The Constant Nymph (1943)

The Constant Nymphconstantnymph
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Written by Kathryn Scola from a novel and play by Margaret Kennedy and Basil Dean
1943/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

“Infatuation is not quite the same thing as love; it’s more like love’s shady second cousin who’s always borrowing money and can’t hold down a job.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

Despite Joan Fontaine’s excellent performance, the overwrought melodrama lost me by the end.

The premier of the last opus of composer Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer) was a big flop.  It seems critics just don’t appreciate his dissonance.  He is only really happy in the home of oft-married fellow composer Albert Sanger.  Albert informs Lewis that he will not be great until he has been able to cry.  Albert’s fourteen-year-old daughter Tessa (Joan Fontaine) inspires Albert to write a piece with melody and even provides the words.  The ethereal girl is also madly in love with the composer.

When Tessa’s father dies, Albert calls on her immensely wealthy Uncle Charles (Charles Coburn) to come and rescue Tessa and the other children from London.  During the uncle’s visit, Albert falls in love with Charles’s daughter Florence (Alexis Smith). After they marry, Florence can’t wait to pack the children off to boarding school.

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Some time passes and Albert and Florence are constantly bickering.  He refuses to live up to her high-society expectations.  The free-spirited girls run away from boarding school and show up at the house.  Charles is delighted to see them but Florence is intensely jealous of Tessa, with whom Charles clearly has a special bond.  Finally, Charles realizes that this bond is romantic love for his muse.  Will he and Tessa find happiness?  Not while the Hayes Code is in effect.  With Peter Lorre and Dame May Whitty as friends of the family.

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I’m just not crazy about the whole premise that if we have an adult playing a young teenager it is some how OK to explore these March-September romances.  Joan Fontaine gives the part just the right other-worldly quality to make this work, however.  Her Tessa’s fundamental innocence keeps the ick factor down to a minimum.  The biggest problem I have with the film is Alexis Smith’s overacting.  She ramps up the jealousy and drama up past the point of endurance.  Her self-realization is unbelievable as well.  I saw the ending coming.

Joan Fontaine was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Constant Nymph.

Trailer

Princess O’Rourke (1943)

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Directed by Norman Krasna
Written by Norman Krasna
1943/USA
Warner Bros
First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

 

Eddie O’Rourke: [the princess is asleep in his arms] Boy, are you lucky I was raised right. Or was I? Yeah, I guess I was.

Princess O’Rourke is an entertaining light romantic comedy.

Princess Maria (Oliva De Havilland) is a member of the royal family of an unnamed European country, now in exile due to Nazi occupation.  The monarch is in London but Maria has taken up quarters in New York.  The fondest desire of her uncle Holman (Charles Coburn) is to marry her off so she can produce lots of male heirs.  But Maria is holding out for love or at least attraction.

Holman sends her off on a trip to San Francisco under the pseudonym “Mary Williams”in hopes that the rest will do her good.  She is afraid of flying and is told to take a sleeping pill to make the hours pass by.  She gets into bed in her private berth (!) on the commercial flight but still can’t sleep.  Various attendants pass out sleeping pills like candy (!), each not knowing the total. The plane is unable to take off because of weather but Maria is too zonked out to move without help.  So pilot Eddie O’Rourke (Robert Cummings) takes pity on her and puts her up at his place. When she comes to, she tells him she is a political refugee.  His heart goes out to her and before we know it he falls in love.  The fact that he is about to be inducted into the Air Force as a combat pilot hurries things along.  Maria loves him too but knows an alliance could never be.

When Holman finds out that Eddie comes from a family of nine sons, he is not exactly opposed to the match.  But could Eddie ever resign himself to the job of Prince Consort? With Jack Carson, fine as usual as Eddie’s co-pilot and buddy and Jane Wyman as his wife.

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This has some obvious parallels to Roman Holiday (1953) and I must say that De Havilland gives Audrey Hepburn a run for her money in charm and allure.  She is very funny here. There’s a lot of silliness as well but, within the fairy tale world Krasna has created, it seems delicious rather than ridiculous.  If you like this kind of thing, go for it.

Princess O’Rourke won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

Clip – Olivia De Havilland and Charles Coburn

The Human Comedy (1943)

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Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Howard Eastabrook from the story by William Saroyan
1943/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

Mr. Macauley: I am Matthew Macauley. I have been dead for two years. So much of me is still living that I know now the end is only the beginning. As I look down on my homeland of Ithaca, California, with its cactus, vineyards and orchards, I see that so much of me is still living there – in the places I’ve been, in the fields and streets and church and most of all in my home, where my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions still live in the daily life of my loved ones.

MGM’s faith-based, patriotic take on small-town America during World War II was not for me.

The people of Icatha, California are the kind that burst out into hymns at random intervals just to cheer themselves up.  The story is narrated from the grave by the deceased father (Ray Collins) who watches over one such family.  Homer McCauley (Mickey Rooney) is the man of the house since his father died and elder brother Marcus (Van Johnson) went off to the army.  He supports his mother (Faye Bainter), sister (Donna Reed) and little brother Ulysses by delivering telegrams.  Mrs. McCauley is handy with poetic wisdom and calls to faith at all times.  She plays the harp.

Homer idolizes his boss at the office (James Craig) and befriends the kindly old drunkard telegraph operator (Frank Morgan).  Homer witnesses much heartache and happiness delivering telegrams.

thehumancomedyMarcus befriends fellow-soldier Tobey, an orphan.  He makes Icatha and his family sound so appealing that Tobey decides to adopt them as his own.  The story continues on, mixing triumph and tragedy.  With Robert Mitchum in a very early uncredited role as a soldier.

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There is nothing really wrong with this Oscar-nominated picture.  It just has not aged at all well.  MGM decided to do Our Town one better and this was the result.  It is a motherhood and apple pie kind of movie and probably resonated with war-time audiences, although I suspect that it was old-fashioned even at the time.  Rooney does quite well. We have seen this performance before, but he plays it with some subtlety and does not succumb to the mugging which characterizes his work in comedies.

I get that this is a fable and idealized version of a small-town (witness all the references to The Odyssey) but it was all much too much for me.

William Saroyan won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story.  The Human Comedy was also nominated in the following categories:  Best Picture; Best Actor (Rooney); Best Director; and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Harry Stradling, Jr.)

Collection of scenes featuring the uncredited Robert Mitchum as a GI.

The North Star (1943)

The North Star (AKA Armored Attack)The North Star
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Written by Lillian Hellman
1943/USA
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
First viewing/Amazon Prime Instant Video

Iakin, bearded schoolmaster: It is not my custom to start your vacation with a lecture, but this is the summer of 1941 – a solemn time. No one of us knows what will happen. I don’t have to remind you that we are people with a noble history. You are expected to carry on that history with complete devotion and self-sacrifice. I think you’ll do that. And now, have a happy summer.

If you can set aside any knowledge of Ukrainian or Soviet history, this odd mixture of folk musical and Nazi-resistance drama is not half bad.

In the folk musical portion of the film, we are introduced to the happy villagers of North Star, a collective farm near the border.  They sing and dance the hours away in happy teasing families.  Dr. Kurin (Walter Huston) is the head of the Pavlov family comprised of his daughter (Ann Harding) and son-in-law (Dean Jagger) and grandchildren Marina (Ann Baxter), Claudia (Jane Withers) and a couple of younger ones.  The Simonov clan is headed by Boris, a commune leader.  His children include Kolya (Dana Andrews), a bombardier in the Soviet Air Force who is on leave and Damion (an impossibly young Farley Granger in his screen debut).  Damion Simonov and Marina Pavlov are in love.  Old Karp (Walter Brennan) is the repository of tradition, who fought in the “last war” (presumably the Soviet civil war) which made the village “free”.   It is the end of the school year and, led by Kolya, the teenagers are thrilled to be making a walking tour to the big city of Kiev.

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As the young people are on their blissful walking trip, they run into Karp who is driving a wagon and offers to give them a ride for part of the way.  After they get into the cart, the Nazi bombers start to stream in and the cart caravan carrying the teenagers is hit.   Simultaneously, bombs rain down on the village.  The villagers decide to send the able-bodied men into the forest to fight as guerrillas and to set their houses, crops, etc. on fire at the first sight of Nazi occupying troops.  Boris Simonov goes off to get guns and ammunition for the fighters.  His cart is bombed on the way back with the guns.  The young people discover Boris on the road and take over the dangerous task of taking the guns back to the village along back roads, aided by the wiley and experienced Karp.  Kolya rejoins his unit.

In the meantime, Nazi troops start heading for the village.  Their plan is to turn the local hospital into a regional field hospital for German soldiers.  Dr. von Harden (Erich von Stroheim in one of his trademark “good Nazi” roles) heads up the German medical team.  It turns out that he is familiar with the work of Dr. Kurin and respects him.  The other doctors are not such “good” Nazis.  They turn to the children of the village for blood to transfuse into German wounded soldiers.  Many other barbarities and heroism by the villagers and teenagers on the road ensue.

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With this cast, you know the film has to have its high points.  One of them for me is a pretty glorious stand off between Walter Huston and Erich von Stroheim.  Jane Withers is another delight as the plump, clumsy, and romantic Claudia.  Andrews is quite good as the cocky, rather arrogant Kolya. The action scenes are exciting and well staged, as one should expect from Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front).

One of the problem areas of the film is its inconsistent tone.  The first thirty or forty minutes are devoted to patriotic and traditional singing composed by Aaron Copeland with lyrics by Ira Gershwin.  It strains credulity that these Ukrainians are so darned happy to have been “freed” from their farms by the efforts of Stalin (unnamed in the film) to live in this collective paradise.  But this is a screenplay by Lillian Hellman who must actually have believed this stuff at the time.  The film also ignores the fact that the the “border” regions of The Ukraine had only become part of the Soviet Union following that country’s invasion of Poland in 1939. If you imagine that this film takes place in an alternative universe, however, lots of it works quite well.

Clip – singing at the beginning of the walking vacation

 

 

Stage Door Canteen (1943)

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Directed by Frank Borzage
Written by Delmer Daves
1943/USA
Sol Lesser Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious. — Marcus Aurelius

This is a review of the kind of acts that played, or might have played, at the Stage Door Canteen operated by the leading lights of the Broadway theater in New York during World War II.  It is an enjoyable way to see many well-known theatrical stars that are rarely glimpsed in movies of the period, as well as some big Hollywood stars with theatrical roots.

Yes, there is a bit of a plot.  A group of soldiers who are a short leave in New York before shipping out to the front find out there is free food at the Stage Door Canteen.  The girls there ask them to dance.  A youngster gets his first kiss and one of the other men falls in love with a girl who thought she was volunteering so she could meet a producer and get work.  It’s actually not too badly handled.

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However, what we are really here for is the fantastic cast, some doing cameos and some doing specialty numbers.  Among those I had never seen elsewhere on film were Katherine Cornell, Lynn Fontaine, Gracie Fields, and Gypsy Rose Lee (doing a clean version of her burlesque act).  We also get some boffo numbers by Benny Goodman, Ethel Waters with the Count Basie Band, Ray Bolger, Ethel Merman, Yehudi Mehunin and more.  Katharine Hepburn, Merle Oberon, and Paul Muni have speaking parts and Harpo Marx does his thing.  There are many more I don’t have space for.

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I liked this a whole lot for what it was.  It will all depend on how much you enjoy the acts.  It’s hard to believe anybody with an open mind wouldn’t find at least something to love here.  I hadn’t heard the Oscar-nominated song before and it and its melody had me misting up as it appeared and reappeared various times.

James V. Monaco and Al Dubin were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “We Mustn’t Say Goodbye.  Freddie Rich was nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Clip – Peggy Lee singing “Why Don’t You Do Right” with Benny Goodman and His Orchestra. – the picture quality isn’t much, but the audio, Wow!

Mexicanos al grito de guerra (1943)

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Directed by Álvaro Gálvez y Fuentes and Ismael Rodríguez
Written by Álvaro Gálvez y Fuentes, Joselito Rodríguez and Elvira de la Mora
1943/Mexico
Producciones Rodríguez Hermanos
First viewing/Netflix rental

Mexicans, at the cry of war,/ make ready the steel and the bridle,/ and may the Earth tremble at its centers/ at the resounding roar of the cannon! — Mexican National Anthem

Made at the height of Mexican cinema’s Golden Age, this is a nice telling of the origin of the country’s national anthem during its fight against France to keep its independence.

Lt. Luis Sandoval (Mexican heartthrob Pedro Infante) is a patriot and student of Jaime Nunó, who in a burst of inspiration writes a poem for a competition to come up with a national anthem.  Later a composer puts the words to music.  The song wins the competition but is almost totally ignored, its premier being snubbed by corrupt President Santa Anna.  Later the common people bring the song to national hero Benito Juarez, who embraces it.  When the French take the advantage of Mexico’s inability to pay off its huge foreign debt to install Emperor Maximilian, Juarez and his supporters go into battle against them and the song rallies his troops to victory.

Running parallel to this story is Luis’s choice of his country over his father, a supporter of the French, and his love for the niece of the French Amassador.

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The film is full of pride and sentiment and is very competently made.  The battle sequence at the end is stirring and Infante is appealing and convincing. It made a nice companion piece to Warner Brother’s film Juarez (1939), starring Paul Muni, Bette Davis, and Brian Ahern.

The Mexican Army takes up their national anthem at the Battle of Pueblo (no subtitles but this is almost entirely action)

 

 

Air Force (1943)

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Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Dudley Nichols
1943/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

Sgt. Joe Winocki: [overhearing the Pearl Harbor attack on the radio] Hey, Peterson, who you got tuned in, Orson Welles?

Air Force is a solid piece of wartime propaganda, this time in the air.

An air crew comprised of the usual assortment of Hollywood types has been assigned to deliver a new bomber, the “Mary Ann”, to Pearl Harbor.  They happen to leave the West Coast on the December 6, 1941.  The men include the co-captain (Gig Young), who is love with the sister of the bomber (Arthur Kennedy), a disgruntled gunner who is looking forward to leaving the army in three weeks (John Garfield), a grizzled veteran of the last war who is the crew leader (Harry Carry), a New Yorker (George Tobias), a couple of rookies, etc.

The crew witnesses the wreckage of the attack on Pearl Harbor from the air and are told o divert to the nearest airfield.  This is in Maui where they are shot at by Japanese snipers. (We are also told that Japanese-Americans destroyed planes at Hickham Field in trucks disguised as delivering produce. This is total fiction.)  The plane is forced back to Pearl Harbor.  The men go to visit the bomber’s sister who was wounded in the attack.  They repair damage to their plane and are sent on to the Philippines.  The attack has converted the gunner from a cynic to a patriot and he bravely shoots down some fighters en route to Wake Island for refueling.

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By the time the bomber gets to Wake Island, it has been severely damaged in the aerial combat.  The men, against orders, scavenge spare parts from other planes to repair the Mary Ann.  They pick up some bombs and head out to the Philippines.  More adventures ensue.

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This is quite OK for what it is, a kind of survey of the beginning of the war when things were pretty bleak showing American determination to fight back no matter what the cost.

Air Force won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.  It was nominated in the categories of:  Best Writing, Original Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (James Wong Howe, Elmer Dyer, and Charles A. Marshall); and Best Effects, Special Effects.

Trailer

The Gang’s All Here (1943)

The Gang’s All Heregang's all here poster
Directed by Busby Berkeley
Written by Walter Bullock, Story by Nancy Wintner et al
1943/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

I wonder why does ev’rybody look at me/ And then begin to talk about a Christmas tree?/ I hope that means that ev’ryone is glad to see/ The lady in the tutti-frutti hat. — “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat”, lyrics by Leo Robin

Forget the plot, the production numbers in this film transcend high camp and move into the realm of the psychedelic!

Alice Faye plays Edie, a chorus girl in the world’s most elaborate nightclub show starring Carmen Miranda.  Andy Mason (James Ellison), son of millionaire Andrew Mason (Eugene Pallette) spots Edie in the line and chats her up at a canteen for servicemen next door to the club, where Benny Goodman and his Orchestra entertain.  They fall in love on the Staten Island ferry that night.  After their kiss on her doorstep, she promises to write him every single day overseas.  Unbeknownst to her, he is expected to marry his childhood sweetheart, the daughter of the Mason’s stockbroker next-door neighbor Peyton Potter (Edward Everett Horton) and his wife (Charlotte Greenwood).

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Andy covers himself in glory in his three months in the South Pacific.  The Masons and Potters plan a huge benefit for War Bonds  on the Potters’ palatial estate to welcome him home.  This will be provided by the cast of the nightclub’s next extravaganza, in which Edie is a headliner.  Numerous hijinx and heartbreaks follow.  But they are mostly there to provide a backdrop for the amazing finale.

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After the series of Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals he helmed, Busby Berkeley is back in his most outrageous form for this one.  And he has glorious Technicolor on his side!  This really must be seen to be believed.  The girls, the costumes, the weirdness!  I had a hell of a good time. Recommended for its intended audience – you know who you are.

The Gang’s All Here was nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color.

Clip – “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat” – Enjoy!!!!

Lumiere d’ete (1943)

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Directed by Jean Grémillion
Written by Pierre LaRoche and Jacques Prévert
1943/France
Films André Paulvé
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

This love pentangle has some interesting social commentary between the lines.

The entire story is punctuated with blasting nearby for a new dam.  Michele has a long walk between the station and the mountain hotel where she is to rendezvous with her artist lover.  The aristocrat Patrice gives her a lift to the hotel.  The artist has not yet arrived and the hotel’s owner Cricri has lunch with her before she goes to her room to wait for him.  It develops that Michele is madly in love with her artist and Cricri is passionate for Patrice, for whom she moved to the country,.

In a case of mistaken identies, a young dam worker named Julien is sent up to Michele’s room. Before she is fully awake, she kisses him, thinking him to be her lover.  This one kiss is all it takes to hook Julien.  Michele must wait in the hotel for several days and Patrice falls for her too, making Cricri almost pathetically jealous.

When Roland (Pierre Brasseur – Children of Paradise), Michele’s artist, finally shows up, he proves to be much different than we could have imagined.  In fact, he is apparently in the last stages of alcoholism and has a really wicked tongue to boot.  He does everything in his power to hurt her, partly to get her to drop him.

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Patrice, seeing an opportunity, lures the Roland to his chateau with Christine in tow.  He claims to be helping Roland to dry out but is actually practically forcing liquor upon him.  Cricri sends Julien to try to extricate Michele from the situation.  Julien fails and so does a visit from Cricri.  When Patrice finally makes his intentions clear, Michele decides to leave for Paris with a loan from CriCri.

Patrice’s last gambit is throwing a lavish costume party, a la The Rules of the Game.  There the lovers play a kind of romantic game of musical chairs, with tragic consequences to almost everybody concerned.

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This is a beautifully staged film.  I particularly liked the dam construction sequences but it’s all handsome.  I think the background of explosions, so reminiscent of war time bombing, is no accident nor is the essential depravity of the monied characters.  The acting is all wonderful.  Brasseur might seem over the top if he were not so damn good.  The score and sound effects contribute a lot.

Clip – work on the dam

Carnival of Sinners (1943)

Carnival of Sinners (La main du diable)la-main-du-diable-dvd-carnival-of-sinners-1943-3ffb
Directed by Maurice Tourneur
Written by Jean-Paul de Chanois from a novel by Gérard de Neval
1943/France
Continental Films
First viewing/Hulu Plus

“Son, the greatest trick the Devil pulled was convincing the world there was only one of him.” ― David Wong, John Dies at the End

The highlight of this supernatural tale is Pierre Fresnay’s performance.

A group of travelers is trapped in an Alpine inn by an avalanche.  Into their midst runs a clearly terrified stranger, Roland Brissot (Fresnay), carrying a mysterious parcel.  He panics even more when the parcel is stolen during a power outage.  Then he figures he has nothing to lose by relating his sad history.

A little over a year ago, Brissot was a painter with big ideas (like painting the scent of flowers) but no talent.  His girlfriend and muse had grown disgusted with him.  She walks out on him before their food can even be served at a restaurant.  Despondent, he begins to drink with the chef.  The chef takes the opportunity to tell him about a talisman he has that will grant Brissot all the fame, fortune, and love he could ever want.  In an upstairs room, he shows him the secret – a severed human hand in a casket shaped box.  Although the chef tells him frankly that owning the talisman means forfeiting one’s soul to the devil unless one can sell it at a loss to someone else, Brissot, an unbeliever, agrees to buy it.

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The talisman works by giving Brissot a new left hand which paints very strange pictures that are praised by the critics and sell for a fortune.  His girlfriend becomes his adoring wife.  But the Devil, a polite little man dressed in black, comes to claim his due.  Brissot finally grows desperate to rid himself of the hand and the Devil tortures him by offering to take it back for a penny, a price that doubles each day the artist does not and, finally, cannot, come up with the cash.

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The film was made by the 70-year-old elder Tourneur in the twilight of his career.  The storytelling is a little creaky and drags at points but nevertheless, has a certain fascination and a fine central performance.  Fresnay ably gives us all the nuances of a pretentious callow youth, a sophisticated artist, and a man on the run from fate.

Clip (no subtitles)