Too Many Husbands (1940)

Too Many Husbandstoo many husbands poster
Directed by Wesley Ruggles
Written by Claude Binyon based on the play by W. Somerset Maugham
1940/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same. — Oscar Wilde

This unsung screwball comedy started off so well …

Bill Cardew (Fred MacMurray) and Henry Lowndes (Melvin Douglas) were best friends and partners.  Bill had been married to Vicky (Jean Arthur).  She loved him dearly but he was a bit of an adventurer, taking off to exotic locations on his boat until finally he was declared drowned.  Henry helped ease the widow’s grief and they soon married.  Naturally, six months later Bill shows up very much alive and Vicky must choose between them.  With Harry Davenport as Vicky’s father.

Too-Many-Husbands 1

Fifteen minutes into this I was thinking “Why isn’t this better known?” The dialogue sparkled and everyone involved handled the comedy very well.  Jean Arthur is uncharacteristically glamorous in this one and quite appealing.  The movie consists of the men fighting and playing various dirty tricks to win Vicky over. Unfortunately, it’s a one-joke movie and that joke got tired by the end.  Still, I’m glad I saw it.

Too Many Husbands received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Recording.

For a clip posted by TCM see:  http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/205932/Too-Many-Husbands-Movie-Clip-Bill-Vicky-Hank.html

 

Down Argentine Way (1940)

Down Argentine Waydown argentine way poster
Directed by Irving Cummings
Written by Darrell Ware, Karl Tunberg et al
1940/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing/YouTube

 

Glenda Crawford, aka Glenda Cunningham: Excuse me, I’ve got to go see a man about a horse.

This is strictly for old-time musical comedy lovers but I’m one and I liked it a lot in spite of, or maybe because of, all its basic silliness.

Ricardo Quintana (Don Ameche) is sent to America by his father Don Diego (Henry Stephenson) to sell several horses.  He is warned not to sell any to Don Diego’s long-time enemy or any of the Crawford family.  Naturally, Ricardo immediately meets and falls in love with Crawford’s daughter Glenda (Betty Grable).  After wooing her he has to welsh on a horse sale when he discovers her identity, making her furious.

She is so mad at him that she, of course, needs to head straight to Buenos Aires with her Aunt Binnie (Charlotte Greenwood).  There the couple reunites and patches up the romance in about five minutes.  They decide the best way to win the father over is to defy him by training his prize jumper to be a race horse and entering it in the big race. Meanwhile there are plenty of songs and rather goofy comedy.  With J. Carrol Niaish as an old horse trainer, Leonid Kinskey as a guide/gigolo, and Carmen Miranda and the Nicholas Brothers performing specialty numbers.

down argentine way 1

 

This film got points right off the bat for all the location shots of Buenos Aires, a city I know well and love.  And then I’m a Don Ameche fan and he is unusually appealing right down to his pretty good Latin accent. The rest of the cast is very good and all the production numbers are light and fun.  I love the Academy-Award nominated title tune.

Down Argentine Way received Academy Award nominations for Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction, and Best Original Song (“Down Argentine Way”)

Trailer

Spring Parade (1940)

Spring ParadeSpringParade poster
Directed by Henry Koster
Screenplay by Bruce Manning and Felix Jackson; Original story by Ernst Marischka
1940/USA
Universal Pictures

First viewing/YouTube

Tagline: LIVE, LAUGH and LOVE! With a Dancing, Romancing Deanna!

I’ve seen better Deanna Durbin movies but this is OK, too.

Ilonka (Durbin) is a peasant from a market village who comes into town to sell a goat.  She buys a fortune from a gypsy.  The fortune predicts that she will find love in Vienna, her future husband will be an artist, she will get help from a great and good person and love will hit her with a stick.  Starting with her unconscious trip to Vienna on the back of a hay cart on which she has fallen asleep the whole fortune eventually comes true but not without the full quota of misunderstandings.  With Robert Cummings as her true love, Mischa Auer as a prospective customer, Henry Stephenson as the Emperor Franz Josef, and S. Z. Sakall as Ilonka’s baker/benefactor.

spring_parade 1

I’m not a huge Robert Cummings fan and I found him particularly grating in this movie. The songs are also nothing to write home about.  Everything else is fine – Durban is in good form and much of the comedy works.

Spring Parade was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories:  Best Black-and-White Cinematography; Best Sound Recording; Best Original Song (“Waltzing in the Clouds”) and Best Score.

Robert Cummings and Deanna Durbin singing “Waltzing in the Clouds”

The Proud Valley (1940)

The Proud Valley (AKA “The Tunnel”)proud valley poster
Directed by Pen Tennyson
Written by Alfredda Brilliant, Louis Golding et al
1940/UK
CAPAD/Ealing Studios
First viewing/Streaming on Hulu Plus

 

I shall take my voice wherever there are those who want to hear the melody of freedom or the words that might inspire hope and courage in the face of fear. My weapons are peaceful, for it is only by peace that peace can be attained. The song of freedom must prevail. – – Paul Robeson

The story is only OK but the singing is glorious.

David Goliath (Paul Robeson) was a merchant seaman but is now wandering through the Welsh countryside in search of work.  He takes to singing door to door with a itinerant beggar for awhile.  While in town, he wanders by a choir rehearsal and takes the solo part of the missing bass.  The conductor has found the key to winning the upcoming choir competition and gets David a job working in the local coal mine.  But the mine is soon closed because of safety issues.  The conductor’s son comes up with an idea for reopening the mine, which is the lifeblood of the town.  So a group of miners set off for London to petition the owner.  Their petition has surprisingly good results because the Nazis have just invaded Poland and Britain needs all the coal it can get.  Unfortunately, the plan proves to have some unexpected glitches when executed …

The_Proud_Valley 2

This would make a good double feature with How Green Is My Valley.  Like that film, The Proud Valley is jam-packed with fantastic Welsh choral singing.  In my opinion, it is worth seeing just to hear Paul Robeson sing “Deep River”” (see clip).

Paul Robeson and choir singing “Deep River”

The Fight for Life (1940)

The Fight for Life
Directed by Pare Lorentz
Written by Pare Lorentz based on work by Paul de Kruif
1940/USA
United States Film Service

First viewing/YouTube

“Men die in battle; women die in childbirth.” ― Philippa Gregory, The Red Queen

I learned a lot from this docudrama about the battle to improve survival of women in childbirth in the 40’s but the music drove me nuts.

This follows a young doctor who starts working at an urban maternity center to learn obstetrics.  The story is heavily didactic.  I was amazed to learn that at the time of the making of this film 40% of births still took place at home, usually with no doctor in attendance.  Infant and maternal death in childbirth was the second highest cause of death in America after heart disease.  We see these doctors making house calls to deliver babies. Newspapers are the most sterile things on hand for the OB’s to lay out their instruments on.  There is an unbelievable part when a mother starts hemorrhaging and one of the doctors collects the blood in a bottle and rushes off in a car to the blood bank. Makes me wonder whether they had ambulances in those days.

fight_for_life 1

So this was fascinating, if dry, and I’m still thinking about it.  How blessed we are with the improvements in medical care.  But I could not stand the music which was the obtrusive dramatic kind which tells you what to feel at every moment. I could not remember why I picked this to watch and it turned out that it was Academy-Award nominated for Best Original Score!

The full film is available on YouTube at the moment.

Wolf of New York (1940)

Wolf of New Yorkwolf of new york poster
Directed by William G. McGann
Written by Gordon Kahn and Lionel Hauser; story by Leslie T. White and Arnold Belgard
1940/USA
Republic Pictures

First viewing/Streaming on Amazon Instant Video

 

A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: It is a beautiful catastrophe. — Le Corbusier

This is an entertaining “B” picture with some “A” list actors.

Chris Faulker (Edmund Lowe) is a clever defense attorney, sometimes known as “The Wolf of New York” for his prowess.  One of his clients is Hiram Rogers (James Stephenson – The Letter), a financier, though it was unclear to me in what context he represented Rogers.  We learn early on that Rogers is behind a series of robberies of financial institutions.  When the Police Inspector gets too close to the case he is murdered and Rogers’ assistant, a young man with a criminal record, gets the blame.  Faulkner defends the assistant but a critical alibi witness is also murdered before he can testify.  The assistant is convicted and Faulkner is so demoralized by the loss that he accepts a job as District Attorney so he can find the real killer.  With William Demerest as Faulkner’s wise-cracking factotum.

New York City 1940s

New York City 1940s

This is generally about on the level of a very good episode of Perry Mason.  James Stephenson makes a fascinating villain.  It’s such a shame that his film career ended before it had fairly begun with his death in 1941.

I couldn’t find a bit of media on this movie so readers will have to settle for generic material on 1940s New York.

“New York: Vacation City” short circa 1940

1940 Short Subjects

I am reaching the tail end of 1940 and had a mini-marathon to work through some of the Academy-nominated Short Subjects.  All these films were first viewings and seen on YouTube, where the complete shorts can easily be found by searching for the titles. These are less than –  some well less than – 30 minutes long.

Eyes of the Navy
Written by Herbert Hoffman
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

First viewing/YouTube

Nominated for Best Two-Reel Short Subject.

This is basically a recruiting film for Navy pilots, largely showing the cadets’ idyllic life – long weekends! short days! – at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.  One scene shows them practicing for landing on aircraft carriers, something these men would be risking their lives doing soon enough. It’s routine stuff..

eyes of the navy

Training at Pensacola Naval Air Station

Service with the Colors
Directed by B. Reeves Eason
Written by Owen Crump
Warner Bros.

First viewing/YouTube

Nominated for Best Two-Reel Short Subject.

This is an Army recruiting film.  This time though it is a drama.  Robert Armstrong plays a tough but fair drill sergeant and William T. Orr is a wiseguy slacker recruit something along the lines of James Cagney in The Fighting 69th.  After Orr attempts to desert, the wise old Colonel straightens him out by ordering him to carry the regimental colors in parade.  Nothing great but more interesting than “Eyes on the Navy”.

Service With the Colors

Quicker’n a Wink
Directed by George Sidney
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

First viewing/You Tube

Won  Best One-Reel Short Subject.

This film demonstrates stroboscopic photography which “freezes” fast moving machinery and other action.  Some of the shots are interesting – I particularly liked the cat lapping up milk (did you know they did this with the bottoms of their tongues?)  – but the narration is cheesy.

quicker'n a wink

London Can Take It!
Directed by Humphrey Jennings and Harry Watt (both uncredited)
Written by Quentin Reynolds (uncredited)
GPO Film Unit/Ministry of Information

Nominated for Best One-Reel Short Subject

This has some moving footage of London during the Blitz and is a testimonial to the indomitable courage and resilience of Londoners.  Worth seeing if you have an interest in the period.

london can take it!

Siege
Directed by Julien Bryan
RKO Radio Pictures

Nominated for Best One-Reel Short-Subject

American journalist Julien Bryan stayed behind after most foreigners fled and somehow managed to film the heartrending human and material wreckage of Warsaw in the three weeks immediately following the 1939 Nazi invasion.  Sad, sad, sad but worthwhile.

Polish boy in the ruins of Warsaw September 1939

Polish boy in the ruins of Warsaw September 1939

The Milky Way
Directed by Rudolph Ising
Written by Maurice Day (uncredited)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Rudolph Ising Productions

Won  Best Cartoon Short Subject

The three little kittens who lost their mittens are sent to bed without supper for their carelessness.  They rig up a basket and balloons which carry them to the Milky Way where they drink their fill.  Gentle humor aimed at the younger set.

milky way

Puss Gets the Boot
Directed by Joseph Berra, William Hanna, and Rudolph Ising
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Rudolph Ising Productions

Nominated for Best Cartoon Short Subject

This was the first “Tom and Jerry” cartoon made back when they were known as “Jasper and Jinx”.  The housemaid (?) threatens to throw Jasper the cat out of the house if he breaks just one more thing.  Jinx the mouse uses this to his advantage during Jasper’s daily attempt on his life.  Funny.

puss-gets-the-boots

A Wild Hare
Directed by Tex Avery
Written by Rich Hogan
Leon Schlesinger Studios

Nominated for Best Cartoon Short Subject

This was the first cartoon with Bugs Bunny in his final redesign and the first real teaming of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny.  It also introduced both Bugs’ and Elmer’s catchphrases – “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Be vewy quiet…I’m hunting wabbits” respectively.  And so began Elmer’s ritual humiliation at the hands of the wascally wiseguy wabbit.  If I had been a voter,  this is the cartoon I would have gone for the year 1940.

wild hare

 

Rhythm on the River (1940)

Rhythm on the RiverRhythm_on_the_River poster
Directed by Victor Schertzinger
Written by Billy Wilder, Jacques Therý and Dwight Taylor
USA/1940
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Bing Crosby Collection DVD

 

Bob Sommers: Oh, I don’t know. She’s gone into some kind of wing-ding…

Uncle Caleb: Wing-ding? Gosh, I thought it was a cyclone. [reference to actor Charlie Grapewin’s role in “The Wizard of Oz”]

What a cast!  I’m glad I discovered this unsung musical.

Broadway composer Oliver Courtney (Basil Rathbone) has run out of inspiration and has taken to employing ghost writers for his songs.  He’s been working with laid-back composer Bob Sommers (Bing Crosby) for some time.  But Bob is not interested in a permanent job; he would rather save his pennies to buy a catamaran and bum his way around the world.  When Courtney’s usual lyricist dies, he hires Cherry Lane (Mary Martin) to write the words.  Bob and Cherry are at first unaware of each other, assuming that Courtney is supplying the other half of their song.  They accidentally meet at the inn Bob’s uncle (Charlie Grapewin) owns and misunderstandings and romance follow.  With Oscar Levant as Courtney’s long-suffering assistant.

RhythmOnTheRiver1

 

I was thrilled to see Mary Martin in an early role.  For me she will always be the definitive Peter Pan.  It was also fun to see Rathbone playing comedy and Oscar Levant minus some of his usual shtick.  Something entertaining and different for musical lovers.

James V. Monaco and Johnny Burke were nominated for an Oscar for their Original Song “Only Forever”.

Clip – Mary Martin singing “Ain’t It a Shame About Mame”

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

Beyond Tomorrow (AKA “Beyond Christmas”)beyond tomorrow poster
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Written by Adele Comandini and Mildred Cram
1940/USA
Academy Productions

First viewing/Streaming on Amazon Instant Video

Tagline: Is there a better time to fall in love?

Here’s a Christmas movie I never heard of.  It’s on the sentimental side but overall entertaining with some good performances by veteran character actors.

Kindly old industrialists (Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, and Charles Winniger) live with faithful housekeeper Madam Tanya (Maria Ouspenskaya).  They had been planning to have Christmas Eve dinner with some people that cancelled at the last moment.  So the three men toss wallets containing $10 and their cards out in the street and wait and see what happens.  Sure enough, James (Richard Carlson) and Jean (Jean Parker) separately come up to return the wallets they have found and stay for dinner.  Naturally, they immediately fall in love.  It turns out James has a beautiful singing voice.

The three friends are later killed in a plane crash (toward the beginning of the movie). They leave the couple a lot of money to get married on.  But the bequest leads the newspapers to get interested in James and Jean and that leads James to a singing gig on the radio.  It looks like stardom is going to James’ head so the ghosts of the friends intervene to try to save the romance.

beyond tomorrow 1

It was fun to watch the three older character actors do their stuff.  I think my favorite was Charles Winninger with his Irish brogue.  There’s a little bit too much philosophy for my taste and the ending is quite sappy, but overall it is an enjoyable film and one that people might want to seek out at Christmastime for something different than the usual movies.

Trailer

 

Lillian Russell (1940)

Lillian RussellLillian Russell poster
Directed by Irving Cummings
Written by William Anthony McGuire
1940/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing/Fox Marquis Musicals DVD

 

We all have a fear of the unknown. What one does with that fear will make all the difference in the world. — Lillian Russell

This is one of those biopics where the subject is perfect in every way.  A great performance or a better script might have saved it.

The story follows the life of Lillian Russell (Faye) starting with her childhood as Helen Leonard with a suffragette mother and kindly grandmother (Helen Westley)..  Before she makes the big time, reporter Alexander Moore (Henry Fonda) rescues Helen and grandma from a runaway horse.  They later make a pledge to treat the other one to dinner depending on who gets a job first.  But Alex is too shy to approach the now-Lillian when she becomes a star.  Lillian is idolized by all who know her including Diamond Jim Brady (Edward Arnold), who showers her with jewels,  and “The Famous J.L.” (Warren William). She marries humble composer Edward Solomon (Don Ameche), however.  With Una O’Connor as Lillian’s maid.

lillian russell 1

I’m not that fond of Alice Faye, unfortunately, and she is just about the whole show.  Those who enjoy her more might love this movie.  The supporting cast is certainly wonderful and there are a lot of old standards sung b y Faye.

Lillian Russell was nominated for an Academy Award for its Black-and-White Art Direction.

Alice Faye sings “Come Down Ma Evenin’ Star”