The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

The Devil and Daniel Webster (AKA “All That Money Can Buy”)devil and daniel webster poster
Directed by William Dieterle
Written by Dan Totheroth and Steven Vincent Benet based on a story by Benet
1941/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Jabez Stone: You promised me happiness, love, and friendship!

Mr. Scratch: Just a minute. I promised you money and all that money could buy. I don’t recall any other obligations.

This film has many virtues and is well worth seeing.  For some reason, I have never connected with it, however.

Vermont farmer Jabez Stone (James Craig) cannot seem to catch a break.  A loan shark (John Qualen) hounds him and his pig just broke his leg.  In frustration, Stone says he would sell his soul to the devil to get out of his situation.  Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) promptly appears and seals the bargain – one soul in exchange for seven years of good luck.  Scratch is as good as his word.  By the time the seven years are up, Stone has a mansion, a fortune, and a pretty mistress (Simone Simon).  He is also cordially hated by all his neighbors, having become a loan shark himself, and fears for his son.  He desperately wants to get out of the bargain and Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold), the friend of the farmer, takes up the challenge.  With Ann Shirley as Stone’s wife and Jane Darwell as his mother.

devil and daniel webster 1

I think my problem with this movie may be Craig’s performance.  He overacts dreadfully and is on screen most of the tiime.  The other actors, particularly Huston and Arnold, are fantastic.  The cinematography is quite beautiful, with a stark quality.  The Oscar-winning score is also wonderful.

Bernard Herrmann won the Academy Award for his Original Score and Walter Huston was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work  in this film.

Clip – Selling a soul

 

Animated Short Subjects of 1941

By some miracle I was able to find all the animated shorts nominated for Academy Awards online and decided to start off 1941 with some fun and light viewing.

Lend a Paw
Directed by Clyde Geronimi
1941/USA
Walt Disney Productions

First viewing/YouTube

Pluto rescues a tiny kitten who has been thrown in a lake in a bag.  No good deed goes unpunished however and soon Mickey adopts the kitten and it starts taking over Pluto’s place and possessions.  Pluto plots revenge, egged on by the devil in his head, but his better nature eventually wins out.

This won the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Cartoons.  After seeing all of the nominees I have no quarrel with the Academy’s selection although there was some stiff competition. Pluto has gradually become my very favorite Disney character.  He is just 100% dog and they find some awfully funny things for him to get up to.  In this cartoon, we get to see his evil side, which is priceless.

lend a paw 1

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B
Directed by Walter Lantz
1941/USA
Walter Lantz Productions

First viewing/YouTube

A jazz trumpeter is drafted.  The men all hate him when he blows reveille on the bugle but he wins them over when he starts riffing with his horn.

Warning: this cartoon is full of insulting racial stereotypes and offensive caricatures.  If one puts that aside, it is actually a very well-made cartoon and uses the music wonderfully. The only version of the song I had heard before was by The Andrews Sisters.  I would love to know the band that did this version and especially the name of the fabulous trumpeter.

boogie woogie boogle boy 1

Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt
Director: Friz Freleng
1941/USA
Leon Schlesinger Studios/Warner Bros.

First viewing/Streaming on dailymotion.com

Bugs Bunny starts reading Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha” and soon an Indian starts to hunt him with a bow and arrow.  It is always amusing to see Bugs turn the tables on his predators.

hiawatha's rabbit hunt 1

How War Came
Directed by Paul Fennell
1941/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation

First viewing/YouTube

This is a very dry explanation of the origins of World War II.  The basic message is that the Germans and Japanese started by seeing what they could get away with and it turned out they could get away with a lot before other countries worked up the courage to stop them.

how war came 1

The Night Before Christmas
Directed by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
1941/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

First viewing/YouTube

Very nice Tom and Jerry cartoon with a bit of Good Will Toward Mice at the end.

night before christmas 1

Rhapsody in Rivets
Directed by Friz Freleng
1941/USA
Leon Schlesinger Studios/Warner Bros.

First viewing/Streaming on dailymotion.com

Animals acting as construction workers build a skyscraper while they “play” Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody with their tools.  Funny and a unique take on classical music.

rhapsody in rivets

The Rookie Bear
Directed by Rudolf Ising
1941/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Rudolf Ising Productions

First viewing/YouTube

When Barney Bear gets his draft notice, he thinks he is being offered a year’s vacation. Army life is a rude awakening.

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Rhythm in the Ranks
Directed by George Pal
1941/USA
Paramount Pictures

First viewing/Streaming on dailymotion.com

This was the first time I had seen George Pal’s Puppetoons in action.  I just loved this short, which is animated using “replacement-motion” of wooden figures.  This is the story of a wooden soldier who is entrusted with bringing the cannon to battle but gets distracted by an ice-skater and lets his regiment down.  It’s all very clever and really funny.

rhythm in the ranks

Superman
Directed by Dave Fleischer
1941/USA
Fleischer Studios

First viewing/YouTube

This was Superman’s first screen appearance.  He battles a mad scientist who is trying to destroy Metropolis with an “energy cannon” that looks like a giant laser.  The art work is awesome – very sleek and almost deco in feeling.  .

superman 1

Truant Officer Donald
Directed by Jack King
1941/USA
Walt Disney Productions

Repeat viewing/YouTube

Donald Duck is my second favorite Disney character and here he is at his frustrated best. He catches Huey, Dewey and Louie swimming and tries to round them up and take them to school.  They don’t make it easy.

truant officer donald

Happy New Year, 1941!

maltese falcon posterThe United States entered World War II, sharing the pain suffered by the rest of the world, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and 1941 remained a bleak year for the Allies and humanity. Hollywood kept on truckin’.

In industry news, Superman debuted in a series of seventeen Superman cartoons.  A Senate subcommittee launched an investigation of whether Hollywood was producing films to involve the United States in World War II.   It was dissolved shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Approximately 500 animators and artists at the Walt Disney Studios conducted a five-week strike backed by the Screen Cartoonists’ Guild, during the making of Dumbo (1941). The strike seriously changed the atmosphere of the studio and affected the work produced there for years to come.  Bette Davis became the first female president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.  The first, generally-acknowledged film noir was released, John Huston’s directorial debut film The Maltese Falcon

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Pearl Harbor under Japanese bombardment

Clearly the defining news item of 1941 for the U.S. was the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Earlier in the year, Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated for an unprecedented third term as President.  While the America First Committee and spokesman Charles Lindbergh continued to advocate a neutrality pact with Hitler, Lend-Lease, a program under which the U.S. supplied war materiel to the Allies, began.  The U.S.O. was created.  The first War Bonds went on sale.  Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak began.  The National Gallery of Art opened in Washington DC.

operation barbarossa - nazis somewhere in russia

Nazi troops somewhere in Russia

The Nazis continued marching through Europe with invasions of Yugoslavia and Greece. On June 24, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. Fighting in the Soviet Union would account for 95% of all German casualties through 1944 and 65% of Allied casualties for the entire war.  On July 31, under instructions from Adolf HitlerHermann Göring ordered S.S. General Reinhard Heydrich to “submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative, material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired Final Solution of the Jewish question.”  

Along with the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were simultaneous Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines and on the British Empire in MalayaSingapore, and Hong Kong.

Stills from 1941 Oscar winners set to “The Last Time I Saw Paris” sung by Kate Smith

Stills from 1941 Oscar nominees set to some mildly irritating music – you can always turn down the sound!

They Knew What They Wanted (1940)

They Knew What They Wantedthey knew what they wanted poster
Directed by Garson Kanin
Written by Robert Ardrey from the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Sidney Howard
1940/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing/YouTube

 

Tagline: You have seen great motion pictures! We believe you have not seen a greater motion picture than this!

It took me a while to get used to Charles Laughton in this highly uncharacteristic role. Once I did, I really enjoyed this film.

Tony Patucci (Laughton) is an illiterate but prosperous vineyard owner in the Napa Valley.  He doesn’t look like much but has a big heart.  On a rare vacation to San Francisco he spots waitress Amy Peters (Carole Lombard) at an Italian restaurant and is immediately smitten but too shy to introduce himself.  He begins a correspondence with her leaning on his foreman Joe (William Gargan) to draft his love letters.  Similarly, Amy, who has been struggling all her life, enlists a co-worker who has gone to secretarial school to reply.

Finally, Amy, who is looking for a way out of her dreary existence, agrees to marry Tony and asks for his picture.  Tony sends Joe’s picture instead,  The subterfuge is cleared up soon after Amy arrives in Napa but she remains determined to go through with the deal. After Tony breaks both legs at a pre-nuptial party and the wedding must be postponed, the farm proves too small to contain the emotions of the three friends.  With Harry Cary as a doctor and Frank Fay as a priest.

they knew what they wanted 1

I liked this a lot.  Laughton has to really stretch to capture a loveable Italian winemaker but eventually won me over.  This is probably the most complex and least glamorous performance I have ever seen from Lombard and she acquits herself well.  This might seem a bit melodramatic to some, but for those who can tolerate a bit of pathos it is well worth seeing.

William Gargan was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in They Knew What They Wanted.  The story was used again in the Broadway Musical Most Happy Fella.

Clip

 

The Invisible Woman (1940)

The Invisible Womaninvisible woman poster
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Written by Curt Siodmak, Joe May, Robert Lees, et al
1940/USA
Universal Pictures

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Kitty Carroll: Whew! Kinda chilly. I wonder how the nudists stand it.

This one is all comedy with nary a chill in sight.

Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) has just perfected his invisibility machine and is looking for a guinea pig.  Kitty Carol (Virginia Bruce) who is fed up with her modeling job and her sadistic employer volunteers for the job.  Gibbs shows off  his creation to investor Richard Russell (John Howard – “Bulldog Drummond”) and the two naturally fall in love.  In the meantime a gangster (Oscar Homolka) hiding out in Mexico has plans to steal the machine – and the professor – to allow him to return to the States.  With Charlie Ruggles as Russell’s butler and Margaret Hamilton as Gibbs’s housekeeper.

invisible woman 1

 

This is OK, if a bit sophmoric.  Nothing anybody should rush out to see.  The invisibility effects are fine.

The Invisible Woman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

Trailer

 

You’ll Find Out (1940)

You’ll Find Outyou'll find out poster
Directed by David Butler
Written by James V. Kern, David Butler et al
1940/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Kay Kyser: [to a contestant] Now, wh-what’s the difference between a weasel, an easel, and a measle? What’s a measle? Go ahead and break out with it.

I watched this one because I’m a completest and a fan of the Classic-Era horror stars.  If you fit into one of those categories (or are a fan of Kay Kayser’s band) this could be interesting.

The plot is secondary to the music and gags but here goes.  Janis, an heiress, hires Kay Kayser and His College of Musical Knowledge to play at her 21st birthday party at her aunt’s mansion.  The aunt is under the spell of medium Prince Saliano (Bela Lugosi). Creepy Judge Mainwaring (Boris Karloff) brings in Professor Fenniger (Peter Lorre) to expose the Prince as a charlatan.  Soon enough it becomes clear that someone is trying to murder Janis and Kayser and the boys are in on the action.  With Dennis O’Keefe as Kayser’s manager.

 

You'll Find Out 1

This is played strictly for laughs.  Whether it’s funny or not is a matter of taste.  I was not too impressed.  It was fun to see Ish Kabibble, a name I have always loved but never been able to connect to a face.

Jimmy McHugh and Johnny Mercer were nominated for an Academy Award for the song “I’d Know You Anywhere”.

Trailer

Clip – Ginny Sims singing “I’d Know You Anywhere”

The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

The Mummy’s Handmummys_hand_poster
Directed by Christy Cabanne
Written by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane
1940/USA
Universal Pictures

First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

The High Priest: Children of the night, they howl about the Hill of the Seven Jackals when Kharis must be fed.

The scares of the original are lost amid the “comic relief” aspects of this feeble remake/sequel.

Many of the story elements of the original are used a second time.  Archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his sidekick Babe (Wallace Ford) are stuck in Cairo and broke. Steve insists on spending their last few dollars on a broken vase at the bazaar.  The vase is inscribed with hieroglyphics that seem to point the way to the tomb of Princess Ananka. Steve starts looking for money to finance an expedition and runs into the evil Professor Andoheb (George Zucco) who assures him the vase is a fake and furthermore all who have sought the tomb of the princess have been killed.  Steve is undeterred and finally secures the money from magician The Great Solvani (Cecil Kellaway). Solvani and his pretty daughter accompany Steve and Babe on the expedition to protect their investment. At the site, the party opens the coffin of Kharis who was buried alive for heresy.  The mummy protects the princess’s tomb and the professor sends it on a killing spree in search of life-giving tanna leaves.

Mummy's Hand 1

The make up does not hold a candle to the original and the many “comic” magic trick scenes between Ford and Kellaway are just not very funny.  Predictable “B” level fare.

Trailer

North West Mounted Police (1940)

North West Mounted PoliceNorth West Mounted Police poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Written by Alan Le May, Jesse Lasky Jr., and C. Gardner Sullivan
1940/USA
Paramount Pictures

First viewing/YouTube

 

April Logan: Texas must be heaven.

Dusty Rivers: It will be when you get there.

This is a workmanlike action/adventure movie but I felt it lacked thrills somehow.

The setting is close to the U.S. border in Western Canada.  Evil half-breed whisky runner Jacques Corbeau (George Bancroft), aided by right-hand-man Dan Duroc (Akim Tamiroff), is fomenting revolution among his kind and hopes to bring the local Indian tribes in on his side.  Corbeau’s treacherous daughter Louvette (Paulette Goddard) has mesmerized Mountie Ronnie Logan (Robert Preston).  Ronnie’s sister April (Madeleine Carroll) is a nurse to the local people.  Sargeant Jim Brett is in love with April but she is undecided.

The regiment of Mounties is gearing up to combat the insurrection when Texas Ranger Dusty Rivers (Gary Cooper) arrives at the fort with a warrant to arrest Corbeau for a murder back home.  He is immediately taken with April and begins a great rivalry with Jim. But soon enough they become brothers in arms.  Meanwhile, Louvette tricks Ronnie into leaving his post at a key juncture and Dusty sets about rescuing him and redeeming his reputation for love of April.  This was one of Robert Ryan’s very first films but I didn’t spot him in his Mountie uniform.

1940 North West Mounted Police 1

This kept my attention for over two hours so I can’t complain.  It’s just kind of ponderous as I find most Cecil B. DeMille productions to be.  I generally love Akim Tamiroff but here his Russian accent came off as really ludicrous for the part he played.

North West Mounted Police won an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction, Best Sound Recording and Best Original Score (Victor Young).

Clip (spoiler)

 

Music in My Heart (1940)

Music in My Heartmusic in my heart
Directed by Joseph Santley
Written by James Edward Grant
1940/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Columbia Tri-Star DVD

I wanted to study singing, but Harry Cohn kept saying, “Who needs it?” and the studio wouldn’t pay for it. They had me so intimidated that I couldn’t have done it anyway. They always said, “Oh, no, we can’t let you do it. There’s no time for that; it has to be done right now!” I was under contract, and that was it. — Rita Hayworth

This movie might just define the word “mediocre” for Classic Era musicals.

Bob (Tony Martin) has been waiting for his chance to take the stage as understudy in a Broadway show but the leads have been uncooperatively healthy.  On the night the immigration authorities come to deport him one of them feigns illness and Bob gets his big break.  (You may ask Bob’s nationality.  Why he is American but somehow his partents never bothered to file their citizenship papers.)  After the show, he heads for the ship that will take him to Europe.  Patricia (Rita Hayworth) is catching a ship to marry her wealthy but dull boyfriend (Alan Mowbray).  These two manage to crowd into the same cab which then breaks down causing both to miss the boat.  Naturally they quickly fall in love.

Some Russian emigrants that run a cafe and are somehow connected with Patricia put Bob up.  The requisite misunderstandings and obstacles fill the path of our couple but love conquers all.  With Eric Blore as a butler.

 

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This film is basically a showcase for Tony Martin’s singing.  If you like Tony Martin, possibly this movie would be worth your time.  I did not know before this but it turns out I am not a fan.  The plot could not be more predictable and cliché ridden.

Music in My Heart was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Original Song (“It’s a Blue World”).

Clip – Tony Martin singing “It’s a Blue World”

The Blue Bird (1940)

The Blue Birdblue bird poster
Directed by Walter Lang
Written by Ernest Pascal and Walter Bullock based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck
1940/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

Daddy Tyl: You can’t be unhappy inside yourself without making others unhappy, too.

Fox’s answer to The Wizard of Oz was a giant flop.  I could easily see why.

Mytyl (Shirley Temple) is a selfish and discontented girl.  She captures a bird in the royal forest.  On her way home, a poor invalid girl asks her to trade the bird for her doll but Mytyl refuses.  Once home, she goes on and on about not being rich.  Mummy (Spring Byington) and Daddy Tyl unsuccessfully try to straighten her out.  Then Daddy is called to go to war.

Mytyl goes to bed and is awoken by the Fairy Berylune (Jessie Ralph) who sends her on a quest to find a blue bird.  (It soon becomes clear that this is the Bluebird of Happiness). She turns the family dog Tylo and cat Tylette (Gale Sondergaard) into human form to assist her and sends Light to guide her way.  Tylette wants to stay human and  does her best to prevent the children from attaining their goal.  Mytyl (and her little brother Tyltyl) look everyhere – in the forest, in the Past, in the land of Luxury, in the future – but fail to find the bluebird anywhere until Mytyl wakes up to find herself in her own bed.  With Nigel Bruce as Mr. Luxury.

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Oh to count the ways the filmmakers missed the entire point of what made The Wizard of Oz a hit.  There is little to no humor and the only song is contained in the clip.  Mytyl is an entirely disagreeable character for three-quarters of the story.  The universe of the film is strangely alien and Germanic.  Everyone has a funny name.  I didn’t even think the surroundings were particularly magical but the print could have been in need of a restoration.  The high point was the Eddie Collins’s performance as the dog.

The Blue Bird was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Color Cinematography and Best Special Effects.

Clip – Shirley Temple sings “Lay-de-o”