HOLLYWOOD: LATE 30s, LATE 40s

QUOTE FOR THE WEEK

Tom Dardis, author of Some Time in the Sun:  I started paying attention to screen credits when I saw thousands of films while working as a theatre usher during my high school years.  It all started then and hasn’t stopped yet.”

The subtitle of Some Time in the Sun is “the Hollywood Years of Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Nathaniel West, Aldous Huxley, and James Agee.”  The book is rewarding and lots of fun for anyone interested in film.

Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

They Shall Have Music
Archie Mayo
1939

This is a simple and sentimental and melodramatic and most successful film.  The success of this story of a young violinist stems primarily from the excruciatingly expressive face of  young Gene Reynolds, along with the music of Heifetz (in surprisingly lengthy uninterrupted stretches).

The black and white photography and the art direction/set decoration are fine.  This film should have been silly and dull, and it’s marvelous.

The young Joel McCrea has a thankless role,but Andrea Leeds is her lovely self. .  The acting credits say that Alfred Newman is IN it.  And I was sure I spotted Margaret Hamilton in the crowd of women who block the police on the stairs, but her credits in Katz (The Film Encyclopedia) say no.

the great Tommy Kelly

I confess to never having heard of Gene Reynolds.  I watched this as a Tommy Kelly movie.  Kelly is just right in the unsympathetic part of a nice kid turned mean by bullying.

screenplay, Irma von Cube, John Howard Lawson
photography Gregg Toland
art direction, James Basevi
set decoration Julie Heron

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Mother Wore Tights
Walter Lang
1947

A pleasant if over-long musical.

This is my first memory of seeing Dan Dailey   —  except for hanging out with him at the Coconut Grove.  (We were at adjoining urinals during intermission at a Judy Garland performance there.)  He is classy here in his musical numbers.

photo Wikipedia Commons

So is a poised Betty Grable who in later years was too modest and too hard on herself as to her abilities.  She is obviously enjoying this motherly role.  Her complexion and hair are perfect.  And she WAS just that lovely  —  when I saw her at the concession stand at the Bruin Theatre in Westwood, buying candy for her two boys.

The score is not impressive.  Why was this film her biggest hit?

My original journal note:  Bob Arthur as the daughter’s suitor is perfect for the role.  He could have been a late-teen Tommy Kelly.

ANOTHER FILM LOSS

Screen writer giant Shinobu Hashimoto has died in Japan.  He wrote, among many others, the screenplays for Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Ikiru and Throne of Blood  (this last from Shakespeare’s Macbeth).  Giant, indeed.

NEXT Friday Post September 28
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

EARLY CAPRA

OSCAR’S PAST    –    WHEN THE ROAD WAS ROYAL

THREE-TIME ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS

 

Frank Capra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingrid Bergman
(Army Weekly photo)

Meryl Streep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flight
Frank Capra
1929

This is a silly romantic comedy/melodrama which Frank Capra did not make interesting or memorable, just watchable. 

All the aerial shots, which everyone loved then and everyone still loves, are always a bore to me (the cheekily edited ones in Top Gun of course excepted, along with the madly scored ones in Apocalypse Now).  In his book The Name Above the Title, in which Capra proves himself capable of savaging himself, he clearly likes this film of his.  And what does he write about almost entirely?  —  the aerial shots.

The expressive face of Lila Lee helps the film, especially in a scene with Jack Holt (SPOILER ALERT !) involving a dropped ring which she finally realizes he had meant to give her.  How much she conveys without dialogue reminded me of similar silent film moments.

Jack Holt is good.  Writer/actor Ralph Graves is an unimpressive performer.  He is uninteresting with the kind of sappy countenance and manner popular then.

SPOILER ALERT!  An example of lapse of taste and neglect of character:  Death forgotten, and followed by unfunny comedy:  The Graves character, after their plane crash, has just seen a member of his unit through death.  Making for one of the film’s countless clichés, the dying man is of course the guy who made Graves’ life miserable throughout the movie’s running time.  Survivor Graves is finally rescued by the Jack Holt character who, for the last reel, hasn’t spoken to him except to humiliate him.  And Graves, the plot’s untrusted flyer, flies the rescue plane back to home base.  Why?  Is Holt injured?

Anyway:  Graves has just been rescued from a dire predicament, just fought Nicaraguan rebels, just held the hand of a dying comrade and watched him die  —  and, to entertain himself, does loop-the-loops all the way back to the flying field, then flies over low several times to scare those on the field waiting for the plane to land.

This is followed by a supposedly comic vomiting scene.

Wasn’t anyone thinking?  What was genius Capra thinking?

We end with the Graves character training new recruits, imitating the disrespect that Holt showed earlier.  Moral, apparently satisfying and satisfied:  No one learns anything.

The scenes of the Nicaraguans fighting the marines look good.  Those scenes felt real.  (Capra writes in his book that Nicaragua was La Mesa.)

Frank Capra’s informative, delicious autobiography is called The Name Above the Title.  Macmillan, 1971.

COMING SOON to Rick’s Flicks:  “Best Books About Film.”

NEXT FRIDAY POST September 14

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

OSCAR BIZARROS — THE SHOW’S THE THING

Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

And now there’s to be a new Oscar category!  An award for non-achievement!!

I can’t open a desk drawer or reach for an attic shelf or look in a file without finding Oscar notes  — jottings I have made over many years as I have planned the world’s definitive article about the Academy Award problem, not so much the frequent problem of the Academy’s choices as the perennial problem of what is now called the Oscar Show.

The problem comes with the fact there IS a show.

For many years the presentation of the annual awards was just that  —  a presentation.  It took a lot of years for it to become a jumbled mess of song and dance hosted by someone who is hired to make fun of all the awards presented.

It is hard for me to believe now how breathlessly I used to await the Academy’s annual decisions.  And it is still impossible to dismiss an award that went to Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day Lewis, twice to Vivien Leigh, Bette Davis and Luise Rainer and three times to Meryl Streep.  The Academy appropriately presented Olivia de Havilland with a second statuette despite the fact that Susan Hayward had already announced who was coming to her victory party.  (Susan Hayward!  I ask you.)

Knowing now that I will never write that definitive article  —  given all the changes in award giving by the Academy and too many other groups, given the fact the Academy  now wants to be more of a political and social force  than an arts organization, I am going to throw at my readers my collection of shocking quotes as a way of easing my burden and moving on from my aborted article.

I seem especially to have tied myself in knots about all this in 2008, which seems to be the year from which many of my notes date.

I’ll begin with A.O. Scott of the New York Times:  “…I am…bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and with the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country.”

The article on these matters that most infuriates me still is by Sean Smith and Benjamin Svetkey, “Biggest Night,”  Entertainment Weekly, 3/7/08.  The article is devoid of any grasp that awards are (or should be) for quality.  The article is about making movies that will make people watch the Oscar show,

Well, what can you expect when an Academy president (Tom Sherak then) says that to get the public interested in the show you have to “make them feel invested, and that’s done by having movies they like up for awards.”  The professional and aesthetic responsibility revealed here is staggering, is it not?  Quality, anyone?

That statement is quoted in an article by David Mermelstein in the Wall Street Journal.  Mermelstein also writes:  “ABC, the show’s long-time broadcaster, depends on high numbers [ratings] to set pricey advertising rates.  The greater the fees, the more the network pays to televise the ceremony.  That’s important because over 90% of the Academy’s revenue is derived from this relationship…”

Getting back to that article by Smith and Svetkey, the only real historical perspective in the piece comes in a quote from Bruce Davis, Executive Director of the Academy:  “We gave out Oscars before there was any television broadcast at all.”  But before I can shout aloud to myself “Hear!  Hear!”  —  the article immediately makes fun of this remark .

But does once laugh or cry about Bruce Davis who is quoted again:  “… it’s not because we’re too dumb to know that people aren’t fascinated by who wins best production design.”  They’ll never be fascinated with this kind of example being set by the Academy’s own E.D.   They might become interested if the same scripted explanations of awards were not engaged in year after year along with stupid comments about the categories from stupid people like Goldie Hawn and Mike Meyers.

As to some historical perspective:  “In the Academy’s third competition, there were no  less than eight nominations for Best Actor, including two each for Ronald Colman, Maurice Chevalier and Geoege Arliss.”  THEM WAS THE DAYS!  (From The Films of the Twenties by Vermilye.)

For more perspective, look into the choices the New York Film Critics were making in the 30s, 40s and 50s and the choices the Golden Globes were making until they began aping Hollywood and bowing to misguided comments about their unusual nominations.

Smith and Svetkey do realize and comment on “a Fragmented media culture  —  with a glut of award shows and 24-hour entertainment coverage dimming the mystery of stardom.”

Much is habitually written about the show’s inordinate length with  naive suggestions about shortening acceptance speeches.  The problem of length is not in the acceptance speeches.  Why shouldn’t people say thank for perhaps a singular moment in their lives.  The problem is with presenter cut-ups, dumb jokes  —  and ridiculously long walks to the podium by people who have forgotten to wear shoes and gowns that can negotiate the walk.

Of course the main culprit as to the length of the show is what A.O. Scott calls “the overproduced, underwhelming renditions of the nominated songs.”

Scott also writes, “The wonderful thing about the Academy Awards is that they are fundamentally trivial.  To pretend otherwise is to trivialize movies.” Ah Sir Laurence!  Ah Lady Vivien!  Olivia!  Luise!  the BD!  Daniel DL!

But what to make of this?:  “If, as expected, ‘Iron Man’ comes into the awards mix, that will be partly because Paramount recently moved a more conventional prospect, a drama called ‘The Soloist,’ into next year and out of contention.  That film … had promised to complicate the studio’s life at a time when it saw awards potential form the currently very hot Mr. Downey in three pictures at once.”  (Cieply & Barnes)

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Cieply, Michael and Brooks Barnes, “Box Office Winners.” New York Times 10/28/08.

Mermelstein, David………..Wall Street Journal, 3/3/10.  (I am unable to locate the title of Mermelstein’s interview with Tom Sherak, Academy president.)

Scott, A.O. “Are Oscars Worth All This Fuss?” New York Times, 2/24/08.

Smith, Sean and Benjamin Svetkey. “Why Does Hollywood’s Biggest Night Keep Getting Smaller?” Entertainment Weekly, 3/7/08.

Vermilye, Jerry, The Films of the Twenties. Secaucus, The Citadel Press, 1985.

Two-time

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Academy Award

 

Winners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now the Academy is establishing a new category  — for a movie that does not deserve to be nominated or awarded but WILL be because it has been popular.  (Hasn’t it already received its award?)

NEXT FRIDAY POST August 31
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

GETTING PERSONAL

selected diary jottings from

Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Robert Z. Leonard
1940

I am charmed by this film which I have just seen for the first time since I was taken to see it by my Uncle Roy at the Palace Theatre on Forsythe Street in my beloved Jacksonville.

Its pace is perfect.  Oh!  Did movies move in those days!  Fluent cameras moved.  (Notice the flow and movement of especially the first part of Gone with the Wind.)

This non-admirer of Greer Garson must admit that she makes an excellent Elizabeth Bennett.  I remember a critic remarking that she is more an MGM heroine than she is Miss Bennet.  But plucky Greer here always has the pluck of Austen’s celebrated character.

Laurence Olivier looks exactly like Mr. Darcy, and he is convincing and dashing in his unlikeableness.  He once or twice is guilty of those squeaky chokes and gurgles which he sometimes uses to express embarrassment and tension.  But he thoroughly understands the character, and this is a good performance.

Frieda Inescort

Edmund Gwen is very good, and so is Mary Boland.  Frieda Inescort, as Miss Bingley, the sister of the eligible bachelor, is outstanding and very handsome.

Edna May Oliver is good playing Edna May Oliver with impeccable timing.

I think this film may have a higher reputation than it deserves  on the basis of its production values.  The Academy Award-winning sets and the costuming are excellent.  But of course it is studio-bound.   What wasn’t then, especially from MGM.  And there are some glaring process shots warring against the meticulously created milieu.

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getting very personal

The Carpetbaggers
Edward Dmytryk
1964

 

I finally watched this film to see Alan Ladd again, to see him in something I had never viewed.  His performance is okay if you grant him the general outré-ness of the movie itself.  It’s vulgar, deliberately harsh and shocking (for its time).  It is sill vulgar in this or any time.

I still remember being shocked b y the billboard advertising the film in Times Square  —  at Christmastime.

The Alan Ladd character and the Lew Ayers character are the only two in the story with any class.  The other people are despicable, and the novelist Harold Robbins probably didn’t know enough to care whether we care about them or not.

Bob Cummings is good as an avaricious, craven sonofabitch.

Pinterest photo, Wiki Commons

 

So, I saw the  beloved Alan one more time and fear that in the farewell scene with Carroll Baker he might be performing under the influence; but of course he manages.  Like Montgomery Clift and, say, Audie Murphy, he was always a self-conscious actor, but he was a great star  —  and when paired with Veronica Lake, half of a matchless duo.

See Rick’s Flicks 6/20/18.

 

 

 

NEXT FRIDAY POST August 17

Until then,

See you AT the movies,

Rick

Wiki Commons public domain image

AN ITALIAN CLASSIC AND AN AMERICAN CLASSIC

But first, something to consider:  “…how the camera eye of the drone has taken over from the crane shot as the eye of God in TV and film dramas.”  from Ali Smith’s novel Winter, New York, Pantheon Books, 2017.

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In Road to Valor, the book about heroic World War ll cyclist Gino Bartali, the authors offer a unique look back at Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece Bicycle Thieves (usually known in the United States as The Bicycle Thief):   “…Ladri di biciclette…best captured the centrality of the bike in postwar Italy.  The film starts with…Antonio…waiting in a long queue for jobs.  When he finally gets to the front   of the line, he is offered work on the condition that he has a bicycle.  On his first day of employment  —  putting up posters around Rome for a movie that starred Rita Hayworth (herself a Bartali fan in real life, and vice versa)  —  his bicycle is stolen.  After several fruitless efforts to recover it, Antonio makes a pathetic and failed attempt to steal a bicycle for himself.”

De Sica’s great one

Throughout the film “bicycles permeate life…They are the subject of fantasy…And they are also a spiritual symbol of the spiritual dignity to which man can aspire in his workaday life…”

“The bicycle was considered so integral to the lives of all Italians that stealing a bicycle was always viewed with particular severity by the judicial system…”  —  comparable to stealing a horse in nineteenth century America.

Recall De Dica’s shot of that bank of bikes outside the stadium, the bank which Antonio will rob.


Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette)
Vittorio De Sica
1948 

Road to Valor; a true story of World War ll Italy, the Nazis, and the cyclist who inspired a nation by Aili and Andres McConnon.  New York, Crown, 2012.

Rick’s Flicks is indebted to collaborator BKG for the concept of this post.

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Leo DeLuca, writing in Ohio Magazine about the restoration of the Memphis Belle, makes clear how important William Wyler’s 1944 film was to the thirteen-year-long restoration.  “More than 11 hours of footage that didn’t make it into the film proved vital to the restoration, according to Jeff Duford, lead curator of the Memphis Belle project.”

The exhibit of the restored bomber, now at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, includes “rare archival footage from Wyler’s 1944 film,” Wyler’s uniform and two Medals of Honor of the Flying Fortress crew.

Almy Stock P

Memphis Belle: a Story of a Flying Fortress
William Wyler
1944

(High-Flying Summer” by Leo DeLuca in Ohio Magazine, June 2018.)

Cf. Rick’s Flicks 5/16/18.

NEXT FRIDAY POST August 3

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

 

 

 

MORE SHORT TAKES — FROM AN EARLIER HOLLYWOOD

Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

Continuing Rick’s Flicks’ diary format for informal, personal observations which, though not in the form of a review or discussion, we hope you still find useful:

Lord Love A Duck
George Axelrod
1966
screenplay by Larry H. Johnson & George Axelrod
from a novel by Al Hine

Leonard Maltin:  “Film wavers uncomfortably between comedy and drama at times…Terrific performances in movie that was ahead of it time.”

A strange, original and funny comedy with a campus setting.  The great Roddy McDowell, the coal miner’s son and Lassie’s master, has grown up, dwells a lot on sex and sports his trimness in tight white cottons.  His mannered feyness is perfect for his nerdy role (supposedly nerdy).  Tuesday Weld is fine in her ditzy part, and Ruth Gordon has the other mother in the story down pat.

How Green Was My Valley

Lassie Come Home

At play with Elizabeth Taylor (from the book “A Pictorial Biography of Elizabeth Taylor” by Larissa Branin))

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Away From Her
Sarah Polley
screenplay by Sarah Polley
2006
from a short story by Alice Munro, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”

I was never partial to Julie Christie in her heyday.  I never understood all the excitement .  I was astonished when she won the Academy Award.  (But I didn’t know then as much as I do now about Academy bizarros.)  I never found her especially attractive.  But she was beautiful last night in Away From Her.  And she and co-star Pinsent give two of the most heart wrenching performances I can remember.  They cease being actors and become people for us.  I bled for these characters.

The staff at the assisted living residence to which the husband finally takes his wife seem little concerned for spouses and relatives.  Is this common?  How much did the writer/director want us to make of this?  I would like to have seen more of the husband at home alone after his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease has forced him to the decision he makes.  What does he do?  What is his life like without his beloved Fiona?  But this was not the film the filmmakers wanted.

Rick’s Journal acknowledges the excellence of Christie’s performance as Queen Gertrude in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.

Valley, Lassie and Hamlet photos from Google public domain images.

NEXT FRIDAY POST July 20

Until then,
See you AT the movies,
Rick