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.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

"The High 40's"

When we think of the Forties now...
English film magazine SIGHT AND SOUND has kindly given me permission to quote from an article, "The High 40's", in their Autumn 1961 issue. It is about cinema-going in the Forties by the esteemed critic and author John Russell Taylor. Taylor (10 years older than me) wrote this when he was in his mid-20s and of course in 1961 (53 years ago!) the 1940s were just over a decade in the past (rather like us looking back at films of the 1990s now) .... so people of his age did their early cinema-going in the 40s. 
I am a '40s baby myself, born in December 1945 just after the war - but I am a child of the '50s as my movie-going began in 1954, when I was 8, as per previous posts here. John Russell Taylor makes some marvellous comments, which I wanted to share ...... as he begins:

Who went to the pictures in the Forties anyway? Well, of course, everyone did. Women in turbans heading for night shifts shouldered their way in to weep, among the sleeping soldiery, over the sufferings of Joan or Greer. Sailors on leave sat goggle-eyed, imprinting on their memories the images of Betty Grable and Alice Faye to warm the long winter evenings at Scapa Flow…… and needless to say everyone spent at least some of the time saved from dodging doodlebugs in London patiently queueing to catch the afterglow of a vanished Thirties glory in GONE WITH THE WIND...

The Forties were a woman’s world if ever there was one: the real men might be off at the war, but women were guarding the Home Front and in the front line were to be found all the great survivors, led of course by the indomitable trio of Bette, Barbara and Joan. When it came to an all-out woman’s picture none of the relative newcomers could better them, and only Greer Garson managed a look-in, largely be inventing her own genre and suffering in the cause of humanity instead of merely love or money ... There were any number of temptresses, who can forget Joan Bennett ordering Edward G. Robinson to paint her toenails in SCARLET STREET

He goes on to discuss the essential stars of the '40s - Veronica Lake with Alan Ladd in their noirs, were they as good as Bogart and Bacall? and Maria Montez, star of all those exotic sand-and-sandal movies - as essentially 40s as Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda or Hedy Lamarr. He also discusses the everyday movies audiences saw back in the 1940s, at those fleapit cinemas during wartime, as opposed to the Hollywood classics which is what most people see of the '40s now - the CASABLANCAs and GILDAs, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, MILDRED PIERCE, LAURA and CITIZEN KANE, and those "Bette Davis classics", when the Hollywood dream factory in full flow with items like MEET ME IN ST LOUIS and MRS MINIVER as the war raged in Europe where dreadful things were happening, and of course out East and in the Pacific. The Forties was perhaps the last great decade for cinema, which was popular entertainment then, before television began to make inroads in the '50s. - everyone just went to "the pictures", some several times a week as most towns had several cinemas. 

My mother particularly liked Alice Faye singing "You'll Never Know" in HELLO FRISCO HELLO (she used to sing it to us), and RANDOM HARVEST, men like Ronald Colman and Walter Pidgeon were the kind of reliable men housewives liked; she continued going to the cinema less often into the early '60s, by then television provided all the entertainment the family needed.

Taylor's article reminded me of Alan Bennett in one of his memoirs, recollecting his aunts, working career girls who modelled themselves on Bette and Joan, in their swagger coats, "consulting the mirror in their power compact" and straightening their nylon seams, as they dished out putdowns to the men who presumed on their favours ... 

The Forties now seem to fall into two distinct eras: The War Years up to 1945, and then that Post-War Era. The British cinema captured the 1940s wartime perfectly in items like 2,000 WOMEN, and that post-war era in HOLIDAY CAMP, IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY etc (British label). It was the great era of Lean and Michael Powell and Carol Reed, as well as those Gainsborough melodramas (CARAVAN, MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS, THE WICKED LADY) and Anna Neagle-Michael Wilding romances which wartime audiences lapped up. There were those new post-war leading men too as Gregory Peck, William Holden, Mitchum, Lancaster, Douglas came to the fore, as well as new girls Susan and Ava, Deborah and Jean, and Janet - who would all be leading names in the Fifties. The older stars like Gable and Stewart came back from the war and resumed their careers too - "Gable's back and Garson's got him"! while Stewart starred in the new immortal IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Later films capturing that Forties British wartime were led by Schlesinger's YANKS in 1979, capturing the look and mores of wartime Britain perfectly, as did Frear's A PRIVATE FUNCTION for the post-war era. 

My own early '40s favourites included Ty Power and Gene Tierney in the South Seas in SON OF FURY, and Ida Lupino as that very hard-boiled chanteuse in ROADHOUSE (with Richard Widmark in manic mode), or Linda Darnell in any number of films, 
and those noirs with rootless drifters in those diners and rooming houses as dark secrets unfold... (which I caught up with at Sunday matinees in the '50s).

I did a piece a while back, on a season on the 1940s which the then National Film Theatre (now the BFI) ran in 1971 - again, only 22 years after the 1940s finished, and over 40 years ago now - but I still have the brochure (left) and I listed what they showed then - as at 1940s-A label. 

Mr Taylor wrote a terrific guide to THE HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL, with John Kobal, and other titles I remember like CINEMA EYE, CINEMA EAR, and books on Hitchcock and various others like Welles and Vivien Leigh. He moved to California to teach film at the University of Southern California. He was also the last editor of my favourite magazine "Films & Filming" from 1983 to its closure in 1990. There is an interesting profile on Dirk Bogarde by him, at this link:  

It has been fun going through the old editions of SIGHT AND SOUND and "Films & Filming" which I acquired recently, issues from before my time, from the 1950s an early '60s ... so much nostalgia there to recap. (SIGHT AND SOUND of course is still published every month, as the mouthpiece of the BFI - I wrote on their new Top 100 Films, a year or two ago - Hitchcock label), but "Films & Filming" ceased in 1990, as I worked there for a while and knew the owner and have a lot of back copies, I feel I keep their legacy alive...).

Soon: Back to the 1930s and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 - only 80 years ago ! 

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating stuff, as the forties now seem further away from us - as indeed are the fifties, the sixties, the seventies and the eighties, while the twenties and the thirties are too remote now. How each decade changes, as they all go by so quick.