The Man in Grey (1943)

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Directed by Leslie Arliss
Written by Doreen Montgomery, Margaret Kennedy, and Leslie Arliss
1943/UK
Gainsborough Pictures/The Rank Organization
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video
#172 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Lord Rohan: [after Hester bites him. Aroused with excitement] I never thought I’d find a woman with a spirit as willful as mine. You take what you want and the devil with the consequences. So do I!

I certainly could have died without having seen this Regency romance bodice-ripper.

The story is told in flashback after two of the character’s descendents meet at an auction of goods from the Rowan estate.

Lovely, sweet Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert) attends a finishing school in Bath.  She alone befriends the charity student who joins their midst, Hester Shaw (Margaret Lockwood). Hester runs away with some sort of scoundrel and leaves Clarissa for several years.  In the mean time, their families arrange a “suitable” match between Clarissa and the haughty, cruel Lord Rowan (James Mason).  They care nothing for each other, Rowan having married to produce an heir, and live as separately as possible.

Clarissa happens to see an advertisement for a play Hester is appearing in in St. Albans. On her way to the performance, the coach is highjacked by a handsome rascal Peter Rokeby (Stewart Granger) who poses as a highwayman to get the vehicle to stop.  He hitches a ride and steals a kiss at goodbye.  Clarissa is surprised to see that he is playing Othello to Hester’s Desdemona in a very poor offering of that work.  She is so delighted with finding her friend that she offers Hester a job as governess to her young son.  Rowan refuses to hire Hester in that capacity but agrees that she can stay on as companion to Clarissa.

the man in grey

As we have previously learned, Hester is a manipulative, deceiving trollop and was made for the surly Rowan.  They begin an affair but Hester has marriage on her mind.  After another chance meeting between Clarissa and Rokeby, she decides that the best way to get Clarissa out of the picture is to bring her and Rokeby together.  Hester succeeds in kindling the fire of love between the two but is forced to resort to more drastic measures to get rid of Clarissa.

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Hollywood “women’s” pictures have nothing on this one for intrigue and innuendo. Indeed, it seems specially designed to appeal to the mildly sado-masochistic fantasies of part of its target audience. I found it rather turgid myself.  If you are coming for Mason, he has been much, much better elsewhere and basically has a supporting role, the meaty stuff having been reserved for the ladies.

This film also has the unfortunate distinction of being the most racially-problematic British film I have seen yet.  Clarissa has a small Black page boy who, though somewhat heroic, is the butt of every one of the rare jokes.

Trailer

The Fallen Sparrow (1943)

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Directed by Richard Wallace
Written by Warren Duff from a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes
1943/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

 

John ‘Kit’ McKittrick: [First Lines] [Thinking, not speaking out loud] All right. Go on. Let’s have it. Can you go through with it? Have you got the guts for it? Or have they knocked it out of you? Have they made you yellow?

This early film noir had potential but never quite clicked.  Maureen O’Hara was not cut out to be a femme fatale.

“Kit” McKittrick (John Garfield) has returned from the Spanish Civil War, having suffered torture by fascists for two years as a POW.  He still has nightmarish flashbacks from his ordeal (and talks to himself a lot).  When he returns to the city after a rest cure, he discovers that his best friend, who rescued him from captivity, fell from the balcony of a high-rise apartment. The police have ruled the case a suicide but Kit is sure it was murder.  He starts a one-man investigation and vendetta.

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He traces all the people that were at the party the night his friend fell.  They include Dr. Christian Skaas (Walter Slezak), a wheelchair-bound “Norwegian” who delights in describing modern torture techniques, and his son Otto (a blond Hugh Beaumont).  The lovely lady that was sitting with the friend at the time of his fall is Toni Donne (O’Hara), with whom Kit falls in love of course.  As Kit sensed, it develops that he is the prime target of the people who murdered his friend.  Some attempted plot twists follow but in the end it turns out just as one would have predicted.

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I was paying attention and I still had to stretch to write a plot summary.  The story is all over the place.  There are tons of characters whose reason for existence is never made clear.  The goal of the spies either is so slight as not even to qualify as a McGuffin or is not sufficiently developed.

I now understand why the first-person narrator became a film noir staple.  This film conveys the protagonist’s thoughts through several interior monologues addressed to the character himself (see quote) and it just doesn’t work.  Much better to allow the character to speak to the audience.

The Fallen Sparrow was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Roy Webb and C. Bakaleinikoff).

Trailer

 

Best Cartoon Nominees of 1943

I like to save some of the best for last..  Here again are the Academy Award Nominees for Best Short Feature, Cartoon, for 1943.  Enjoy!

Yankee Doodle Mouse – The winner!
Director: Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
Metro-Goldwyn Mayer

Tom and Jerry do battle with ordinary household items like lightbulbs, eggs, a cheese grater, … and dynamite!

yankee doodle mouse

 

The Dizzy Acrobat 
Walter Lantz Productions

Woody Woodpecker creates havoc at a circus.

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Can be seen here (dubbed into Portuguese but give it a try, it’s mostly sight gags):

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
Directed by George Pal
Paramount Pictures

The Dr. Seuss story told with Puppetoons.

500 hats of bartholomew cubbins

Greetings Bait
Directed by Friz Freleng
Warner Bros.

This looks like it would be pretty good but I can’t find a full-lenghth version.  I don’t get the connection with a draft notice.

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Imagination
Directed by Bob Wickersham
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Screen Gems

A little girl’s ragdolls defeat a roly-poly masher in her imagination.

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Reason and Emotion
Walt Disney Studios

Disney explains that, in war time, we all need to get our emotions under control.  An example is made of Nazi Germany where Hitler played on the people’s emotions.

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Cartoon follows introduction by Leonard Maltin

Holy Matrimony (1943)

Holy Matrimony
Directed by John M. Stahl
Written by Nunnally Johnson from a play by Arnold Bennett
1943/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/20th Century Fox Film Archives DVD

Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor. Which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony. — Jane Austen

I enjoyed this oft-made story about a reclusive artist who finds love when he poses as his own valet. I preferred His Double Life (1933), starring Roland Young and Lillian Gish, however.

Priam Farll (Monty Woolley) is a world-renowned artist who, scorning publicity, has lived in the most remote parts of the world with his faithful valet Henry Leek (Eric Blore) for 25 years.  He reluctantly returns to London to receive a knighthood.  Shortly after he arrives, Leek contracts pneumonia and dies.  The doctor assumes the man he treated was the painter and Farll does not disabuse him of that notion.  Farll plays along and even watches “his” funeral followed by a burial in Westminster Abbey from the organ loft.

Leek had been corresponding through a matrimonial bureau with Alice Chalice (Gracie Fields).  She locates the false Leek and they fall in love and marry.  Farll continues to paint for his own pleasure.  The jig could be up when Alice surreptitiously starts selling the paintings for a song.   With Laird Cregar as an art dealer, Una O’Connor as Leek’s estranged wife, and Franklin Pangborn as Farll’s cousin.

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This film is amusing, if not laugh out loud funny, with some good performances.  I thought Monty Woolly was miscast.  The part requires someone that is reticent with people. Woolly’s painter likes nothing better than to boss them around.  Roland Young was perfect.  I can also imagine Charles Laughton in the part.

Holy Matrimony was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

Trailer

 

Fires Were Started (1943)

Fires Were StartedFires_Were_Started
Directed by Humphrey Jennings
Written by Humphrey Jennings
1943/UK
Crown Film Unit
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime Instant Video (included in a package called “Britain Is Calling”)
#167 of 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die

I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine. ~Kurt Vonnegut

This docu-drama is a touching testimonial to the brave firemen who battled against terrible odds during the Blitz.

The story is a slice of life showing one day at an East Side London fire house during the early days of the Blitzkrieg before a national fire service was organized.  We basically follow  a new recruit joining this company as he is shown around, participates in off-hour activities, and later goes to help put out a massive riverside fire caused by the bombing of a warehouse holding explosives.

fireswerestarted4900x506The fire was a reconstruction but the roles were played by real fireman and the whole thing is grittily authentic.  For me, the most touching part was when the men were standing around the piano at the firehouse right before the alarm rang singing “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”.  It is amazing to think that these men lived through danger like that and had to do it all over again the next night.  Jennings and his crew also captured some hauntingly beautiful images.  Recommended.

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Bataan (1943)

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Directed by Tay Garnett
Written by Robert Hardy Andrews
1943/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

“The War Department in Washington briefly weighed more ambitious schemes to relieve the Americans on a large scale before it was too late. But by Christmas of 1941, Washington had already come to regard Bataan as a lost cause. President Roosevelt had decided to concentrate American resources primarily in the European theater rather than attempt to fight an all-out war on two distant fronts. At odds with the emerging master strategy for winning the war, the remote outpost of Bataan lay doomed. By late December, President Roosevelt and War Secretary Henry Stimson had confided to Winston Churchill that they had regrettably written off the Philippines. In a particularly chilly phrase that was later to become famous, Stimson had remarked, ‘There are times when men have to die.” ― Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission

This is a dark story of a ragtag band of soldiers in a doomed effort to defend their position as the Japanese take over the Philippines.  It turned out to be my favorite combat movie in a year filled with such fare.

The film is dedicated to the Filipino soldiers who fought side-by-side with Americans and died defending their homeland.  After Manila is bombed, a group of survivors from different units and services is assigned to blow up a bridge and repair a plane on Bataan. Among them are Sgt. Bill Dane (Robert Taylor), a hardened career NCO; pilot Steve Bentley (George Murphy); New Yawker Jake Feingold (Thomas Mitchell); Latino Felix Ramirez (Desi Arnaz); and young sailor Leonard Purkett (Robert Walker in his feature film debut), who can hardly wait to kill his first Jap.  A special thorn in Dane’s side is a corporal who calls himself Barney Todd (Lloyd Nolan), but whom Dane recalls as a criminal who broke free of his escort.

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These men display incredible heroism as they doggedly follow their orders in the jungle, despite constant attrition due to disease and attacks by the Japanese.  The closing shot is unforgettable.

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This has all the elements of its genre, down to the composition of the unit.  It transcends cliches however due to the fine acting, intelligent screenplay and unrelenting portrayal of the horrors of war.  Despite his matinee idol good looks, Robert Taylor is never better than as a tough guy and shines here.  Nolan is his match in the acting department.  Walker is always good but he appeared to still be finding his way at this point.  The special effects are great, with some amazing matte painting effects.  For more on matte effects in combat films of this era, including Bataan, see here: http://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com.es/2010/10/cinema-goes-to-war-mattes-and.html\

Trailer

 

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

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Directed by Roy William Neill
Written by Curt Siodmak
1943/USA
Universal Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

Maleva: He is not insane. He simply wants to die.

Bela Lugosi looks positively geriatric as Frankenstein’s monster in this Universal horror not-so-classic.

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is still trying to find a way to die and escape the monthly nightmare of his transformation into the Wolf Man.  He locates gypsy woman Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya).  She says Dr. Frankenstein had the secrets of both life and death. He awakens the monster (Legosi) from its entombment in an ice block while trying to find the scientist’s records.

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In the meantime, the Wolf Man has already killed.  Dr. Frank Mannering is on his trail.  He locates Talbot in the quaint Tyrolean village near the castle, where Frankenstein’s grandniece Elsa (Ilona Massey) is enjoying some folk dancing.  The monster makes an appearance.  Mannering and Elsa agree to help Talbot.  They find Frankenstein’s diary which explains how the undead can be made to die.  But the villagers aren’t waiting for science to take a hand in destroying the monster and there is something about that laboratory that drives men mad …  With Lionel Atwill as the mayor and Dwight Frye as a villager.

frankenstein meets the wolf man

This has all the great production values of the classic Universal horror films of the ’30’s.  Chaney Jr. is actually better in this than he was in The Wolf Man, probably because we are not asked to believe that he is the son of an English lord.  Poor Lugosi totters around pathetically and the climactic fight is necessarily truncated by another disaster, bringing the movie to an abrupt halt.

Trailer

This Is the Army (1943)

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Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Casey Robinson and Claude Binyon
1943/USA
Warner Bros
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

This is the Army, Mister Jones/ No private rooms or telephones/ You had your breakfast in bed before/ But you won’t have it there anymore. — “This Is the Army”, lyrics by Irving Berlin

Variety show movie musicals were all the rage in 1943.  This might be the most patriotic of them all, with its chorus of soldiers and tunes by Irving Berlin.

The story is centered around two musical reviews Berlin wrote for the Broadway stage, Yip, Yip Yaphank (1918) and This Is the Army (1942), both largely casted with active-duty servicemen, of which Berlin was one in 1918.

Jerry Jones (George Murphy) is a talented singer and dancer.  He and his buddies are all drafted while they are putting on a show.  They go on to star in Yip Yip Yaphank as a morale-building exercise before being shipped off to France.  Jerry loses a leg but keeps his spirits up and becomes a successful businessman.

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We segue to 1942 and Johnny Jones (Ronald Reagan) is preparing to head overseas.  A running theme is his reluctance to marry long-time girlfriend Eileen (Joan Leslie), fearing that would be unfair as he might be killed.  Instead of combat, however, Johnny’s active duty is as stage manager of This Is the Army.  With Alan Hale as a drill sergeant during both wars and specialty numbers by Frances Langford and Kate Smith and Berlin croaking out “Oh, How I Hate to Get up in the Morning”.

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I suspect This Is the Army was a bit old-fashioned even for 1943.  A cast member says as much about the blackface ministrel number performed to “Mandy”.  We also have a strictly segregated show with the black soldiers all tapping in the number “That’s What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear”.  There is much too much drag for my taste as well.  I enjoyed a few of the numbers any way.

This Is the Army won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Ray Heindorf).  It was nominated in the categories of Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color and Best Sound, Recording.

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Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Phantom of the Operaphantom of the opera poster
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Written by Eric Taylor, Samuel Hoffenstein, and John Jacoby from the novel by Gaston Leroux
1943/USA
Universal Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Enrique Claudin: They’ve poisoned your mind against me. That’s why you’re afraid. Look at your lake, Christine. You’ll love it here when you get used to the dark. And you’ll love the dark, too. It’s friendly and peaceful. It brings rest and relief from pain. It’s right under the Opera. The music comes down and the darkness distills it, cleanses it of the suffering that made it. Then it’s all beauty. And life here is like a resurrection.

This film could have benefited from more phantom and less opera.

Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) is a violinist with the Paris Opera.  For years he has supported the singing lessons of soprano Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster) incognito. Arthritis has affected Claudin’s playing and he is fired.  He pins his hopes on a concerto he has spent years writing.  When he believes that has been stolen by a music publisher, he attacks the man and is stopped by a woman who throws acid in his face.  Disfigured and hunted by the police, Claudin, now clearly insane, takes refuge in the bowels of the Opera.  He continues to “support” Christine’s career by threatening horrible revenge against anyone that stands in its way.

In the meantime, the opera’s star baritone (Nelson Eddy) and an aristocratic policeman vie for Christine’s affections.   They may be wasting their time as Claudin definitely plans to have her as his own until the end of time.

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This “horror” movie just isn’t scary.  Claude Rains is the best thing about it but, according to the commentary, he was largely responsible for the lack of thrills.  He was so concerned about his image and future prospects that he refused to be very disfigured or menacing. The few clear shots we get of his unmasked face were taken in secret.

If we forget that this is supposed to be a horror movie, it has its points.  The production values are splendid and the music is beautiful.  Rains has some truly touching moments.  I loved the resolution of the love triangle.

Phantom of the Opera won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Color (Hal Mohr) and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Sound, Recording and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Edward Ward).

Trailer

 

My Friend Flicka (1943)

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Directed by Harold D. Schuster
Written by Francis Edward Faragoh and Lillie Hayward from a novel by Mary O’Hara
1943/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

“In riding a horse, we borrow freedom” ― Helen Thompson

This is an excellent family film about a boy’s love for his horse.

Ken McCauley (Roddy McDowall) is the kind of well-meaning but dreamy kid who never seems to do anything right.  His rancher father (Preston Foster) is disgusted and wants to punish him.  But Ken’s mother convinces him that it would be better to give him the colt he has been begging for non-stop.

To his father’s dismay, the colt of Ken’s dreams is the filly of the mating of a prized stallion and a “loco” unbreakable mare.  Ken calls the horse Flicka and begins to learn responsibility by nursing her wounds after she runs into barbed wire in a panic.  The boy and his animal develop a deep bond.

MyFriendFlicka-1024x576It’s a simple story but put together quite well.  I really believed in the family dynamic and, of course, McDowall is superb.  The ending kind of sneaks up on you.  I had expected there to be more in the way of horse-breaking and riding but no.  Maybe that would have been superfluous as this is really the story of the boy’s own growth.

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