They Knew What They Wanted (1940)

They Knew What They Wantedthey knew what they wanted poster
Directed by Garson Kanin
Written by Robert Ardrey from the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Sidney Howard
1940/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing/YouTube

 

Tagline: You have seen great motion pictures! We believe you have not seen a greater motion picture than this!

It took me a while to get used to Charles Laughton in this highly uncharacteristic role. Once I did, I really enjoyed this film.

Tony Patucci (Laughton) is an illiterate but prosperous vineyard owner in the Napa Valley.  He doesn’t look like much but has a big heart.  On a rare vacation to San Francisco he spots waitress Amy Peters (Carole Lombard) at an Italian restaurant and is immediately smitten but too shy to introduce himself.  He begins a correspondence with her leaning on his foreman Joe (William Gargan) to draft his love letters.  Similarly, Amy, who has been struggling all her life, enlists a co-worker who has gone to secretarial school to reply.

Finally, Amy, who is looking for a way out of her dreary existence, agrees to marry Tony and asks for his picture.  Tony sends Joe’s picture instead,  The subterfuge is cleared up soon after Amy arrives in Napa but she remains determined to go through with the deal. After Tony breaks both legs at a pre-nuptial party and the wedding must be postponed, the farm proves too small to contain the emotions of the three friends.  With Harry Cary as a doctor and Frank Fay as a priest.

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I liked this a lot.  Laughton has to really stretch to capture a loveable Italian winemaker but eventually won me over.  This is probably the most complex and least glamorous performance I have ever seen from Lombard and she acquits herself well.  This might seem a bit melodramatic to some, but for those who can tolerate a bit of pathos it is well worth seeing.

William Gargan was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in They Knew What They Wanted.  The story was used again in the Broadway Musical Most Happy Fella.

Clip

 

The Invisible Woman (1940)

The Invisible Womaninvisible woman poster
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Written by Curt Siodmak, Joe May, Robert Lees, et al
1940/USA
Universal Pictures

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Kitty Carroll: Whew! Kinda chilly. I wonder how the nudists stand it.

This one is all comedy with nary a chill in sight.

Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) has just perfected his invisibility machine and is looking for a guinea pig.  Kitty Carol (Virginia Bruce) who is fed up with her modeling job and her sadistic employer volunteers for the job.  Gibbs shows off  his creation to investor Richard Russell (John Howard – “Bulldog Drummond”) and the two naturally fall in love.  In the meantime a gangster (Oscar Homolka) hiding out in Mexico has plans to steal the machine – and the professor – to allow him to return to the States.  With Charlie Ruggles as Russell’s butler and Margaret Hamilton as Gibbs’s housekeeper.

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This is OK, if a bit sophmoric.  Nothing anybody should rush out to see.  The invisibility effects are fine.

The Invisible Woman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

Trailer

 

You’ll Find Out (1940)

You’ll Find Outyou'll find out poster
Directed by David Butler
Written by James V. Kern, David Butler et al
1940/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Kay Kyser: [to a contestant] Now, wh-what’s the difference between a weasel, an easel, and a measle? What’s a measle? Go ahead and break out with it.

I watched this one because I’m a completest and a fan of the Classic-Era horror stars.  If you fit into one of those categories (or are a fan of Kay Kayser’s band) this could be interesting.

The plot is secondary to the music and gags but here goes.  Janis, an heiress, hires Kay Kayser and His College of Musical Knowledge to play at her 21st birthday party at her aunt’s mansion.  The aunt is under the spell of medium Prince Saliano (Bela Lugosi). Creepy Judge Mainwaring (Boris Karloff) brings in Professor Fenniger (Peter Lorre) to expose the Prince as a charlatan.  Soon enough it becomes clear that someone is trying to murder Janis and Kayser and the boys are in on the action.  With Dennis O’Keefe as Kayser’s manager.

 

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This is played strictly for laughs.  Whether it’s funny or not is a matter of taste.  I was not too impressed.  It was fun to see Ish Kabibble, a name I have always loved but never been able to connect to a face.

Jimmy McHugh and Johnny Mercer were nominated for an Academy Award for the song “I’d Know You Anywhere”.

Trailer

Clip – Ginny Sims singing “I’d Know You Anywhere”

The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

The Mummy’s Handmummys_hand_poster
Directed by Christy Cabanne
Written by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane
1940/USA
Universal Pictures

First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

The High Priest: Children of the night, they howl about the Hill of the Seven Jackals when Kharis must be fed.

The scares of the original are lost amid the “comic relief” aspects of this feeble remake/sequel.

Many of the story elements of the original are used a second time.  Archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his sidekick Babe (Wallace Ford) are stuck in Cairo and broke. Steve insists on spending their last few dollars on a broken vase at the bazaar.  The vase is inscribed with hieroglyphics that seem to point the way to the tomb of Princess Ananka. Steve starts looking for money to finance an expedition and runs into the evil Professor Andoheb (George Zucco) who assures him the vase is a fake and furthermore all who have sought the tomb of the princess have been killed.  Steve is undeterred and finally secures the money from magician The Great Solvani (Cecil Kellaway). Solvani and his pretty daughter accompany Steve and Babe on the expedition to protect their investment. At the site, the party opens the coffin of Kharis who was buried alive for heresy.  The mummy protects the princess’s tomb and the professor sends it on a killing spree in search of life-giving tanna leaves.

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The make up does not hold a candle to the original and the many “comic” magic trick scenes between Ford and Kellaway are just not very funny.  Predictable “B” level fare.

Trailer

North West Mounted Police (1940)

North West Mounted PoliceNorth West Mounted Police poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Written by Alan Le May, Jesse Lasky Jr., and C. Gardner Sullivan
1940/USA
Paramount Pictures

First viewing/YouTube

 

April Logan: Texas must be heaven.

Dusty Rivers: It will be when you get there.

This is a workmanlike action/adventure movie but I felt it lacked thrills somehow.

The setting is close to the U.S. border in Western Canada.  Evil half-breed whisky runner Jacques Corbeau (George Bancroft), aided by right-hand-man Dan Duroc (Akim Tamiroff), is fomenting revolution among his kind and hopes to bring the local Indian tribes in on his side.  Corbeau’s treacherous daughter Louvette (Paulette Goddard) has mesmerized Mountie Ronnie Logan (Robert Preston).  Ronnie’s sister April (Madeleine Carroll) is a nurse to the local people.  Sargeant Jim Brett is in love with April but she is undecided.

The regiment of Mounties is gearing up to combat the insurrection when Texas Ranger Dusty Rivers (Gary Cooper) arrives at the fort with a warrant to arrest Corbeau for a murder back home.  He is immediately taken with April and begins a great rivalry with Jim. But soon enough they become brothers in arms.  Meanwhile, Louvette tricks Ronnie into leaving his post at a key juncture and Dusty sets about rescuing him and redeeming his reputation for love of April.  This was one of Robert Ryan’s very first films but I didn’t spot him in his Mountie uniform.

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This kept my attention for over two hours so I can’t complain.  It’s just kind of ponderous as I find most Cecil B. DeMille productions to be.  I generally love Akim Tamiroff but here his Russian accent came off as really ludicrous for the part he played.

North West Mounted Police won an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction, Best Sound Recording and Best Original Score (Victor Young).

Clip (spoiler)

 

Music in My Heart (1940)

Music in My Heartmusic in my heart
Directed by Joseph Santley
Written by James Edward Grant
1940/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Columbia Tri-Star DVD

I wanted to study singing, but Harry Cohn kept saying, “Who needs it?” and the studio wouldn’t pay for it. They had me so intimidated that I couldn’t have done it anyway. They always said, “Oh, no, we can’t let you do it. There’s no time for that; it has to be done right now!” I was under contract, and that was it. — Rita Hayworth

This movie might just define the word “mediocre” for Classic Era musicals.

Bob (Tony Martin) has been waiting for his chance to take the stage as understudy in a Broadway show but the leads have been uncooperatively healthy.  On the night the immigration authorities come to deport him one of them feigns illness and Bob gets his big break.  (You may ask Bob’s nationality.  Why he is American but somehow his partents never bothered to file their citizenship papers.)  After the show, he heads for the ship that will take him to Europe.  Patricia (Rita Hayworth) is catching a ship to marry her wealthy but dull boyfriend (Alan Mowbray).  These two manage to crowd into the same cab which then breaks down causing both to miss the boat.  Naturally they quickly fall in love.

Some Russian emigrants that run a cafe and are somehow connected with Patricia put Bob up.  The requisite misunderstandings and obstacles fill the path of our couple but love conquers all.  With Eric Blore as a butler.

 

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This film is basically a showcase for Tony Martin’s singing.  If you like Tony Martin, possibly this movie would be worth your time.  I did not know before this but it turns out I am not a fan.  The plot could not be more predictable and cliché ridden.

Music in My Heart was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Original Song (“It’s a Blue World”).

Clip – Tony Martin singing “It’s a Blue World”

The Blue Bird (1940)

The Blue Birdblue bird poster
Directed by Walter Lang
Written by Ernest Pascal and Walter Bullock based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck
1940/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

Daddy Tyl: You can’t be unhappy inside yourself without making others unhappy, too.

Fox’s answer to The Wizard of Oz was a giant flop.  I could easily see why.

Mytyl (Shirley Temple) is a selfish and discontented girl.  She captures a bird in the royal forest.  On her way home, a poor invalid girl asks her to trade the bird for her doll but Mytyl refuses.  Once home, she goes on and on about not being rich.  Mummy (Spring Byington) and Daddy Tyl unsuccessfully try to straighten her out.  Then Daddy is called to go to war.

Mytyl goes to bed and is awoken by the Fairy Berylune (Jessie Ralph) who sends her on a quest to find a blue bird.  (It soon becomes clear that this is the Bluebird of Happiness). She turns the family dog Tylo and cat Tylette (Gale Sondergaard) into human form to assist her and sends Light to guide her way.  Tylette wants to stay human and  does her best to prevent the children from attaining their goal.  Mytyl (and her little brother Tyltyl) look everyhere – in the forest, in the Past, in the land of Luxury, in the future – but fail to find the bluebird anywhere until Mytyl wakes up to find herself in her own bed.  With Nigel Bruce as Mr. Luxury.

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Oh to count the ways the filmmakers missed the entire point of what made The Wizard of Oz a hit.  There is little to no humor and the only song is contained in the clip.  Mytyl is an entirely disagreeable character for three-quarters of the story.  The universe of the film is strangely alien and Germanic.  Everyone has a funny name.  I didn’t even think the surroundings were particularly magical but the print could have been in need of a restoration.  The high point was the Eddie Collins’s performance as the dog.

The Blue Bird was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Color Cinematography and Best Special Effects.

Clip – Shirley Temple sings “Lay-de-o”

Comrade X (1940)

Comrade Xcomrade x poster
Directed by King Vidor
Written by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and Walter Reisch
1940/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

 

Vanya: Well, there’s some good news and some bad news. Last week all the towels were stolen. But on the other hand the water wasn’t running so nobody needed the towels. Everything balances.

This is a pretty good screwball rip-off of Ninotchka though it bogs down a bit toward the end.

McKinley B. Thomson (Clark Gable) is Comrade X, an American reporter who has been smuggling coded stories past the censors in Moscow.  His valet Vanya (Felix Bessart) is determined to get his daughter Theodore (Hedy Lamarr) out to America because he fears that she is too opinionated for the powers that be.  He blackmails Thomson into doing this by threatening to reveal his identity.  The idealistic Theodore is a committed communist but consents to accompany Thomson as his wife because he convinces her he is also a true believer and they are going to enlighten the masses.  But the authorities are on Thomson’s trail and father, daughter, and Thomson end up in a jail cell.  How will they escape?  With Oscar Homolka as a Commissar and Eve Arden as a wise-cracking reporter.

 

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This starts out well with good chemistry between Gable and Lamarr and some snappy dialogue satirizing the USSR.  The whole farce ends in a massive tank chase, which goes on way too long for my taste and weakens the film.  Lamarr looks even more beautiful here than she did in Algiers.

Comrade X was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Story.

Trailer

Santa Fe Trail (1940)

 Santa Fe Trailsanta fe trail postr
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Robert Buckner
1940/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Caption: Leavenworth, Kansas: Where the railroad and civilization ended, the Santa Fe Trail began. The old Spanish road from Mexico, now lusty with new life and a new motto – “God gets off at Leavenworth and Cyrus Holliday drives you from there to the Devil.”

This is an OK Western with an excellent supporting performance by Raymond Massey.

The main setting for the story is in “Bloody” Kansas just prior to the Civil War when settlers were fighting about whether the territory would enter the Union as a Slave or Free State.  We begin at West Point where J.E.B. Stuart (Errol Flynn), George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan), James Longstreet and other officers that would be prominent on both sides of the Civil War are cadets under Superintendent Robert E. Lee.  Stuart and a cadet named Rader (Van Heflin) get into a violent argument over abolition. Politics have no place in the Army and Lee punishes Stuart and Custer by sending them to the 2nd Cavalry, the “Suicide Regiment” trying to keep order in Kansas.  Rader, on the other hand, is booted out of the service.

When our heroes arrive in Kansas they soon meet pretty Kit Carson Holliday (Olivia de Havilland), daughter of a local freight handler and prospective railroad mogul..  Both fall for her but her heart soon belongs to Stuart.  There is little peace before the regiment is called on to combat abolitionist fanatic John Brown (Raymond Massey) and his followers, which now include Rader, who are rampaging through the countryside.  With Alan Hale and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams as comic relief.

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This is a perfectly satisfactory action-filled Western/Civil War drama.  I thought Raymond Massey was wonderful as the fiery, half-mad John Brown.

 

Trailer

Young People (1940)

Young Peopleyoung people poster
Directed by Allan Dwan
Written by Edwin Blum and Don Ettlinger
1940/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Tagline: FUN and songs! Fun AND songs! Fun and SONGS! …DANCES TOO!

Jack Oakie and Charlotte Greenwood make this a better than average Shirley Temple movie.

Vaudeville troopers Joe and Kit Ballentine (Oakie and Greenwood) get a baby delivered to them during the show.  They decide to keep little Wendy (Temple) and she later becomes the centerpiece of their act.  Along with Wendy, they inherit a little farm, complete with mortgage, in New England.  They decide they will work for five years and make payments and then retire to the country with Wendy.  Their dream comes true but they soon find that the people of their chosen community are anything but welcoming.  They do have some allies in the form of the younger generation in the town.

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The first 20 minutes of this comprising the vaudeville act are great fun.  The filmmakers have spliced some footage of the six-year-old Temple with Oakie and Greenwood in a delightful way.  “Baby Take a Bow” is adorable.  I enjoyed seeing Jack Oakie doing some tap dancing.  Even though she is older and less “cute”, the rest of the film is standard fare with Temple eventually winning over all who know her.

This was Temple’s last film on her 20th Century Fox contract.  She was 12 years old.

Clip – Shirley Temple sings “I Wouldn’t Take a Million”