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Showing posts with the label 40's

Mr. Soft Touch (1949)

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This one's going to be weird because I'm still trying to figure out what kind of movie I just watched. Wikipedia describes it as a noir crime, IMDB has it tagged drama and romance (in addition to crime), and until the end, I was certain I was watching a comedy (still not entirely convinced I wasn't, despite... well... we'll get to that). I don't necessarily consider it a bad thing that this is difficult to identify, though I'm torn on whether it's a case of a complex premise or just a disjointed tone. Normally, this is where I'd go read some articles on the movie, but those don't seem to exist. So... I guess I'm just going to do my best here. First, a word of warning. This movie contains a couple details that haven't aged well. First, there's sort of a running plot thread about spousal abuse that at times feels like it's being played for laughs. To be fair, it takes a turn and gets serious later - the movie is making a pointed argumen

Holiday Affair (1949)

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The question I most often confront when looking at old romantic comedies is how much of a curve I should grade them on when it comes to overlooking both the use of now cliched tropes and pervasive sexism. Is Holiday Affair good? Well, depending on whether we mean "good for 1949" or "good for 2020," we'll reach distinctly different conclusions. This movie aged... well, fine, relative to most of its contemporaries (or at least the ones I can think of). But it's still dated in ways I found difficult to ignore. I'm not sure if anyone's put together a comprehensive taxonomy for the genre yet, but Holiday Affair would be classified with modern entries like Sleepless in Seattle. The "will they/won't they" tension is built around an illusionary question of whether the character will take a risk for love or settle for the more readily available partner/human obstacle. Really, this is all an update of the old "marry for love or money" c

Lady in the Lake (1947)

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I'm not sure how this one flew under our radar for as long as it did. Lady in the Lake is an adaptation of a Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe mystery filmed almost entirely in first person from the perspective of Marlowe. Because of this, the movie is both directed and starring Robert Montgomery. Lady in the Lake is fascinating as a concept, yet somehow excruciatingly boring in execution. The solution to the mystery is needlessly complicated and poorly portrayed. Characters central to the mystery never appear on film, and significant sequences of Marlowe's investigation are skipped over and instead described in conversation. Most notably, the titular lady is never actually shown, nor is the lake, which is arguably the most significant location in the mystery. It honestly feels as though they couldn't find or afford a location, so they rewrote the script at the last minute. The plot is too convoluted to explain sequentially, so here's the idea. Marlowe is hired by Adrienn

Remember the Night (1940)

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Remember the Night is the third film written by Preston Sturges we've looked at here and, in my humble opinion, the least interesting. It's widely considered a romantic comedy, but I'd argue it's closer to a romantic melodrama with bits of comedic relief. More on that later. The movie opens with Lee Leander (played by Barbara Stanwyck) getting arrested for stealing a bracelet right before Christmas. The prosecutor assigned to the case is John Sargent (Fred MacMurray, two decades before he'd appear in a supporting role in one of the best Christmas movies ever made). When Lee's defense attorney tries to claim she was hypnotized into stealing the bracelet, John uses it as an excuse to have the trial delayed until after Christmas, when the jury will be less reluctant to sentence a woman to prison. John realizes he just ensured Lee will spend the holidays in jail, since she can't pay for bail, so he arranges to have her released until her hearing. But then he d

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

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The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is a farcical comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges. It's in the National Film Registry and ranked on AFI's 100 Funniest Films list, so it's well-regarded. I'll give you my thoughts in a moment, but let's get through the plot first. This one's... weird. Filmed and set during World War II, the plot centers around the character of Trudy Kockenlocker, a policemen's daughter deeply concerned for soldiers heading off to war. Against her father's wishes, she meets six soldiers at a farewell dance then winds up having too much to drink (and maybe slightly concussed from an impact with a hanging decoration) and wakes the next morning a little uncertain as to what occurred. She pieces the night together a little later and realizes she got married to one of the departing soldiers, but - due to her foggy memory - isn't sure which one or what his name was. The matter becomes more pressing when she discovers she'

I'll Be Seeing You (1944)

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To really age well, an old movie really needs to overcome two hurdles time throws at everything: it needs themes or ideas that hold up, and it needs to deliver those in a form that doesn't feel too dated. Plenty of movies fail both tests, but if a film is going to pass just one, it's usually the latter. It's more common for a movie to still be funny or touching than for it to feel relevant. I'll Be Seeing You, directed by William Dieterle and starring Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, and Shirley Temple, is an exception. The politics, themes, and ideas in the movie are astonishingly relevant. It's the experience that feels dated. Not too dated, mind you - there are several compelling moments and sequences - but as a whole, I found the film more impressive than enjoyable. I'll get to the plot in a moment, but first I want to address the genre and tone. This is actually a little difficult, because the movie walks a tightrope between romantic drama and romantic c

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

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Alright, cards on the table. This is one of those movies where spoilers are going to matter. But before we can get to things that shouldn't be spoiled, we need to address a handful that should. And by that, of course, I'm talking about the elements of this 1942 comedy that don't play so well in 2018. We've got a couple brief but not minor racist sequences, a touch of misogyny, and at least one moment where - despite the anachronistic impossibility - you almost expect a character to pull out a smartphone, open Twitter, and type #MeToo. The moments in this movie that aged poorly aged very poorly. But if you can look past them, the rest of this is a hilarious, fascinating, and unique holiday film. I'll get to why in a moment, but first I have to deliver on my promise: *Spoiler Warning* If you like old movies - hell, if you like comedies in general - this is worth tracking down. The less you know going in, the more fun you'll have with each twist and turn.

Neptune's Daughter (1949)

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This is not, by any reasonable definition, a Christmas movie, but we're going to cover it anyway. Why? Because while Neptune's Daughter isn't a Christmas movie, it had a significant impact on Christmas tradition, namely by introducing the song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to the world. Baby, It's Cold Outside has been debated heavily in recent years, and this year's no different. It's arguably become the single most controversial holiday song in existence. Rather than retread points others have made, I thought it would be interesting to go back and actually look at it in its original context. Okay, this wasn't actually its original context. Before being sung by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams on the big screen, it was sung privately by Frank Loesser and Lynn Garland at dinner parties. If anyone has a time machine I could borrow, I'd love to go back and hear it performed in that context, as well. I'll also need to borrow a t

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

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The Shop Around the Corner is an extremely influential black and white romantic comedy. It's based on the same source material that was updated and adapted into "You've Got Mail," which I should probably watch one of these days. Like most movies of its era (or at least the ones that have endured), The Shop Around the Corner is a bit complicated. It's well regarded - Rotten Tomatoes has it at 100% - but it's also dated. Do I even need to say that the gender politics in a movie made in 1940 are less than ideal? I suppose they could be a lot worse. The male lead manipulates and lies to the woman for half the movie, and in the end, she's just glad to end up with him. But aside from that, she's generally portrayed as intelligent and capable. The premise requires that the two fall in love with each other's minds, rather than their bodies, though there are definitely some awkward jokes around their concerns as to what their mysterious love interests l

The Rocking Horse Winner (1949)

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Based on a short story by D.H. Lawrence, The Rocking Horse Winner is a black-and-white movie straddling the line between drama, horror, and fantasy. I found it on a few lists of Christmas movies, though I'm not 100% certain I agree with its inclusion. The movie either qualifies or fails to qualify solely based on its first twenty minutes, in which one of the lead characters, Paul, receives a rocking horse for Christmas. Granted, that's not entirely dissimilar to our justification for including Sleepless in Seattle . And there's something to be said for a movie that revolves around a haunted Christmas toy. The tag attributes the gift to Father Christmas, though the movie never directly addresses where it comes from. Presumably, it was purchased by one or both of his parents or his uncle, though it's not an entirely unreasonable interpretation to take the tag at face value. That said, the rocking horse seems to be evil, so that's not the most generous reading to

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

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First, let's get this out of the way: I'm not really convinced this qualifies as a Christmas movie. We have a fairly convoluted series of litmus tests we use to determine whether or not a movie is fair game , and the only one Curse of the Cat People doesn't fail is the most subjective of the bunch - Christmas arguably plays a pivotal role in the story. If this were a less interesting movie, I'd probably set it aside, but - frankly - it's unique enough that I'm willing to give it the benefit of the yuletide doubt. Besides, while I can't claim more than half the movie was set at or around Christmas, a solid third absolutely was, so it's not that much of a stretch. The movie itself is somewhat complicated. It's fundamentally a story about imaginary friends and the value they can have for children. But it's also the sequel to a 1942 movie about a were-panther fighting against her past and ultimately losing her life. Incidentally, the first film

Book Review: A Christmas Party (originally published as Envious Casca)

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A Christmas Party (originally published as Envious Casca) Georgette Heyer, 1941 Premise: When the far-flung Herriard clan comes together for Christmas, sparks fly. It's a classic locked-room mystery with the death of a wealthy patriarch and a house full of suspects. Even though this felt like deja vu, (how many times have I read/seen this plot?) I enjoyed it thoroughly, mostly because the characters were so interesting. The characters are more colorful and complex than I've found in many mysteries of this style. Joseph the affable aging actor who's masterminding the party, his stolid wife Maud and her obsession with reading biographies, Paula and the aspiring playwright she drags to the party. We spend the most time shadowing cousin Mathilde who's stylish and practical, down-to-earth and gently sardonic in the face of ludicrous situations. I spotted the murderer right away, (seriously, have I read this story before?) but there was enough fun in watching the

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

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I think this movie was recommended on some list of little-known Christmas films, even though Christmas doesn’t fully show up until after the halfway point. We open on a tour bus traveling down Fifth Avenue, with an announcer pointing out the houses of New York’s wealthiest families. A man in a shabby outfit with a dog and a cane is walking down the street. Once the bus passes, he sneaks through a loose board into a backyard and down through a manhole, coming up (somehow) inside the boarded-up mansion. It turns out this is Aloysius McKeever, a homeless man with high class taste. He lives in this house secretly while the owner, real estate and business mogul Michael O’Connor, is in Virginia for the winter. Meanwhile, the last tenant is being thrown out of a building scheduled to be torn down for one of O’Connor’s projects. This is Jim Bullock, a young unemployed veteran with nowhere to go. McKeever runs across him in the park and takes him back to his secret mansion. Jim thinks M

Meet John Doe (1941)

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Even going by our standards, Meet John Doe qualifies as a Christmas movie on something of a technicality. Only the last few minutes actually occur around the holidays, and even then they're almost incidental. However, the movie goes out of its way to tie the season into its premise in order to build something of a heavy-handed metaphor. I'll cut to the chase: Meet John Doe is a Christmas movie because "John Doe" is Jesus. Well, sort of. It's slightly more complicated than that, but not as much as I'd have liked. The movie has a relatively strong opening, centering on Barbara Stanwyck's character, Ann. She plays a newspaper columnist who's just been laid off. As her final act, she writes a fake editorial letter written by an average Joe, who's fed up with the way "the little guy" is treated in society. The letter concludes with "Joe" vowing to jump off of City Hall on Christmas Eve. The letter gets a huge amount of public

Christmas in July (1940)

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Christmas in July is an extremely odd black & white comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges, who adapted it from a play he wrote in the 1930's, which wouldn't actually be produced on stage until 1988. Astonishingly, all of that is less convoluted than the movie's plot. That isn't a criticism (though I will have a few later on) - the movie's refusal to follow convention makes it more interesting than most comedies I've seen from the period. Apparently, Sturges is remembered as something of experimental filmmaker, testing his boundaries and playing with structure in his comedies, at least if I'm understanding the Wikipedia article I just skimmed. That certainly seems fair: Christmas in July definitely played with expectation, tone, and theme. The story centers on Jimmy, a young man interested in advertising who has entered a contest to create a slogan for a coffee company. The contest carries a twenty-five thousand dollar prize, but the movie