Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Anchors Aweighanchors aweigh poster
Directed by George Sidney
Written by Isobel Lennart suggested by a story by Natalie Marchin
1945/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

Anchors Aweigh, my boys,/ Anchors Aweigh. Farewell to foreign shores,/ We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay./ Through our last night ashore,/ Drink to the foam,/ Until we meet once more./ Here’s wishing you a happy voyage home.

Take out Gene Kelly’s dancing, and there’s not a whole lot left.  But what dancing!

Joe (Gene Kelly) and Clarence (Frank Sinatra) are awarded the Silver Star and four days leave in Los Angeles as the movie starts.  Seems that Joe rescued Clarence after a firefight in which both displayed conspicuous bravery.  Joe is the kind of sailor with a girl in every port and is anxious to hook up with his LA lady Lola.  Clarence, on the other hand, is shy around women and is looking for Joe to provide him with some leads and tips.  He figures that, since Joe saved his life Joe is responsible for him.

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Joe can’t shake Clarence.  Then the two sailors get stuck seeing home a lost little boy (Dean Stockwell) who wants to join the navy.  The boy’s Aunt Susie turns out to be the girl of Clarence’s dreams.  She aspires to be a professional singer and Joe gets Clarence to promise her an audition for Jose Iturbe.  Complications ensue.

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This is one of those musicals that feels more like a contrived way to showcase various talents than an integrated story.  Even if the plot did matter, though, it is fairly trite.  Kelly has three boffo numbers, Sinatra sings the Original Song nominee, Grayson trills through two, and Iturbi leads the orchestra in the title tune.    It all doesn’t add up to much in my opinion.

George Stoll won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  Anchors Away was nominated for Oscars in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Kelly); Best Cinematography, Color; and Best Music, Original Song (“I Fall in Love Too Easily” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn).

Trailer

 

Objective, Burma! (1945)

Objective, Burma!Poster - Objective, Burma_03
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Ranald MacDougall and Lester Cole; original story by Alvah Bessie
1945/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Errol Flynn Adventures DVD

Pvt. Nebraska Hooper: It’s sure peaceful so far. Cpl. Gabby Gordon: That’s the way I like it… peaceful. I already said when I starved to death, I want it to be peaceful.

Raoul Walsh puts together some unusual and effective combat set pieces.  Otherwise, it’s routine Warner wartime material, including the ever-present George Tobias as the token Brooklynite.

Captain Nelson (Errol Flynn) is selected to head a force of paratroopers on an important mission into Japanese-held Burma to knock out a radar station.  Journalist Mark Williams (Henry Hull) insists on tagging along even though he is well along in middle age and inexperienced in such matters.  The affable Nelson agrees.

Things go swimmingly at first.  The men parachute in undetected and wipe out 30 Japanese and the radar station with no loss of life to themselves.  This looks like it will be a cakewalk.  The plane sent to retrieve them is getting ready to land when they detect a Japanese patrol looking for them.  The plane drops some supplies and returns to base.

Errol Flynn in Army Film

The men struggle to reach the next rendezvous point.  But by then the brass has decided that it is too dangerous to for a plane to land anywhere and orders the men to walk out through about 150 miles of jungle.  Finally, the orders are changed again and the men have to change direction away from the base and simply wait.  Then the radio is lost, supplies are exhausted, and Nelson and his men must get through on pure guts.

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The sequences with the dozens of parachutes are beautiful and there is an ambush at night that is really striking.  Otherwise, I’ve seen a few too many combat movies now and this one was nothing special.  I always like Flynn but he seemed a little tired here.  On the other hand, my husband stayed awake throughout the entire thing, a rare tribute, and enjoyed it.

Objective, Burma! was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of:  Best Writing, Original Story; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Franz Waxman).

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San Pietro (1945)

San Pietro (AKA “The Battle of San Pietro”) The_Battle_of_San_Pietro
Directed by John Huston (uncredited)
Written by John Huston (uncredited)
1945/USA
U.S. Army Pictorial Services
Repeat viewing/Treasures from American Film Archives DVD
#190 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it. — Benito Mussolini

The army got a whole lot more than it bargained for when it assigned John Huston to make this movie.

This is an account of the Battle of San Pietro Infine which was a major engagement from 8–17 December 1943 in the Italian Campaign of World War II involving Allied Forces attacking from the south against heavily fortified positions of the German “Winter Line” just south of Monte Cassino about halfway between Naples and Rome. The film contains graphic combat footage.  We are informed that the Italian campaign was more-or-less a feint to keep the German army occupied while preparations for the D-Day invasion could be completed.  Thus, the divisions involved in the campaign were under-manned and under-supplied.

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I’ve seen so many war documentaries in the past several months that the combat portions of this film did not seem like anything special.  However, Huston narrated the opening sequence as a kind of travelogue describing the green vineyards and olive groves of the countryside and the 700-year-old village and its church over shots of the total wreckage that was left after the battle.  The short film ends with scenes of the villagers emerging from their hiding places and attempting to rebuild their lives.  Huston’s narration of the abject gratitude of these people to their “deliverers” sounds deeply ironic to these ears. IMDb says that the army felt the original edit was too anti-war and cut it from its original five reels to the current 32-minute version.  I would give anything to see the film in its original state.

The film is in the public domain and is currently widely available on YouTube.

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State Fair (1945)

State Fairstate fair poster
Directed by Walter Lang
Written by Oscar Hammerstein II, Paul Green, and Sonya Levien from a novel by Philip Strong
1945/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Co.
Repeat viewing/Netflix

I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm,/ I’m as jumpy as a puppet on a string./ I’d say that I had spring fever,/ But I know it isn’t spring. — “It Might As Well Be Spring”, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

I probably like this more than it deserves. Don’t think anyone can argue with the songs though.

The Iowa State Fair is just around the corner and, on their farm, the Frack family is readying some entries into the competition.  Mother (Fay Bainter) is putting the finishing touches on her pickles and mincemeat and Father (Charles Winninger) is babying his prize boar, Blue Boy.  Daughter Margie (Jeanne Crain) has a severe case of spring fever in late summer and is suffering terminal boredom with the nerdy farmer who wants to marry her. Son Wayne is disappointed because his girlfriend cannot accompany the family to the festivities.

Margie and Wayne both meet someone interesting at the Fair.  For Margie, it is cynical newspaper man Pat (Dana Andrews) and Wayne hooks up with big band singer Emily (Vivian Blaine).  Even Blue Boy meets a sow to flirt with.  I won’t spoil the dramatic suspense of how the mincemeat and pig contests come out.  With Frank McHugh as a song plugger and Percy Kilbride as a neighbor.

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OK, so nothing much happens and what does is utterly predictable.  A couple of the songs make my heart skip a beat though and the acting, particularly by Bainter and Winninger, is quite good.  It’s not too long and doesn’t have any really overblown numbers.  I don’t ask for anything more in my musicals.

Rodgers and Hammerstein won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for “It Might As Well Be Spring.”  Charles Henderson and Alfred Newman were nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Jeanne Crain sings “It Might As Well Be Spring”

The Southerner (1945)

The Southernerthe-southerner-movie-poster-1945-1020688303
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Hugo Butler and Jean Renoir from the novel “Hold Autumn in Your Hand” by George Sessions Perry
1945/USA
Jean Renoir Productions/Loew-Hakim
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

The saving grace of the cinema is that with patience and a little love we may arrive at that wonderfully complex creature which is called man. — Jean Renoir

I’m a huge Renoir fan but for some reason this one has never captured me, despite its evident beauty.  I think maybe the story is a bit too “American” for a European sophisticate like Renoir to entirely pull off.

Sam Tucker (Zachary Scott) and his wife Nona (Betty Field) work as cotton pickers.  Two small children and Granny (Beulah Bondi) complete the family.  Sam decides to see about renting his own piece of land from his boss to work as a sharecropper.  He is full of enthusiasm about the rich earth, ignoring the dilapidated house, dry well, and other serious defects.  He counts on his neighbor to help out on the water front but discovers the man (J. Carroll Naish) is a jealous skinflint who had been hoping to get the property for himself.

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Things go from bad to worse.  Granny complains non-stop.  One of the children gets sick from malnutrition and the only cure is to give him expensive milk and vegetables.  Then a flood comes.  Can the Tuckers hold onto their dream?

The Southerner (1945)

Don’t know if it’s me or the film, but both times I watched this I had kind of zoned out by the end.  Zachary Scott is very good, though.  It is nice to see him play something other than a mustachioed cad.  The usually reliable Beulah Bondi overdoes it.

The Southerner was nominated by the Academy in the categories of:  Best Director; Best Sound, Recording; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

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The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)

The Story of G.I. Joestory_of_g_i_joe
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Leopold Atlas, Guy Endore, and Philip Stevenson based on books by Ernie Pyle
1945/USA
Lester Cowan Productions
Repeat viewing/YouTube

Pvt. Robert “Wingless” Murphy: Look, this is a modern war, ain’t it? And I’m a modern guy, and the modern age is up in the air, not down here.

Burgess Meridith plays war correspondent Ernie Pyle but the plot focuses more on episodes from one platoon’s war as it fights its way north through Italy. The film is solid, if cliche ridden.

At 43, war correspondent Ernie Pyle is so much older than the G.I.’s he travels with that they call him “Pop”.  Early on he embeds himself with a platoon led by Lt. Walker (Robert Mitchum), with whom he develops a special rapport, and he keeps returning to the unit as it fights its way from North Africa toward Rome.

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We get to know some of the men fairly well, marking several out for an early demise by the poignancy of their romantic attachments.  The progress of the platoon is marked first by defeat, then by costly victories, until it gets bogged down by German fire from a monastery building that the brass refuses to bomb.  With combat veterans as some of the members of the platoon.

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The film works fairly well but bogs down, with its protagonists, about half way through at the monastery.    It was released shortly after Pulitzer Prize-winner Pyle was killed on Okinawa by Japanese machine-gun fire.

Robert Mitchum received his one and only Academy Award nomination for his performance in The Story of G.I. Joe.  He can’t be ever bad but he certainly had more nomination-worthy parts. (My vote would go to his unforgettable Harry Palmer in The Night of the Hunter.) The film was nominated in the categories of Best Writing, Original Screenplay; Best Music, Original Song (“Linda” by Ann Ronnell); and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Clip – Listening to “Linda” over Nazi radio

 

 

My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)

My Name Is Julia Rossjulia ross poster
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Written by Muriel Roy Bolton from a novel by Anthony Gilbert
1945/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First Viewing/YouTube

Julia Ross: The next time I apply for a job, I’ll ask for *their* references.

This is an above-average “B” thriller with plenty of chills.  Dame May Whitty is the standout.

Julia Ross (Nina Foch) is recovering from an operation that left her unemployed and behind on her rent.  She has searched for work everywhere but has no luck until she spots a new employment agency in the paper.  When she applies as a secretary, the main qualification for the position seems to be a lack of relatives or sweetheart.  Julia qualifies and passes the interview with employer Mrs. Hughes (Whitty). She is surprised to find that it is a live-in situation and she is to move in that night.

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After moving in, Julia is offered a refreshing cup of tea as a nightcap.  When she wakes up, all her possessions and clothes have been destroyed and Mrs. Hughes and son Ralph (George Macready) are referring to her as Marion, Ralph’s wife.  After another night of induced sleep, Julia finds herself with the mother and son in an isolated Cornwall house.  Her tormenters easily convince the locals “Marion” is insane.  Julia begins to fear for her life. Based on Ralph’s erratic behavior, it seems evident that her death might be unspeakable.

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Dame May Whitty and George Macready make quite a team as the villains of the piece.  Whitty is simply perfect – the lovable old lady that we know from so many pictures, with a secret heart of iron.  The ending isn’t up to the rest of the film but still recommended for noir aficionados or anyone with a soft spot for Whitty.  It’s only about an hour long and currently on YouTube.

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Blithe Spirit (1945)

Blithe Spiritblithe spirt poster
Directed by David Lean
Adapted for the screen by David Lean, Ronald Neame, and Anthony Havelock-Allen from a play by Noel Coward
1945/UK
Two Cities Films/Noel Coward-Cineguild
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant

Madame Arcati: Time is the reef upon which all our frail mystic ships are wrecked.

I always feel like I should enjoy this more than I actually do. If Margaret Rutherford could be in every scene perhaps I would.

Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) is a successful mystery writer.  He lost his first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond) several years ago and is now married to Ruth (Constance Cummings).  Charles is writing a new book with a fake medium and decides to host a seance for research purposes.  He does not count on the medium he gets, the eccentric, earnest, no-nonsense Madame Acarti (Rutherford).

Blithe Spirit Rutherford

Somehow, Madame Arcarti manages to summon Elvira from the other side.  Elvira and Ruth are natural antagonists, Charles is stuck in the middle, and Arcarti can’t seem to put the genii back in the bottle.

Blithe Spirit (1945)

Lean’s forte was certainly not comedy and Coward was notoriously unhappy about the way his smash hit stage play turned out on screen.  Where the dialogue should sparkle it just kind of fizzles, despite the expert delivery of the actors.  Margaret Rutherford must have directed herself (it probably helped that she had played the part on stage) and breathes life into the movie each time she appears.  It is almost worth seeing just to catch her performance.

Blithe Spirit won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects.

Original Trailer

They Were Expendable (1945)

they_were_expendableThey Were Expendable
Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank Wead from the book by William L. White
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

UNDER the wide and starry sky / Dig the grave and let me lie: / Glad did I live and gladly die, / And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me: / Here he lies where he long’d to be; / Home is the sailor, home from the sea, / And the hunter home from the hill.

— “Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson, recited by John Wayne in the film

Well, this went immediately onto my nonexistent lists of Top 5 John Ford Films and Top 5 Combat Films.

This is the story of a Navy squadron of PT (patrol torpedo) boats left to fight and survive in the Philippines after the Japanese invasion.  As the film begins, sailors at Subic Bay are celebrating the retirement of a 30-year colleague.  Lt. Rusty Ryan (John Wayne) feels like he has taken himself out of the running for advancement by sticking with buddy Lt. John Brickley (Robert Montgomery) and his faith in the PT boat for combat.  Rusty is busy filling out the papers for transfer to a destroyer when the announcement of Pearl Harbor is made.  He unhesitatingly reports for duty with his friend.

Trouble is no one in the Navy has any respect for the PT boats either.  When things get a bit more organized they are singled out for delivering messages.  Then the dire situation in the Philippines presses every available asset into combat.  The maneuverable PT boats prove themselves effective in sinking much larger vessels.  Unfortunately, outnumbered and ill-supplied, they usually come back to port at least one boat short.

They Were Expendable (1945)Eventually the squadron is evacuated to Bataan and Rusty is sent to Corregidor for treatment for blood poisoning.  In the hospital, he meets and falls in love with nurse Sandy Davyss (Donna Reed).  She volunteers for transfer to Bataan to be near him.  But Rusty, Brickley, and the crew of one boat are soon off to ferry honchos to Mindanao, leaving most of their comrades and Sandy behind on Bataan.  As the situation deteriorates more painful goodbyes follow.

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This film is exquisitely composed and shot.  As usual, Ford does best with the wordless moments: the Filipina singing “My Country Tis of Thee” to the emptying bar after the attack on Pearl Harbor; Donna Reed’s brave face as she assists at an operation by flashlight; Wayne putting his arm around Montgomery at the end.  There is some corn and propaganda, but large swathes of this are almost unbearably poignant.  The themes of the film are duty; honor; stoicism; and sacrifice.  Particularly sacrifice.  We can only imagine the fates that awaited those that were left behind as our heroes moved on to greater glory.  Ford does not enlighten us.  This is a fairly bleak effort probably made bearable only because it was made after victory in the Pacific was assured.

John Wayne and Donna Reed may never have been better.  I really should watch this again sometime soon and see if my first impression holds up.  Highly recommended.

They Were Expendable was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound, Recording and Best Effects, Special Effects.

Trailer

A Walk in the Sun (1945)

A Walk in the Sunaffiche-Le-Commando-de-la-mort-A-Walk-in-the-Sun-1945-2
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Written by Harry Brown and Robert Rossen
1945/USA
Lewis Milestone Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Rivera: It could’ve been something else. It could’ve been the engineers or the tanks. It could even have been the Navy. They looked at me and said, “Here’s a guy that can walk.” They finished me, all right.

Friedman: Everybody walks. Even monkeys.

Lewis Milestone brought this rather stylized combat film as close to an anti-war picture as he could have given its year.

A platoon of American GIs lands on the beach at Salerno.  Before it gets a chance to do so, its lieutenant is killed.  The senior NCO soon follows, leaving some rather green sergeants (Dana Andrews, Lloyd Bridges, Herbert Rudley) to pick up the slack.  After fighting their way up the beachhead, the men learn that their mission is to take a farmhouse about six miles inland and to blow up a nearby bridge.

walk in the sun

We are privy to all the grousing and fatalistic banter of the enlisted men as they tortuously make progress toward their destination.  When the platoon arrives, it is already short of ammunition and inspiration but determined to carry on.  With Richard Conte in a fantastic performance as a smart-ass cigarette-cadging machine gunner, and John Ireland, Sterling Holloway, Norman Lloyd, and Huntz Hall among the other grunts.

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The dialogue in this one is quite literary and rhythmic, yet somehow very effective in conveying the interior monologues of the men.  We get the phrases “nobody dies” and “you kill me” over and over like a kind of Greek chorus.  And the performances are all right on.  Even though it is so stagey,  one gets the feeling that this is the essence of what combat was like – ordinary guys just trying to do their job by the seat of their pants and somehow come out of it alive.  Recommended.

Trailer