Que viva España!

I’m off to Spain for almost three weeks of birdwatching.  So excited!  We will start off at Doñana National Park where I am hoping to see hordes of these guys.

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I’ll return home on May 10 and will get going on 1949 soon afterwards.  See you at the movies!

In English

… and Spanish

1948 Recap – 10 Favorite Films

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I have now seen 63 films that were released in 1948. The complete list is here.  A few shorts, documentaries, and other movies were reviewed here. The total also includes a few I’ve seen before that were not easily available this time around.  This was a great year for movies.  I cut it a bit short so that I can start fresh on 1949 when I return from vacation.

I usually make my list from films I have rated 10/10 or 9/10 on IMDb.  This time there are too many 9/10 movies to include all of them in the top 10.  Also rans were:  Rope; Raw Deal; Red River; Force of EvilIt Happened in Europe; Pitfall; and He Walked by Night.

These basically could have been placed in any order, though Treasure of the Sierra Madre would always come out as my favorite of the year.

10.  All My Sons (directed by Irving Reis)

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9.  Hamlet (directed by Laurence Olivier)

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8.  The Snake Pit  (directed by Anatole Litvak)

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7.  Fort Apache (directed by John Ford)

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6.  The Red Shoes (directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

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5.  Oliver Twist (directed by David Lean)

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4. Drunken Angel (directed by Akira Kurosawa)

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3.  Bicycle Thieves (1948, directed by Vittorio de Sica)

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2.  The Fallen Idol (directed by Carol Reed)

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1.  Treasure of the Sierra Madre (directed by John Huston)

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Louisiana Story (1948)

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Directed by Robert J. Flaherty
Written by Robert J. Flaherty and Frances H. Flaherty
1948/USA
Robert Flaherty Productions Inc.
First viewing/Netflix rental
#224 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

There’s a saying among prospectors: ‘Go out looking for one thing, and that’s all you’ll ever find.’ Robert J. Flaherty

A beautiful look at a bygone place and time on the edge of modernity.

This is an almost wordless look at a boy’s adventures in the backwaters of the Louisiana bayou.  He hunts and fishes from a canoe accompanied by his pet raccoon.  All is peaceful until he is forced to do battle with a huge alligator.

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The bigger threat may be an oil rig that has just arrived to drill.  The boy seems to welcome the incredibly noisy contraption however.    He forms a silent bond with the crew on the rig and even tries to help out using the talisman of salt he carries as insurance against “them”.

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UCLA did an incredible job restoring this film.  It is an lovely, meditative work. Nowadays it would be a “message” film.  Then it was a poem.   I had to slow way down to appreciate it.

Louisiana Story was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story.

Excerpt from UCLA’s restored version

The Pirate (1948)

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Directed by Vicente Minnelli
Written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich from a play by S.N. Behrman
1948/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

Manuela: Someday Macoco is going to swoop down upon me like a chicken hawk and carry me away.

Minnelli’s 1948 musical with wife Judy Garland was a notorious flop.  There were reasons for this but there are also real pleasures to be found here.

Manuela (Garland) is a sheltered lass living in a quiet village.  Her aunt (Gladys Cooper) has arranged her marriage to the much-older town mayor (Walter Slezak) but Manuela dreams of being swept of her feet by the notorious pirate “Black Mack” Macoco.  She talks her aunt into letting her go on one last trip to a nearby port city.  There she spots actor Serafin (Gene Kelly).  Initially she mistakes him for Macoco.  When she finds out his true identity, she wants nothing to do with him.  She sneaks into see his show anyway and he takes advantage of the opportunity to hypnotize her into revealing her true feelings.  They are for Macoco, not him.  In a trance, Manuela breaks into song to the wild applause of the audience  Now Serafin needs her as the headliner for his show.

pirate-1948-04-gSerafin follows Manuela back to her village.  He pretends to be Macoco and threatens to burn down the place unless Manuela is given to him unmarried.  Her fiance objects but it turns out Serafin is possession of a secret that allows him to carry on the charade.  For the time being …  With George Zucco as the viceroy.

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The characters of Kelly and Garland are comically overacting for most of the film.  This was not what 1948 audiences wanted to see no matter how clever some of the dialogue might be.  The film also bogs down in places and the Cole Porter tunes, with one exception, are not his catchiest.  The movie is worth seeing, however, just for the number in which Gene Kelly dances with the Nicholas Brothers to “Be a Clown” and the song’s reprise with Garland.

The DVD includes an interesting commentary by a film historian outlining the film’s troubled and protracted production history.  Garland was about ready to implode at this time. Honestly, none of it shows up on the screen.

Lennie Hayton was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer

Clip – “Be a Clown” – Cole Porter was sure a good sport when Freed ripped this off for “Make ‘Em Laugh’ in Singin’ in the Rain

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

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Directed by H.C. Potter
Written by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank from a novel by Eric Hodgins
1948/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant Video

Muriel Blandings: I want it to be a soft green, not as blue-green as a robin’s egg, but not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. …  Now, the dining room. I’d like yellow. Not just yellow; a very gay yellow….  I tell you, Mr. PeDelford, if you’ll send one of your men to the grocer for a pound of their best butter, and match that exactly, you can’t go wrong! Now, this is the paper we’re going to use in the hall. …. There’s some little dots in the background, and it’s these dots I want you to match. Not the little greenish dot near the hollyhock leaf, but the little bluish dot between the rosebud and the delphinium blossom…. Now the kitchen is to be white. Not a cold, antiseptic hospital white. A little warmer, but still, not to suggest any other color but white. Now for the powder room – in here – I want you to match this thread, and don’t lose it….  As you can see, it’s practically an apple red. Somewhere between a healthy winesap and an unripened Jonathan.

Mr. PeDelford: You got that Charlie?

Charlie, Painter: Red, green, blue, yellow, white.

Mr. PeDelford: Check.

How can you go wrong with Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas?  If you have ever had any remodeling done, you will almost certainly relate to this very funny film.

Jim Blandings (Grant) feels that he is in a rut with his advertising job and his settled life with wife Muriel (Loy) and two kids in their Manhattan apartment.  He spots an ad for a farmhouse in Connecticut and decides this is the change they all need.  Of course, a few renovations are needed …

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And naturally this means or less rebuilding the place from the ground up.  The Blandings encounter every inconvenience and expense known to anyone familiar with this game.  They are aided by their sense of humor and advice from bachelor attorney and friend Bill Cole (Douglas).  With Reginald Denny as the bemused architect.

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This is funny stuff.  The gags come not only from the chicanery of the contractors but from the fanciful expectations of the clients.  Grant and Loy have terrific chemistry.  Or maybe its just that Loy makes every man she marries in the movies fall in love with her. Recommended.

Re-release trailer

Clip – choosing paint colors

 

Romance on the High Seas (1948)

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Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein; additional dialogue by I.A.L Diamond
1948/USA
Warner Bros./Michael Curtiz Productions
First viewing/Netflix Rental

 

Georgia Garrett: Oscar! How did you get on this boat?

Oscar Farrar: I lied about my age.

Given the pedigree of its director and writers, this is surprisingly bland.  It is most notable as the screen debut of Doris Day who is characteristically perky but would do better things later.

Michael Kent (Don DeFore) and his jealous wife Elvira (Janis Paige) have been married for several years.  The press of his business has prevented them from taking their honeymoon cruise for all that time.  Elvira is at the travel agency to get some passport photos taken when she meets Georgia Garrett (Day) who has planned many adventures but never had the money to actually take a trip.  Georgia is a nightclub singer. Pianist/MC Oscar Farrar (Oscar Levant) is in love with her in his own quirky way.

Shortly thereafter, Michael says he must postpone yet another trip.  Georgia decides to use this as an opportunity to catch him cheating with his new secretary.  She offers her ticket to Georgia so she can stay behind in New York and spy.  Georgia is to travel under Elvira’s name, send letters home periodically, and keep to herself.  But Michael unexpectedly says he will be able to travel later that week.  When Elvira insists that she must use the ticket she already has, he becomes suspicious and hires private detective Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) to tail his wife.  Once aboard, Peter, of course, believes that Georgia is the wife he is supposed to be following.

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Naturally, before too long Peter and Georgia fall in love.  Georgia feels she cannot reveal her identity leading to the usual complications.  Of course, Oscar joins the cruise as well further complicating matters.  A happy ending is guaranteed.

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There are zero surprises in the story.  I was pleased to see Jack Carson after an absence from my viewing for several “years” and in the lead no less.  As usual, Oscar Levant always plays himself and very good he is at it too.  But Day carries the picture.  Your reaction will inevitably depend on your tolerance for her.  Mine is relatively high.

Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn were nominated for the Best Music, Original Song Oscar for “It’s Magic” and Ray Heindorf was nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Clip – Doris Day sings “It’s Magic”

 

The Paleface (1948)

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Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Written by Edmund L. Hartmann, Frank Tashlin, and Jack Rose
1948/USA
Paramount Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#218 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Potter: Brave men run in my family.

This might just be Bob Hope’s best film.  Is that enough to require seeing it before you die?

The federal government springs outlaw sharp-shooter Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) from prison to work on a highly secret mission to uncover a gang that is smuggling dynamite to the Indians.  She is to meet up with a federal agent and they are to pose as husband and wife.  The agent is killed and Jane picks out the closest male as a substitute.  The hapless dupe is ‘Painless’ Peter Potter (Hope), a nervous new dentist.  He is happy to get out of town, having pulled the wrong tooth of a real brute.  To his happy surprise, Jane claims he proposed marriage when was passed out.  They marry and set out West with a wagon train.

On the way, they lose track of the rest of the wagons and end up spending their wedding night in an abandoned shack.  This is the first of the many times Jane resorts to conking Peter over the head to avoid his amorous advances.  In the morning, they are besieged by Indians.  Peter defend the cabin with a rifle but it is Jane that actually dispatches their attackers.  She credits Peter and his skill with a gun is a running gag.

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The pair continues on only to be captured later by Indians.  This is a comedy so it should be no surprise that the day is saved and Jane develops a soft spot for her erstwhile husband.

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This is really pretty amusing and there are just enough songs to entertain without making the movie a musical.  It’s no worse than many of the other comedies on The List but nothing I would want to see more than once or twice.  This picture resurrected Jane Russell’s career after the notorious debut of her bosoms in The Outlaw.

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for “Buttons and Bows”.

The story was remade in 1968 as The Shakiest Gun in the West starring Don Knotts.

Bob Hope sings “Button and Bows”, the second Best Original Song he sang in one of his movies – interestingly, this is better known in versions performed by women

Port of Call (1948)

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Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman; story by Olle Länsberg
1948/Sweden
Svensk Filmindustri
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

My professor told me when I started in the ’40s that a director should listen and keep his mouth shut. Took me a long time to understand I talked too much. Now I know you should listen with your ears – and your heart. — Ingmar Bergman

Bergman is still finding his way in this problem picture about troubled youth.

As the film opens, we see Berit jump into the dockside water fully-dressed.  She is promptly rescued by a good samaritan and is none too happy about it.  Now she is really in trouble.  Her mother is out of town but her social worker is immediately on her case.  Berit has already spent several years of her young life in a reformatory and is under constant threat of being sent back there.  She does not seem to have committed more serious crimes than going off with boys and talking back to her awful, domineering mother.

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That night Berit meets Gösta, a recently returned sailor, at a dance.  She takes him back to the family’s empty apartment.  What starts off on his part as one-night stand turns into a love affair.  They go away for a weekend at a hotel and Berit runs into one of her dorm mates from the reformatory.  Even though Gösta says he doesn’t need to know anything about her past, she decides to spill everything about her sad life thus far.

Gösta can’t stop thinking about Birgit’s other men and rejects her.  Back home, Birgit has loaned her friend money for an illegal abortion.  The friend calls her from the abortionist’s house.  She is so ill she needs help and can’t go home.  Birgit takes her to Gösta’s apartment.  Gösta has a mighty struggle with his conscience.

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There is nothing special to mark this film as a Bergman piece.  It’s not particularly psychologically astute and kind of pulls its last feeble note of optimism out of nowhere.  Not terrible by any means though.

Clip – Opening sequence

Anna Karenina (1948)

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Directed by Julien Duvivier
Written by Jean Anouilh, Guy Morgan, and Julien Duvivier
UK/1948
London Film Productions
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

“I think… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

This is an adaptation of one of my favorite novels.  Inevitably, a 110-minute movie cannot do justice to Tolstoy’s 800-page book.

Anna (Vivien Leigh) is married to the much-older Count Alexis Karenin (Ralph Richardson), a pedantic bureaucrat.  They have a little son who is the light of Anna’s life.  Anna’s brother Stepan has been caught in an affair by his wife Dolly.  Anna travels from St. Petersburg to Moscow to make peace.  She shares a carriage on the train with the mother of Count Alexis Vronsky, a young soldier who has been courting Dolly’s younger sister, Kitty. An old man falls under the train in Moscow, presaging the doom that is awaiting Anna there.

Anna is successful in reconciling her brother and sister-in-law.  She goes to a ball where Kitty is expecting a proposal from Vronsky (Kieron Moore).  But Vronsky wants only to dance with Anna and the die is cast.  He follows her to St. Petersburg.  Kitty, who had the same night rejected a proposal from Count Levin, grows ill from humiliation and heartbreak. The Kitty-Levin story, which makes up about half of the novel and provides a needed counterpoint to the Anna-Vronsky affair, is dropped almost entirely by the movie at this point.

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The lovers cannot resist temptation.  Karenin is remarkably tolerant, seeking only to avoid scandal.  But Anna reveals the depth of her feelings in public when Vronsky is thrown from his horse and Karenin seeks a divorce.  In revenge, he also asks for sole custody of the son.  Although extramarital affairs are common in St. Petersburg high society, they are strictly recreational.  By openly defying the rules, Anna becomes an outcast.  Things go downhill from there.  Then Anna becomes obsessed with the idea that Vronsky is about to abandon her …

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Vivien Leigh convinces as a woman who would give up everything for love.  Unfortunately, Kieron Moore makes a singularly weak and uncharismatic Vronsky.  Richardson is good as the chilly Karenin and manages to give his predicament a hint of subtle pathos.  But, although the staging is also good, the film is lacking in fire or depth.

Clips – Comparing Leigh and Garbo as Anna

All My Sons (1948)

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Directed by Irving Reis
Written by Chester Erskine based on the play by Arthur Miller
1948/USA
Universal International Pictures
First viewing/YouTube

 

“I know you’re no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father.” ― Arthur Miller, All My Sons

Even in its sub-par YouTube version and in parts, this was a powerful and wonderfully acted drama.

During the war, Joe Keller (Edward G. Robinson) made a fortune churning out airplane parts for the government.  Later, both he and his partner were tried for delivering defective parts that resulted in the deaths of 27 men when their planes crashed.  The jury believed Joe’s testimony that he was home sick when his partner made the decision to ship the parts.  His partner and next door neighbor, Herbert Deever, was convicted and is now serving a long stretch in prison.

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Joe and his family live in a storybook neighborhood in small town America.  Their son Larry, a pilot, was listed as missing in action three years ago.  His mother, Kate (Mady Christians), refuses to believe he is dead.  She suffers from insomnia and assorted nervous ailments and Joe treats her with kid gloves.  Their other son Chris (Burt Lancaster) lives at home and is being groomed to take over the factory.

Chris has just announced he intends to ask Ann Deever, Joe’s partner’s daughter and his brother’s ex-fiancee to marry him.  His mother is adamantly opposed to this since approving of the marriage would mean acknowledging that her other son is not coming home. In addition, there is resistance against having any member of the partner’s family around although this point is not pressed.  Ann and her brother have not visited the father in years out of shame.

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Although Joe enjoys a cordial poker-playing relationship with his neighbors, it is privately believed by many that Joe knew all about the parts shipment.  After all, everybody at the plant always says “Ask Joe” if you have a question about anything at all.  Joe confronts it all with bluster and defiance.  Chris believes in his father.  Then Ann’s brother George (Howard Duff) arrives demanding to take her away.  He has finally visited his father and now believes  his father’s version of the events.  There is a massive confrontation and it looks like the engagement is off.

Heartbroken, Chris goes to visit Deever in jail.  Now he’s not so sure about his father any more.  Meanwhile, still in love with Chris, Ann shows up with a piece of information for his mother that will turn the Keller household upside down.  With Arlene Francis and Harry Morgan as neighbors.

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Edward G. Robinson is genius in this movie.  His character must be ruthless, courageous, and kind all at once and this is definitely the actor to pull that mixture off spectacularly.  He must convey the tragedy of a man both betrayed by and betraying the American dream and has all the gravitas necessary for the part.  While it is totally incredible that Burt Lancaster could be his offspring, the younger actor’s power matches him well.  I also thought Mady Christians was superb.  I had never seen the play or the movie before and I thought the writing was up there with Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  Recommended.

Trailer

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