Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The '40s

A quick look at some choice '40s items .... left is the programme for a season of '40s films by the London National Film Theatre in 1971 - this would have been 21 years after the '40s finished, I was 25 then so of course wouldn't have remembered the '40s (my cinema-going began in 1954 when I was 8), but for older people in 1971 looking back at the '40s must be like us recalling the films of the '80s now ... [this NFT season is itself almost 40 years old now! - how quickly decades fly by...]

Looking at the programme it aims to capture the "flavour" of the '40s - what people went to see on a regular basis, as opposed to the classics which are all we see of the '40s today - so it has ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER and SUN VALLEY SERENADE along with THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and CASABLANCA, LASSIE COME HOME as well as THE MALTESE FALCON, it celebrates Sonja Henie, Ester Williams and Carmen Miranda as well as GILDA (no LAURA or MILDRED PIERCE though...) Bette is represented by NOW VOYAGER, Joan by HUMORESQUE, Stanwyck by BALL OF FIRE, there's LADY IN THE DARK, THE ROAD TO MOROCCO, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, THE UNSUSPECTED, MRS MINIVER, MR BLANDINGS, ZIEGFIELD FOLLIES, THE YEARLING, GOING MY WAY, THE LOST WEEKEND, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, WALTER MITTY, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, DUEL IN THE SUN, THE GANG'S ALL HERE and A LETTER TO THREE WIVES among the 40 chosen, so I suppose its quite representative - no DOLLY SISTERS though! Here though are a few recent choice under-rated '40s items which were quite fun to see now:

ESCAPE. This 1940 melodrama seems quite unknown now - directed by Mervyn LeRoy it is one of Norma Shearer's last films and she is not really the lead here and in fact does not feature in the strong central section where Robert Taylor is trying to rescue his mother, a famous actress (played by the famous Nazimova) from a concentration camp where she is due to be executed. It must be one of the first hollywood anti-Nazi films to feature concentration camps. It gets very melodramatic as the mother has to be given a drug to make her seem dead and then the coffin has to be opened by the guards .... the Nazis are shown as a bit dim and the locals are all too terrified to help Taylor who arrives in Bavaria to look for his mother who has disappeared. Norma as the Countess initially offers to help but she too must protect herself, particuarly as her lover is German general Conrad Veidt (practically the same role he plays in CASABLANCA 2 years later) who soon suspects something is wrong. The ending seems rather rushed but its certainly engrossing now - who though is Ethel Vance whose novel it is based on is shown at the start as though it is a major work?

Other early '40s films showing the Nazi menace would include McCarey's oddity ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON in 1942 with Cary Grant having to rescue Ginger Rogers as the American married to general Walter Slezak; Lubitsch of course makes fun of the Nazis in the immortal TO BE OR NOT TO BE, MRS MINIVER shows the plucky Hollywood British, and my favourite: Borzage's THE MORTAL STORM with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan resisting the Nazi menace in Austria in 1940. This is a real charmer and totally engrossing.

Then there is GOLDEN EARRINGS made after the war in '47 - is it a comedy, a romance or a thriller? perhaps a bit of each then as Ray Milland is on the run in Germany presumably before or during the war and has to depend on gypsy Marlene Dietrich to help him get around the country. Its actually quite amusing as directed by Mitchell Leisen and Marlene is droll in her gypsy makeup and not playing a heartless vamp for once. Bland Milland is dull - the stars did not get on - I read that Marlene sucked the eye out of a fish-head from her her stewpot during his first closeup to disconcert him. Again we get lots of comic Nazis and they do not seem to mind the gypsies roaming around or telling their fortunes - or maybe the gypsies were not being rounded up just then ! You have to laugh at the end: he comes back after the war and there is Marlene with her gypsy caravan as though he had left just a few minutes before...

One '40s routine actioner which I loved when I saw it as a Sunday matinee as a kid is the 1942 adventure yarn SON OF FURY - John Cromwell's terrific tale with Tyrone Power in 18th century England falling foul of scoundrel George Sanders and escaping to the South Seas, cue Gene Tierney at her most alluring but Ty has to return with his riches, Frances Farmer as Sanders' daughter is more interested in his pearls, Elsa Lanchester has a touching role, and there is a terrific final duel [Ty had his fatal heart attack duelling again with Sanders in 1958...]. Its all sheer delight and one of Power's best, up there with Flynn's THE SEA HAWK or pirate romps like THE BLACK SWAN or THE SPANISH MAIN.

FALLEN ANGEL - Otto Preminger's 1945 little noir was a treat recently, perfectly capturing that mid-40s Californian small town underworld of diners and rooming houses, as drifter Dana Andrews arrives at that seafront diner where young voluptuous Linda Darnell holds sway over the customers, who include a jealous Charles Bickford. Then there is Alice Faye - odd to see her in a downbeat non-musical black and white role which rather diminishes her - and her severe sister Ann Revere. Mix it all up, include a murder, sit back and enjoy.

ROADHOUSE. I was pleased to see this finally on dvd, its one noir I really liked when saw it as a revival when I was young. Jean Negulesco's 1948 drama is engrossing, tense and exciting and is one of Ida Lupino's best. She is the very hard-boiled chanteuse who arrives at the roadhouse managed by Cornel Wilde whose best pal and boss Jefty (Richard Widmark at his baddest) has hired Ida to sing. Cornel doesn't play ball - Jefty has a habit of hiring dames and Cornel has to get rid of them, but Ida is sensational. A romance follows while Jefty is away, observed by cashier Celeste Holm who of course pines for Cornel. It all gets very tense as Jefty returns and goes predictably over the top and ends with them on the run from berserk Widmark. Its a pleasing late '40s Fox film which really delivers.

The '40s though for me also includes British films - the decade would be unthinkable without those Michael Powell, David Lean or Carol Reed classics, as well as those Gainsboroughs and Ealing comedies. More on those later .... plus De Sica and the Neo-Realists.

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