Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

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Directed by Allan Dwan
Written by Harry Brown and James Edward Grant, story by Brown
1949/USA
Republic Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Sergeant Stryker: SADDLE UP.

This contains all the WWII war movie cliches rolled into one.  John Wayne fans won’t want to miss it though.

Sgt. John M. Stryker (Wayne) has a tough job on his hands.  His duty is to train a group of raw recruits and then lead them into battle.  His no-nonsense approach to this task has given him a reputation as a hard taskmaster.

Two of the men in his squad pose particular problems.  PFC Mike Thomas (Forrest Tucker) has a grudge against Stryker who had him reduced in rank previously.  PFC Peter Conway (John Agar) is the son of a commander, now dead, whom Stryker greatly admired. Conway, an intellectual,  believes he was major disappointment to his father and that Stryker will automatically share his father’s opinion.  He has a gigantic chip on his shoulder.
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Stryker is struggling with his own demons.  His divorce from his wife and separation from his beloved son leads him to get rip-roaring drunk whenever the occasion presents itself. But really he’s a good guy, whose sometimes harsh methods are designed merely to keep his men alive when they are tested in battle.

The Marines are see combat first on Tarawa and finally at Iwo Jima.  With Martin Milner and Richard Jaeckel as members of the platoon.

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This film is filled with the same bantering and valor in battle as we have seen in countless other pictures from the period.  There are few surprises.  Wayne is very good though and probably that will be enough for his fans.  By now I consider myself one, while still having no use for his politics.

Sands of Iwo Jima was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor (Wayne); Best Writing, Motion Picture Story; Best Sound, Recording, and Best Film Editing.

Trailer

Champion (1949)

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Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Carl Foreman from a story by Ring Lardner
1949/USA
Screen Plays/Stanley Kramer Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Tommy Haley: You know what a “Golem” is? I think I knew all the time I was building one.

This was Kirk Douglas’s break-out performance.  He is scary good as a ruthless boxer.

The story is a familiar one.  Midge Kelly (Douglas) is hitching rides on freight cars with his crippled brother Connie (Arthur Kennedy) en route to a diner they have bought an interest in.  After jumping from the train after a fistfight, they get a ride from a boxer and his girlfriend and wind up at the local boxing ring.  The pugnacious Midge continues to react violently to any perceived insult.  When one of his boxers drops out, the ring manager offers him $35 dollars to fight.  The amateur is thoroughly trounced and Midge winds up paying $20 of his promised purse in various “fees”.  But trainer Haley (Paul Stewart) sees some latent talent and tells him to look him up if he is ever in Los Angeles.

When Midge and Connie arrive at the diner, it turns out they have again been cheated by the buddy who sold it to them.  They are put to work doing menial chores.  Midge starts a thing with the real owner’s daughter Emma (Ruth Roman).  When they are caught together the father forces him to marry her.  Midge does so and promptly leaves town.

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At loose ends, Midge makes his way to LA and looks up Haley.  He is burning with ambition and rage at all the slights he has suffered.  He trains hard to turn pro and wins a number of fights.  He is unable to get a shot at the title though.  In order to fight the champion, he is required to throw the fight.  He agrees to this, then changes his mind in the ring.  He and Haley are both pummeled by outraged gamblers.  But Midge has finally made a name for himself and becomes a media darling.

The rest of the movie follows the fighter’s career as he betrays every single person who loves or supports him.  With Marilyn Maxwell and Lola Albright as women Midge screws over on his way to the top.

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Under no circumstances do what I did.  The version currently streaming on Amazon Plus has been colorized.  The lights and shadows of the Oscar-nominated low key cinematography were rendered into an obnoxious muddy mess in the version I watched.

I can recommend the film itself though.  It’s a story we have seen before.  However, whereas usually the hero is corrupted, here Midge is more or less a rotter from the first frame.  The movie belongs to Douglas and he is absolutely a force of nature.  As much as one despises the character he is playing it is impossible to to take your eyes off him.

Champion won the Oscar for Best Film Editing.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor (Kennedy); Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. (Dimitri Tiomkin).

Clip

 

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

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Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings from a story by James Warner Bellah
1949/USA
Argosy Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Captain Nathan Brittles: Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.

This lacks the gravitas of the previous entry in Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy – Fort Apache – but it is very appealing, looks splendid, and contains one of John Wayne’s better performances.

Wayne plays Capt. Nathan Brittles, a forty-year man who is about to retire.  He clearly has mixed feelings about leaving his beloved cavalry.  His right-hand man Sgt. Quincannon (Victor McLaglen), a hard-drinking blustery Irishman, is also due to retire a couple of weeks after him.  Wayne is a crusty mentor to two young men who are coming up in the ranks, Lt. Flint Cohill (John Agar) and Second Lt. Ross Pennell (Harry Carey, Jr.).  These are vying for the affections of spunky Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru), niece of the fort commandant, Major Allshard (George O’Brien).

The victory of the Sioux at Little Big Horn has inspired the local Indians to band together to drive the white man out of their hunting grounds once and for all.  The major is anxious to get his wife (Mildred Natwick) and niece out of harm’s way and orders Brittles to take them along by wagon.  Brittles protests but obeys.  The presence of the women slows down the company and it proves impossible for Brittles to take them to the stage they are to catch.

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By the time he gets back to the fort, Brittles has only a few hours remaining of his military career.  After a touching send off, he uses the time he has to try to defuse the crisis with the Indians.  With Ben Johnson as a fount of wisdom on Indian ways.

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I had seen this before but remembered nothing about it.  Truth to tell, the plot is subsidiary.  Much time is devoted to the love triangle and to Victor McLaglen’s drunken antics, which are only too familiar from his playing the same character is just about every Ford film.

And yet there are many tender moments to savor.  The 42-year-old Wayne was outstandingly convincing playing a 60-year-old and his farewell scene is something to treasure.  Lots of the dialogue is sharp as well and the cinematography is breathtaking.  This is the film that contains the beautiful shots of the troops riding through a thunder storm.  Recommended.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Color (Winton C. Hoch).

Trailer

Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

Twelve O’Clock Hightwelve-oclock-high-movie-poster-1949-1020143803
Directed by Henry King
Written by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay Jr. from their novel
1949/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

General Frank Savage:  I’ve been sent here to take over what has come to be known as a hard luck group. Well, I don’t believe in hard luck. So we’re going to find out what the trouble is…. I can tell you now one reason I think you’ve been having hard luck. I saw it in your faces last night. I can see it there now. You’ve been looking at a lot of air lately… and you think you ought to have a rest. In short, you’re sorry for yourselves. I don’t have a lot of patience with this, “What are we fighting for?” stuff. We’re in a war, a shooting war. We’ve got to fight. And some of us have got to die. I’m not trying to tell you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it won’t be so tough.

This is less a war story than a psychological study of one way to motivate men and its cost.  I thought it was excellent.

The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Harvey Stovall, who had been a major on desk duty with a bomber group flying out of England doing daylight bombing runs.  As the flashback begins, the group has been suffering heavy losses.   Their beloved commander Col. Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) is cracking under the strain.  It turns out that the group is suffering above average losses.  The brass is concerned that this will jeopardize funding for the daylight bombing program.

Twelve O'Clock High 1Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) is sent over to analyze the problem.  He concludes that  Davenport is suffering from “over-identification with his men.” He is selected to take over and correct the situation.  Although Davenport advises him to ease up on the number of missions flown, Savage decides to take a hard line.  He dresses down Air Exec Lt. Col. Gately (Hugh Marlow) for shirking his duty and assigns him to pilot a crew to be made up of all the screw-ups in the group.  He then makes the speech quoted above and challenges the men to quit if they don’t agree.

Soon Savage has a mass resignation of pilots on his hands.  Stovall agrees to hold up the paperwork seeking reassignment long enough for Savage to show results.  This brings a team of inspectors down on Savage’s neck but by then he has succeeded in instilling some pride in the group.

Although morale does improve under Savage’s command, his steely facade begins to crack when losses mount during the group’s first mission over Germany.

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I thought this was just about perfect for what it was.  The acting is fantastic and the story is really interesting.  I love the scene where Hugh Marlowe gets injured and Gregory Peck sort of pretends to not be visiting him in the hospital.

I wonder if they ever show this movie to business executives as a model for improving team performance?  Savage’s way was harsh but you could see how it might work.  Recommended.

Twelve O’Clock High won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Jagger) and Best Sound, Recording.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture and Best Actor (Peck).

Clip – Straight talk

 

The Quiet Duel (1949)

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Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa, Senkichi Tanaguchi, and Kazuo Kikuta
1949/USA
Daiei Motion Picture Company, Daiei Studios, Film Art Association
First viewing/YouTube

 

Dr. Konosuke Fujisaki: If he had been happy, he might have become just a snob.

Toshiro Mifune, in an early restrained performance, is just excellent as a doctor with a conscience that is eating him up.

The exhausted Dr. Kyoji Fujisaki (Mifune) is doing surgery in a dimly lit operating room during the war.  He removes a glove to get a better grip and then accidentally cuts himself with a scalpel.  He learns the next day that his patient is ill.  Tests later confirm that the patient has syphilis and has passed it on to his surgeon.

Segue to post-war Tokyo where Kyoji and his father Konosuke, an OB/GYN run a clinic and hospital.  Kyoshi has thrown himself into caring for the poor.  The practice has taken in unwed mother-to-be Noriko as a probationary nurse.  She mightily resents the doctors for refusing to give her an abortion.

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Kyoji has announced to his fiancee of six years that he cannot marry her.  He refuses to tell her why leaving her understandably heartbroken.  Kyoji knows that she would willingly wait another five years for him to finish his treatment if he told her.  He cannot bear to see her give up her childbearing years for his sake.

In the meantime, Kyoji runs into the man that infected him.  He has returned to his wife. who is now expecting a baby.  The man has none of the scruples that are making Kyoji suffer so much.

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This is still early Kurosawa, with some pretty heavy-handed rain and transition shots and a lot of melodrama.  It is no masterpiece but I still really enjoyed it for Mifune’s performance. He gets to let loose toward the end but is quite subtle for most of the movie.  I loved a little moment where he and Shimura, as his father, awkwardly fumble with lighters not being able to decide in the moment which will light the other’s cigarette.

Clip – not often you get to see Mifune in despair

Battleground (1949)

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Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Robert Pirosh
1949/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Hansan: This is an M-1, semi-automatic, high velocity…

Soldier: Look, you’re not selling it to me, you’re showing me how to fire it.

Late in life, William A. Wellman still could direct a mean action sequence. The repartee among the GIs is the other stand-out in this rather formulaic war picture.

This is one of those slice-life plots beloved of war movie makers in which we are introduced to a host of soldiers, each with his own backstory.  As the film begins, we see the day-to-day grousing and bantering of an airborne division about to be taken to Paris for some well-earned leave.

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Leave is cancelled and the squad is sent to the front to fight in what later would become known as The Battle of the Bulge.  Unfortunately for these men, they become trapped forests near the town of Bastogne where they are surrounded by German forces.  The weather only adds to their troubles.  They are stuck in a blizzard in fog too thick for air support.  We follow the heartbreak and heroics marking the days until the sun shines again.  With Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, John Hodiak, and James Whitmore as some of the soldiers.

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This is actually one of the better war films, largely due to the quality of the dialogue.  The situations may be cliche but the talk seems very real.  It is also very nicely staged by Wellman, who had by now honed his combat work to a fine edge.

Battleground won Academy Awards for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Whitmore); Best Director; and Best Film Editing.

Trailer

Bitter Rice (1949)

Bitter Rice (Riso Amaro)Bitter-Rice
Directed by Giuseppe De Santis
Written by Giuseppe De Santis, Corrado Alvaro, Carlo Lizzani, etc.
1949/Italy
Lux Film
Repeat viewing/Hulu Plus

 

“Cutting stalks at noon time, Perspiration drips to the earth. Know you that your bowl of rice, Each grain from hardship comes?” — Cheng Chan-Pao

At the time, I suspect that the main attraction of this film was sizzling-hot teenager Silvana Magnano’s dancing and all those lady field hands in short shorts.  It’s got a few other things going for it as well.

As the film begins, a reporter informs the audience of the centuries-long tradition of women doing seasonal labor in Italy’s rice fields.

Walter (Vittorio Gassman, Ossesione) and Francesca (Doris Dowling), his girlfriend, are at the train station preparing to escape following the robbery of an expensive necklace from her employer.  The police are hot on their trail and Walter attempts to hide by joining the lucious Silvana (Silvana Magnana), one of the women waiting there for a train to the rice field, in a raucous boogie woogie.  Eventually Walter gives the necklace to Francesca and tells her to mix in with the women while he makes a fast retreat.

bitter-rice-1949-movie-womenFrancesca follows instructions.  Silvana shows her the ropes on arrival but turns against her when she finds the necklace.  Friction develops between a group of women who have arrived without union contracts and the union workers.  Solidarity prevails and gradually Francesca is accepted and comes to appreciate her fellow-workers simple, honest way of life.  Silvana is being courted by Marco (Raff Vallone), a soldier.  She isn’t interested in much more than friendship.

Eventually Walter shows up to throw a spanner in the works.  The greedy ingrate begins to plan a major rice robbery and to seduce Silvana with the necklace and talk of marriage.  Will Francesca finally stand up to him?

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This starts out looking like it might be neo-realist fare but soon enough takes a rather melodramatic operatic turn.  It was hard for me to take my eyes off the magnetic Silvana Magnano.  When I did, there were plenty of other striking mages of work and life on the Italian countryside to keep me interested.

Giuseppi De Santis and Carlo Lizzani were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story.

 

Clip – Introduction

Trailer (no subtitles but you can see what the fuss was about)

 

 

All the King’s Men (1949)

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Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Robert Rossen from a novel by Robert Penn Warren
1949/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Willie Stark: You wanna know what my platform is? Here it is. I’m gonna soak the fat boys and spread it out thin.

Riveting story of the rise and fall of a demagogue and those around him.  Those Oscars were well-deserved.

Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) was born of humble origins with a fire in his belly.  As soon as he could, he tried to improve his mind with the help of school teacher Lucy, who became his wife.  He is disturbed by the corruption he sees around him and begins to run for public office.  The powers that be throw their considerable might at him and he loses every election.  Nothing will make him give up however.

Jack Burden (John Ireland) was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but with high ideals.  He works for low wages as a reporter but comes back frequently to his patrician home to spend time with the poised and beautiful Anne Stanton (Joanne Dru), his childhood sweetheart.  Anne comes from a proud and wealthy family.  Her stepfather, however, is one of the corrupt movers and shakers in the capital.

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Jack is assigned to cover Willie’s latest campaign.  He writes glowing articles about Willie’s honesty.  Willie loses this one too but it also provides his big break.  This comes because he campaigned against a crooked construction contract for a school that later collapses, killing several children.  When Willie runs for governor, Jack comes back into the fold as his right-hand man.  The straight-talking Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge) tags along as sort of a spoiler hired by the opposition – Willie’s candidacy was supported in order to split the rural vote – but goes on to become his campaign manager.

AllKingsMen001Willie gets off to a rocky start delivering boring speeches about tax reform.  Ironically, things pick up when the teetotaler begins to drink.  One day he is so hungover and drunk from the hair that bit him that he tosses his speech aside and begins speaking to the crowd as fellow “hicks”.  He rapidly discovers how to get the people in the palm of his hand.  He starts accepting campaign contributions from the very interests he is campaigning against.

He wins handily and starts running the state as his own personal fiefdom.  He delivers on most of his promises for new roads, schools, and the like but each new project bears his name.  As time goes on, hubris overtakes Willie.  We watch as he begins to womanize and to squash anyone who dares to oppose him by the most odious means possible.  How much can Jack take before he will desert his hero?  With John Derek as Willie’s debauched adopted son.

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The film would be nothing without Broderick Crawford and he is as mesmerizing as a demagogue could be.  There’s also a lot going on in his eyes from the inside throughout.  Mercedes McCambridge has a rather small part but each line cuts like a knife.  This movie shows all the rottenness of politics rolled into one man.  Unfortunately, it’s still not too much of an exaggeration.  Recommended.

All the King’s Men won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Crawford), and Best Supporting Actress (McCambridge).  It was nominated in the categories of Best Supporting Actor (Ireland); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay; and Best Film Editing.

Clip – Campaign Speech

On the Town (1949)

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Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden from their Broadway musical
1949/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#233 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Gabey, Chip, Ozzie: [singing] New York, New York, a wonderful town / The Bronx is up and the Battery down / The people ride in a hole in the ground / New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town!

The cast is great and so are a lot of the musical numbers.  I feel like I can tolerate a lot of silliness but somehow this one manages to be a little too corny for me to love it.

Three sailors are on 24-hour leave in New York City, where none has ever been.  Gabey (Gene Kelly) and Ozzie (Jules Munchen) are looking for a little female attention but Chip (Frank Sinatra) is determined to see all the sights.  Gabey falls in love with the photo of MissTurnstiles Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen), who he is convinced is a big celebrity.  He talks the other men into searching for her.

Early on, Chip is picked up by randy taxi cab driver Hildie (Betty Garrett) and she hauls them around town while plotting how to lure Chip to her apartment.  They look every place mentioned in Ivy’s high-toned biography.  One of the first stops is the Museum of Natural History.  There they meet up with Claire (Ann Miller) who has been advised by her psychiatrist to study prehistoric man so she can get over her boy-craziness.  She thinks Ozzie looks exactly like a cave man statue at the museum and is off to the races.  Before they leave, the boys manage to topple a dinosaur statue and are chased by the museum director and cops throughout the rest of the film.

While riding on a subway, the three sailors see a poster of Ivy Smith,New York's latest Miss Turnstiles. She becomes the object of Gabe's fantasy.

Gabey finally catches up with Ivy at her dance class.  She pretends to be exactly as described in her bio.  In reality, she has been forced to work as a hooch dancer at Coney Island to pay for her lessons.  The romance has its ups and downs until love conquers all.

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I love the opening “New York, New York” number, Ann Miller’s dancing, and of course Gene Kelly.  But the story, revolving on the adventures of sex-hungry girls and their counterparts, leaves me cold.  The dialogue strikes me as totally banal.  I may have been having a bad day.

Clip – Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen sing and dance

Le silence de la mer (1949)

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Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Jean-Pierre Melville from a story by Vercors
1949/France
Melville Productions
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

It is beautiful for a soldier to disobey orders which are criminal – Anatole France (from a clipping left for the officer)

After seeing many gorgeous stills from this film, I was convinced I would love it.  The visuals delivered but, unfortunately, I found the story pretty tedious.

The story takes place during the German Occupation.  An old man and his niece are ordered to share their house with a German Officer.  They decide to treat the man as if he were not there.  They neither speak to him nor respond in any way.  The officer happens to be a sensitive would-be composer and a Francophile.  He joins the two each night and tells them about his dream for a truly free France that will be restored to its former greatness when Germany wins the war.

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Then one day the officer must travel to Paris.  He is excited about the possiblity of sharing his ideas with his friends.  He comes back completely disillusioned and soon volunteers to go to the front lines.  With Howard Vernon, Nicole Stephane, and Jean-Marie Robaine.

silence-de-la-mer-1947-04-gThe film was  based on a novel that was clandestinely released in 1942 and which became the Bible of the French Resistance.  Melville did not have the author’s permission to film and finally agreed that he would burn the negatives if the author was unhappy with the film.  The author was satisfied so I guess we can assume that the film is faithful to the book.

The visuals are amazing – all the more so since this was made with almost no budget. The music track cost more to make than the entire film.  Otherwise, the film is almost entirely one long monologue by the officer accompanied by occasional narration from the old man.  Time passed really slowly for me.  Melville would do much better later.

Clip – Wordless views of Occupied Paris