Rage in Heaven (1941)

Rage in Heavenrage in heaven
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
Written by Christopher Isherwood and Robert Thoeren from a novel by James Hilton
1941/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

Title card: “Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned.” – Milton

Rage in Heaven is kind of a mess, but an interesting one.

The story begins in Paris where psychiatrist Dr. Rameau (Oscar Homolka) has called the British Consul into his asylum to help learn the identity of a paranoiac patient known as “Ward Andrews”.  By the time Rameau can introduce his patient, he has escaped.

Segue to London, where Ward Andrews is being paged at his hotel.  The phone is delivered to Ward Andrews (George Sanders).  Having heard the page, his friend Philip Monrell (Robert Montgomery) goes to him. Coincidentally, both have just returned from Paris.  Andrews has a couple of days before starting a job in Scotland and Philip invites him up to his family’s country estate.  There they meet Philip’s mother’s new companion the lovely Stella (Ingrid Bergman).  Both men promptly fall in love with her but Philip pushes her toward Ward.  However, it is Philip Stella loves and they marry shortly after Ward’s departure.

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It is not long before we learn that Philip has serious problems.  He admits that he posed as Ward in Paris to feel more confident.  Despite Stella’s evident loyalty and love, he has also become convinced that she actually loves Ward.  He invites Ward back to their home and gives him a job.  After that, he repeatedly concocts ever more devious “tests” of Stella’s devotion.  In his mind, she fails every one of them and he begins to plot an elaborate revenge.

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One of the reasons I watched this was because it was billed as a film noir in Keaney’s Film Noir Guide.  I think that’s stretching a point – the film is strictly a Freudian melodrama with a Gothic slant.  It went through three directors before being finished by Woody Van Dyke while he was on a 14-day leave from the Marines and the pacing suffers.  The first part drags a bit and the third act is badly rushed.

Still, I thought all the principals were good, though Bergman is still finding her way as an actress.  It is always nice seeing George Sanders play outside his cynical “type” as the decent friend of the family.  I don’t know how accurate the psychology was but I thought Philip’s machinations were pretty scary.

Re-release trailer

 

 

The Corsican Brothers (1941)

The Corsican Brotherscorsican brothers poster
Directed by Gregory Ratoff
Written by George Bruce and Howard Eastabrook based on the novel by Alexander Dumas pére
1941/USA
Edward Small Productions

First viewing/Amazon Prime Instant Video

 

“True, I have raped history, but it has produced some beautiful offspring.” ― Alexandre Dumas

I thought this was a very well-done swashbuckler.

The Countess Franchi gives birth to Siamese twins Mario and Lucien on the day the evil Colonna (Akim Tamiroff) kills her and the rest of the Franchi family.  Dr. Paoli (H.B. Warner) separates the twins.  Lucien is sent off to the forest with a loyal Franchi servant (J. Carroll Naish) and Mario is adopted by aristocrats and goes off with them to Paris. During their childhood, Mario keenly feels Lucien’s feelings even though he is ignorant of his existence.  On their 21st birthday, the twins (both played by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) are reunited in Corsica and swear a solemn vow to restore the Franchi family and kill Colonna and his supporters.  Complications arise when Mario and Lucien discover they are both in love with the Countess Gravini (Ruth Warrick). In his jealousy, Lucien vows to kill Mario and be free of his influence.

corsican brothers

On the whole this is well acted and exciting with many good sword fights, some between the twins themselves.  I kept wondering how the script would resolve the rivalry between the twins and didn’t quite expect the ending.

Dimitri Tiomkin was nominated for an Academy Award for his scoring of The Corsican Brothers.

Blood and Sand (1941)

Blood and Sand blood and sand postr
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Written by Jo Swerling based on a novel by Vicente Basco Ibañez
1941/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Garabato: The bull is not the beast! Look at the crowd! That is the real beast!

The technicolor and the spectacle are grand but I couldn’t get caught up in the story.

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Juan (Tyrone Power) is an illiterate country boy with talent and one burning ambition – to become the number one bullfighter in Spain.  He marries his adoring childhood sweetheart Carmen (Linda Darnell) and starts climbing the ladder to success.  In this he is aided by glowing praise from Spain’s preeminent bullfight critic, Curro (Laird Cregar).  His inevitable downhill slide begins with his affair with society tramp and femme fatale Doña Sol (Rita Hayworth).  Juan goes deeply into debt and begins drinking.  Can he redeem himself for one final triumph in the ring?  With John Carridine as one of Juan’s company of assistants in the ring, J. Carroll Naish as a washed-up bullfighter, and Anthony Quinn as the next great thing.

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The script captures Spain and Spanish machismo very well but for some reason the dialogue rang false to me.  Or maybe it was the performances that seemed forced.  At any rate, this is certainly a colorful film to look at.  The commentary on the Fox DVD is one of the only ones delivered by a cinematographer and it was fascinating to hear him describe the techniques that must have been used to get the shots.

Blood and Sand won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color.  It was nominated for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color.

Trailer

Detour (1945)

DetourDetour poster
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by Martin Goldsmith
1945/USA
Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC)
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime Instant Video
#186 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Al Roberts: Oh, sure, Phoenix. You look just like a Phoenix girl.

Vera: Are the girls in Phoenix that bad?

This classic shows what a gifted director can do with six days and a shoestring budget.

Al Roberts (Tom Neal) narrates the story of how “Fate put the finger” on him.  Al was working as a accompanist to singer Sue, his girlfriend, in a dive.  One day, she announces she is going to try to make it in Hollywood and takes off.  Later, he impulsively decides to try to hitchhike cross the country to join her with only a ten dollar tip in his pocket.

He picks up a ride with a bookie who, like him, is on his way to Los Angeles.  The man is friendly and treats Al to a good meal. When the man tires, Al takes the wheel and, out of nowhere, the man dies.  Al can’t think of anything better to do than switch identities with the fellow and hightail it with his wallet and car to LA.  Continuing with this logic, Al can’t see any problem with picking up a hitchhiker himself.  Unfortunately, this turns out to be Vera (the aptly named Ann Savage), she-devil from Hell, who sizes up the situation in seconds and decides to start a new career as a blackmailer and dominatrix.

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I’m of the camp that believes old Al is an unreliable narrator who is trying to lay the responsibility for a couple of murders on “Fate” when avarice seems to be the much more likely motive.  The story doesn’t hang together otherwise.

Ulmer, who got is start in Germany, had experience at just about every craft in movie making, including directing, and by this point had both the desire and the ability to tell a story vividly with masterful economy.  He was aided by a couple of heartfelt perfomances and a tight, colorful script.  This is roots noir with its look and feel dictated by a pulp sensibility and a small budget.

 

Ann Savage talks about Detour many years later

 

You’ll Never Get Rich (1941)

You’ll Never Get Richyou'll never get rich poster
Directed by Sidney Lanfield
Written by Michael Fessier and Ernest Pagano
1941/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Martin Cortland: Do anything so long as you make my wife believe I was telling the truth when I was lying to her!

A predictable musical gives viewers the opportunity to see Rita Hayworth dance.

This could be the plot of almost any movie starring Fred Astaire.  Robert Custis (Astaire) is the choreographer and star of a Broadway musical.  Sheila Winthrop (Hayworth) is a dancer in the chorus.  Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley), the show’s wealthy producer, is a philanderer and currently has his eye on Sheila.  He buys her an engraved diamond bracelet, which she, being a good girl, refuses.  The bracelet is discovered by his wife who threatens to divorce him so he makes Robert pretend that it was a gift from Robert to Sheila. In the course of this drama, Robert discovers he is in love with her himself.

The Peacetime Draft catches up with Robert.  Sheila shows up at base to visit her sometime boyfriend who is an Army Captain.  Robert does various things to capture Sheila’s heart, all of which lead to misunderstandings and land Robert in the guard house — that is until Cortland decides to put on a show on base.

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This is OK but the script lacks the sparkle that animates Astaire’s best work.  Hayworth started out as a dancer in vaudeville and does a fair job in keeping up with Astaire in their numbers together.

Cole Porter was nominated for an Academy Award for his original song “Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye” and Morris Stoloff was nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

The Four Tones sing “Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye” while Astaire taps

Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth tap dance at a rehearsal

Paisan (1946)

Paisan (“Paisá”)
paisan poster
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Sergio Amadei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini et al
1946/Italy
Organizzazione Film Internazionali (OFI)

First viewing/Hulu Plus
#195 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 7.8/10; I say 8/10

I do not want to make beautiful films, I want to make useful films. — Roberto Rossellini

This is a powerful documentary-like dramatization of the human cost of liberation.

The film is divided into six vignettes taking place in locations from Sicily to north of Florence as Allied troops move northward driving German troops out of Italy.  They are:

1)  A Sicilian village girl shows an invading American Unit how to evade mines on their way north.  They discover a ruined tower and the girl and one of the soldiers overnight there while the others explore.  Tragic.

2) A street-wise child lucks into a drunken black American G.I. and attempts to take him for what he is worth.  They bond over music.  Heartbreaking.

3)  A prostitute in Rome (Maria Mischi of “Rome: Open City) picks up a drunk G.I..  It turns out they have already met.  Poignant.

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4) An American nurse who has lived in Florence and apparently fell in love there meets an Italian man she used to know.  While enemy fire is raging, they attempt to get across the Po River to reach his family and her lover, now a leader of the Partisans.  Many sad pictures of the Renaissance city in ruins.

5) A trio of American Army chaplains, a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew, spends the night in a monastery in Northern Italy.  They break bread and share their faith but the monks would like to “save” the non-Catholic clergy.  Almost comic.

6) Allied solidiers and members of the Italian resistance are fighting side by side.  The little band is isolated on the Po river and is short of food and ammunition.  And then a German unit arrives …  More tragedy.

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Rossellini’s documentary style makes the events shown seem very real  The overall effect is  to awaken pity for those caught in war and its aftermath  and respect for the resolution of the survivors. There is a pervasive sense of irony as the stories take place at a time of liberation and victory. There is a strong undercurrent of the way people are divided by language and culture even when they are fighting on the same side.

At the time the film was made, it was important to reintegrate Italy, an Axis enemy for much of the war, into the international community.  I can’t think of a more masterful way of doing so. The largely non-professional cast only adds to the realism.  Some vignettes are more compelling than others but they add up to a very moving experience.

The writers of Paisan were nominated for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay at the 1950 Oscar ceremony.

Clip (no subtitles but the soldier speaks English)

The 47 Ronin (1941)

The 47 Ronin (“Genroku Chûshingura”)47 ronin poster
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Written by  Kenichiro Hara, Seika Mayama, and Yoshikata Yoda
1941/Japan
IMA Productions/Shôchiku Eiga

First viewing/Streaming on Hulu Plus

 

“Bushido is realized in the presence of death. This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death. There is no other reasoning.” ― Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

The Japanese Ministry of Information commissioned this film as propaganda to promote loyalty and sacrifice for WWII.  What it got was a contemplative and non-violent film of great beauty that has outlived its original purpose.

This is a two-part film relating one of Japan’s most famous historical legends, the Ako Vendetta of 1702.  It is a true story that has been embellished in countless plays and movies.

Lord Asano is helping to arrange a ceremonial welcome for Imperial messengers at the Shogun’s place.  Chief of Protocol Lord Kira insults his efforts.  Asano loses his temper and attacks Kira, failing to kill him.  For this outrageous breach of decorum, the shogun orders Asano to commit harakiri.  He accepts this calmly, saying his only regret is that he didn’t kill Kira.  Most of the Lord’s property is seized as well, leaving his retainers masterless. Lord Kira is not criticized at all.  Gradually, public opinion takes Lord Asano’s side in the dispute.

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Oishi, Lord Asano’s Chief Counselor, takes charge of the ex-samurai (ronin).  Most of them want to immediately slay Lord Kira to avenge their former master.  Oishi counsels patience and puts them through long and frustrating deliberations.  Forty-seven ronin finally agree to attack and pledge to follow Oishi unquestioningly.  Then, there is another long delay while the shogun decides whether to restore the Asano House under Lord Asano’s brother. During this delay, Oishi leads a life of dissipation and the ronin scatter, most of them living in extreme poverty and disgrace.

One year after Lord Asano’s death, the ronin attack Kira’s castle and kill him.  His head is placed on Asano’s grave.  The ronin have honorably avenged their Lord so that his soul can rest without bitterness.  After further deliberations, all the ronin are ordered to commit harikiri. They do this with great bravery and honor.

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The story might presage a samurai epic with plenty of swordplay and gore. In fact, other than the scuffle with Lord Kira at the beginning, the attack and all the suicides take place off-screen.  It is really the story of Oichi and the hard decisions he has to make, many of them very unpopular, to preserve the Asano honor, and the great discipline with which the ronin follow him, even when they bitterly disagree.

I was not looking forward to a four-hour samurai epic at all but I loved this film.  First off, it is just so gorgeous that I probably could have happily spent the running time gazing at the images with the sound and subtitles turned off.  I think the story would have been lost in a shorter film.  The message almost required that the viewer live with Oishi’s deliberations and the long delays.  Fortunately, Mizoguchi has a special interest in the plight of women, and there are several sub-plots showing their roles and fate.  The acting is pretty wonderful.  Recommended.

Clip – end of Part I – Oishi’s wife and younger children leave him

The Spell of Amy Nugent (1941)

The Spell of Amy Nugent (AKA “Spellbound” and “Passing Clouds”)spell of amy nugent poster
Directed by John Harlow
Written by Miles Malleson and Hugh Benson based on the play “Necromancer” by Robert Benson
1941/UK
Pyramid Amalgamated Pictures

First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? — Isaiah 8:19 ESV

According to the British Film Noir Guide, this is one.  It’s more of a ghost story and a pretty bad one to boot.

Mrs. Baxter is a pillar of society.  She is trying to arrange a marriage between her son Laurie and family friend Diana Hilton.  Laurie, however, is in love with Amy Nugent, daughter of the local shopkeeper.  The difference in class horrifies his mother but Laurie is determined to go through with the wedding.  Before this can happen, Amy dies of a sudden illness.

Laurie, an Oxford scholar preparing for his exams and a leading track star, is devastated. He is ripe when one of his mother’s friends leaves behind a book on spiritualism.  He visits the friend’s house where he meets a medium named Mr. Vincent.  The medium does conjure up Amy.  Laurie’s Oxford tutor is a skeptic but Laurie will not listen,  Finally, he brings in Mr. Cathcart, a believer who fled the movement.  Laurie sinks deeper under the spell of Mr. Vincent.  Can Cathcart or Diana break it before Laurie goes insane?

Derek Farr

At first, I thought this movie was going somewhere interesting with Amy’s demise.  Not so. In addition, at only 82 minutes, the film drags.  I thought Derek Farr over did it as Laurie.   I suppose some of the lighting is noirish but low-key lighting is suitable for horror as well and does not turn a ghost story into a film noir, in my book.

 

 

Penny Serenade (1941)

Penny SerenadePenny Serenade poster
Directed by George Stevens
Written by Martha Cheavens and Morrie Ryskind
1941/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

Roger Adams: I-I’ll beg, I’ll borrow, I-I’ll… please Judge I’ll sell anything I’ve got until I get going again. And she’ll never go hungry, she’ll never be without clothes not so long as I’ve got two good hands so help me!

With every picture I see directed by George Stevens, I admire his work more.

The story is told in flashback as Julie Adams (Irene Dunne) listens to records from her past while she is preparing to leave husband Roger (Cary Grant).  They meet at a record shop and music follows them throughout their marriage, which takes place just prior to Roger’s move to Tokyo as a foreign correspondent.  After Julie joins him she becomes pregnant and Roger inherits a few thousand dollars.  He wants to quit his job, take a round the world cruise, and then go back to America and buy his own newspaper.  Julie is more cautious.  In the event, before anything happens their apartment is destroyed by the Tokyo earthquake and Julie is knocked down by the rubble.

Now unable to have a baby of their own, Roger buys a small town newspaper and the couple eventually decides to adopt.  Further happiness and heartbreak awaits them.  With Edgar Buchanan as a friend and adviser and Beulah Bondi as the head of the orphanage.

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I put off watching this one out of fear that it would be a super-saccharine melodrama.  I needn’t have worried.  I loved it, even though I was in tears by the end.

George Stevens is so underrated.  I just love the way he gets so much out of the silences in the dialogue.  Near the beginning, there is something that could be a real cliche – the montage of the circulation figures on the newspaper masthead.  But Stevens does something different.  The masthead changes but the circulation does not.  We see both the passage of time and the state of the couple’s finances without a word spoken.  I also loved the use of ellipses in the film.  There is some stuff the audience just does not need to see and the film is as moving seeing only the after-effects.

All the acting is wonderful..  This was one of Edgar Buchanan’s first films and he is great in it.   And Cary Grant so deserved his nomination!.  I started crying with his plea to the judge.  This could have been really over-the-top but I was convinced.  Recommended.

Cary Grant was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in Penny Serenade..

Clip – remembering

Topper Returns (1941)

Topper ReturnsTopper Returns poster
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by Jonathan Latimer, Gordon Douglas, and Paul Girard Smith
1941/USA
Hal Roach Studios

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Sgt. Roberts: Innocent men stay home nights. They don’t hide in iceboxes. And they don’t take dead bodies on boat rides.

The final film in the series of three “Topper” films is as funny as any of them.

Ann Carrington (Carole Landis) is headed to meet her father at his mansion for the first time since she was a baby and collect the inheritance due her on her upcoming 21st birthday.  Her friend Gail (Joan Blondelle) is along for the ride.  The taxi cab they are travelling in crashes and they hitch a ride with Cosmo Topper (Roland Young).

That night at the mansion, the girls decide to switch bedrooms and Gail is murdered.  Her ghost heads straight to Topper’s house next door and enlists his help.  Her body quickly goes missing and the rest of the film is taken up with some spooky goings on and lots of gags.  With Billie Burke as Mrs. Topper, H.B. Warner as Mr. Carrington, Dennis O’Keefe as the cab driver and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson as Topper’s driver.

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With a cast like this, you can’t go too far wrong.  It’s a little more slapstick than the first film but viewers who liked that one should like this one too.

Topper Returns was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound, Recording and Best Effects, Special Effects.

Trailer (note tie-in to “News on the March” from Citizen Kane!)