Les visiteurs du soir (1942)

Les visiteurs du soir (“The Devil’s Envoys”)visiteurs du soir poster
Directed by Michel Carné
Written by Jacques Prevert and Pierre Laroche
1942/France
Productions André Paulvé

First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

This will surprise you, but I don’t know if I had a vocation – whether I was really mad about the cinema. When I thought of working on films, I thought of being an assistant director or set manager. Or, in moments of great vanity, a production manager. But I didn’t think of directing at the time. – Michel Carné

I waited in vain for this movie to make a point.

The story is set in the 15th Century.  Minstrels Gilles (Alain Cuny) and Dominique (Arletty) have been sent out into the world by the Devil (Jules Berry) to sow despair.  In this case, as so many others, the Devil’s strategy is to make people fall in love.  The ministrels arrive at a feast celebrating the upcoming marriage of Renaud and Anne.  Gilles easily conquers the pure Anne’s heart.  Dominique, after revealing her disguise as a boy, goes after both Renaud and Anne’s father.

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Dominique is wildly successful.  However, Anne is so truly in love that she wins over Gilles to her side.  The Devil is concerned enough that he makes a personal visit to further screw things up.

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This movie is two hours along and I felt every minute of it.  If the message is that love conquers all, and I’m not 100% sure it was, it took Carne much too long to get there.  The screen comes alive whenever Berry appears on it.  Unfortunately he doesn’t show up until the last third of the movie.  Until then, there are way too many scenes of long meaningful glances between the lovers.

The film was hugely popular in France on release, in large part because people saw it as an allegory of France under occupation with the Devil representing Hitler and the lovers representing the still beating heart of France.  Carne denied that this was his intention until his death.

Trailer (no subtitles)

Saludos Amigos (1942)

Saludos Amigossaludos-amigos-poster
Directed by Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, and Bill Roberts
Written by Homer Brightman, Ralph Wright, et al
1942/USA
Walt Disney Studios
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

[first lines] Narrator: Here’s an unusual expedition: artists, musicians and writers setting out for a trip through Latin America to find new personalities, music and dances for their cartoon films. So, adios, Hollywood, and saludos, amigos.

Made to boost the U.S. Good Neighbor Policy during World War II, this shortish feature cartoon is a kind of travelogue of South America with some funny bits by Disney characters to liven things up.

This is a compilation of several short cartoons that were originally intended to be released separately, linked by live footage that gives information about each country.  The cartoon segments are:  1) Donald Duck takes a perilous journey by llama in the Peruvian Andes; 2) Pedro, the baby airplane, fills in for his parents to take the mail from Chile to Argentina over the Andes (a la Only Angels Have Wings); 3)  Cowboy Goofy is transformed into a gaucho and transported to the Argentinian pampas; 4) Joe Carioca the parrot shows Donald Duck around Rio de Janeiro.  The film ends with a Fantasia-like animation set to the song “Brasil”.

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I’ve spent a bit of time in South America and really enjoyed this film.  It could have gone so wrong but ended up hitting just the right note, I thought.  If “Brasil” had been written for this movie, it would have received my vote for best song.

Charles Wolcott and Ned Washington were nominated for an Academy Award for their original song “Saludos Amigos”.  The film was also nominated for Best Sound, Recording and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Clip – “Brasil”

Crossroads (1942)

CrossroadsCrossroads (1942)
Directed by Jack Conway
Written by Guy Trosper; John H. Kafka and Howard Emmett Rogers
1942/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid. — Hedy Lamarr
“It’s about time”, in reference to her 1996 Electriconic Frontier Foundation award for the invention (with composer George Anthiel) of frequency hopping, a technology now widely used in cellular phones  — Hedy Lamarr

This is a nice little noirish thriller with some beautiful atmospheric cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg.

Years ago, French diplomat David Talbot (William Powell) received severe head injuries in a train crash that left him with total amnesia.  After 13 years of treatment by neurologist/psychiatrist Dr. Tessier (Felix Bressart), everything is looking up for Talbot.  He has been married for just three months to the ravishing Lucienne (Hedy Lamarr) and looks certain to get an appointment as French ambassador to Brazil.

Then out of nowhere, a man appears claiming that Talbot is really Jean Pelletier and owes him one million francs.  At Talbot’s trial for this debt, Pelletier is revealed to have been a murderer and thief.  The man’s claim is backed by a Mme. Allain from Pelletier’s past (Claire Trevor).  However, at the last minute, Henri Sarrou (Basil Rathbone) saves the day by testifying that Pelletier died in the train wreck.

CROSSROADS, from left, William Powell, Hedy Lamarr, Felix Bressart, 1942

But the trial testimony is but a prelude to an elaborate and ruthless blackmailing campaign by Sarrou, assisted by Mme. Alland who claims to have been Pelletier’s mistress.  The rest of the story details Talbot’s efforts to keep his wife in the dark while dealing with the increasingly dire threats coming from Sarrou.

crossroads 2 The ending is a bit too abrupt and pat but the film is an enjoyable watch with a particularly menacing performance by Rathbone.  The cinematography is the equal of anything done by the multiple Academy Award winning Ruttenberg.

Crossroads

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terrorsherlock holmes and the voice of terror poster
Directed by John Rawlins
Written by Lynn Riggs, John Bright, and Robert Hardy Andrews based on the story “His Last Bow” by Arthur Conan Doyle
1942/USA
Universal Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

[first lines] Voice of Terror: [off-screen] Germany broadcasting. Germany broadcasting. People of Britain, greetings from the Third Reich. This is the voice you have learned to fear. This is the Voice of Terror. Again, we bring you disaster: crushing, humiliating disaster. It is folly to stand against the mighty wrath of the Fuhrer. Do you need more testimony of his invincible might to bring you to your knees? …

This is an OK war-time entry in the Sherlock Holmes series.

“The Voice of Terror” emerges on the radio from some unknown source to predict with unerring accuracy calamities to be visited upon the British by the Nazis.   The “Intelligence Inner Council” calls in Holmes (Basil Rathbone) to root out the culprits.  With the help of Watson (Nigel Bruce) and a patriotic London low-lifer (Evelyn Ankers), Holmes gets to work but not fast enough to satisfy naysayers on the council.  When “The Voice” uncharacteristically predicts an attack on the Scottish coast in the future, all begin to fear that an invasion of the island is at stake.  With Reginald Denny as a council member and Thomas Gomez as a Fifth Columnist.

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I thought this was one of the better entries in the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes cycle, though that doesn’t make it a must see except for fans.

 

 

The Spoilers (1942)

The Spoilersthe spoilers poster
Directed by Ray Enright
Written by Lawrence Hazard and Tom Reed from a novel by Rex Beach
1942/USA
Universal Pictures/Frank Lloyd Productions/Charles K. Feldman Group
First viewing/Netflix rental

Cherry Malotte: What you win, you can keep.

This solid, entertaining Western was the most successful of the five movies adopting the novel about the Alaska Gold Rush.

The story is set in 1900 Nome, Alaska.  Cherry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich) runs the local saloon.  We learn early on that outsiders have started to make false claims on the informally organized mines.

Cherry is awaiting the return of her lover, miner Roy Glenniston (John Wayne),  from Seattle and is mightily displeased to see him on the arm of Helen Chester (Margaret Lindsay).  She sets out to make him jealous by cozying up to “Gold Commissioner” Alex McNamara (Randolph Scott).

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Helen has been traveling with her uncle, a judge who has come to adjudicate the claims.  Roy’s partner (Harry Carey) wants to fight but the judge persuades Roy to let the law take its course.  But the law is being administered by a bunch of crooks and Roy is at last forced to save the day, helped in the end by Cherry. With Richard Barthelmess in one of his last appearances.

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It’s not so much the story but the way it is told that makes this so enjoyable.  Dietrich keeps the exposition humming along with plenty of double entendres and it builds nicely to a well-choreographed fight sequence.  It’s interesting to see Randolph Scott as a villain, paving the way for the morally ambiguous Western protagonists he played later in his career.

The Spoilers was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration, Black and White.

Trailer

Star-Spangled Rhythm (1942)

Star-Spangled Rhythmstar-spangled rhythm
Directed by George Marshall
Written by Melvin Frank, George S. Kaufman, Norman Panama, Arthur A. Ross, and Henry Tugend
1942/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Bob Hope Tribute Collection DVD

 

[In front of Old Glory and a plaster Mt. Rushmore] Bing Crosby: [singing] Germans, Italians, and Japs / Can’t kick us off our Rand-McNally maps.

This is one of those compilation movies that tries to weave a bunch of unrelated acts around a central story.  These are usually only moderately successful, as is this one, despite its cast of Paramount stars and songs by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer.

star-spangled rythm 2The framing story involves a sailor, Johnny Webster (Eddie Bracken), who is on shore leave in Hollywood.  His father, William ‘Bronco Billy’ Webster (Victor Moore), is a security guard at Paramount studio who has boasted of being head of the studio.  Telephone operator Polly Judson (Betty Hutton) is in on the scheme and has been writing to the sailor.  The couple has fallen in love via these letters.  Polly and Billy conspire to spirit producer B.G. DeSoto out of his office and fool Johnny and his buddies.  They get deeper and deeper into hot water until Billy ends up promising to host a big variety show for the whole shipful of sailors.

The show features musical numbers by some of Paramounts biggest stars including Bing Crosby (singing “Old Glory”); Dick Powell and Mary Martin (“Hit the Road to Dreamland”); Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson (“Sharp as a Tack”) and more.  Johnny Johnston sings to dream girl Vera Zorina as she dances to “That Old Black Magic”.  Comedy sketches feature Alan Ladd, Franchot Tone, Fred McMurray, Ray Milland, William Bendix, Susan Hayward, Marjorie Reynolds, and many more players.  Bob Hope emcees the whole thing.

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Paulette Godard, Dorothy Lamour and Veronica Lake sing “A Sweater, a Sarong, and a Peek-a-Boo Bang”

The singing and dancing is more successful than the mostly sophmoric comedy.  This movie hasn’t aged particularly well but does give viewers the opportunity to see many second-tier stars of the era gathered in one place.

Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen were nominated for an Oscar for the song “That Old Magic”.  Star-Spangled Rhythm was also nominated for Best Music, Original Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Trailer – good also for a catalog of many the stars that were under contract at Paramount in 1942

Flying Tigers (1942)

Flying Tigersflying_tigers_1942 poster
Directed by David Miller
Written by Kenneth Garnet and Barry Trivers
1942/USA
Republic Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

“Since the Flying Tigers first spread their wings in the skies above China, the enemy learned to fear the intrepid spirit they have displayed in face of his superior numbers. They have become the symbol of the invincible strength of the forces now upholding the cause of justice and humanity. The Chinese people will preserve forever the memory of their glorious achievements.” ‘Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek’ – opening title card

This not a bad movie but come prepared for a representative collection of tropes from every other flight combat movie out there, with some from Only Angels Have Wings thrown in for good measure.

The movie is the story of the all-volunteer Flying Tigers squadron that fought missions against the Japanese in China in 1941-42.  It was thus made almost contemporaneously with these activities.

Capt. Jim Gordon (John Wayne) commands the squadron.  He is well respected by his men and loved by nurse Brooke Elliot.  As the movie begins, we see the carnage wreaked on little children in a refugee shelter by Japanese bombers.  The vastly outnumbered fighters of The Flying Tigers wipe out the bombers but not without the loss of a rookie pilot who, however, heroically lands his plane before dying.  Gordon has a whole collection of the personal effects of these heroes in his desk drawer.

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He goes to Rangoon to pick up supplies and replacement pilots.  One he brings back is his old buddy ace pilot Woody Jason (John Carroll).  Woody is in it strictly for the money — the men are paid per mission and per “kill”.  His avarice causes him to take a bunch of unjustified risks that make him unpopular with the rest of the pilots.  The final straw comes when he arrives too late for a mission he was supposed to back Gordon on and all because he was out with Gordon’s girl.  Will the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor show Woody the error of his ways?

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The movie moves along at a good clip and there are lots of exciting flight sequences.  Evidently, pilots grounded because of their eyesight, disgraced pilots seeking redemption, and sacrificial lambs had become de rigeur for this kind of movie by this early date.  I especially enjoyed seeing Anna Lee and look forward to more of her.  Wayne is awfully good too.

Flying Tigers was one of the highest grossing movies of 1942 and broke all box office records for a film made by Republic Pictures.

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound, Recording; Best Effects, Special Effects and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Victor Young).

Trailer

 

Reap the Wild Wind (1942)

Reap the Wild Windreap the wild wind poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Written by Allen LeMay, Thelma Strabel, Charles Bennett, and Jesse Laskey Jr.
1942/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Tagline: CECIL B. DEMILLE’S MIGHTY SPECTACLE! Men Against Giant Sea Monster 50 Fathoms Down (1955 Re-release poster)

Who could pass up the chance to see John Wayne fight with a giant octopus? Unfortunately, the rest of this DeMille epic dragged for me.

The setting is Key West, Florida sometime before the American Civil War.  The main occupation of the town is the rescue and salvage of ships that founder on the coast.  King Cutler (Raymond Massey) is widely suspected of giving the ships a little push toward disaster.

Loxi Claiborne (Paulette Goddard) is a fiery tomboy who relishes dressing in man’s clothes and assisting in salvage operations.  Her cousin Druscilla (Susan Hayward) is secretly in love with King Cutler’s brother Dan (Robert Preston).

Captain Jack Stewart (John Wayne) commands a ship that founders with the assistance of the evil Cutler.  He is blamed by his employer for the wreck.  Loxi falls for Captain Jack and determines to assist him when he meets the boss in South Carolina.

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Captain Jack also longs to be put in charge of a new-fangled steam ship.  But the supposedly effete Steven Tolliver (Ray Milland), a relative of the boss, has an inside track on the job.  When Loxi meets Steven, it is love at first sight for him and Loxi starts using her feminine wiles on him to help Captain Jack.

The plot of this thing is too complicated to go on with.  Suffice it to say that the love triangle is resolved dramatically and John Wayne does indeed defeat a giant octopus.

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This kind of DeMille epic just isn’t for me.  The performances are OK but the 2+ hour movie could have been trimmed by more than half an hour.  The action sequences, while way too far apart, look good.

Reap the Wild Wind won an Oscar for Best Effects, Special Effects.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Cinematography, Color and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color.

Clip — The battle with the octopus!

Oscar-Nominated Cartoons of 1942

Der Fuehrer’s Face
Walt Disney Studio
Available on YouTube

This might just be the rudest cartoon Disney ever put out and very, very funny.  Donald Duck is subjected to short rations and forced labor in Nazi Germany, all the while heiling Hitler like mad.  Very deserving of its Oscar win for Best Short Subject, Cartoon.  You really should give it a try but don’t blame me if you can’t get the music out of your head for days.

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All Out for ‘V’
Terrytunes/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Available on YouTube

When their forest home is bombed and war declared, the animals all do their bit for victory. They produce munitions, food, and wool, donate money, enforce the blackout, and even launch an attack on Japanese Beetles.  Moderately amusing, if a bit heavy-handed.

All Out for V

Blitz Wolf
Directed by Tex Avery
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Available on YouTube

The Big Bad Wolf (AKA “Der Fewer”) doesn’t stand a chance against the heavily armed and fortified Three Little Pigs.  Almost equal to the Disney cartoon in rudeness and hilarity.

Blitz Wolf

Juke Box Jamboree
Walter Lantz Productions

I’ve been unable to find this cartoon online anywhere that does not require downloading something or other. Would love to hear from those who have seen it!

JUKE BOX JAMBOREE

Pigs in a Polka
Directed by Friz Frelang
Warner Bros.
Available on YouTube

Another entertaining adaptation of The Three Little Pigs, this time without the war connection.  I don’t think Warners would be able to get away with such close modeling of the Disney characters today.

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Tulips Shall Grow
George Pal
George Pal Productions/Paramount Pictures
Available on YouTube

Touching stop-action Puppetoon about how the idyllic life of Dutch sweethearts is interrupted by an invading army of goose-stepping Screwballs and how their prayers are answered in the end.  Recommended.

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The following Disney cartoons were nominated in the category of Best Documentary:

The New Spirit
Walt Disney Studios
Available on YouTube

Despite grave temptation to spend his paycheck on wine, women, and song, Donald Duck saves his money to pay his income tax.  It’s the patriotic thing to do!

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This was the best I could do in terms of quality

The Grain That Built a Hemisphere
Walt Disney Studios
Available on YouTube

The history of corn from its evolution through its importance to the war effort.  Really only for those interested in such things.

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Desperate Journey (1942)

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Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Arthur T. Horman
1942/USA
Warner Bros
First viewing/Errol Flynn Adventures DVD

Flying Officer Johnny Hammond: [has just double-talked, sucker punched and knocked out Baumeister] The iron fist has a glass jaw!

What with the banter among the air crew and some incredibly stupid Nazis, this journey was less desperate than entertaining.

An RAF bomber crew led by Flight Lt. Terry Forbes (Errol Flynn) is sent on a mission over Germany to finish off a sabotage job done by a Polish guerilla on some rail lines.  After completing its run, the plane is shot down and the crew is captured.  American bombarder Johnny Hammond (Ronald Reagan) easily overpowers SS Major Otto Baumeister (Raymond Massey) while he is being politely interrogated for top secret info on the bomber.  The other members of the crew are allowed to stroll into Baumeister’s office and steal German secrets over the bodies of three vanquished Nazis before departing through the window.

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The rest of the movie is devoted to the crew’s escape overland from the desperate Baumeister. Fortunately for them, Terry speaks fluent German (with a horrible Australian accent that however is the equal of the American-accented German spoken by the Nazis. Happily for the audience, Baumeister is constantly shouting to his underlings – SPEAK ENGLISH!) and the crew is able to travel disguised in German army uniforms acquired from the many guards they subdue.  Will they make it to safety in England with the plans?  Not before destroying an incendiary bomb factory that’s for sure.  With Alan Hale as an overage veteran of WWI and Arthur Kennedy as a practical former accountant who just wants to quickly elude the Nazis so he can resume winning the war and get back to his bookkeeping.

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This movie is a hoot and, if approached in the right spirit, totally enjoyable.

Desperate Journey was Oscar Nominated for Best Effects, Special Effects.

Clip – Raymond Massey tries to “do business” with Ronald Reagan – this is a must see!