Sunday, 16 September 2018

Top 10 Favorite Films of the 1940s

Continuing with my top 10 (or top15/top 20, if I cannot narrow it down to just 10) of my favorite films of each decade, today I bring you my top 10 favorite films of the 1940s. Please bear in mind that this my own personal opinion, which of course is limited to the films that I have seen so far. Check out my favorite films of the 1930s.

Directed by William Wyler | Starring Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo | MGM

Fredric March won an Oscar with this film, but I say they should have given it to Dana Andrews instead. The man was simply perfect as Fred Derry and I find it outrageous that the Academy completely ignored his contribution to the film. A moviegoer in 1946 actually put an advertisement in Variety, saying: «I would surely like you to watch The Best Years of Our Lives one more time and tell me what Dana Andrews has to do to win an Academy Award.» Unlike director William Wyler and co-star Harold Russell, Dana did not serve in World War II, so he did not have any kind of previous experience on which he could base his performance. Still, he played Fred as if he had gone through the same thing and struggled with the same kind of self-doubt. Therefore, he should have gotten that damn Oscar. But anyway, Academy errors aside, The Best Years of Our Lives is a wonderful film and the perfect portrayal of the struggles veterans and their families had to face after the war.

#9: Casablanca (1942)
Directed by Michael Curtiz | Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet | Warner Bros.

Believe it or not, I did not like Casablanca the first time I watched it. I did not understand what all the hype was about and I actually found it a little bit boring. Or maybe I was just not paying much attention to it... Anyway, I decided to give it another go and guess what? I ended up loving it. In fact, Humphrey Bogart's classic «Here's looking at you, kid» has become my favorite movie quote of all time. This line sums up the whole film for me and the way Bogie delivers it gets me every time.

#8Kings Row (1942)
Directed by Sam Wood | Starring Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan, Charles Coburn and Claude Rains | Warner Bros.

Before Sam Wood cast him in Kings Row, Ronald Reagan had been «the Errol Flynn of B movies», as he amusingly called himself. Eager to prove himself as a serious actor, he completely immersed himself in the role of Drake McHugh, who has both legs amputated by a sadistic surgeon (played by Charles Coburn). He was widely applauded for his moving performance, but his military service unfortunately deprived him of the opportunity to capitalize on his new-found success. If any of you have any doubts about Ronald Reagan's acting abilities, I strongly suggest you watch Kings Row.

#7: Anchors Aweigh (1945)
Directed by George Sidney | Starring Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Stockwell, Pamela Britton and José Iturbi | MGM

In Achors Aweigh, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra play two sailors on leave. With his athletic good looks, Gene is just right for the part, but poor old Frankie, with his his lanky body structure, is the most awkward thing ever. (In fairness, this was his first «real» acting job.) He is awfully cute, though. Anchors Aweigh was not the first Gene Kelly film I saw  it was actually Singin' in the Rain (1952)  but it was the film that made me fall completely in love with him.

#6Johnny Belinda (1948)
Directed by Jean Negulesco | Starring Jane Wyman, Lew Ayres, Charles Bickford, Agnes Moorhead and Stephen McNally | Warner Bros.

Jane Wyman plays a deaf-mute in Johnny Belinda, so she does not speak a single word in the film. Yet she delivers one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking performances I have ever seen from any actor in any film in any decade. Fun fact: Jane Wyman was the first person in the sound era to win an acting Academy Award without speaking a line of dialogue. Damn well-deserved, too.

Directed by Frank Capra | Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore and Thomas Mitchell | Liberty Films

It's A Wonderful Life is my absolute favorite Christmas movie. I saw it for the first time on Christmas Eve 2014 and I completely fell in love with it. Then I saw it again the following year and I loved it even more. It is one of those films that will warm your heart and make you realize that life truly is wonderful. Also, someone should definitely make a George Bailey statue or something.

#4The Clock (1945)
Directed by Vincente Minnelli | Starring Judy Garland, Robert Walker, James Gleason, Keenan Wynn and Marshall Thompson | MGM

Robert Walker and Judy Garland are two of my favorite actors of the Classic Hollywood era and pairing them in this film was, in my opinion, one of the best casting decisions MGM has ever made. The Clock is a very simple story of boy-meets-girl in the midst of World War II, but Robert and Judy were able to bring a kind of depth and emotion and sincerity to it that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. Honestly, trust me on this — The Clock is one of the sweetest, most tender love stories you will ever see.

#3Waterloo Bridge (1940)
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy | Starring Robert Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Virginia Field, Maria Ouspenskaya, C. Aubrey Smith and Lucile Watson | MGM

Much like The Clock, Waterloo Bridge is another classic story of boy-meets-girl in the midst of war, this time the First World War. Vivien Leigh is remarkable as always, but I was most impressed with Robert Taylor's performance. Although terribly handsome to look at, he was not the greatest actor in the world, but he was rather good in Waterloo Bridge and he and Vivien make a really nice pair. Actually, both of them have said that this is their personal favorite of all the films they made.

Directed by Irving Rapper | Starring Ronald Reagan, Eleanor Parker, Eve Arden, Wayne Morris and Kent Smith | Warner Bros.

I love me a good comedy and The Voice of the Turtle is, in my opinion, one of best comedies out there. You all know how much I love Ronald Reagan and he is just wonderful in this film. He and Eleanor Parker have great chemistry and their scenes together are a delight to watch. Also, Eve Arden, with her quick-witted, sometimes sarcastic remarks, is a most excellent addition to the final product.

Directed by George Cukor | Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey and John Howard | MGM

And my number one favorite film of the 1940s is The Philadelphia Story. Although it was not the first black-and-white film I ever saw — it was actually A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), which I had to watch for an English Literature class I had in my third year at university — it was really the film that cured me of my aversion to black-and-white cinema. And all because of a lanky dork that went by the name of James Stewart. The Philadelphia Story was the first time I ever saw Jimmy in anything and I fell madly in love with him. The scene that got me was the one that starts with Jimmy shouting «OH C. K. DEXTER HAAAAVEEENNNN!» which, believe it or not, was partially ad-libbed. In that scene, Jimmy's character is drunk and suddenly he starts hiccuping. Since the hiccup was not scripted (Jimmy thought of that all by himself), you can see that Cary Grant was surprised and on the verge of breaking out laughing, but he quickly composed himself and played along beautifully by turning to Jimmy and saying, «Excuse me.» You can clearly see that they are both amused by their own little improvisation, which makes it even more fun to watch. That scene required only one take and was kept exactly as they filmed it the first time around. It is basically a masterclass in acting, that's what it is.

And there you have it, my top 10 favorite films of the 1940s. Some of them might not be the greatest films ever made, but they all hold a very special place in my heart.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

July & August Favorites

I have always wanted to do a «monthly favorites» type of post on this blog, but I kept putting it off some reason or the other — until this year. I will be doing one of these every month (or every two months) and I will include literally everything that I have loved or that has made me happy during that time, be it a film, a song, a book, a TV show or even an item of clothing. These are my July and August favorites.

Favorite film #1: God's Own Country (2017)
I am not sure how I ever came across this film, but I am so glad I did because it is absolutely stunning. It is about a young sheep farmer in Yorkshire whose life is transformed by the arrival of a Romanian migrant worker. It doesn't sound like much, but trust me, it's a really beautiful film. The two leads, Josh O'Connor and Alec Secareanu, are pure perfection, the cinematography is gorgeous, and Francis Lee's direction and writing are flawless. All of this to say — go watch God's Own Country now.

Favorite film #2: The Flowers of War (2011)
Christian Bale has been my favorite actor pretty much since the beginning of time, but there are still about eight or nine of his films that I haven't seen yet, so I decided I would watch them all this year. One of those films was The Flowers of War, which I watched in July. And let me tell you, as soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it again. Honestly, it is one of the most captivating films I have ever seen in my life. It is set in China, during the 1937 Nanking Massacre in the Second Sino-Japanese War, and Christian Bale plays an American mortician who passes himself off as a priest and ends up saving twelve schoolgirls. In between, he falls in love with a prostitute (beautifully played by Ni Ni) who is hiding at the cathedral, along with her group of prostitute friends. For years, my favorite Christian Bale was American Psycho (2000), but I think The Flowers of War has stolen its place.

Favorite actor #1: Steve McQueen
After watching The Great Escape (1963) and Papillon (1973) about three weeks ago, I fell completely in love with Steve McQueen. He was a great actor, extremely attractive and he just had this «je ne sais quoi» about him that made him utterly captivating to watch in anything that he has ever made. I feel that in a way he was everything James Dean never got the chance of being.

Favorite actor #2: James Garner
Another actor that stole my heart during this summer was James Garner, mostly because of his performances in The Americanization of Emily (1964) and Murphy's Romance (1985), both of which I absolutely loved. He was an excellent actor (how is it possible that he never won an Oscar?!) and quite possibly one of the single most handsome men that I have seen in my life.

Favorite actor #3: Joel Edgerton
Joel Edgerton was yet another actor that I just completely fell in love with this summer. I think the first time I ever saw him in anything was The Great Gatsby (2013), but I wasn't too impressed by him, mainly because the character he plays in that film is a very nasty fellow. Then two years ago, I saw him in Loving (2016) and I was blown away by his performance. I am still mad that he didn't get an Oscar nomination for that one. And then, throughout July and August, I watched nine more of his films and each time I was amazed by how talented and versatile he is. I can't wait for Boy Erased (2018)!

Favorite TV show: Animal Kingdom (2016-)
One of gazillion films I watched in July and August was Animal Kingdom (2010), which I really liked, so I thought I would give the TV show a try too. And to be perfectly honest, it's even better than the film! For those of you who have never heard of either the film or the show, Animal Kingdom is about a criminal family led by a tough matriarch named Smurf. She is the mother of Pope, who is a borderline psycopath, but still can be very caring to the people that truly matter to him; Craig, who is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but his heart is in the right place (he's my favorite character in the show, actually); and Deran, who doesn't really want anything to do with the family business, but can't seem to find a way out. She is also the adoptive mother of Baz, who is a manipulative and self-centered bastard; and the grandmother of J, an incredibly smart high school student who has is own personal agenda as far as the family business goes. Anyway, all of this rambling to say that Animal Kingdom is a brilliant show and I am anxiously awaiting season four, which won't be out until next year.

And there you have it. These are the things that I loved in July and August. Did I interest you in any of the films I mentioned? What were some of things you loved during the summer?

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Joseph Cotten Blogathon: «Since You Went Away» (1944)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Cromwell, Since You Went Away (1944) is set in 1943 and tells the story of Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert), an upper-middle-class housewife with two teenage daughters, Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Bridget «Brig» (Shirley Temple). After Anne's husband, Tim, enlists in the U.S. Army, the family must make sacrifices for the war effort, including food rationing; giving up the services of their loyal maid, Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel), who nevertheless is willing to keep on working for the Hiltons for free; and taking in a boarder, the retired Colonel William G. Smollett (Monty Wolley). In contrast, their cynical socialite neighbor, Emily Hawkins (Agnes Moorhead), complains about the inconveniences caused by the war and has no qualms in criticizing the Hiltons' efforts and patriotism.

In the meantime, an old friend of the Hiltons, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Tony Willett (Joseph Cotten), visits the family while awaiting his orders. Jane soon develops a crush on him, but he does not succumb to her flirting, as he as long been attracted to Anne. After Tony leaves, Jane begins a relationship with Colonel Smollett's grandson, Bill (Robert Walker), a corporal in the U.S. Army. They fall in love and he proposes to her right before being sent overseas. Following her graduation, Jane begins volunteering as a nurse's aide at the nearby military hospital, just as the Hiltons learn that Tim is missing in action. Some time later, they also receive word that Bill has been killed in Salerno, which leaves both Jane and Colonel Smollett devastated. Meanwhile, Anne herself decides to do more to serve her country and begins working as a welder in a shipyard. As the family, including Colonel Smollett, Tony and Fidelia, gather at the Hilton home on Christmas Eve, Anne is moved to tears after opening a gift Tim had left for her before his disappearance. She begins to sob, but then receives a cablegram by telephone informing her that Tim is safe and coming home.

Anne Hilton: Cry, darling. Cry your heart out. I won't try to tell you that you'll get over it soon, because it will take time  maybe a long time.

The extraordinary success of Gone with the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940) turned David O. Selznick into the most important independent producer in Hollywood. Over the next three years, however, he struggled to find a project that would match the triumph of his two Best Picture winners. The popularity of MGM's Mrs. Miniver (1942), set in rural England in the early days of World War II, finally inspired Selznick to look for a story about the American home front. Paramount story editor William Dozier suggested he consider Margaret Buell Wilder's wartime memoir Since You Went Away  Letters to a Soldier from His Wife, which had been published first in the Dayton Herald Journal and then in Ladies' Home Journal. The popular series of letters were based on those written by Wilder to her husband, serving overseas, and explored the loneliness and frustrations of women in the home front, as well as the difficulties of raising two teenage daughters without the influence of a father.

Seeing potential in the material, Selznick purchased the rights to Since You Went Away in early 1943, while it was awaiting publication as a book. He then brought Wilder to Hollywood to work on the adaptation, but ended up writing the screenplay himself, expanding the original outline to include a boarder spectrum of American society and introducing new characters. Selznick also raised the social class of the Hilton family to one of relative financial stability, despite the inclusion of a storyline where they take in a boarder to supplement their income. Veteran screenwriter F. Hugh Herbert was then brought in to polish Selznick's script with a broader development of the youngest daughter, Bridget «Brig» Hilton. Wilder tried to obtain a writing credit, but she was rejected by the Screen Writers Guild; Selznick ultimately took lone credit for the screenplay as «the producer.»

Joseph Cotten and Claudette Colbert
as Tony Willett and Anne Hilton
In the spring of 1943, stage actress Katharine Cornell wrote to Selznick expressing her enthusiasm over Wilder's book and her desire to play the role of the mother, Anne Hilton. While Selznick was flattered to have such a renowned performer interested in his project, he felt that she was not right for the role. He then considered Ann Harding, Irene Dunne, Helen Hayes and Rosalind Russell, before deciding on Claudette Colbert. About to turn forty, Colbert was initially uneasy about the assignment, feeling that she was too young to be playing the mother of two teenage daughters. After gossip columnist Hedda Hopper persuaded her to take the job, arguing that it would be a «good career move», she made an agreement with Selznick that allowed her total freedom to interpret the part as she saw fit.

For the role of Tony Willett, Selznick cast newcomer Joseph Cotten, known at the time for playing the reporter in Orson Welles's groundbreaking Citizen Kane (1941) and the murderous Uncle Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943). A former drama critic, Cotten began his acting career on Broadway in the early 1930s, often working as part of Welles's Mercury Theatre company. Before Welles brought him to Hollywood, he achieved great success creating the role of C. K. Dexter Haven in the original stage production of Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story, starring Katharine Hepburn.

To play the eldest Hilton sister, Jane, Selznick selected newcomer Jennifer Jones, whose acclaimed performance in The Song of Bernadette (1943) would soon win her an Academy Award for Best Actress. The role of the younger sister, Brig, was given to former child star Shirley Temple, whom Selznick had recently brought out of «retirement» and signed to a seven-year contract. The supporting cast included Jones's husband, Robert Walker, as the ill-fated Corporal Bill Smollett; Cotten's Citizen Kane co-star Agnes Moorehead as the cynical Emily Hawkins, a role originally intended for actress and screenwriter Ruth Gordon; Monty Wolley as the curmudgeonly retired Colonel Smollett, Bill's grandfather; and Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel as the Hiltons' loyal maid, Fidelia.

Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker
Since You Went Away
Production on Since You Went Away began on September 8, 1943. Early in the filming, Walker was returning home from the MGM studios in Culver City when a car made a left turn in front of his motorcycle. He smashed into the car broadside and was thrown headlong into the road, landing on his head. Walker's safety helmet saved him from sustaining serious head injuries, but he was told by doctors that he would have to rest for a month while he recovered. The accident only added to Walker's unhappiness during the making of Since You Went Away, as his marriage to Jones was on the brink of collapse.

Walker and Jones married in January 1939, before either of them became a movie star. Two years later, Jones was «discovered» and signed by Selznick and the couple moved to Hollywood, with Walker securing a contract with MGM. Jones and Selznick soon began a secret love affair, which became evident on the set of Since You Went Away. Love scenes between the two actors were understandably torturous, as Selznick insisted that Walker perform take after take of each scene with Jones. Temple recalled working with an emotionally fragile Jones: «She always seemed to be suffering acutely, and her love scenes with Walker continued painful to witness, until Selznick mercifully rewrote him off to war and got him killed.» Jones and Walker divorced in 1945 and she married Selznick in 1949.

Director John Cromwell stated that Colbert posed no problems during filming, despite her initial reluctance to play Anne Hilton. However, both Selznick and Temple expressed their displeasure with the actress. Apparently, her demands included dictating camera angles and lighting on her face with an emphasis on the left side, so as to hide a scar that resulted from a childhood accident; three days vacation every month; and a refusal to work late on detailed scenes or close-ups. Cotten, on the other hand, enjoyed Colbert's company, calling her «one of the most complete, humorous, hard-working, and delightfully, almost shockingly, honest creatures I have ever worked with.»

Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert and Shirley Temple
To lend an air of authenticity to his drama, Selznick sent five different units to film background shots of hospitalized soldiers, laborers at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California, as well as the Red Cross workers. In addition, he hired twenty female steelburners and nine tons of welding tools from the Wilmington Shipyard in order to lend verisimilitude to the shipyard scene in the film. The Hilton home, central to the story, was designed by William Pereira and built on Stage 13 complete with solid walls and ceilings and its own street. Art director Mark-Lee Kirk designed the traditional interior décor.

Filming finally wrapped on February 9, 1944, after 137 days. After its initial editing the film ran four and a half hours long. By early March 1944, Selznick had trimmed the picture to three hours twenty-eight minutes, but later that month he cut the film to three hours, ten minutes. After its intitial engagement, Selznick trimmed the film by another twenty-five minutes.

Since You Went Away premiered on July 20, 1944 and became the fourth most popular film of the year by the National Board of Review. Apparently, the lines at the film's New York opening were so long that the police ordered that the theater must open an hour-and-a-half before show time to prevent traffic jams. The film won Max Steiner an Academy Award for Best Original Score and earned nine addition nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Colbert), Best Supporting Actor (Wooley) and Best Supporting Actress (Jones).

This post is my contribution to The Joseph Cotten Blogathon, hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films.
To view all entries to the blogathon, click HERE and HERE.

Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s by Thomas Schatz (University of California Press, 1999)
Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films by Paul Green (McFarland & Company Inc., 2011)
Making Music in Selznick's Hollywod by Nathan Platte (Oxford University Press, 2018)
The Films of Agnes Moorehead by Axel Nissen (Scarecrow Press, 2013)
Vanity Will Get You Nowerhere: An Autobiography by Joseph Cotten (toExcel Press, 2000)