1945 In Review – Top Ten Favorites

Well, it was what it was.  I saw 83 movies released in 1945, including shorts, documentaries and B movies that I reviewed here.  Although there was a lot of dross, the following favorites were anything but.

10. The Lost Weekend (Directed by Billy Wilder)

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9.  They Were Expendable (Directed by John Ford)

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8.  The Clock (Directed by Vicente Minnelli)

clock1-e1311695870298 ver. 27.  I Know Where I’m Going!  (Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

i know where i'm going!

6.  Mildred Pierce (Directed by Michael Curtiz)

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5.  Scarlet Street (Directed by Fritz Lang)

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4.  Rome, Open City (Directed by Roberto Rossellini)

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3.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Directed by Elia Kazan)

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2.  Children of Paradise (Directed by Marcel Carné)

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1.  Brief Encounter (Directed by David Lean)

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A complete list of the movies I saw can be found on IMDb or Letterboxd.

Cornered (1945)

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Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Written by John Paxton from a story by John Wesley
1945/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Warner Film Noir Classic Collection

 

Perchon, German Banker: The gun is unnecessary, this is a friendly meeting.

Laurence Gerard: Just want to be sure I’m chairman.

Dick Powell is at his grimmest in this post-war noir which takes his character deep into a Nazi enclave in Argentina.

Canadian flyer Laurence Gerard (Powell) has just been released from a POW camp.  He is deeply traumatized and his one remaining aim in life is vengeance on the people who murdered his French wife of 20 days.  He returns to France to confront her father and pump him for information on the murderers.  The father, reluctantly out of concern for Gerard’s sanity and safety, says that Vichy official Marcel Jarnac was to blame.

But the father also has papers stating that Jarnac is dead, his life insurance having been paid to wife Madeleine. The father believes the files fell into his hands too conveniently and tells Gerard that he might learn more from Jarnac’s Vichy associate.  Of course, at the exact moment Gerard arrives to confront the man, he finds his office in a smoldering heap. The associate burned all his papers before committing suicide.  But, of course, within about two minutes Gerard finds an unscathed page which is the cover sheet of a dossier the man was keeping on Jarnac. For some reason, Gerard takes this as proof that Jarnac is alive.  He decides to follow the trail of Jarnac’s “widow”.  It takes him to Switzerland and thence to Argentina.

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Melchior Incza (Walter Slezak) meets Gerard on arrival.  Incza seems to know way too much about Gerard and offers him his services.  Failing to rid himself of Incza, Gerard finally accepts his offer to attend a party where the widow may be present.  The remainder of the story follows Gerard’s pursuit of Jarnac to its bloody conclusion

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I have related perhaps twenty minutes of the more coherent portions of the exceptionally convoluted and improbable plot.  The film keeps playing with the audience’s perception of the true identities of the many players and I still was not quite sure of some of them by the end.  The confusion made the film seem longer than its 110 minute length.  The dialog, on the other hand, is pretty great and certainly the performances cannot be faulted.  Both Powell and Slezak shine.

Trailer

Dillinger (1945)

DillingerDillinger (1945)
Directed by Max Nossek
Written by Philip Yordan
1945/USA
King Brothers Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

These few dollars you lose here today are going to buy you stories to tell your children and great-grandchildren. This could be one of the big moments in your life; don’t make it your last! — John Dillinger

This is a fun B noir with plenty of violence and a chilling debut by Lawrence Tierney.

John Dillinger (Tierney) gets sent away for seven years for stealing $7.20.  While in prison. he meets up with the men will teach him to aim higher, including “Specs” (Edmund Lowe), Marco Minnelli (Eduardo Ciannelli), and Kirk Otto (Elisha Cook, Jr.).  When Dillinger gets out the first thing he does is to rob a movie theater cashier.  The second thing is to date up the cashier.  And the third is to spring his buddies from prison.

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Immediately the gang goes on a bank robbery spree, with Dillinger planning the more impossible jobs.  He also begins demanding his full share (Specs has been taking a double share).  This does not set too well with Specs.  When Dillinger again breaks out of jail, he is indisputably the boss.  But the good times don’t last long and his girlfriend buys a new red dress …

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This is one of those no-punches-barred tiny-budget noirs.  The good performances make it a very entertaining watch.  I found the commentary by John Milius (who directed Dillinger (1973)) and screenwriter Philip Yordan as interesting as the film.  Milius filled us in on the true story and Yordan had some nice anecdotes about Tierney who was apparently as scary as the characters he played.  All the major studies had signed a pact not to make a movie about Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson or Pretty Boy Floyd.  Monogram did not, probably accounting for why this big-budget worthy material appears in such a cheapie.

Dillinger was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

Trailer

Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945)

Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (“Zoku Sugata Sanshirô”)sashiro II
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa from a novel by Tsuneo Tomita
1945/Japan
Toho Company
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

“Dont fear the man who practices 10,000 kicks once, fear the man who practices one kick 10,000 times” – Bruce Lee

Kurosawa reportedly did not want to make this sequel. It shows.

This picks up where Sanshiro Sugata left off.  Now an acknowledged champion, it is our hero’s turn to rescue a young rickshaw driver from an abusive American sailor.  The boy becomes his own disciple.  Sanshiro is then challenged to a boxing match with an American.  He refuses because honor forbids him to fight for money.  He goes to watch the fight though and sees the Japanese opponent defeated. Vowing to avenge Japanese martial arts, Sanshiro renounces his code in order to defeat the boxer.  Sanshiro is also under fire by a couple of brothers who are challenging him to a match up between karate and Sanshiro’s judo practice.  They face off in the snow.  It does not take a genius to figure out who will win.

sanshirosugataparttwo I thought Part I, Kurosawa’s directorial debut, was better than its reputation.  This one, however, suffered from a weaker plot and was less visually interesting.  The visual impact might have suffered from the bad quality of the print available to me.

I kept wondering where the American boxer and Caucasians in the audience for the boxing match came from and hoping they weren’t prisoners of war.

Clip – representative of print quality available on Hulu Plus

The House on 92nd Street (1945)

house on 92nd street posterThe House on 92nd Street
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by Barré Lyndon, Charles G. Booth, and John Monks Jr.
1945/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/YouTube

 

Agent George A. Briggs: We know all about you, Roper. We’ve traced you to the day you were born. We even know the approximate day you will die.

Although billed as a film noir in The Film Noir Guide, this is a pretty straight forward police-procedural with few nighttime shots.

The film was sanctioned by none other than J. Edgar Hoover and is more-or-less a puff piece lauding the FBI’s success in rooting out domestic espionage.  First we get a long, narrated prelude outlining the FBI’s unpublicized work against foreign agents before the war.

Then the film gets down to the specifics of a case in which a young engineering graduate is recruited by the Nazi’s and set up by the FBI as a mole.  After training in Heidelberg, he returns to the States with FBI-doctored credentials allowing him unfettered access to German agents.  His U.S. controllers are skeptical but have nothing against him and he has at his disposal both the money to pay informants and the means of broadcasting secrets back to Germany.  In reality, all his communications go direct to the FBI which plants disinformation before forwarding them.

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The FBI’s big break comes when he is given crucial atomic bomb secrets to relay.  Can the FBI find the spy within the atomic bomb lab and foil the plot before their mole’s identity is discovered?   With Lloyd Nolan as the FBI agent and Wiliam Eythe as the mole.

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There is nothing too inspiring here.  It plays as a well-made TV episode.

Charles G. Booth won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story for this film.

Clip – opening

Pride of the Marines (1945)

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Directed by Delmer Daves
Written by Albert Malz and Marvin Borowsky from a novel by Roger Butterfield
1945/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/YouTube

Al Schmid: Just for luck, maybe the ship’ll come in tomorrow with some mail on it.

Lee Diamond: Why is it that everything good is always gonna happen tomorrow?

This didn’t quite measure up to my expectations after seeing Garfield top-billed but it’s not bad by any means.  It’s mostly a coming home story but the one combat sequence is really the highlight.

Al Schmid (Garfield) is an ordinary Joe and factory worker.  He’s also a confirmed bachelor and ever wary of his landlady’s efforts to matchmake.  So he is deeply suspicious when the lady invites her friend, an alleged great bowler, to her birthday dinner.  Even though the friend turns out to be Ruth Hartley, a woman as beautiful as Eleanor Parker who plays her, Al treats her pretty shamefully.  But one thing leads to another and Ruth proves herself to be a ready companion for hunting and fishing, Al’s two passions, and they fall in love.

Then Pearl Harbor is attacked.  Al enlists in the Marines.  Before setting off for boot camp he attempts to set Ruth free but thinks better of it at the last minute.  After he is on Guadalcanal one of his great regrets will be not marrying her.
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But Guadalcanal does not give Al much opportunity to ponder such things.  He is a machine gun operator stuck in a fox hole with two buddies and a horde of Japanese calling out “Marine, tonight you die” through the darkness.  When they attack, the Marines are clearly scared out of their wits.  One gets killed quickly and another, Al’s buddy Lee (Dane Clark), is badly wounded.  Somehow the three stave off the attack.  But everything culminates in a well-aimed grenade which robs Al of his sight.

Back in the States, Al refuses to write to Ruth until he can have the operation that he is convinced will restore his sight.  When the operation is not successful, Al becomes despondent, refuses to participate in his rehabilitation, and wants to break it off with Ruth. The rest of the story deals with Al’s extremely reluctant adjustment to the very real possibility that he will be totally blind.

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This is an OK movie.  I thought the sequence on Guadalcanal was extremely effective.  It seems to me nighttime combat scenes work particularly well for some reason.  The heckling and shouts of Bonzai from the enemy made it seem eerily scary and real.  The melodrama is not up to the combat but was pretty good.  I could have done without the last minute of the film.

Pride of the Marines received an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay.

Trailer

 

Isle of the Dead (1945)

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Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Ardel Wray
1945/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Thea: Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel, and the people who live only by the law are both wrong and cruel.

Auteur producer Val Lewton takes this title to ask the question:  Who is the scarier, the vampire or those who believe in him?  A little too scattered to rank with the best of his work but graced by a rare fairly sympathetic role for Boris Karloff.

Gen. Nikolas Pherides is a strict taskmaster, nicknamed The Watchdog.  His first task is to execute one of his friends for a lapse by his troops.  An American journalist questions the good general’s methods but not so as to not accept an offer to visit the island graveyard of the general’s dead wife.

When they arrive, Pherides discovers all the caskets in the tomb of his wife have been emptied.  The two come upon a house where a superstitious local woman tells them the bodies were burned because one of them was evil.  This woman strongly believes in the legend of the Vorvolaka, a sort of female vampire.  Furthermore, she believes that Thea, a young woman caring for the invalid wife of the British Consul, is one.

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To make matters worse, one of the guests in the house drops dead of plague and everybody is quarantined on the island.  The Watchdog runs a very tight ship.  He begins to believe in the Vorvolaka story as people continue to die.  In the meantime, we find out that the Consul’s wife is subject to cataleptic fits and is terrified of being buried alive.

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This is a bit too all over the place to be really good.  I never was quite sure what exactly was meant to be happening.  I might need to listen to the commentary to find out.  The ending is also anti-climatic.  I can imagine this being made as an anti-McArthy allegory to great effect.  Karloff is great as always in a rare role where he gets to play a real human who has his faults but is not really such a bad guy.

Trailer

Back to Bataan (1945)

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Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Written by Ben Barzman and Richard H. Landau; Original Story by Aeneas MacKenzie and William Gordon
1945/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Maximo Cuenca: [a poor student dying in his teacher’s arms after heroic action] Miss Barnes, I’m sorry I never learned how to spell “liberty”. [dies]

Bertha Barnes: [tearfully] No one ever learned it so well.

For propaganda-combat, this takes the cake.

Col. Joseph Madden (John Wayne) is an old-time Philippine hand.  At the moment, he has his hands full staving off hordes of Japanese invaders on Bataan.  One of his officers, Captain Andrés Bonifácio (Anthony Quinn), is the grandson of a great Filipino freedom fighter.  Bonifácio is in turmoil because his girlfriend Dalisay Delgado has become something like the Tokyo Rose of the Philippines, broadcasting daily to get the Filipinos to give up.  Col. Madden is called back to Corregidor to get new orders.

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General MacArthur has just received orders to leave for Australia and it looks like Bataan will fall any day.  Madden is told to organize the Filipino guerrilla resistance.  He returns to the island in time for the fall of the village that is the cradle of Filipino independence.  There we see Japanese atrocities against the principal of the local school, etc.  The schoolteacher (Beulah Bondi) joins the rebels in the mountains.  She wants Madden to go back to the village and avenge the life of the principal on the Japanese.  Madden has orders to blow up a Japanese gas dump and refuses.  The ragtag band of untrained guerillas is surprisingly effective in its mission and also manages to rescue Captain Bonifácio from the Bataan Death March.

I could go on but it is unnecessary.  Suffice it to say that MacArthur makes good on his promise to return.

duke_325Take a look at the quote up top and you will get a good idea of what is wrong with this movie.  In fact, the whole reason for Beulah Bondi’s character seems to be to spout off platitudes such as this.  The entire movie is first a tribute to Filipino resistance and only secondarily a story, much of which does not make much sense.  We keep getting big potential payoffs, such as the real identity of Quinn’s girlfriend, that are then more or less thrown away.  Speaking of Quinn, he looks just ludicrous as a Filipino.  Especially so when seen with dozens of actual Filipinos in this film.

 

Trailer

 

 

The Seventh Veil (1945)

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Directed by Compton Bennett
Written by Muriel and Sydney Box
1945/UK
Ortus Films/Sydney Box Productions
First viewing/YouTube

 

The attraction of the virtuoso for the audience is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always the hope that something dangerous will happen. — Claude Debussy

I hate when a man’s cruelty and abuse is portrayed as disguising untold love in movies. Despite this, and my general distaste for psychoanalytic stories, I found myself absorbed in this film.  James Mason and Ann Todd were the principal reasons.

The film is told in flashback after a young woman’s suicide attempt and subsequent catatonia.  We learn that she was a famous concert pianist before her hospitalization.  Psychiatrist Dr. Larsen (Herbert Lom) gets her talking through hypnosis.

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Francesca (Todd) was fourteen and living at boarding school when she applied for a scholarship to a music conservatory.  Unfortunately, she had just been caned on the hands for disobedience and failed the audition.  Her parents die shortly thereafter and she is sent to live with her only living relative, second-cousin Nicholas (Mason).  Nicholas is a confirmed bachelor and is none to happy to have Francesca around.  Then Francesca plays the piano for him and he has a new passion – making her a virtuoso.  He sends her to music college.

At college, Francesca falls in love with a swing band leader and wants to marry him.  But Nicholas snatches her off to Paris where he completes her training, makes her a star, and controls every aspect of her existence.  Finally, after seven years, they return to London. There, he hires a painter to paint Francesca’s portrait.  When the painter and Francesca fall in love, Nicholas, no longer able to force Francesca to his will as her guardian, goes off the deep end.  As a result, so does Francesca.  It is up to Dr. Larsen to save the day.

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My plot summary does not do justice to how really cruel Nicholas is to Francesca.  The resolution of this film just drove me nuts.  Ditto for how two sessions of hypnosis and listening to a couple of records are just the cure for suicidal depression and anxiety amounting almost to phobia.  Nonetheless, Mason is mesmerizing and Todd is very, very good (although I kept imagining Joan Fontaine in the part).  It kept my attention throughout.  Recommended if the story appeals at all.

The Seventh Veil won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

Trailer

Vacation from Marriage (1945)

Vacation from Marriage (AKA “Perfect Strangers”)perfect-strangers-movie-poster-1945-1020458344
Directed by Alexander Korda
Written by Clemence Dane and Anthony Pelissier
1945/UK
London Film Productions/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

 

Proverbs often contradict one another, as any reader soon discovers. The sagacity that advises us to look before we leap promptly warns us that if we hesitate we are lost; that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but out of sight, out of mind. — Leo Rosten

Just when I think that a year has no more treasures to offer along comes a hidden gem that makes it all worthwhile.

Robert Wilson (Robert Donat) is a mild-mannered clerk in The City of London who runs his life on a strict timetable.  Wife Cathy (Deborah Kerr) has a perpetual cold and fusses over him constantly.  Then, Robert is called up to the British Navy.  After a few initial rough spots, he finds he likes it.  The exercise and shaving off his mustache make him look years younger.  He even asks a nurse out dancing.

Robert has long forbidden Cathy to work.  With him gone, she decides to join the Womens Royal Naval Service (WRENS).  A kindly fellow WREN (Glynis Johns) takes her under her wing and gets her to start wearing make-up, also forbidden by Robert.  She starts falling for an officer.  One thing and another prevents Robert and Cathy from sharing a leave for three years.

When a meeting can finally be arranged, both are filled with trepidation.  Neither wants to go back to the life they had, yet expects the other to demand nothing less.  Their reunion reveals a lot – not only about who they are now but who they actually were to begin with.

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I thought this was pretty great.  The dialogue sparkles, but in a most convincing way, and Donat and Kerr are magnificent.  I don’t know how they did it but Donat’s change in appearance was amazing.  This has one of the best ending lines ever, too.  The whole thing is set to a background of variations on “These Foolish Things”, which only makes it more romantic.  I imagine that the story resonated with a lot of couples at the end of the war.  Recommended.

Vacation from Marriage won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story.

Trailer