Showing posts with label 1940's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1940's. Show all posts

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Spooky Noir Watch: The Seventh Victim (1943)




Watched:  11/18/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:   Mark Robson


A Val Lewton horror film - that means a lot of atmosphere, mystery, wild plotting and not a lot of blood or outright frights - The Seventh Victim (1943) is a study in building a sense of dread and doom.  It's a strange, strange film, following one lead character for much of the film before putting her in a corner and finding other characters more interesting to watch.  

The film marks the movie debut of Kim Hunter*, who plays a private school girl who learns her bills aren't being paid by her sister - and her sister seems to have disappeared.  She hits the big city and learns her sister has sold the cosmetics company she owned, her shrink hasn't seen her in a bit, and she was romantically hooked up with Ward Cleaver (see a young Hugh Beaumont as a sort of romantic character!).  

Seems her sister fell in with a bunch of devil worshippers, and that's no gone great.  In fact, when paired with a private eye who decides to do the work pro bono, he gets bumped off.  At some point, we find the sister, and she's on a path that none of the men around her quite understand as they try to save her.  

But, I'm selling the film short.  Being a Lewton produced film, it's all about ideas and what you can't see in the shadows.  There's a Lynchian dream-like quality to portions, and the horror of what you realize must be happening (from people getting away with murder right in front of you) to rooms full of people trying to talk you into suicide that's far weirder than any makeup or jump scares.  Really, the closest thing I can think of in a "we're gonna watch someone end badly" closest to this film was Fire Walk With Me.  

Included as a Noir Alley entry - it works.  The film's aesthetics rely on expressionism, deep shadow, etc...  There's certainly a doomed quality and an underworld scratching at the edges of polite society.  In this case, an underworld that's what polite society does after 8:00 PM.  



*Kim Hunter is much beloved at The Signal Watch as the actor who (a) appeared as Zira in some Planet of the Apes films, and (b) as Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.  




Monday, October 12, 2020

PODCAST: "The Wolfman" (1941) and "Curse of the Werewolf" (1961) - Universal/ Hammer Halloween 2020 w/ SimonUK and Ryan



 
Watched:  Wolf Man 09/26/2020  Curse of 09/27/2020
Format:  BluRay/ Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  Unknown/ Second
Decade:  1940's/ 1960's
Director:  George Waggner / Terence Fisher




Things get hairy as SimonUK and Ryan take a look at two movies where a fellow is really not feeling himself. We look at the classic Universal take on werewolves and the lesser known entry from Hammer (Spanish werewolves!), which are wildly different in some ways, but really agree on the "sorry, you're doomed" angle when it comes to curses that turn one into a ravening beast who still politely wears trousers. 

Music:
Wolf Man Main Theme - Charles Previn
Curse of the Werewolf Theme - Benjamin Frankel
 



Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Disney Attempt-at-Spooky Watch: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)


 

Watched:  10/04/2020
Format: Disney+
Viewing:  I'm calling it a first for the whole movie
Decade:  1940's
Director:  James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kenney

So, we were hunting around for something spooky to watch on Disney+, and I saw they had The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949).  I'd never seen the movie in its entirety.  If I ever saw the Wind in the Willows bit that makes up the first half, I don't recall it at all.   

However, the Ichabod Crane part based on Washington Irving's Sleepy Hollow is for good reasons, a Halloween staple.  And, I've seen it a dozen times or so before.  

Taken as a whole, this movie is very weird and unnecessary.  It's clearly two stories that have nothing to do with each other slapped together with a wildly awkward framing device of a library of real books and voice over by, first, Basil Rathbone and then Bing Crosby, which tells me something about how much the left hand and right were talking to each other as this came together.  

As a kid, my first real exposure to Mr. Toad was via the Disney World attraction, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, which was - I ain't gonna lie - super f'ing fun. My memory was that the ride was chaotic and goofy as hell.  And I understood it was based on a fancy toad who got his hands on a car.  

Well, the movie version is... kind of annoying.  I don't really have another word for it.  Unlike most Disney, there's no character development, and Toad just seems like a problem for everyone around him.  Like, that one friend who is now on drugs and you're all supposed to make sure he doesn't harm themself or anyone else.  The animation is pretty good, and it gave us the weasels that pop up in Roger Rabbit, but...  yeah.  This is the rare Disney animation that I just have no affection for - but weirdly like the ride.

And Ichabod itself is also strangely... boring.  And there's no one to actually like.  But, when you do get to the actual Sleepy Hollow scene, it's amazing work.  But 5 minutes or so is not enough to carry a whole movie.

What I guess is that Walt, post-WWII, was just not all that into the animation studio stuff anymore, and you can feel his hand off the wheel in the storytelling department - something that would plague them til Little Mermaid.  It's not horrible stuff, but it feels like someone let the animators just animate whatever they felt like rather than working toward a cohesive story, for two whole stories.  

But, again, that Headless Horseman.


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Noir Watch: They Won't Believe Me (1947)



Watched:  10/02/2020
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Irving Pichel

An interesting noir with a series of curious twists and a solid cast.  Presented on TCM's Noir Alley, host Eddie Muller brought in author Christina Lane who recently released a book on the film's producer Joan Harrison, Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock (which would make a welcome Christmas gift for us at Signal Watch HQ).  Harrison is worth discussing for her path into the film business, sensibility she brought to Hitchcock's story-telling, and... frankly, some of the other movies she's produced - including Phantom Lady* and Ride the Pink Horse - are fantastic and owe a lot of their story strength and sensibility to Harrison.

They Won't Believe Me (1947) is framed with a murder trial. Young is the defendant, and he's telling his tale/ spilling his guts from the witness stand, trying to explain what really happened, and which looks, honestly, really, really bad for him.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Noir Watch: Danger Signal (1945)


 

Watched:  09/19/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Robert Florey

Noir Alley is back, and I was delighted to see another movie by Austin hometown-boy-made-good, Zachary Scott.  Danger Signal (1945) is a WWII-era potboiler that's of the noir flavor that has kind of become a thing in Lifetime Channel thrillers.  Scott plays a ne'er-do-well who escapes the murder of a woman for whom he's managed to somehow plant a suicide note.  

He winds up in an idyllic California town where he boards with a middle-aged woman and her stenographer daughter, played by Faye Emerson.  He woos and wins Emerson, who doesn't notice the strapping, handsome, baritone-voiced scientist who keeps bringing her work may have the hots for her.  Instead, she slips for Scott's charm.  That is until her 17 year old sister comes home and Scott pivots his interest to her.  

Emerson has a friend who is a psychologist/ scientist who gets involved (Rosemary DeCamp), and more or less tears Scott apart as the charming sociopath he actually knows he is.  It's kinda cool.  I was kinda there for Dr. Silla.  

ANYWAY, Faye Emerson steals a vial of @#$%ing botulism from her hunky scientist friend and plans to kill Scott because, basically, he's a big shit bag and shouldn't get to keep being a shit bag who will hurt her sister.

It's a weird movie that seems like they just kept forgetting parts of the movie.  Scott has a limp he fakes as a war wound that they just don't mention.  A gun shows up, but is never really used.  And the end is - weird.  Like, totally unsatisfying.  Which Muller discussed in the backmatter of the episode.

Anyway - Zach Scott is terrific, Emerson is pretty good, and I felt like the overall direction by Robert Florey was solid and built tension despite the narrative bumps.  Special note for Mona Freeman who does a remarkable heel-turn in the back third of the film, and a young Dick Erdman playing "Bunkie", who is everyone's personal disappointment.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

PODCAST: "Fantasia" (1940) and "Fantasia 2000" (1999) - a Disney History PodCast w/ NathanC and Ryan

 


Watched:  Fantasia 09/08 and Fantasia 2000 09/10/20
Format:  Disney +
Viewing:  Unknown/ Fourth
Decade:  1940's and 1990's
Director:  multiple on each


More places to listen 

When does animation become become more than popular entertainment? What are the boundaries of art that separate Beethoven and cartoon alligators? What is high-brow entertainment and funny business for the whole family? Walt Disney had a vision to elevate the form of animation and create an entirely new experience. Today, we know the result as "Fantasia", which returned in 1999 with a sequel of sorts in "Fantasia 2000". NathanC and Ryan return to talk all about a pair of Disney classics! 

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - J.S. Bach
Ave Maria - Franz Schubert

Nathan's Fantasia buddies:


Ryan's Fantasia (and assorted Disney) pals:




Disney History Playlist:



Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Ann Miller/ Lucille Ball Watch: Too Many Girls (1940)




Watched:  09/08/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  George Abbott

I'd forgotten this was living on my DVR and I needed something to watch on the elliptical - and it starred Lucille Ball.

Too Many Girls (1940) is a particular breed of Hollywood musical that was about big dance numbers loosely tied together with characters working through a paper-thin plot, and really an excuse to get a whole bunch of characters on screen at one time for song and dance numbers.  The better ones are the ones choreographed by Busby Berkeley, and then there's stuff like this with dancers sort of just running around a lot.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Noir Watch: The Unfaithful (1947)


 

Watched:  I dunno.  A couple of months ago.
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director: Vincent Sherman

I just totally forgot to write this one up and realized that today whilst thinking about Zachary Scott.  As you do.

The Unfaithful (1947) is essentially a domestic version of The Letter, the extraordinary William Wyler film starring Bette Davis.  This version transplants the action from rubber farms in the Maylay Peninsula to suburban Los Angeles just after WWII and puts Ann Sheridan in the lead.  None of that is a problem, and were The Letter not such a bombshell of a movie, The Unfaithful would shine brighter.  

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Watch Party Watch: The Red House (1947)



Watched:  09/02/2020
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:   Delmer Daves

In a lot of ways, I'd categorize The Red House as "American Gothic".  The story has DNA in Jane Eyre and other books about recluses living with a mystery. 

The film stars Edward G. Robinson as a a farmer who keeps mostly to himself (he cohabitates with a niece and his sister, played by Judith Anderson of Rebecca fame).   His niece brings a classmate over to see if he can work the farm to assist Robinson, who is aging and can't do what he used to, especially as he has an artificial leg.  The teen is warned to stay away from some woods near the house, and not cut through them for an obvious shortcut.

In general - I liked the film.  It's got a sort of twisty mystery, and at least the female heroine was likable (jury is out on the male lead).  Robinson and Anderson are terrific, and Rory Calhoun is a lot of fun as a dick-swinging country boy after the male lead's girl (played by chanteuse Julie London, who seems like 10x too much woman for the male lead). 

Glad Jenifer chose it because I might have easily missed this one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Noir Watch: Journey Into Fear (1943)



Watched:  08/25/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Norman Foster

Show on TCM as part of "Summer Under the Stars", Journey Into Fear (1943) was pitched as a Dolores Del Rio movie, and as I'd never seen a Dolores Del Rio movie and just knew who she was via a general awareness of classic film and talent. 

Well, first, Dolores Del Rio was a delight, and I look forward to watching her in more movies.  But I was also deeply curious as the film had Agnes Moorehead, my fave Joseph Cotten, and Orson Welles.  And if you're like "hey, that sounds like a Mercury Theatre production..." you are not wrong!

Honestly - this movie was terrific and I'd watch it again in a heartbeat.  It's a bit before the noir movement, but it features an everyman getting in way over his head by circumstance (but not obsession, which leaves me on the fence for calling it 100% noir).  There is a foxy dame (Del Rio) who is not his wholesome and unhelpful wife, shady characters abound, and the aesthetic kind of hollers noir. 

Cotten plays a munitions engineer on loan from the US to Turkey.  The Nazis figure if they bump him off, it sets the Turks back months or a year in Naval military advances.  And all Cotten wants to do is stay in the hotel with his wife - when he's whisked away by a cloying company man.  At a nightclub he's nearly missed as the target of an assassination attempt.  Welles, playing a bombastic head of the Turkish security forces makes moves to get him out of the city to meet up with his wife later. 

The boat which Cotten takes is full of folks who don't travel luxury class or in refined circles - and it's pretty great. 

There are a lot of really clever bits and touches that give the film character and texture.  Cotten himself wrote the screenplay, and he has a real knack for it.  The ending isn't even all that tidy, and we see his character go through a chance and arc.  But other characters are so well imagined (the businessman who became a Socialist to annoy his overbearing wife is brilliant), it's just a delight to watch.

I'd honestly love to watch it with an audience as there's plenty for classic film fans to chew on.

As a wartime movie, it's interesting none of these players served, and you get a bit of that "we're all on the same side here" stuff that makes wartime movies in non-American locales so interesting.  Before 42 and after 45, its tough to say that characters like Welles' Turkish character would be ancillary heroes of the film.  We'd return to making those characters untrustworthy and antagonistic.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Ann Miller Watch: Hit the Deck (1955) and Reveille with Beverly (1943) and The Great American Pastime (1956)




shut the hell up, Tom Ewell

Watched: 08/8 (HtD), 08/9 (RwB), 8/11 (GAP)
Format:  Ann Miller Day of TCM
Viewing:  First for all 3
Decade:  1950's, 1940's


Look, I've been clear about the whole Ann Miller thing, and I'm not going to apologize for it.

It's August, and therefore "Summer Under the Stars" time on TCM, which means 24 hours of movies from one actor each day all month.  And this last week featured Ann Miller day, and here we all are.

Three very different movies.

Hit the Deck (1955) is pretty clearly a "I like Guys and Dolls" and "wow, was On the Town a decent movie" mash-up.  I dunno.  It was fine.  Little Debbie Reynolds is cute as a button.  Ann Miller got a couple of numbers.  It's okay.  It has a lot of deeply sexist set-up that kind of unravels in a pleasant way and has a great few numbers by the women in the movie.  And it's always great to see Russ Tamblyn.  And I need to look into this Kay Armen.  She was terrific.

Reveille with Beverly (1943) is war-time spirit-boosting propaganda and was one of the movies that was essentially an excuse to do a musical variety show with everyone from Duke Ellington to Bob Crosby.  Ann Miller plays a feisty and insanely perky radio host.  The film, however, ends on a very strange pivot as they remind you, all the soldiers are going off to war - and it was this odd, incredibly sad transition, with Beverly still in her show costume watching them go.

The Great American Pastime (1956) is a post-war movie trying to recapture some of the magic of Seven-Year Itch and reminding me "I don't particularly care for Tom Ewell".   What could have been a Bad News Bears instead is kind of a sitcom dad who seems oblivious to the fact he's married to Anne Francis and that Anne Francis has decided Ann Miller is a sexual threat (she is not, which...  I mean).  Anyway - the movie felt really under-written and I kind of hated the way they wrote Tom Ewell's son.  Seemed like a dopey ingrate.


But Ann Miller looked great in all of these movies.  So.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Happy 80th Birthday, Bugs Bunny!

in which I argue this is a hero of the people


Because parents are now largely concerned their children will experience any joy that doesn't have bumpers on it,* I don't think kids really know about Bugs Bunny.  Which is a shame.

Being a 1980's latchkey kid who had a Zenith for a babysitter, like most of my generation, I had WB cartoons blasted at me day and night for my entire youth.  From my earliest memories straight through college, Looney Tunes were not just a staple, but a constant.  In a way, the cheap programming of a thousand UHF channels and basic cable options may be the truest common denominator for 2-3 decades of Americans.  All of us know "Rabbit Season/ Duck Season".  We all know the weird, hilarious poetic tragedy of Michigan J. Frog and those who find him.  We all know the best thing to do when pursued is to dress as a coquettish young blonde and flirt with our pursuer.

It's printed on our DNA.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Noirish Melodrama Watch: The Sign of the Ram (1948)



Watched:  07/20/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  John Sturges

A sort of gothic noir, The Sign of the Ram (1948) is a peculiar film.  Set in a sprawling English countryside home, a seemingly happy family welcomes a new secretary into the fold (Phyllis Thaxter).  She's to be the aid, in particular, to the beautiful, young, wheelchair bound stepmother to the family. 

The film is a showcase for actress Susan Peters who had screen success until a hunting accident left her in a wheelchair.  She's actually fantastic in the role, which is that of the antagonist.  This is, apparently, the screenplay she finally accepted after being asked to play a chipper Pollyanna overcoming adversity in offer after offer.  I'll not play armchair psychologist, but it's a hell of a heel turn for Peters to take on - but she nails it, showing tremendous range in the single role (young actors, take note: you can play all sorts of things with an angry character and none of them have to read "angry"). 

That said, there's something both entirely believable about the tension at the center of the film - a family completely dominated by the iron willed matriarch who plays everyone like puppets without them ever noticing it - and a sense of melodrama that skews a bit too much toward telegraphing where the film is headed. 

It's well shot, Peters and Thaxter are great, but I can't say it was exactly my cup of tea.  It was clearly made in the shadow of stuff like Rebecca, but never quite hits those notes.  But for a solid melodrama, you could do worse.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Ann Miller Watch: On the Town (1949)



Watched:  07/05/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1940's
Director(s):  Stanley DonenGene Kelly


Look, I'm not *proud* of the whole Ann Miller thing, but there it is.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Noir Watch: The Lady From Shanghai (1947)



Watched:  06/29/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  third
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Orson Welles

The backstory to the making of The Lady From Shanghai (1947) is famous, gossipy Hollywood lore.  Hayworth starred alongside soon-to-be-ex husband and director, Orson Welles, transformed from the red-coiffed icon of Gilda into a platinum blonde and a femme fatale.

A bit like The Big Sleep, a lot of people talk about how this movie is confusing, but I didn't find it particularly so.  While I cop to the fact that The Lady from Shanghai isn't a pat story and that the plot wanders - it all holds together within each character's motivation, and I don't really get the complaints.  From Muller's shownotes, I'll give the credit for cohesive storytelling not to Welles, but to his editor Viola Lawrence, who took Welles' loose footage and worked with him to get it into some sort of story, and got it cut to a standard-length picture when Welles left the movie.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Noir Watch: The Woman in the Window (1944)



Watched:  06/10/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Fritz Lang

This film has a tremendous premise, a terrific cast, and is absolutely knee-capped by the Hayes Code in the final minutes.  I wouldn't say it's not worth watching, but if you're squinting at the movie and aware of the rules of the road for a movie made in 1944, and wondering "holy heck, how is *this* going to resolve?" - you may be on to something.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Noir Watch: Cornered (1945)



Watched:  06/04/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on BluRay
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Edward Dmytryk

There's a lot to like in Cornered (1945), categorized here as Film Noir, but it's early in the movement and won't fit some people's ideas of the category.  Still, a man driven half-mad by obsession ignores common sense in pursuit of his goals, his weaknesses clobber him repeatedly and near fatally, and there are possibly scheming women, even as he sets about solving a mystery.  He's not a professional detective, but former Canadian RAF pilot Gerard (a not Canadian-polite Dick Powell) is recovering at the end of the war and learns that the French girl he met and married while hiding out in a village after being downed, was rounded up and killed by a Nazi collaborator.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Noir Watch: Mildred Pierce (1945)



Watched:  05/16/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1940's
Director: Michael Curtiz


It's pointless for a schlub blogger like me to get into writing much about Mildred Pierce (1945) - it's one of the best known and most written about movies out there, still a favorite among even the most casual of classic film fans.  Anyway, there's no shortage of critical analysis out there about the film. 

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Noir Watch: Fallen Angel (1945)



Watched:  05/08/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Otto Preminger

This movie sort of felt like it was all over the place, or like parts of a few movies crammed together and held together by the twin powers of Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell.  Which is a shame, because Alice Faye, with whom I am not familiar, is good in this movie as well, but her plotline feels like it's sliced and diced til it leaves what looks like an interesting role as a sort of bystander on the sideline of her own story. 

Is it a Nightmare Alley look at carnival people and illusion?  Is it a Postman Always Rings Twice story of a girl stuck in a rut of her own making and wanting out, making a sap of a guy to do so?  It is a small town drama about spinsters and a travelling huckster?  It's got all of these elements, and you can see the lines where the stories are fused, but it does stick together.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Anniversary Watch: Hiis Girl Friday (1940)

this poster does absolutely nothing to convey what this movie is about


Watched:  04/28/2020
Format:  Criterion BluRay
Viewing:  Unknown - fourth or fifth?
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Howard Hawks

First - I'm adding the director of a film to my list of stats at the top not because I particularly adhere to the auteur theory of cinema (we can talk more about that in depth sometime), but because it's a somewhat interesting stat, and easier to decipher than who produced a film.  You can look up writers on your own.  I'll retroactively figure it out for all the movies I watched in 2020, but this is at least my second Howard Hawks movie this year, and I thought it would be interesting to spot trends in January 2021 when I do my numbers round-up.