The Rules of the Game (1939)

The Rules of the Game (“La regle du jeu”)rules-of-the-game poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Jean Renoir and Carl Koch
1939/France
Nouvelles Éditions de Films (NEF)

Repeat viewing/Criterion Collection DVD
#138 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Octave: I want to disappear down a hole.

Robert de la Cheyniest: Why’s that?

Octave: So I no longer have to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.

I’ve been putting off writing this review because I just can’t find the words to describe how I feel about this film, which I consider to be one of the supreme masterpieces of cinema.

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André Jurieux is welcomed as a hero after he has crossed the Atlantic solo in less than 24 hours.  He is despondent, however, because his muse Christine de la Cheyniest did not meet him on arrival.  She is at home with her husband Robert (Dalio) listening to the event on the radio.  Christine considers André a friend, though her maid Lisette says friendship with a man is impossible.  When Robert learns that the relationship is innocent he starts to feel guilty about his own affair with Genevieve and tries to break it off.  André’s friend Octave (Renoir) tries to console the suicidal pilot and finally convinces Christine and Robert to invite him to their country estate.  Genevieve also coerces Robert into inviting her.

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Lisette is married to the De la Cheyniest country gamekeeper Shumacher (Gaston Modot), a situation that suits her as long as they are separated by hundreds of miles and she is free for hanky-panky.  Shortly after arrival, Robert meets poacher Marceau (Carette) and wants to hire him to rid the estate of rabbits.  But Marceau has long dreamed of becoming a domestic and Robert complies by taking him on as part of the house staff.  Marceau soon begins a flirtation with Lisette, enraging the jealous Shumacher who chases him for the remainder of the film, sometimes at gun point.

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The country visit includes two notable events, a formal hunt and a costume party including a kind of talent show.  During the hunt, Nora spies Robert giving an affectionate good-bye kiss to Genevieve.  She had been oblivious of the affair, which was common knowledge to everyone else, and now believes her entire marriage has been based on a lie.  She lashes out during the party by selecting a random guest for a tryst of her own.  A farcical chase and general mayhem centering on the upstairs and downstairs lovers ultimately ends in tragedy.

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Robert refers to Octave as a “dangerous poet” and this is an apt description of Renoir especially in this savage examination of French society between the wars.  It is a world where mechanical birds are treasured and real birds are shot, true love is punished and infidelity exalted, and crimes are overlooked to preserve the peace.  I see Jurieux as a stand in for Czechoslovakia, a sacrificial lamb led to the altar to allow the status quo to persist for a few days longer.  All this is hidden beneath the surface in a farce worthy of Moliere.

The flm making is exquisite..  Who can ever forget the barbaric hunt, a masterpiece of montage editting, ending in the extended shot of the quivering rabbit?  The entertainment at the party is equally mesmerizing.  I love the shot of Dalio showing off his huge triumphant “music box” as his world disintegrates around him.

I can and have watched this over and over with exactly the same interest, noticing something new each time.  Is that not the definition of a classic?

Re-release trailer

 

Gunga Din (1939)

Gunga DinGunga.Din Poster
Directed by George Stevens
Screenplay  by Joel Sayer and Fred Guiol; Story by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling
1939/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

Repeat viewing; Netflix rental
#135 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Colonel Weed: [reading from the poem by the journalist, Rudyard Kipling] “Though I’ve belted you and flayed you / By the living God that made you / You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

This rollickng adventure is always enjoyable.

Cutter (Cary Grant), McChesney (Victor McLaughlen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) are officers in the British Army in India and fast friends, drinking buddies, and adventure lovers.  Ballantine has decided to resign his commission to marry Emmy (Joan Fontaine) and it becomes the mission of the other two to foil his plans by fair means or foul.  Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe, channeling Sabu) is a water carrier in their unit who has dreams of being a soldier.

Days before Ballantine is to leave the army, Cutter and McChesney are sent on a dangerous mission to ferret out the whereabouts and intentions of the murderous society of “Thugees” who worship Kali and honor her with mass assassinations.  They trick Ballantine, who cannot really resist a challenge, into joining them and Gunga Din tags along.  The three find the “Thugs” in a fabulous golden temple and are involved in many hair-raising adventures there, with the support of the humble Din.

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While this film suffers from the “sahib syndrome”, it is enormous fun.  Grant, McLaughlin, and Fairbanks are the perfect threesome to carry it off.  The DVD I rented had a good commentary by Rudy Belmer, who pointed out the many parallels between this film and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).

Gunga Din was nominated for an Academy Award for its B&W Cinematography by Joseph August.

Trailer

Another Thin Man (1939)

Another Thin Mananother-thin-man poster
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett based on an original story by Dashiell Hammett
1939/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

First viewing; Netflix rental

 

Nora Charles: How did you find me here?

Nick Charles: I saw a great group of men standing around a table. I knew there was only one woman in the world who could attract men like that. A woman with a lot of money.

The third installment in the “Thin Man” series had me grinning from beginning to end.

An embezzler (Sheldon Leonard) has threatened Col. MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith) with murder.  MacFay calls on retired detective Nick Charles (William Powell) to protect him. Charles is married to MacFay’s deceased partner’s daughter Nora (Myrna Loy).  The Charleses go out to MacFay’s Long Island estate with their baby and Asta in tow.  MacFay is rather swiftly murdered, Nick is the next recipient of threats, and the couple go into high gear on the investigation.  With Virginia Gray as MacFay’s daughter, Ruth Hussey as a nanny, and Otto Kruger as the  D.A.

ANOTHER THIN MAN, William Powell, Myrna Loy, William A. Poulsen, 1939

A new baby does nothing to cramp Nick and Nora’s style or curb their drinking.  The murder mystery solution comes out of nowhere but getting there is enormous fun.  I especially liked Otto Kruger as the DA who accuses first and asks questions later.  I enjoyed this nearly as much as The Thin Man.

Trailer

 

The Four Feathers (1939)

The Four Feathersfour_feathers poster
Directed by Zoltan Korda
Written by A.E.W. Mason; screenplay by R. C. Sherriff
1939/UK
London Film Productions

First viewing/Streaming on Hulu Plus

 

Harry Faversham: I am a coward, Doctor. If I’d been anything but a soldier I might have lived my whole life and concealed it. But to be a soldier and a coward is to be an impostor, a menace to the men whose lives are in your hands.

I was never able to suspend my disbelief, but as pure spectacle this film is great.

Harry Faversham (John Clements) is the last in a long line of military officers.  His father despairs of the boy and asks his friend General Burroughs (C.  Aubrey Smith) to buck him up over dinner.  But Burroughs’ war stories terrify the boy.

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Ten years later, Harry is himself an officer and engaged to Burroughs’ daughter Ethne.  Fellow-officer John Durrance (Ralph Richardson) carries a torch for her.   Then Harry’s regiment is called up to the Sudan to avenge General Gordon’s defeat and death. Harry fears that he will turn tail under fire and resigns his commission.  Three of his comrades, including John, and Ethne send Harry white feathers condemning him for cowardice.

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Almost immediately, Harry vows to redeem himself.  He sets off for Egypt where he convinces a doctor to brand his forehead so that he will be mistaken for a member of a tribe which brands traitors and cuts off their tongues.  The blue-eyed Harry disguises himself as an Arab and nobody notices he has a tongue for the rest of the film. Conveniently, Harry manages to find all of his detractors and heroically rescue them from various situations.  He also takes an enemy arsenal single-handed and even finds a Union Jack to raise there.

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I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes but I have to admit the story makes a ripping action adventure.  The scenes in Sudan are astonishing for the time – really for any time. How the filmmakers managed to capture this all on location with hundreds and hundreds of local extras and clunky Technicolor cameras is beyond me.  The attacks by the “dervishes” and “fuzzy-wuzzies” are terrifying.  I imagine a “making-of” documentary would be an adventure film in itself.  Ralph Richardson is, as per normal, excellent and does well as a blind man.

The Four Feathers was nominated for an Academy Award for its Color Cinematography by Georges Périnal and Osmond Borradaile.  It was also nominated for the Palme d’or at the very first Cannes Film Festival and for the Mussolini Cup at Venice.

Trailer

 

The Old Maid (1939)

The Old Maidthe old maid poster
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Written by Casey Robinson based on the stage play by Zoe Akins and the novel by Edith Wharton
1939/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing/Netflix rental

Charlotte Lovell: Oh, but you needn’t pity me. Because she’s really mine. If she considers me an old maid, it’s because I’ve deliberately made myself one in her eyes. I’ve done it from the beginning so she wouldn’t have the least suspicion. I’ve practised everything I’ve ever had to say to her, if it was important, so that I’d sound like an old maid aunt talking. Not her mother.

It’s not a bad movie but this tear-jerker did not particularly move me.

During the Civil War, Delia Lovell (Miriam Hopkins) is about to marry society luminary Jim Ralston.  As she is getting ready for the wedding, she learns that beau Clem Spender (George Brent) has returned from a two-year absence.  She is breaking a promise to marry him and her cousin Charlotte (Bette Davis) offers to break the news.  Unbeknownst to Delia, Charlotte is carrying a torch for Clem and after the wedding the two get together, apparently for one night of passion, before Clem goes off to war.

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Segue to several years later and Charlotte is keeping a foundling home.  Her favorite foundling is named Clementine.  Charlotte is now engaged to Joe Ralston, Jim’s brother. The Ralston family keeps begging Charlotte to give up the home and sends Delia to persuade her to do so.  Charlotte adamantly refuses and Joe gives in.  But on the day of the wedding, in an apparent fit of insanity, Charlotte admits to Delia that Clementine is her daughter and Delia quickly guesses that the father was Clem, who was killed in the war. Delia is jealous and says she will tell Joe.  She does go to Joe and convinces him to call off the wedding, not because of the illegitimacy but because she claims Charlotte is too ill to marry.

After Delia is widowed, she invites Charlotte and Clementine to live with her.  The rest of the plot covers the sad saga as Clementine starts calling Delia mother and disrespecting her strict old maid Aunt Charlotte.  With Donald Crisp as a kindly doctor.

old maid 2This is a well-made film and the acting is good, although I think Hopkins should have stuck with comedies.  My main problem with the film was the ending, which requires Delia to make a complete turnaround totally out of step with her previously established character.

Trailer

 

Wuthering Heights (1939)

Wuthering Heightswuthering-heights poster
Directed by William Wyler
Written by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht based on the novel by Emily Brontë
1939/USA
The Samuel Goldwyn Company

First viewing/Warner Home Video DVD
#131 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Heathcliff: I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul!

This is a beautiful looking film and Laurence Olivier becomes Heathcliff.

The classic Emily Brontë novel is the story of unfettered passion destroying everything in its wake.  Mr. Earnshaw brings an street urchin he calls Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) into his Yorkshire family home, Wuthering Heights.  The wild child forms a close bond with daughter Cathy (Merle Oberon), who also has a wild and rebellious streak.  He forever earns the enmity of son Hadley. When Earnshaw dies, Hadley makes Heathcliff a stable boy and treats him brutally.  Heathcliff stays on because of his love for Cathy, who, however, has a yearning for finer things.  This yearning draws her to the Linton mansion, where Edgar Linton (David Niven) rapidly falls in love with her.  The remainder of the story focuses on Heathcliff’s revenge on Hadley and the Linton family.  With Flora Robson as housekeeper Ellen, the teller of the tale; an almost unrecognizable Leo G. Carroll as Joseph, the farm man-of-all-trades; Geraldine Fitzgerald as Isabel Linton; and Donald Crisp as a doctor.

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I regret that I did not see the film before I had read the novel a couple of times.  If I had, I might have liked the book better.  It is not a favorite of mine and it strikes me as a story in which virtually all the characters verge on insanity.  I find Heathcliff especially cruel and repugnant.

If I had seen the movie, I might have been prepared to accept the novel as a tragic tale of eternal love.  Certainly, Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff is dreamy, with the perfect undertone of cold violence.  I”m still not to keen on Merle Oberon as an actress but she does look beautiful, which is the main thing required of Cathy.  The movie glances over the worst excesses of Heathcliff’s savagery so that he becomes a more sympathetic sufferer of class injustice.

The story and acting aside, this is an exquisitely shot picture.  The opening, with the driving rain and forbidding moors, is scary and perfect.  The whole thing almost glows.  It definitely qualifies as a must see in my book.

Gregg Toland won the Academy Award for his incandescent black and white cinematography.  Wuthering Heights was nominated for seven other Oscars:  Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actress (Fitzgerald); Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Art Direction; and Best Original Score (Alfred Newman).

Clip – Cathy and Heathcliff at the ball

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Only Angels Have Wingsonly angels have wings 1939 poster
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Jules Furthman
1939/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#131 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Bonnie Lee: I’m hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me.

This is another 1939 example of the Hollywood studio system at its height.

Piano player Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) gets off the ship during a port call in a South American town.  There she becomes fascinated by the pilots who make dangerous mail runs over the Andes.  She rapidly falls for no-nonsense Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) who manages the fledging airline.  He has been wounded in love and now “wouldn’t ask any woman” for anything.  For her part, Bonnie has problems coping with Geoff’s ultra-dangerous test flights.

Into this mileu comes pilot Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess) and his wife Judy (Rita Hayworth).  It turns out that Bat bailed out of a plane and left his co-pilot to die.  This co-pilot was the brother of Geoff’s loyal sidekick Kid (Thomas Mitchell) and the other pilots want nothing to do with Bat.  Judy is the woman who broke Geoff’s heart.  The rest of the story is taken up with some dynamite flying sequences, Bat’s attempted redemption, Kid’s problems, and the central love story.    With Sig Ruman as a bar owner and Noah Beery, Jr. as a doomed pilot.

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I love this film though on this repeat viewing the plot seemed to be all over the place.  Not so the crackling dialogue by To Have and Have Not co-writer Furthman.  The cinematography is just luscious.

I never thought I would say this but I kept envisioning Clark Gable in the lead and how he would have been better suited to the role than Grant (whom I generally adore).  Thomas Mitchell is so outstanding in this movie it is difficult to believe that he didn’t win his Oscar for this part.  Richard Barthelmess gives an excellent understated performance as the disgraced pilot.

Only Angels Have Wings was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Black and White Cinematography and Best Special Effects.

Clip – Cary Grant and Jean Arthur at the piano

Midnight (1939)

MidnightMidnight poster
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett based on a story by Edwin Justis Mayer and Franz Schulz
1939/USA
Paramount Pictures

Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Eve Peabody: Listen. Back in New York, whenever I managed to crash a party full of luscious big-hearted millionaires, there was always sure to be some snub-faced kid in the orchestra playing traps. And so at four in the morning, when the wise girls were skipping off to Connecticut to marry those millionaires, I’d be with him in some nightspot learning tricks on the kettledrum. And he always had a nose like yours.

A sterling cast and the Wilder-Brackett script makes this light-hearted romp a treat.

Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) arrives in Paris having lost her last sou in Monte Carlo. She bargains with taxi driver Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche) to take her around to look for jobs.  They quickly fall in love and Eve, who is scouting for a rich husband, flees.  She ends up crashing a society soiree posing as the “Baroness Czerny”.  She is spotted by Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore) whose wife Helene (Mary Astor) is having an affair with a young man. Flammarion pays Eve to lure the wealthy man away from Helene. The scheme is furthered during a weekend in the country.

In the meantime, Tibor has hired his cab driver cronies to scour Paris for Eve.  Just as Eve is about to be found out, Tibor shows up at the country house as the Baron Czerny and saves the day.  Or does he?   With Hedda Hopper as a society lady and Monte Wooley as a judge.

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This may be Don Ameche’s best performance as a young man.  The witty dialogue suits him much better than his good guy roles in the Power-Faye films.  Everyone else is clicking on all cylinders – even poor John Barrymore who was actually on his last legs. According to the trivia, he was assisted by his wife and reading from cue cards by this time.  You wouldn’t have known.  The film makers also managed to expertly disguise Astor’s pregnancy.

According to IMDb, Leisen’s constant requests for re-writes on this picture sparked Wilder to campaign to direct his own scripts in self-defense.

Clip – at the hat shop – Colbert and Astor

 

A Christmas Carol (1938)

A Christmas CarolChristmas Carol Poster
Directed by Edwin R. Marin
Written by Hugo Butler from a novel by Charles Dickens
1938/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Repeat viewing

 

“Bah,” said Scrooge, “Humbug.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Dickens’ classic Christmas story gets the MGM treatment.

Skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) thinks Christmas is for fools until he is visited by his deceased partner’s ghost (Leo G. Carroll) and the Spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  With Gene Lockhart as Bob Crachit.

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This festive adaptation takes most of the scares, pathos, and interest out of the original.  I thought Reginald Owens’ Scrooge was converted much too easily.  I’m afraid I am an Alastair Sim purist when it comes to A Christmas Carol.

The DVD I received contained some interesting extras – “Jackie Cooper’s Christmas Party”  (1931), a kind of Christmas card from MGM with lots of its stars; Judy Garland singing “Silent Night” (1937); and “Peace on Earth” (1939), an anti-war Technicolor cartoon in which Grandpa Squirrel explains to the youngsters what “men” were and how they destroyed themselves.

Trailer

 

The Dawn Patrol (1938)

The Dawn PatrolDawn Patrol Postet
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Written by Seton I. Miller and Dan Totheroh from a story by John Monk Saunders
1938/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing

 

Lt. ‘Scotty’ Scott: It’s a funny war.

Phipps: [sadly] No, not awfully.

I really enjoyed the acting in this all-male war film.

In 1915 France, Major Brand (Basil Rathbone) commands a unit of the Royal Fighting Corps.  He loses pilots on every mission and these are replaced by increasingly green recruits.  Flying aces Courtney (Errol Flynn) and Scott (David Niven) buck the odds and spend their evenings drinking and engaging in devil-may-care banter.  The mood darkens when Brand is promoted for a successful daring raid by Courtney.  Courtney then takes over the heavy task of executing the orders from the High Command straining relations with his former comrades.  With Donald Crisp as an aide-de-camp.

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The story didn’t particularly stand out for me but I thought all the leads were fantastic.  It was nice to see Basil Rathbone without a sword in his hand.  The film makes a good contrast from the many heroic RAF WWII dramas that would come just a couple of years later.

Trailer