of the 1930s. Films like Pépé le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier and Le Règle du Jeu (Rules of the Game), directed by Jean Renoir, show people on the fringes of society living in despair. These films in the subset of poetic realism often have a cynical point of view and at least one character resigned to his own sad fate. The characters hope for love or fortune or something grand, but are often beaten down by a series of misfortunes or a set of rules they didn’t make. Though not technically of that French genre, this film shares composer Georges Auric with many of the films of poetic realism. The style of It Always Rains on Sunday influenced many of the British kitchen-sink dramas of the 1950s and 60s like Look Back in Anger (1956) and A Taste of Honey (1961). These films departed from the usual upper-crust British films by showing working class people stuck in dead-end jobs and living in squalor and dealt more frankly with sex, race, and poverty than films had up to that point.

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Poor is Hell.

Michael Balcon produced It Always Rains on Sunday and many other films for Ealing Studios. He also produced for Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British, and MGM British Studios and had a huge influence on British cinema. Director, Robert Hamer helmed this and Kind Hearts and Coronets for the studio. Ealing specialized in comedies and some of the locations look like those in the comedies The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe filmed It Always Rains on Sunday along with The Great Gatsby (1974), Rollerball (1975), and about eighty other films while collecting a basket full of Academy Award and BAFTA nominations and wins.

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Such a pretty shot.

Fleshing out the story are some terrific British character actors. Hermione Baddeley, Alfie Bass, Sydney Tafler, and Nigel Stock all play the kind of small parts that make any film more realistic.

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“It was a wombat, I tell ya!”

Watch It Always Rains on Sunday for the slice-of-life drama, the dingy, authentic atmosphere, and for the marvelous performance by Googie Withers. In the time it takes to make a Sunday roast, Withers unravels internally without going all Mystic River Sean Penn on us. She shows us just enough. It’s a restrained and artful take on what could easily have been melodrama. Withers also has great chemistry with John McCallum, who she later married so you know the steam is real. If you’re in the mood for a little gem of a film that’s a little bit noir and a little bit day-in-the-life, check out It Always Rains on Sunday.

Notes: Googie Withers and John McCallum were married for 62 years!

Googie means Little Pigeon and was a nickname her nanny gave the actress as a child.

5 Desert Island Movies #NationalClassicMovieDay   12 comments

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Some questions are hard.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me what my favorite films are.  My favorite films?  Do you mean my favorite films with large, radioactive insects?  My favorite films about the mob?  My favorite westerns?  War movies?  Heist films?  Films where the main character paints with his girlfriend’s blood?  That’s the thing.  I like a lot of films and quite honestly, my favorites change from day to day.  Anyway, I saw Jay from thirtyhertzrumble.com posting his top 5 and I thought I’d give it a shot.  The author of the Classic Film and TV Café, a blog about classic film and TV (no kidding), came up with the idea for this blogathon, but I found out about it too late so I’m posting my favorites anyway and attempting to give him credit.  Here goes!

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THE WOMEN (1939)

I’m not sure why, but I love fashion shows in movies.  HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE has a fun one too.  Great stuff.  I’m not even a clothes person.  I am not the woman with 200 pairs of shoes or an outfit for every occasion…at all.  It doesn’t matter.  The wacky over-the-top couture fits the ‘I can get my nails done daily because the hardest work I do all week is hail a cab’ lifestyle.

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So practical.

The clever and often overlapping dialogue written by Clare Booth Luce, Anita Loos, Jane Murfin, David Ogden Stewart, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald makes fun of the wealthy consumers in this film while still allowing us to like them.  I’m not sure if it would pass the Bechdel test because these women talk about men a lot.  They also talk about themselves and their hopes for family and love.  Not all ambition hangs out in the boardroom, after all.  The women in THE WOMEN talk about things that still come up today.  I’m your wife and the mother of your children, but I still have to look like a model and greet you every day with a negligee on and a soufflé in the oven.  I also have to be a good sport about it and look the other way when you pinch the cigarette girl.  Welcome to 2016, 1939.  THE WOMEN is a smart film that holds up.

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A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)

My teenager adores this film and the two of us sit on the couch and laugh like fools throughout the entire movie.  If it’s on in the morning, she will get up.  Let me repeat that.  SHE WILL GET UP.  Remember, she’s 18.  I love this film.  This is another movie with a ton of stuff going on.  The asides and in jokes become clearer after each viewing and the physical humor is some of the best in film.  The Marx brothers work so well together.  The choreography and timing in the scenes in the ship’s stateroom and the hotel in New York are as complex as any dance number Fred Astaire dreamed up and the sarcastic put downs still crack me up.  It’s worth seeing just for “Take Me out to the Ballgame” in the orchestra pit.  Major smiles.

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“Peanuts!”

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THE STRANGER (1946)

I’ve read that Welles didn’t care for this one, but he was wrong.  There, I said it. First of all, it looks fabulous.

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A gym has never looked so good.

Those shadows and chiaroscuro get me all hot and bothered.  Also, Nazis.  I love Nazis in films of the 1940s.  It’s all black and white.  There’s none of this police action/Vietnam/should we really be there crap.  They’re Nazis.  They’re bad.  End of story.  I also love films about the seedy underbellies of otherwise lovely places.  SHADOW OF A DOUBT, BLUE VELVET, even THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and ROPE have that ‘Come over for a cup of tea, Aunt Clara.  I’ll move the body out of the spare room.’ feel to them.  Edward G. Robinson has a lot of fun with this one.  Robinson takes his time ruminating over Welles and his possible ties to the death camps and insinuates himself into his life until it all goes pear-shaped for the murderer.  Just terrific.  Orson Welles makes a great bad guy too.  I think Loretta Young is a bit shrill in THE STRANGER, but she unravels nicely.

Jaws-5

JAWS (1975)

While JAWS started the whole summer blockbuster thing, it wasn’t the first creature feature.  Universal had THE WOLF MAN and DRACULA and the 1950s showed us what radiation could do to desert ants and crickets.  In Japan, Godzilla and his cohorts/enemies (depending on which film you’re watching) destroyed and saved Tokyo countless times.  Sometimes, the scientists found a creature in the ice.  THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and THE DEADLY MANTIS defrosted the terrible beings and hurled them at an unsuspecting public.  THEM! gave us the prototype for the modern creature movies and it’s wonderfully done.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Spielberg was a big THEM! fan.  I digress.  I love JAWS.  There’s something about it that makes me so happy.  The soulless leviathan threatens the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Amity Island and Quint, Hooper, and Brody band together to kill the beast and save the day.  Here’s another black and white film.  The shark eats kids and dogs.  He’s bad.  He’s the Nazi of the sea and our heroes are the allied troops tasked with taking him out.  What separates JAWS from many of the other nature vs. man films are the characters and the writing.  We get to know these guys and we’re worried about them.  We want Brody to get home to his wife and kids.  We want Quint to get his Napolean Brandy.  We also want Quint to run him into the shallows so Hooper doesn’t have to get into that damned shark cage.

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I got no spit either.

Writers, Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, and the uncredited John Milius fleshed out these men so we’d give a damn about them.  They even wrote in the island as a character.  There’s so much going on in this film that I see new things each time I watch it.  That newness would come in handy on an island.

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SURPRISE!!!!!

For the last film, I had a hard time deciding between HIS GIRL FRIDAY and HARVEY.  They’re both funny and full of terrific performances, but HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) edged HARVEY out by a whisker.  I love the frenetic, overlapping Hawksian dialogue and the amazing cast of character actors elevate this film above madcap comedy status.  I would argue that HIS GIRL FRIDAY and CASABLANCA use character actors better than any films ever did.  Roscoe Karns, Regis Toomey, John Qualen, Billy Gilbert, Porter Hall and Gene Lockhart make this film.

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“Hi, babe.”

Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant are the stars, but without the reporters and the pols vying for a byline or political brownie points, it wouldn’t be the same.  The comments delivered from the sides of mouths in this film keep the viewer on his toes too.  You can’t sneeze while watching this for fear of missing 14 punchlines.  It’s whip smart and prescient and I’m out of breath at the end of each viewing.   This film is coming with me if I have to smuggle it in my sock.

 

These are my 5 favorites…this week.  Come back next week, and I’ll probably have a different list.

Jason-Sudeikis-devil-SNL

Dead of Night (1945)   2 comments

aaaaadead

Five stories connected by a linking narrative make up the anthology horror film, DEAD OF NIGHT.  Though it wasn’t the first portmanteau film ever made, it has influenced many filmmakers.  Martin Scorsese lists DEAD OF NIGHT as one of the scariest films ever made.  It was also one of the few horror films made in Britain during the era.  Horror movies were banned in Britain during the war.  Produced by Michael Balcon for Ealing Studios, DEAD OF NIGHT boasts an A-list cast of British actors, directors, and writers.

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Spurred on by the dreams of Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), an architect who’s come to design an addition, a group of people in an English country house discuss their dreams and what they mean.  At first skeptical, the people, with the exception of Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk) begin to believe their dreams are telling them something.

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“Doctor, I dreamed I was on a train passing through a tunnel.”
“I’ll need to see you three times a week.”

Basil Dearden (VICTIM) directed the first story, Hearse Driver along with the tale that links all the others.  Dearden is one of my favorite British directors.  If you haven’t seen VICTIM, SAPPHIRE or ALL NIGHT LONG, run out and do so right now.  Anyway, in HEARSE DRIVER, Hugh Grainger (ANTHONY BAIRD), a race car driver, wrecks his car in a race and goes to the hospital.  As he recovers, he dreams he sees a hearse driver in a horse drawn carriage beckoning him.  After his release, he sees the same driver, now a bus conductor, say the same words from his dream, “Just room for one inside, sir.”  Grainger doesn’t take the bus.  Was that a good decision?  That would be telling.

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“Just room for one inside, sir.”

Christmas Party stars the endlessly appealing Sally Ann Howes as Sally O’Hara.  Sally attends a party full of children, but meets a little boy who wasn’t invited, because he’d been dead a hundred years.  Alberto Cavalcanti directed the second segment.  It’s chilling and also sweet.

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“You’re dead?  How about a nice cup of tea?”

Googie Withers and Ralph Michael star in the next piece, Haunted Mirror, as Joan and Peter Cortland, a newly married couple.  Joan tells the group that shortly before their wedding, she bought her intended an ornate mirror at an antiques shop.  Soon after hanging the mirror, Peter sees things when he looks into it that aren’t actually there.  He seems to be getting a bit cranky, too.  Jane does a bit of research and finds that the original owner of the mirror was not a wonderful guy and he, well, sort of killed his wife.  Is Peter seeing things through the eyes of a killer?

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Do you hear or fear or do I smash the mirror?

In the comedy, Golfing Story, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne play best friends who love golf.  At their favorite golf club, they meet a woman, played by Peggy Bryan.  Both men fall for Peggy and decide to play eighteen holes for her.  It’s not as nasty as it sounds.  The vignette is played as a very British comedy and Peggy has a say.  Basil’s character wins and Naunton decides to end it all.  Later, he returns as a ghost.  Radford and Wayne gained fame as cricket fans in THE LADY VANISHES and acted together in several films after that.  This segment acts as the comic relief.  It’s light and silly.

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“I say!”

The fifth part of the film, Ventriloquist’s Dummy,  is the one most people remember.  Michael Redgrave plays Maxwell Frere, a ventriloquist with an unruly dummy.  The twosome are successful and perform at the swankiest clubs, but something is amiss.  Hugo begins to miss cues and refuses to sing songs in the script.  Who’s Hugo?  Oh, he’s the dummy. Yup.  DEAD OF NIGHT is the original dummy-is-taking-over-and-no-one’s-sure-who’s-in-charge film and it’s a good one.  Michael Redgrave looks like he’s really ventriloquizing.  Redgrave is good anyway, but in this he’s mesmerizing.  He appears for a short time, but makes a big impact.

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“What have you done to Mortimer?”

DEAD OF NIGHT is an entertaining and well made film.  This is a film Criterion needs to add to its arsenal.

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Great party, kids!

haunty

 

 

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)   1 comment

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“Everything good dies here, even the stars.”
-Paul “Cheery” Holland (Tom Conway)

Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), a Canadian nurse, takes a position caring for the wife of a wealthy plantation owner in the West Indies.  The land owner, Paul Holland (Tom Conway), a dark, brooding soul, wants the best for his wife.  He feels guilty because he wouldn’t let her leave him for his stepbrother, Wesley Rand (James Ellison) and now she’s kind of out of it.  Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon) walks around the island in a trance wearing a diaphanous white gown.  It seems she came down with a fever which settled in her spinal column and turned her into a zombie.  Sounds logical.

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“Take a left at the hanging goat.”

Since Jessica has no mobility problems, I wonder if the spinal column she’s using is a spare she keeps around for emergencies.  Anyway, Betsy adapts quickly and soon she’s solving everyone’s problems and falling in love with the host.

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“This guy’s as suave as Dean Stockwell.”

Adapted by Curtis Siodmak and Ardel Wray from Inez Wallace’s story and Charlotte Brontë’s book, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE watches like JANE EYRE GOES TO THE TROPICS, but with sugar cane instead of fox hunts.  Dee plays the altruistic martyr, Jane Eyre.  Conway is the dashing, yet damaged Rochester, and Gordon plays the unbalanced Mrs. Rochester.  In this case, Jessica/Mrs. Rochester goes mad, not by excess, but by the influence of voodoo and guilt.

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You know, zombie spinal fever affects three out of five unfaithful wives.

Edith Barrett, who plays Paul and Wesley’s mother, Mrs. Rand in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, is the faithful servant, Mrs. Fairfax.  In a cool movie twist, Barrett plays Mrs. Fairfax for real in Robert Stevenson’s JANE EYRE (also 1943) with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.  I love this kind of stuff.

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“Heathcliff!”
“No, no, you fool!  Wrong movie!”

Director, Jacques Tourneur and producer Val Lewton do atmosphere like few others and the film abounds with moody staircases, rocky beaches, and billowy curtains.  Frenzied bongo-heavy religious ceremonies and scary walks through the cane fields add a nifty exotic tone and the acting is wonderful.  The leads work well together and Dee and Conway have a lovely romantic rapport.  The ensemble is good too.  Sir Lancelot has a nice part as a local calypso singer.  Veteran character actor James Bell plays Jessica’s doctor and Theresa Harris is Alma, the Holland family’s maid.  Harris has a nice part in this film.  She plays a servant, but not a cartoony or brainless one.  Alma speaks with an authentic, but not exaggerated accent and is a sensible person.  For a black actress in the 1940s, that’s a coup.  It may be unusual for movies of the 1940s, but it’s not for Lewton’s films.  Watch THE LEOPARD MAN or CAT PEOPLE and you’ll see non-white actors and women playing intelligent, multi-layered parts.  It’s refreshing.

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Alma

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE is classified as a horror film, but it’s more of a drama/thriller with zombies added for spice.  I like it.  A talented team of people both in front of and behind the camera make it a fun watch and the setting looks lovely in black and white.  It flies by, too.  The film packs a lot into its spare sixty-nine minutes.  Also, Tom Conway.  I love Tom Conway.  He’s so dashing, it hurts.

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This is the damnedest game of jacks.

 

 

 

 

The Seventh Victim (1943)   Leave a comment

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Kim Hunter, in her film debut, stars as Mary Gibson, a teenage schoolgirl who leaves her sheltered world to travel to New York City’s Greenwich Village to look for her missing older sister. After reporting the disappearance of her sister, Jacqueline to the Missing Person’s Bureau, Mary searches the city for her as well.

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“It’s our logo. We put it on our new bath soap, Beelzebubbles.”

Her worries increase when Mary finds that Jacqueline gave away her successful business to a former employee, Natalie Cortez (Evelyn Brent) and that she has a noose set up in her apartment. Spooky.

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I don’t know art, but I know what I like.

Into this mystery arrive a helpful poet, Jason (Erford Gage), a solicitous attorney, Gregory Ward (Hugh Beaumont), and Dr. Louis Judd, played by the often slimy/always good, Tom Conway. Since it is a mystery, I won’t divulge too many crucial details.

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Director Mark Robson (Bedlam, Earthquake) keeps us guessing throughout the story. Where is Jacqueline Gibson? Why don’t Jacqueline’s pals in the cult want Mary to find her? Why does Tom Conway sound evil even when he’s saying good things?

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Good or evil, I still look dashing.

Kim Hunter and her cast mates, including Isabel Jewell and Jean Brooks, are convincing and the taut seventy-one-minute story by Charles O’Neal and DeWitt Bodeen pulls you in. Produced by Val Lewton at RKO a year after the Jacques Tourneur classic, Cat People, The Seventh Victim has that same gorgeous look. Full of shadows and dark alleys, the cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca is as much a part of the film as the script.

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See? It’s a beautiful film.

Musuraca also served as director of photography on Cat People, The Spiral Staircase, and Out of the Past. Roy Webb, who composed the soundtracks for The Leopard Man and I Walked with a Zombie did the music for this film and it creates a wonderful atmosphere of doom punctuated with splashes of suspense.

The Seventh Victim, along with eight other Lewton-produced films and Shadows in the Dark, a documentary on the gifted producer, are together in a fabulous box set. It’s worth a look.

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Quartet (1948)   Leave a comment

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The anthology film began as early as the 1920s in Germany and achieved a modicum of fame during the 1940s and 1950s. TALES OF MANHATTAN (1942) dramatizes the adventures of several people who come in contact with a certain tuxedo jacket. DEAD OF NIGHT (1945), a British horror anthology, involves intersecting stories of people who meet at an English country house. Many consider DEAD OF NIGHT the inspiration for the Amicus Studios portmanteau horror films of the 1960s and 1970s. FULL HOUSE features five stories written by O. Henry and introduced by John Steinbeck. Beginning with DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS in 1965, Amicus Productions made several anthology horror films including TORTURE GARDEN, ASYLUM, and VAULT OF HORROR. Neil Simon made the anthology comedies PLAZA SUITE (1971) and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978). In 1995, Quentin Tarantino and three other directors made FOUR ROOMS which center on a hotel on New Year’s Eve. V/H/S (2012), its sequels, and THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012) use the anthology format for their horror-filled tales as well. Even this film, QUARTET, was followed in 1950 by TRIO, a set of three Maugham tales also introduced by the author.

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Top: Maugham from QUARTET.
Bottom: Steinbeck from FULL HOUSE.

Introduced by W. Somerset Maugham, QUARTET tells four of the author’s stories. All four are set primarily in Britain, but cover a variety of subjects. The first, THE FACTS OF LIFE stars Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford, and Mai Zetterling in the story of a college student who travels to Monte Carlo for a tennis tournament and forgets all the advice his stuffy father gives him. Against Dad’s wishes, he gambles, lends money, and gets involved with a woman. We’re curious how these missteps will affect the young man. Will he fall prey to his vices or emerge from his adventures unscathed?

monte carlo

“I’ll stay away from women tomorrow, ok Dad?”

THE ALIEN CORN stars Dirk Bogarde as a young man from a wealthy family who dreams of becoming a concert pianist. He has just graduated from Oxford, so naturally his family has plans for him. Bogarde surprises them and the girl who loves him (Honor Blackman) when he mentions his musical desires, but they work out a bargain. Bogarde will study the piano in a French garret for two years. At the end of that time, he will play before a professional pianist. If that pianist thinks he shows promise, Bogarde will continue with his dream. If not, he will begin a career in law or politics as his family wishes. Bogarde does a wonderful job of expressing his passion for music. We watch him practice and dream and we root for him. As with the rest of the stories in this group, THE ALIEN CORN has a solid cast and an unexpected ending.

bogarde blackman

“Carry on, Pussy.”

In the third segment, THE KITE, George Cole plays Herbert Sunbury, a man with an unusual hobby. He loves kites. He and his parents, Hermione Baddeley and Mervyn Johns spend every Saturday afternoon at the park flying kites and many hours the rest of the week designing a special kite of their own. When he meets a girl who thinks his kite-flying is immature and silly, George must decide where his priorities lie. This story surprised me. I thought it might be the comic relief segment of the film, but it was a lot deeper than I originally thought. The cast of veteran character actors including Bernard Lee elevated what could have been an average story to something more.

kite

Go fly a kite.

Lastly, THE COLONEL’S LADY, directed by Ken Annakin tells the story of a dutiful wife (Nora Swinburne) who writes a book. The romantic and sensual tale of a doomed love affair is a surprise hit and booksellers can’t keep it on the shelves. Her stuffy, self-important husband (Cecil Parker) can’t be bothered to read it. He’s too busy drinking at his club and nuzzling his mistress to pay attention to his wife until people begin to theorize that the love story may be her own. Now the colonel takes notice. This last story shows the most restraint and Nora Swinburne does a lovely job as the ignored wife. As with all four stories, the ending might surprise you.

colonel

“My wife has thoughts of her own?”

QUARTET boasts a wonderful cast of British character actors and short stories that hold your interest.  Maugham has a way with angst as do the players.  I’m a big fan of anthology films and this is a good one.

 

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