I saw 80 films that were released in 1946, including shorts, documentaries, and B films reviewed here. Sadly, I discovered only one new-to-me favorite to add to my top ten list. Perhaps that was to be expected in this year full of classics.
Here are my favorites in reverse order. (I added the Kurosawa film and dropped The Blue Dahlia from my original list.)
10. No Regrets for Our Youth (directed by Akira Kurosawa)
9. Great Expectations (directed by David Lean)
8. Shoeshine (directed by Vittorio De Sica)
7. My Darling Clementine (directed by John Ford)
6. The Big Sleep (directed by Howard Hawks)
5. The Killers (directed by Robert Siodmak)
4. Beauty and the Beast (directed by Jean Cocteau)
3. It’s a Wonderful Life (directed by Frank Capra)
2. Notorious (directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
1. The Best Years of Our Lives (directed by William Wyler)
Bonus: I gave the Academy Award-winner for Best Short, Cartoon, The Cat Concerto, a 10/10. I think this is simply the best Tom and Jerry cartoon ever made. A couple of versions are currently available on YouTube.
The Diary of a Chambermaid
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Burgess Meredith, adapted from the novel by Octave Mirbeau and a play by André Heuzé et al
Benedict Bogeaus Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant
Georges Lanlaire: I never found the urge to live or die on a big scale.
Jean Renoir returns to skewering the French ruling classes a la The Rules of the Game. This is OK but lacks the sparkle of the earlier masterpiece. Perhaps if it had been made in French?
Chambermaid Celestine (a blonde Paulette Godard) is heading off to her twelfth position in two years. Having been deceived by numerous men and abused by her employers, she decides to look out for number one, making her highest priority hooking a rich husband. Her first act of independence is to threaten to walk out before she starts when Joseph the valet (Francis Lederer) refuses to take on a plain scullery maid.
The loony master of the house Monsieur Lanlaire (Reginald Owen) initially looks like an easy mark, but Celestine drops that idea when she discovers he has no property in his own name. Then the even more insane next door neighbor Captain Moguer, who specializes in eating flowers and trying almost everything else, seems a likely project. Celestine is scared off when he absent-mindedly crushes a pet squirrel.
Then the Lanlaires receive a visit from their son Georges (Hurd Hatfield). Madame Laniere (Judith Anderson) is determined to keep Georges at home and recruits Celestine to help her do so, dressing the maid in fancy clothes and changing her hairdo. But the ailing, cynical Georges seems initially immune to the girl’s charms. Celestine, on the other hand, seems genuinely to love the son and heir. He doesn’t change his mind until Joseph has revealed his plan to marry Celestine and set himself up in business using his masters’ silver service as start-up capital. Things get darker from there.
Part of the trouble with this film is probably that Renoir did not write the screenplay. Perhaps he thought he was not up to it in his second language. At any rate, this lacks the underlying plot structure needed to unify the mayhem and, although the ending is dark, it did not strike me as profound.
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Written by Thelma Strabel and Edward Chodorov
First viewing/Netflix rental
Ann Hamilton: If I relax, I’ll drop dead.
Imagine a universe where Robert Mitchum and Katharine Hepburn appear together in a film noir directed by Vincente Minnelli. Sound intriguing? Unfortunately, all the money, gloss, and star power at MGM’s disposal could not save the train wreck of the story that surrounds this effort.
Confirmed spinster Ann Hamilton (Katharine Hepburn) changes her mind when dashing inventor Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor) comes calling on her scientist father (Edmund Gwenn) and the two soon marry. Ann is practically giddy with love for the handsome Alan and he responds by dressing her to wow his society friends. Before too long, some cracks begin to appear in Alan’s facade, however. He appears to be pathologically jealous of his long-lost brother Michael. When Ann and Alan visit Alan’s old home in Virginia, Ann has plenty of innocent questions about the family. He reacts to all of these with cold fury at her “prying”. She also catches him in a lie about his mother.
Ann being Ann, she cannot resist playing detective. When Alan leaves her on her own in San Francisco she looks up one of his old friends (Jayne Meadows). The woman believes that Michael may be dead. Then Ann pays a visit to Alan’s California ranch and starts pumping the caretaker (Robert Mitchum) for info. This infuriates Alan to the extent that Ann begins to believe the woman’s story and eventually to fear for her own life.
There is nothing wrong with this movie that a better story and script could not fix. The movie took much too long to get where it was going and I found the Hepburn character’s motivation simply incredible. The movie also could not quite figure out where it stood on Alan, playing more on Taylor’s good looks than his menace until the final minutes. This was billed as a film noir in The Film Noir Guide but it would better be described as a romance/thriller/melodrama, unfortunately lacking in thrills for this viewer.
The Girl I Loved (“Waga koi seshi otome”)
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita
First viewing/Hulu Plus
A young black bull said hello to a cute cow/ He couldn’t say anything after that/ That’s why it’s spring in the pasture/ It’s always spring in the pasture (from a folk song used throughout the film)
It seems I have been soldiering through too many movies that drag lately. Although this simple story spends minutes at a time on scenery and faces, I was captivated the entire time. Shows what a bit of poetry can do.
Baby girl Yoshiko is found abandoned, wrapped in her mother’s dancing dress, by a kindly Japanese ranching family. We watch Yoshiko grow up in montage, always accompanied by her attentive older “brother” Jingo. Yoshiko grows into womanhood while Jingo is off at war for five years. When he returns, Jingo’s feeling are more than brotherly and everyone is expecting a match. But as he works up the courage to propose, Yoshiko is working up her own courage to ask his blessing on her marriage to a lame intellectual evacuee in town.
One of the many charms of this film is its glimpse into rural Japan immediately following World War II. The life is still traditional in many ways and we see a folk festival along with many scenes of work with cattle and horses – all beautifully shot. The scene in which the two rivals gain understanding through their war experiences is very moving. Although there is little action or suspense, I cared so much about the characters that I was with them all the way.
Directed by Alfred L. Werker
Written by Eugene Ling and Martin Berkeley; story by Albert DeMond
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental
Lt. Paul Stewart: Well, if you give Janet this insulin, how certain can you be it’ll help her?
This is really pretty bad but this noirish shocker might appeal for its interesting premise and Vincent Price’s hammy but fun performance.
Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) arrives at a San Francisco hotel for a reunion with her released POW husband, whom she had long thought dead. She is overcome with anxiety when it is early in the morning and he has not yet arrived. Then she overhears a loud argument between the couple in the room next door and sees the man beat his wife to death with a candlestick. By the time her husband finally arrives the next day, poor Janet is catatonic with shock.
Lt. Stewart calls the house doctor, who refers him to a noted psychiatrist resident in the hotel. This is the smooth-talking Dr. Richard Cross (Price). Dr. Cross rapidly assesses the situation and recommends that Janet be taken immediately to his country sanitorium for peace, quiet and treatment. It develops that the good doctor and his sexy nurse Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari) have ample reason to ensure Janet does not recover too quickly … or ever.
Anabel Shaw’s is not the only over-the-top performance in a film that milks each situation for maximum melodrama. That does not prevent the movie from having a certain fascination for lovers of B cinema and/or Vincent Price.
The Beast with Five Fingers
Directed by Robert Florey
Written by Curt Siodmak from a story by William Fryer Harvey
First viewing/Amazon Instant
Conrad Ryler: I know, Julie, you’re afraid. He’s holding you with his pain and helplessness. He draws his energy from your life. He’ll never let you go.
This noir-tinged horror flick is a whole lot of creepy fun. The best part is watching Peter Lorre go mad.
The setting is Italy at the turn of the last century. Francis Ingram (Victor Francen) is a half-mad pianist who continues to play despite the loss of one hand. His favorite piece was composed especially for him by con-man Conrad (Robert Alda). Ingram has become obsessed with his nurse, Julie, and retains a resident astrologer, Hilary Cummins (Lorre). One night, he gathers these people and his lawyer to attest that he is of sound mind and changes his will to leave everything to Julie.
Soon after, Ingram takes a terrible fall down the stairs and dies. His greedy relatives come to the reading of the will and vow to contest it. But all who oppose the will start dropping like flies. Could the deceased’s severed hand be responsible? All the fingerprints and the evidence of the music issuing forth from the piano suggest that it could be. With J. Carroll Naish as the local comisario.
This movie takes some time to get going, but once it does it is filled with groovy special effects, flamboyant camera work, and a bravura performance by Peter Lorre. If you like this kind of thing, go for it.
Cloak and Dagger
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner Jr.; original story by Boris Ingster and John Larkin
Warner Bros./United States Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental
I was never a spy. I was with the OSS organization. We had a number of women, but we were all office help. — Julia Child
This is not one of Lang’s more memorable films but it still looks awfully good.
The Office of Strategic Services (wartime forerunner of the CIA) recruits nuclear physicist Prof. Alvah Jesper (Gary Cooper), known as “Jess”, to contact a scientist friend of his in Switzerland and bring her back to the U.S. The scientist should be up on the latest on German progress toward developing an atom bomb. But the Germans kill the woman before Jess can complete his mission.
Jess decides the next best thing is to go to Italy and look up an old associate, Dr. Poldi (Vladimir Sokoloff) who is also working on bomb development. He is met by a group of Italian resistance fighters, including the world-weary Gina (Lilli Palmer). Naturally, Jess and Gina immediately fall in love despite her professions of toughness. It turns out Poldi is being kept on a short leash by the Nazis who have his beloved daughter in their power. The resistance must rescue the daughter before Poldi will agree to cooperate.
This movie would have been better if there had been more espionage and less doomed romance. It’s OK for what it is anyway and the images are striking.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman from a play by Leck Fischer
First viewing/Hulu Plus
Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out. — Anton Chekhov
Ingmar Bergman is still finding his way in his directorial debut.
Nelly has been raised by her nearly penniless “Mutti” Ingeborg in conservative small town Sweden. She is now 18 years old and has not seen her real mother, Jenny, since she was a toddler. Nelly is being wooed by veterinarian lodger Ulf but feels only friendship for the older man. On her birthday, the worldly, rather vulgar Jenny arrives from the city to take Nelly to live with her. Jenny has her flamboyant ne’er-do-well boy toy Jack in tow.
Nell has set her heart on making a splash at the local ball that evening. Jack sweet talks her and gets her drunk and she succeeds beyond her wildest dreams, thoroughly scandalizing the townspeople in the process. Lured by Jack and afraid to face the sea of judgmental faces, Nell agrees to go to work at her mother’s beauty parlor.
Ingeborg is left distraught and alone since Ulf moves out as soon as Nell does. She is also seriously ill. But more than that she worries that Nell is unhappy. Her visit to the city offers a fairly horrifying look at the clientele of the beauty parlor and confirms Ingeborg’s suspicions. Yet Nell does not want to go home. Before she can, she needs to face a crisis set up by Jack.
The film starts out looking like a satire on small town life, with some witty looks at provincial manners. It ends up as a psychological study complete with Bergman’s trademark closeups and some symbolism. Right off the bat, he obviously had a way of bringing the best out of his actors. I actually liked both halves of the movie but it could have worked better as a coherent whole. I guess he had to start somewhere.
Angel on My Shoulder
Directed by Archie Mayo
Written by Harry Segall and Roland Kibbee
Charles R. Rogers Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
Shoveler: There ain’t no bottom in this joint.
This fantasy is poorly paced but the performances are quite good.
Eddie Kagle (Paul Muni) gets out of jail and into the car of his right hand man Smiley. After a pleasant conversation, Smiley lets Eddie have it with his own gun. It’s straight to Hell with the gangster.
He soon gets an audience with Nick (Claude Rains), the head man. Nick knows that each person has his exact double and Eddie happens to be the look-alike of righteous Judge Frederick Parker, a candidate for Governor. Nick tempts Eddie with the opportunity to get revenge on Smiley if he will occupy Parker’s body and destroy the man’s reputation.
Eddie’s personality does not change in the least after he takes over Parker’s body and Parker’s fiancee Barbara (Anne Baxter) has the feeling the old stick-in-the-mud may be going insane. But Nick is sorely disappointed. A couple of mishaps leave Parker looking better than ever. Then Nick gets religion and finds love.
Claude Rains is the reason to see this movie. He is absolutely delicious as the Devil. It is also a lot of fun to see Muni in a nod to his Tony Montana roots. Unfortunately, the story quickly becomes predictable and then it just sort of plods along.
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Val Lewton (as Carlos Keith) and Mark Robson suggested by the William Hogarth painting “Bedlam”, Plate #8 of “The Rake’s Progress”
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental
Lord Mortimer: A capital fellow, this Sims, a capital fellow.
Nell Bowen: If you ask me, M’Lord, he’s a stench in the nostrils, a sewer of ugliness, and a gutter brimming with slop.
This was the last of the horror films Val Lewton produced at RKO. He went out on a high note.
Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) is the “protege” of Lord Mortimer, a sort of resident fool who keeps the vain fat man amused with her cockatoo and quips. She and a Quaker witness an inmate falling off the roof of the insane asylum at Bedlam and are sure it was murder. It turns out that the victim was a poet Lord Mortimer had hired to write for a fête. The overseer of Bedlam George Sims (Boris Karloff) is a bit of an amateur poet himself. Although it seems fairly clear that Sims wrongfully committed the poet and set him up for the fall, all Mortimer really cares about is the fête. Sims offers to feature some of his inmates in the entertainment and Mortimer is satisfied.
Although Nell is a thorough cynic, she cannot help but being disgusted by the evil Sims. He offers to give her a tour of the premises, which are open to public for tuppence. Nell is further disturbed by the squalid conditions of the place and the obvious cruelty with which the inmates are treated. Later at the fête an inmate who has been covered in thick gilt paint to give a recitation dies and Nell tries to convince her boss to get money from the City Council to reform Bedlam.
Sims convinces Mortimer to leave things as they are and Nell quits with an angry tirade. She tries to retaliate by selling her cockatoo, who has been trained to spout rude rhymes about Mortimer, to his political opposition. Sims persuades Mortimer to sign commitment papers and before she knows it Nell is an inmate herself. Nell’s friendship with the Quaker enables her to survive her ordeal.
Karloff shines without horror make-up as the cruel yet oddly pathetic villain of the piece. Anna Lee is not too convincing as a vixen but does better as the angel of the hospital. For me, the highlight of the movie was Nicholas Musuraca’s wonderful atmospheric cinematography and the art direction that made every frame look like something out of a Hogarth painting. It is really amazing what Lewton’s team could create on a shoestring budget.
The DVD contains an informative commentary by horror scholar Tom Weaver.