Watch on the Rhine (1943)

Watch on the Rhinewatch on the rhine poster
Directed by Herman Shumlin
Written by Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman from the play by Hellman
1943/USA
Warner Bros
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Kurt Muller: I do not tell you this story to prove that we are remarkable but to prove that they are not.

Oscar-winner Paul Lukas is well worth seeing in this tale of German resistance to facism in the years before America entered the war.

Kurt Muller (Lucas) has been a Nazi-fighter since Hitler came to power.  He lives in constant danger so takes his wife Sara (Bette Davis) and three children from Mexico back to her family home near Washington.  Sara’s father was a Supreme Court justice and the house is extremely comfortable compared to what the family has been used to.  Sara’s feisty mother (Lucile Watson) is delighted to see her daughter and meet her grandchildren.

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Also staying as houseguests are the Romanian Count de Brancovis (George Colouris) and his much younger wife Marthe (Geraldine Fitzgerald).  The count is a frequent guest at the German Embassy and desperate to get the money and a visa to return to Europe.  He starts spying on Kurt looking for something to sell.  With Beulah Bondi as a French friend of the family.

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This is well written anti-facsist propaganda by Lillian Hellman, a noted radical.  There are several political speeches but also a number of really touching scenes.  The speeches tend to be put into the mouth of Bette Davis (in a rare supporting role) while Lukas is more the practical fighter.  He probably won his award for some very moving work near the end of the film.  I thought Lucile  Watson was pretty great as a humorous old liberal.  She lights up the screen whenever she is on it.

Paul Lukas won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Watch on the Rhine.  The film was also nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress  Watson); and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Trailer

The Song of Bernadette (1943)

The Song of Bernadettesong of bernadette poster
Directed by Henry King
Written by George Seaton based on the novel by Franz Werfel
1943/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Bernadette: The spring is not for me.

Jennifer Jones won the Academy Award but the tons of great character actors steal the show in this first-rate production.

This is a somewhat fictionalized account of the life of Bernadette Subirous, a poor and uneducated teenager whose visions of a “beautiful lady” near the village of Lourdes shook all of France.  Bernadette’s father (the excellent Roman Bohnen) is a complainer who barely supports his family on odd jobs and the money her mother (Ann Revere) brings in doing laundry.  The mother, in particular, is a God-fearing woman.  The sickly Bernadette is frequently absent from school and she considers herself to be “stupid”, an opinion which Sister Marie Therese (Gladys Cooper), the nun who is teaching her catechism, shares.

One day, she and two other girls go out to collect firewood.  Bernadette is left behind waiting on one side of the river near the city dump due to her asthma.  That is when a beautiful lady dressed in white, with a blue girdle, and golden roses on her feet appears to her.  Reports of this only cause her parents to forbid her to go back to the site.  But Bernadette’s distress finally causes her relatives to join and before long there is a crowd of peasants praying at the site.  The town fathers – Imperial Prosecutor Vital Detour (Vincent Price), the Mayor, the Chief of Police (Charles Dingle) and the local doctor (Lee J. Cobb) – and Father Peyramale (Charles Bickford), the dean of the local parish, all believe Bernadette is a fraud.  Wary of bad publicity, each man wants somebody else to close the site.  When Bernadette visits Father Peyramale to tell him the lady has asked that a chapel be built at the site and pilgrimages organized, he says that if the lady is real she should be able to prove it by making wild roses bloom in February.

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The lady does something else.  She tells Bernadette to go and eat plants near a spring. But there is no spring.  Bernadette starts stuffing leaves into her mouth and washing her hands in the dirt.  All present now think she is insane.  But just as the crowd reaches the top of the hill, water springs from the ground.  The first miraculous healing follows immediately.

The authorities try everything in their power to get Bernadette to recant her story including threatening her with jail and commitment to an insane asylum.  Bernadette’s story is unshakeable.  Finally, she gains a champion in Father Peyramale.  Then the authorities decide the village can cash in on the hordes of people visiting the site.  Although Bernadette would like nothing better to marry and have children, she ends up having to go into a convent.  Unluckily, Sister Marie Therese is the supervisor of the novices and she is convinced that Bernadette is nothing more than a publicity hog who cannot possibly have seen the Virgin Mary because she “has not suffered”.  Bernadette had suffered though and would suffer far more before her life was through.  With Linda Darnell (!!) as “the lady”. (We see her only briefly and flooded with light.)

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Jennifer Jones plays Bernadette with a simplicity and wide-eyed innocence that suits her character.  The real stars are in the outstanding supporting cast who each do themselves proud.  The film has an almost neo-realist feeling and is beautifully staged.  The filmmakers rather tip their hand on the side of Bernadette’s story but the movie is open enough to the possibility that she could have been deluded that it should be enjoyable even by non-believers.  The one weakness is that the film is 2 1/2 hours long.  It could have been trimmed by 30 minutes with no harm to the story.

The Song of Bernadette won Academy Awards in the categories of: Best Actress; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Arthur C. Miller); Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.  It was nominated for the following awards: Best Picture; Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Bickford); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Cooper); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Revere); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Sound, Recording; and Best Film Editing.

Re-release trailer

The Seventh Victim (1943)

The Seventh Victimthe-seventh-victim-movie-poster-1943-1020458183
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Charles O’Neill and DeWitt Bodeen
1943/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental
#171 of !001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Doctor Louis Judd: One can take either staircase. I prefer the left. The sinister side.

This beautifully shot film is really more about death than it is about Satan worshippers.

Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter) attends a boarding school courtesy of her big sister Jacqueline (Jean Brooks). As the story starts, she has been asked to leave because her tuition has not been paid for the last sixth months.  Mary has not been able to locate Jacqueline.  She heads off to the big city to try to find her.

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She meets a few men who want to help her, or say they do.  They are poet Jason, attorney Gregory Ward (Hugh Beaumont), and psychiatrist Louis Judd (Tom Conway).  We learn that Jacqueline has long believed that life is not worth living unless one can end it.  Gregory even helped her rig up a noose in a rented room.  Before long, we learn that Jacqueline is mixed up with a cabal of very ordinary looking Satan worshippers.  They believe she has betrayed them by seeking psychiatric help.  Mary is caught up in the web and witnesses some very disturbing goings on.

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This film was made under the guidance of auteur producer Val Lewton and it shows in the atmospheric settings and lighting and the emphasis on unseen horror.  This time the horror is almost purely psychological.  Jacqueline’s death-wish permeates the entire story.  The plot could be a straight-forward mystery story if not for the artful way it is shot.  But Nicholas Musuraca proves he is a master of low-key lighting once again.   I don’t know if it is anything one needs to see before one dies but I enjoyed it.

The DVD I rented included a good commentary and an excellent documentary on Lewton’s career.

Trailer

Stormy Weather (1943)

Stormy Weatherstormy weather poster
Directed by Andrew L. Stone
Written by Frederick J. Jackson, Ted Koehler et al
1943/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. — Lena Horne

Bill Robinson … Lena Horne … Fats Waller … Cab Calloway … the Nicholas Brothers … Dooley Wilson.  Does this wonderful musical really need a review?

The plot is very slight.  Bill Williamson (Robinson) is being honored for his contribution to the entertainment industry.  He looks back on his career.

Williamson gets his start after he comes home from Europe at the end of WWI.  He meets up-and-coming singer Selina Rogers (Horne) who was close to one of his army buddies. They hit it off immediately.  Williamson struggles to get a break as a hoofer.  Finally Selina convinces her manager to hire him for the show she is starring in.  But the manager is very jealous and will only let Williamson play native drums in a African number.  Williamson turns the tables on him by dancing on those very drums when his back is turned.

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Time marches on and Selina and Bill become an item.  But singing is her life and Selina refuses to settle down and raise a family.  With Dooley Wilson as Williamson’s con-man friend.

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The framing story allows one glorious musical number after another.  We get the title song, Horne’s signature tune; Fats Waller doing a couple of numbers; Cab Calloway and His Orchestra doing another couple of numbers; and tons of fantabulous dancing, including a tap routine from the Nicholas Brothers and of course Robinson at his best.  I didn’t realize that Robinson was a pretty fair singer as well as one of the great dancers. Recommended.

Clip – Fats Waller sings “Ain’t Misbehaving”

 

 

Cabin in the Sky (1943)

Cabin in the Sky220px-Cabin_in_the_Sky
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Written by Joseph Schrank based on the book of the musical play by Lynn Root
1943/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Sometimes the cabin’s gloomy and the table’s bare,/ But then he’ll kiss me and it’s Christmas everywhere. /Troubles fly away and life is easy go./ Does he love me good? That’s all I need to know. /Seems like happiness is just a thing called Joe. – “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” – lyrics by Yip Harburg

If one can look past the racial attitudes of the era, Vincent Minnelli’s debut film is a cornucopia of riches starting with its all-star African-American cast.

Little Joe Jackson (Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson) is a bit of a scamp and an unlucky gambler.  His backbone comes from his wife Petunia (Ethel Waters), who has a direct line to the Lord.  One day, instead of confessing at church like he promised he is lured to a gambling den where he is shot.  As he lies in bed in delirium with his life in the balance, Lucifer Jr. (Rex Ingram) comes to take him below.  An angel, The General, hears Petunia’s prayers.  Although Little Joe is not fit for the Cabin in the Sky, he is granted another six months to change his ways.

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Little Joe seems to see the light so Lucifer Jr. and his men cook up a scheme to make him rich and as added insurance send a temptress in the form of Georgia Brown (Lena Horn).  The devil’s wiles appear to work.  Can Petunia defeat them?  You know the answer to that one.   With Louis Armstrong as one of the demons and Duke Ellington and His Orchestra entertaining at the gambling den.

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Vincente Minnelli would get more skillful at integrating musical numbers with his stories but this is a brilliant start.  As soon as any singing or dancing begins the film swings into high gear and becomes a total delight.  Standouts include Waters’s two renditions of “Taking a Chance on Love” and both the leading ladies singing “Honey from the Honeycomb” in a kind of competition.  Who would have guessed Eddie Anderson was so multi-talented?  Recomended.

Harold Arlen and E. Y. (‘Yip’) Harburg were nominated for an Oscar for their Original Song “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe,”

Clip – Dancing at Jim Henry’s Paradise nightclub to the music of Duke Ellington.

 

 

Destination Tokyo (1943)

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Directed by Delmer Daves
Written by Delmer Daves and Albert Maltz from an original story by Steve Fisher
1943/USA
Warner Bros
First viewing/Netflix rental

Sparks: How come they picked you?

Wolf: I don’t know. Strong arm, strong back, weak mind!

This goes way overboard in the propaganda department at times.  Cary Grant is solid in a dramatic role and it is always a treat when John Garfield is around.

Captain Cassidy (Grant) welcomes his crew back on the submarine U.S. Copperfin which has secret orders to be opened only at sea.  We see a mixed bag of seasoned men and new recruits getting to know each other and life in confined spaces under the sea. (Don’t think Das Boot here.  This sub was made in Hollywood).  There are a number of stock characters such as the loveable cook (Alan Hale); wise-guy ‘Wolf’ (Garfield) who is always talking about his adventures with dames, a family man (whose days are clearly limited), a very nervous rookie, etc.

Captain Cassidy learns that the sub is to pick up an expert in the Aleutians and deliver him to Tokyo.  Once there, Wolf and the expert scour Tokyo in commando gear to get information on its defenses.  The film ends with the 1942 Doolittle raid on the city.

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This one goes beyond hatred of the Japanese military for trying to kill Americans to downright demonization of the Japanese people.  It is said they have no concept or word for love of a man for a woman, they give their children daggers at age 5, etc.

But more than that, this movie consists of action sequences separated by long interludes of cliches – the atheist who learns the value of prayer, the family man, the appendectomy by a pharmacist’s mate, the banter, etc.  This material does not justify the film’s 2 hour and 15 minute running time.  Maybe something resembling this happened but I did not believe the spying scenario for one minute.  There is nothing at all wrong with any of the performances.

Destination Tokyo was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story.

Trailer

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimplife and death of colonel blimp poster
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Written by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
1943/UK
The Rank Organization/The Archers/Independent Producers
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Hoppy: They told me in Bloemfontein that they cut off your left leg.

Clive Candy: [Examines leg] Can’t have, old boy. I’d have known about it.

How Powell and Pressburger managed to put together this grand and opulent film in 1942 England boggles the mind.

This is the story, told in flashback from the perspective of 1942, of the life of career British Army Officer Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesy in a bravura performance) from his time as a young officer in the Boer War through his work for the Home Guard as a retired general.

As the film begins, Wynne-Candy is orchestrating war games for Home Guard recruits.  “War” is to begin at midnight.  The opposing “army” decides to mount a surprise attack many hours before midnight and captures Candy and several other older officers at their club.  They clearly think Candy is way behind the times.  He launches into the story of his life beginning with his youth when he was as impulsive as they.

On leave from the Boer War, Candy gets a letter from an English governess in Berlin complaining about the way the British military is being portrayed in the media by a German  army officer.  Although he is more or less ordered not to go, he uses his leave to visit Miss Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr in the first of her three roles in the film).  One way or another, he gets challenged to a duel.  His opponent is Officer Theo Krestchmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook).  While they are recovering from their wounds in a nursing home Candy and Theo become fast friends and Theo and Miss Hunter fall in love and marry.  Candy misses his own chance at romance with her.

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We segue forward about 15 years and Candy is a Brigadier in WWI just as Armistice has been signed.  He glories that, despite the duplicity and barbarity of the Germans, British fair play has won out.  (This is a running thread throughout the film.)  On his way home for leave, Candy has dinner at a French convent and spots a young nurse (Deborah Kerr again) from afar who reminds him of Edith.  He can’t learn her name but does learn where she is from.  He goes to Yorkshire to locate and marry her.  He looks up Theo at an English prisoner-of-war camp.  Theo refuses to speak to him but later relents.  Candy and his kind extend him and Germany the hand of friendship.  Theo thinks they are fools.

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Candy and his wife spend the intervening years serving in all the corners of the British Empire.  He is called out of retirement to active duty at the outbreak of WWII.  He handpicks a driver, “Johnny” (Kerr again), for her resemblance to his lost loves.  He reconnects with Theo who is now an “enemy alien” living in the homeland of his wife due to his disgust with the Nazis.  But Candy still believes in fair play in war and is now out of step with the times.  He is again retired but continues to be useful in the Home Guard.

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Powell and Pressburger came into their own with this lavish color production.  Not only is it gorgeous to look at but interesting in its themes and very moving, especially as one looks back at one’s own life.  Powell and Pressburger compress time masterfully through various montage techniques.  Although this is very light on the propaganda, it is does emphasize the message that Britain must hit back at Germany with equivalent force and ruthlessness if it is to win the war.

The other theme is the cycle of life.  I love that Kerr plays all the women in Candy’s life.  How often do we fall in love with the same people in different guises?  Kerr, who was cast when Wendy Hiller could not take the part and was only 21,  performs like an old pro.  Walbrook is just fantastic as the very military but warm German.  This clocks in at over 2 1/2 hours.  There is never a dull moment.

Highly recommended.

Re-release trailer (the duel)

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Meshes of the Afternoonmeshes of the afternoon poster
Directed by Maya Derrin and Alexander Hamid
Written by Maya Derrin
1943/USA
First viewing/YouTube
#170 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

A young woman comes home to her apartment in Hollywood.  She falls asleep in an armchair and has a dream in which the objects around her turn sinister. Eventually, a man joins her and he is relatively sinister as well.  It is difficult to ascertain when the dream begins and ends.

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Meshes of the Afternoon was not made for someone like me.  I have to admit that some of the images were beautiful and the effects were impressive for the time and circumstances of its making.

I watched this with soundtrack by Seaming that was commissioned by BIrds Eye View, for ‘Sounds and Silents’, and was performed live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London, in 2011, and later performed again live at Latitude Festival 2011, and in 2012 at Opera North Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds, supporting Hauschka.  I don’t know if that was cheating.

Clip – music here not what I listened to, fortunately

This Land Is Mine (1943)

This Land Is Minethis land is mine poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Dudley Nichols
1943/USA
Jean Renoir-Dudley Nichols Productions/RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

 

Mrs. Emma Lory: Why don’t they bomb Germany, young woman?

Louise Martin: Every factory and railroad in Europe is Germany, Mrs. Lory, until the Germans are driven out.

In Jean Renoir’s universe even the Nazis have their reasons.  People ought to fight to the death to stop those reasons from spreading.

Albert Lory (Charles Laughton) is a mild-mannered schoolteacher in an unnamed Nazi-occupied country.  His mother (Una O’Connor in a rare meaty role) has him tied around her apron strings via feigned illness, etc.  He is secretly in love with beautiful fellow teacher Louise Martin (Maureen O’Hara).  Louise is an outspoken patriot who is engaged to George Lambert (George Sanders), the local railway superintendent , who, unbeknownst to her, is a Nazi collaborator and informant.  Louise’s brother Paul (Kent Smith) also appears to be very friendly with German soldiers.  The mayor of the town works hand in glove with the highest local Nazi official, the smiling and seemingly reasonable Major von Keller (Walter Slezak).

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When the school gets orders to rip pages out of its history texts, Albert and Louise cooperate.  During a bombing raid, Albert reveals the depths of his cowardice.  Then a couple of German soldiers are killed by a home-made bomb.  Paul Martin arrives at a dinner Albert has been invited to late.  He asks Albert and Louise to say he has been there since before the bombing.  They comply.  Then the Germans start rounding up hostages, including the beloved liberal headmaster of the school.  Albert is next.  His incensed mother looks up everyone she knows from the mayor to George Lambert in an attempt to free her son.

Not to spoil too much of the plot but Alfred eventually stands trial for a murder he wanted to commit but did not.  His courage now invigorated by the execution of the headmaster, the trial gives Alfred a platform to conduct his defense via a pair of inspiring speeches.

This Land Is Mine (1943)

In the universe of this story, the Nazis and their collaborators are basically businessmen who would like to see a better world, one with no unions or unruly children, when the war is over.  Von Keller even excuses an act of apparent sabotage because he does not want to have to take hostages.  He would like nothing better than to cut Albert some slack.  But by the time this is necessary, Albert is having none of it.

This may be the wordiest propaganda of 1943.  On the other hand, with Charles Laughton delivering it, tears came to my eyes.  Renoir got beautiful performances out of all his actors.  O’Connor who usually goes straight over the top has a rather large and convincing turn as the dominating mother and Sanders is touching.  It’s not a great film but very interesting. If you are willing to suspend your disbelief for the last twenty minutes or so and can tolerate some beautifully written patriotic speechmaking, it’s worth a watch.

This Land Is Mine won the Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording.

Clip – Charles Laughton teaches one last lesson on The Declaration of the Rights of Man

 

 

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Heaven Can Waitheaven can wait french poster
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Samson Raphaelson from a play by Leslie Bush-Fekete
1943/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

His Excellency: If you meet our requirements, we’ll be only too glad to accomodate you. Uh, would you be good enough to mention, for instance, some outstanding crime you’ve committed?

Henry Van Cleve: Crime? Crime? I’m afraid I can’t think of any, but I can safely say my whole life was one continuous misdemeanor.

This story of a married man with a weakness for the ladies is notable for its lavish production values and the Lubitsch touch.

When he dies, Henry van Cleve (Don Ameche), who considers himself to have been a wicked roué, reports directly to Hell.  The Devil (Laird Cregar) is not entirely convinced he is in the right place and asks him to tell his story.  Segue into flashback.

Henry was a scamp of a boy, clearly taking after his waggish grandfather (Charles Coburn) and is a constant amazement to his doting mother (Spring Byington) and straight-laced father (Louis Calhern).  As a young man, Henry has his parents wrapped around his little finger, cadging $100 loans every day so he can live the high life and entertain chorus girls. Then he sees the lovely Martha (Gene Tierney) on a street, tries to woo her in a book store, and decides to locate and win her.  Finding her again works out to be easy as his stuffy cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn) introduces her as his fiancee at his birthday parting that evening along with her feuding parents (Eugene Palette and Marjorie Main).  The naughty, romantic Henry sweeps her off her feet, though, and elopes with her that very evening.

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The rest of the movie follows the ups and downs of their mostly happy married life as Martha learns to look at Henry’s various indiscretions with tolerance and humor.  Then she dies shortly after their 25th anniversary and Henry resumes his career as a stage-door Johnny in his later years.   Are Henry’s sins enough to earn him a place in Hell?

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As usual, Charles Coburn is the highlight of this movie and some of the zest goes out of it when he (and Martha’s parents) leave it about two-thirds of the way through.  Ameche is appealing, though, and Tierney looks good enough to be a proper object of life-long adoration.  The gay nineties sets and costumes are amazing, especially considering this was made under wartime restrictions.  Fox must have been able to get good value out of its existing sets.  Lubitsch keeps everything light and fun.

Heaven Can Wait was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, Color (Edward Cronjager).  I don’t see how it missed at least a nod for its Art Direction.

Clip – final eight minutes of movie