Three Came Home
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Written by Nunnally Johnson from a book by Agnes Newton Keith
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Prime
[first lines] Agnes Newton Keith: Six-degrees north of the Equator, in the heart of the East Indies, lies Sandakan, the tiny capital of British North Borneo. In Sandakan in 1941, there were 15 thousand Asiatics, 79 Europeans, and 1 American. I was the American.
Claudette Colbert is always great as this type of woman surviving against enormous odds.
Harry Keith (Patrick Knowles) works as a government official in British Borneo, accompanied by his wife Agnes (Colbert) and their adorable four-year-old son. Agnes previously published a book about life in Borneo which took a sympathetic view of Asians. When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, the European residents of Borneo spend most of their time preparing for invasion. It comes quickly enough.
After a few weeks of unpredictable treatment by the Japanese on the island. The Europeans are ordered to prepare to be transported to another location. Before they are, Agnes is ordered to present herself to the commanding officer for the local theater, Colonel Suga (Sessue Hayakawa). It turns out he admired her book and wants a copy with her autograph. We also find out he was educated in the U.S. and has small children at home in Japan.
Agnes’s pleasant chat with Suga does her no good whatsoever. The women and men are first put in separate and adjacent camps. They can make highly dangerous attempts to meet but mostly spend their time worrying, starving, and suffering from malaria.
Then things get worse after they are again moved. They must survive years of separation, malnutrition and hard labor. We see the women eating garbage, which they regard as a lucky treat. Agnes is attacked in the dark by a Japanese soldier with rape on his mind. She uses another meeting with Suga to complain. This backfires on her in a big way when Suga is no longer around. The title gives away the ending.
I tend to like POW stories and this was no exception. It is very well done and Colbert is outstanding.
The complete film is also currently available on YouTube.
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Charles Schnee from a novel by Nevin Busch
Hall Wallis Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
Vance Jeffords: I don’t think I like being in love. It puts a bit in my mouth.
Barbara Stanwyck in a role that might have been written for her and Walter Huston’s swan song make this a movie well worth seeing.
T.C. Jeffords (Huston) is the larger-than-life owner of The Furies ranch. He lives life to the max scattering a flurry of IOUs known affectionately as “TCs” in his wake. Daughter Vance (Stanwyck) is an independent-minded daddy’s girl who wins her father’s heart mainly by sticking up for herself. Jefford’s son was more of a mama’s boy and Vance runs the ranch in her father’s absence.
T.C. is in constant need of bank loans. One of the conditions for his latest mortgage is that a number of Mexican-American squatters be evicted from his land. T.C. is willing but Vance insists that childhood friend Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland) and his family be allowed to stay. The Herreras regard the land as their own ancestral property. T.C. gives his promise. He also promises Vance $50,000 on the condition that she marry someone he approves of.
Into this situation rides Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey). T.C. took prime acreage included in the ranch when he killed Darrow’s father. Vance is taken with the strong, silent gambler and invites him to court her. Finally he agrees to call on her at the Furies. When he does, he willingly accepts T.C.’s offer of the $50,000 in exchange for not marrying Vance.
T.C. travels to San Francisco and brings Flo Burnett back with him. Flo immediately begins to subtly take over. She convinces T.C. to evict the Herreras, hire a ranch manager, and send Vance off on a grand tour of Europe. The infuriated Vance strikes back and she and T.C. become mortal enemies. Much drama ensues. With Albert Dekker as a banker and Thomas Gomez and Wallace Ford as T.C. loyalists.
This handsomely shot film is reminiscent of Greek tragedy in its outsized emotions. Both Huston and Stanwyck are superb as are the supporting players. It’s more melodrama than Western but I enjoyed it for what it was.
This was Walter Huston’s final film. I’m sad to see him leave this journey. Vincent Milner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima
Shochiku Company/Shôchiku Eiga
“Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.” ― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan
Kurosawa’s beautiful staging and the great actors are overcome by a sudsy story. I was disappointed.
Ichiro Aoye (Toshiro Mifune) is a free-spirited artist. He is staying at a mountain resort to paint some landscapes. Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamoguchi) is a famous singer staying at the same resort for a much needed break. She is carrying a number of parcels when comes across him in the mountains and has missed her bus back to the hotel. He offers to take her home on his motorcycle. Thereafter they briefly talk in her room with the door open. Reporters from a tabloid are lurking there and their paper uses the resulting pictures to spin up a scandalous love affair between the two.
Ichiro is outraged and announces his attention to sue. Hack lawyer Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) drops by and offers to represent him. Ichiro decides he has his lawyer when he meets Hiruta’s sweet bedridden daughter who is suffering from TB. But Hiruta is a moral weakling with a taste for alcohol and gambling. He is easily bribed by the publisher to throw the case. The rest of the story deals with Hiruta’s battles with his guilt and a really improbable trial sequence in which he eventually achieves redemption.
This is Kurosawa at his most sentimental. It was really not for me. I must say that some of the direction was stunning. The outstanding sequence is a bunch of drunks photographed from a host of angles while belting out the Japanese version of “Auld Lang Syne” in boozy stupors.
Clip – no subtitles but little dialogue
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson et al
Written by Bill Peet et al from the original classic by Charles Perrault
Walt Disney Studios
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
Cinderelly, Cinderelly/ Night and day it’s Cinderelly/ Make the fire, fix the breakfast/Wash the dishes, do the mopping/ And the sweeping and the dusting/ They always keep her hopping / She goes around in circles/Till she’s very, very dizzy/ Still they holler/ Keep a-busy Cinderelly!
What little girls’ dreams are made of.
I don’t really have to summarize the fairy tale do I? In this version, Cinderella is befriended by all the mice and birds in her garrett. She and her friends also have to deal with a malevolent (and very funny) cat named Lucifer.
Back before the days of home video, Disney rereleased its classic cartoons every five years or so. It was a much anticipated event. I was at exactly the right age for this movie to be part of my childhood. I think I might even have had the soundtrack record. So it can’t really be reviewed, just enjoyed in a nostalgic glow.
I do think the songs are better than average. “Bibbidi-Bobbi-Boo” was the hit but “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is also classic. My favorite was the above quoted Cinderella song, sang by the animals in voices reminiscent of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Cinderella was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of: Best Music, Original Song (“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”); Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture; and Best Sound, Recording.
No Man of Her Own
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Written by Sally Benson and Catherine Turney based on the novel “I Married a Dead Man” by Cornell Woolrich
First viewing/Amazon Instant
Bill Harkness: [returns to car after dumping a dead body onto a moving train] He stayed on, caught on the catwalk or whatever it is, but his hat and… came off.
Helen Ferguson: Don’t.
The preposterous story and overuse of the internal monologue suck any pleasure from a couple hours with Barbara Stanwyck right out of this film.
As the movie begins, Helen Ferguson (Stanwyck) is banging on the door of sometime boyfriend Steve Morley (Lyle Bettger) in tears. He stays safely inside his New York apartment with his blonde paramour. Eventually, he slips a five-dollar bill and a one-way ticket to San Francisco under the door to the pregnant, penniless waif. From his knowing smirk to his current girlfriend who says “you will never give me the brush off like that” we know that Steve is a rat bastard.
Helen looks so pathetic on the train that a young married couple, the Harknesses, takes her under its wing. While Helen and the also pregnant Patrice Harkness are in the ladies room, for some reason Patrice asks Helen to wear her wedding ring. The next instant there is a horrific train crash.
When she wakes up in the hospital after extensive surgery, Helen discovers she has delivered a healthy baby boy by caesarean section, both “Helen Ferguson” and Mr. Harkness were killed, and she is being addressed as Mrs. Harkness. Her “in-laws” are showering the baby with presents. Helen remembers that the Harknesses have never met Patrice and decides to go along with the charade, emerging as Patrice Harkness when she arrives in Mr. Harkness’ hometown.
Of course, “Partice” knows suspiciously little about her husband. The inlaws attribute this to grief and shock. The husband’s brother (John Lund) is on to her right away but has fallen so desperately in love with her that he doesn’t let on. The inlaws adore the baby and are so downright lovable that Helen cannot bear to reveal the deception. Later the mother-in-law’s heart condition keeps her from spilling the beans. Then Steve Morley shows up with blackmail on his mind. The only solution to Helen’s predicament might be murder.
I was not in the mood for a melodrama as over the top as this one. It was impossible for me to suspend my disbelief at any point. The ending is an absolute eye-roller. To top it off we are treated to Helen’s interior monologue throughout. It is always something obvious like “I can’t possibly get away with this” or “he will never leave me alone”. The lazy storytelling really got on my nerves. Stanwyck’s inherent strength of character is totally wasted on this material.
The Flowers of St. Francis (“Francesco, giullare di Dio”)
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Antonio Lisandrini, et al
First viewing/Hulu Plus
For it is in giving that we receive. — Francis of Assisi
I still don’t know quite where I stand on this one. It is beautiful to look at but decidedly odd.
The spirtual life and teachings of St. Francis are told by Rossellini through a series of short vignettes. We begin with Francis and a group of his followers joyously travelling through the pouring rain in search of shelter.
They finally reach their destined location and build a rudimentary chapel and shelter. Although all is tiny and ramshackle they pronounce it beautiful. The men glory in their natural surroundings, thank God for everything that comes to them, and follow Francis as their spiritual father.
Along with Francis, who retains his dignity at all times, we focus on a simple old man who joins the order and parrots whatever Francis does. We also spend a lot of time with one of the monks who has to be restrained from giving away his clothing to any passing beggar. This man is asked to stay home and cook, which he does in company with the simpleton to various degrees of success. When he is finally allowed to go out to preach, he stumbles upon a tyrant who has laid a village under siege and is almost hung for his pains. Finally, Francis sends all the brothers out in different directions to spread the gospel and the community is dissolved.
I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t exactly this. You can feel Fellini’s influence over much of it. Francis radiates holiness but his disciples come off as really goofy. They are pure in their simplicity, however. The story is filmed in a stunningly elevating neorealistic style. One thing that can be said for this is that it is not saccharine in its Christianity. Worth seeing at least once.
All the roles were played by actual monks. I love this piece of IMDb trivia: “The filmmakers wanted to donate something to the monks who acted in the film since they refused payment. According to Rossellini’s daughter, he expected them to ask that the donation be something charitable – setting up a soup kitchen or the like. Instead, the monks surprised everyone by asking for fireworks. Rossellini saw to it that the town had an enormous, elaborate fireworks display that was the talk of the region for years.”
Stars in My Crown
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Margaret Fitts from a novel written and adapted for the screen by Joe David Brown
First viewing/Amazon Instant
I don’t believe in anti-heroes. Duke Wayne played a mean guy but never an anti-hero. — Joel McCrea
This is a nice family film about a preacher in a small Southern town. Kind of against type for director Tourneur but solid.
The story is narrated by a grownup John Kenyon looking back on his childhood. Josiah Grey (Joel McCrea) is the town’s beloved preacher. His family consists of his wife Harriet (Ellen Drew) and her orphan nephew John (Dean Stockwell), whom they have adopted. John enjoys a fairly idyllic childhood consisting of school, church, and backwoods adventures with Uncle Famous Phil (Juano Hernandez), an elderly black man who seems to have entertained generations of white children.
As the story begins, a vein of ore has been found to extend under Uncle Phil’s property. He is under serious pressure from Lon Backett (Ed Begley) to sell. Uncle Phil refuses to give up his home.
The rest of the story consists of incidents from John’s childhood including a romance between the schoolteacher and the local atheist doctor, a typhoid epidemic and an attack of the local KKK on Uncle Phil’s house. Josiah handles these situations with leadership and wisdom. With Alan Hale and Lewis Stone as townfolk.
My love for Joel McCrea is well known and I was disposed to like this picture. The story could be really corny but is so heart-felt and well-done that I had a tear in my eye and was humming the hymn that gave the film its title by the end. Nothing amazing but worth seeing if you like this kind of thing.
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Robert L. Richards and Borden Chase
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#238 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
High-Spade Frankie Wilson: Not men. Hunting for food, that’s alright. Hunting a man to kill him? You’re beginning to like it.
Lin McAdam: That’s where you’re wrong. I don’t like it. Some things a man has to do, so he does ’em.
This beautifully crafted Western gave us the new darker, angrier James Stewart. Miles away from Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, made the same year.
Lin McAdam (Stewart) is traveling with sidekick High Spade (Millard Mitchell) on a mission to find and kill Dutch Henry Brown in revenge for killing his father. En route, they stop in Dodge City on the day when a priceless Winchester ’73 rifle is to be awarded as the prize for winning a sharpshooting contest. Lin and Dutch end up vying for the gun. Lin wins handily but Dutch ambushes him in his hotel room and takes it away from him.
Dutch and his gang hightail it out of town. The gun appears to be cursed and passes from one hand to another in a series of violent reversals. Dutch must sell it to a crooked Indian trader, he loses it to the chief of a warring Indian tribe (Rock Hudson in his screen debut), it is taken away during a battle with the Indians and awarded to a coward, and he is killed for it by Waco Johnny Dean (Dan Duryea), who is on his way to join up with Dutch. Lin participates in many of these fights and continues his relentless pursuit after Dutch. With Shelley Winters as a dance hall girl/love interest, Will Geer as Wyatt Earp, J.C. Flippen as a cavalry sergeant and Tony Curtis in a tiny part as a soldier.
Jimmy Stewart loses every trace of his aw-shucks demeanor in this film and becomes one hard hombre. He is compelling all the way through. The film is beautifully staged and shot. If you like your Westerns violent, this should not be missed.
Directed by Henry Cass
Written by J.B. Priestley
Associated British Picture Corporation/Watergate Films
First viewing/Netflix rental
George Bird: How do you keep smiling with a stiff upper lip?
I fell for this sleeper in a big way. Such a fine performance by Alec Guinness.
Ikiru-style, the film begins with George Bird (Guinness) in a doctor’s waiting room presumably to get the results of a routine physical. In the doctor’s office, the physician is looking over his patient’s X-rays. It is bad news. George is suffering from a rare disease that is invariably terminal. The doctor matter-of-factly informs him he has six weeks to live after which he will slip into a coma and die painlessly. After determining that George has no family or close friends, he suggests that George quit his job, cash in his savings and his insurance policy and enjoy the remainder of his life.
George quits his job as a farm equipment salesman. George’s boss who had previously refused his request for a raise now is willing to pay almost any amount to keep him. But George heads to a travel agency where he books a one-way ticket to the poshest seaside resort he can find.
Fortuitously a tailor soon offers him an incredible deal on some bespoke Saville Row clothes that fit him perfectly and a couple of suitcases that are covered with travel stickers. George himself has never been anywhere. George is feeling adventurous and picks up the lot for 65 pounds. The tailor advises George that he will be a new man in these clothes, especially if he treats himself to a new haircut and shaves off his moustache.
The resort treats George like royalty on arrival. All the other guests are intrigued by this mysterious stranger. Everything he does turns to gold. Newly liberated from his inhibitions, he speaks his mind to a few influential people and is rewarded with new job offers. He wins big every time he gambles. A lady married to a broke wastrel finds him irresistible.
But George is basically miserable. It takes him most of the story to confide his secret to anyone. Then a couple of things happen that make a real difference.
I loved Guinness in this, a departure from his comedy performances of the period. His character is subdued and retiring but there is clearly so much going on inside him that you just have to feel for him. I was surprised by the unexpected ending, which made the whole story so much more thought-provoking. Recommended.
Directed by Max Ophüls
Adapted by Max Ophüls and Jack Natanson from the play “Riegen” by Arthur Schnitzler
Films Sacha Gordine
The camera exists to create a new art and to show above all what cannot be seen elsewhere: neither in theater nor in life; otherwise, I’d have no need of it; doing photography doesn’t interest me. That, I leave to the photographer. – Max Ophuls
This light look at love and lust features a dynamite cast of French stars past, present, and to come along with the always wonderful Anton Walbrook.
The film is taken from a stage play and remains bound to its roots. The stories play out in Vienna. It is introduced by a cynical master of ceremonies (Walbrook) who speaks directly to the audience at some times and assumes small roles (butlers, waiters, etc.) at others.
The story begins with a liaison between a soldier and a prostitute (Simone Signoret) who offers him her services for free in a fit of patriotism. The soldier moves on to seduce a housemaid (Simone Simone). When he is through with her she seduces an inexperienced young aristocrat who later woos a married woman (Danielle Darrieux). Her husband has an affair with a young girl. The girl falls for a poet (Jean-Louis Barrault) who is having an affair with an actress. The actress follows on with an admiring Count. The Count misses a date with her for an drunken session with the prostitute and the circle is completed.
This is just charming in the way French farces often are. It is set to a very catchy waltz tune. I was delighted throughout though I don’t know how long this will stay in my memory.
Montage of clips – no subtitles