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Month: July 2020

Rose Tattoo, The (1955)

Rose Tattoo, The (1955)

“Is it my fault you’ve been a widow too long?”

Synopsis:
A widowed Italian-American seamstress (Anna Magnani) is wooed by an insistent suitor (Burt Lancaster) while her beautiful young daughter (Marisa Pavan) begins dating an earnest sailor (Ben Cooper).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anna Magnani Films
  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Tennessee Williams Films
  • Widows and Widowers

Review:
Tennessee Williams wrote The Rose Tattoo specifically with Anna Magnani in mind for the lead, but she wasn’t comfortable taking on the role until she had time to practice her English; when the Broadway play was turned into a film, she won an Oscar for her moving, “highly emotional” portrayal of Serafina Delle Rose.

Peary doesn’t review The Rose Tattoo in his GFTFF, but he does name Magnani Best Actress of the Year in his Alternate Oscars, where he concedes that while the film itself “doesn’t really hold up today”, “Magnani is still amazing to watch”. He adds: “There was no one else like her on the American screen. She holds nothing back; her performance is vibrant, lusty, [and] witty.” While Lancaster’s “extremely aggressive, not-too-bright trucker” is simply annoying (this falls squarely into the category of his “just too much” performances):

… it is indeed “a treat to see Magnani’s character finally let herself laugh and be happy with him” because “this actress had the uncanny ability to make us feel whatever emotions her women feel”. The Rose Tattoo‘s storyline isn’t particularly compelling — Serafina needs to face up to her former husband’s infidelity and move on, and of course her daughter should be free to make her own romantic choices — but Magnani’s performance alone does indeed make the film a must-see.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anna Magnani as Serafina
  • James Wong Howe’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Magnani’s performance. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

Links:

Stratton Story, The (1949)

Stratton Story, The (1949)

“I keep saying to myself that I’m the same as everybody else — but I wanted to prove it, to show you.”

Synopsis:
Aspiring pitcher Monty Stratton (Jimmy Stewart) is mentored by a former catcher (Frank Morgan) until he makes it to the Major Leagues, where he’s soon a rising star. Shortly after marrying his sweetheart (June Allyson) and having a child, however, Monty is injured in a hunting accident and loses part of his leg; will he eventually make a come-back to the sport he loves so much?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Agnes Moorehead Films
  • Baseball
  • Biopics
  • Disabilities
  • Frank Morgan Films
  • James Stewart Films
  • June Allyson Films
  • Sam Wood Films

Review:
This Academy Award winning (for Best Original Story) biopic about Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton is a nicely told, feel-good flick co-starring America’s sweethearts (Stewart and Allyson) five years before they paired up again for The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and then Strategic Air Command (1955). Stewart is seamlessly believable as Stratton, having spent several months rehearsing and using a metal brace while walking in later scenes.

(Apparently Stratton himself was moved to tears by the performance, and thrilled that Stewart was chosen for the role.) Moorehead is somewhat typecast as Stewart’s stern mother, but is allowed to show a refreshing level of nuance in her eventual support of his career and wife.

The baseball scenes (utilizing plenty of real-life cameos) feel accurate and authentic to me, though I’m not a fan so can’t say for sure.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the leads
  • Harold Rosson’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s a well-done biopic and recommended for baseball fans.

Links:

Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

“Our friend Shorty was the kind of a crook that nobody likes, not even me — and I’m rather broad-minded about such things.”

Synopsis:
An embittered WWII veteran (Robert Montgomery) named Lucky Gagin travels to New Mexico to blackmail a profiteer (Fred Clark) who murdered Gagin’s war-buddy Shorty, and finds unexpected support in a doe-eyed young woman named Pila (Wanda Hendrix) and a portly carousel operator named Pancho (Thomas Gomez).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Blackmail
  • Gangsters
  • Robert Montgomery Films
  • Veterans

Review:
Robert Montgomery directed this atmospheric adaptation — scripted by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer — of a novel by Dorothy Hughes, taking place in a shadowy post-war world of double-crossings, resentment, cynicism, and unexpected loyalty. Montgomery nicely plays against type as a decidedly un-charming conman, out to avenge his slain buddy while making some dough and dismissing nearly everyone he meets.

The film is atmospherically shot and well-acted throughout, particularly by Gomez (who received an Oscar nomination) as Montgomery’s unexpected supporter:

… and Hendrix as petite Pila — though her enigmatic character is a challenging one to parse, given that we never really understand the thrust behind her odd fascination with protecting Montgomery (could the cross she wears around her neck be a sign of some kind?).

With that said, Hendrix is dedicated enough to her characterization that we eventually believe in Pila, and she’s certainly a pivotal component of this story. The clever script pulls no punches in presenting a corruption-filled universe, complete with a shrill, hearing-impaired villain (Clark):

… a government operator (Art Smith) on hand to warm Montgomery that he’s three steps ahead of him; and a gangster’s moll (Andrea King) who is clearly out to game Montgomery in one way or another.

[King is intense in a different way here than her ’50s housewife character in Red Planet Mars (1952).]

The cultural world on display is nicely non-Hollywood, with plenty of authentic-looking extras peopling the screen.

DVD Savant, however, highlights the film’s problematic approach towards Mexican-Americans, noting: “Pancho [Gomez] instantly reveals himself as an underclass ‘Gunga Din‘ sidekick type, willing to put his life on the line for a handsome caballero he knows absolutely zero about”, and adding, “The film isn’t racist because it shows Gagin [Montgomery] and Marjorie [King] ignoring Pila or condescending to her, but because it idealizes her as a non-white ‘princess’, who is magical but cannot end up with the hero.” Savant argues that Mexican-Americans are ultimately presented as “quaint, sentimentalized” and “do[ing] good things for no reward except to share in the suffering, and when all is done they go back to being quaint.” While this all seems accurate, I view the film as very much a vision of how Gagin sees the world around him, and these depictions ring true to his sensibility; he grows in his cultural understanding and empathy by spending time with people (Mexican-Americans) who are authentically trustworthy, and perhaps that’s a realistic enough shift.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Montgomery as Lucky Gagin
  • Thomas Gomez as Pancho
  • Wanda Hendrix as Pila
  • Fred Clark as Frank Hugo
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once; while flawed, it remains as an unusual flick and worth checking out. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Southerner, The (1945)

Southerner, The (1945)

“All you farmers is just the same. Gamblers! That’s what you all are, to a man.”

Synopsis:
An aspiring farmer (Zachary Scott) and his wife (Betty Field) and two kids attempt to turn a ramshackle property into a viable homestead, despite the protests of their irascible “Granny” (Beulah Bondi), the lure of a friend (Charles Kemper) promising steady money in a factory job, and a bitterly stingy neighbor (J. Carrol Naish) who is reluctant to see the family thrive.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Betty Field Films
  • Beulah Bondi Films
  • Farming
  • Jean Renoir Films
  • Survival
  • Zachary Scott Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “simple, poetic film by Jean Renoir” is a “well-intentioned, tender picture in which Renoir once again expresses the need for family and neighbors to stick together through crisis”. He highlights the “lovely visuals”, but points out a few flaws as well — including the fact that “Renoir’s treatment of his characters is a bit too precious at times” and Bondi “overdoes it” as “cantankerous Grandma”.

While Peary states that “the hardships are predictable”, I disagree; the challenges facing any family attempting to make a living off the land are substantive enough to highlight — especially in an era when most of us remain so oblivious to the tremendous work and luck involved in farming. Peary also argues that Renoir “doesn’t include enough shots of work being done” (I disagree):

… and that “Betty Field was probably miscast” (I disagree yet again) — though he does concede “her sparkling eyes alone give the picture a needed dose of kindness.”

While this isn’t must-see viewing for all film fanatics, they will likely be curious to give it a look — and of course fans of Renoir’s oeuvre will want to seek it out.

Note: TCM’s article cites an extensive quote from Renoir’s memoirs, in which he describes his fondness for this film (and also, perhaps, his overly “precious” approach):

“What attracted me to the story was precisely the fact that there was no story, nothing but a series of strong impressions — the vast landscape, the simple aspiration of the hero, the heat and the hunger. Being forced to live a life restricted to their daily material needs, the characters attain a level of spirituality of which they themselves are unaware… What I saw was a story in which all the characters were heroic, in which every element would brilliantly play its part, in which things and men, animals and Nature, all would come together in an immense act of homage to the divinity.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A poignant portrait of survival and grit

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.

Links:

Duel in the Sun (1946)

Duel in the Sun (1946)

“Under that heathen blanket, there’s a full-blossomed woman built by the devil to drive men crazy!”

Synopsis:
When her father (Herbert Marshall) is sentenced to death for murdering his Native American wife (Tilly Losch) and her lover (Sidney Blackmer), a young woman named Pearl (Jennifer Jones) goes to live on a ranch with a distant relative (Lillian Gish), Gish’s husband (Lionel Barrymore), and Gish’s two sons: reliable Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and reckless, sadistic Lewton (Gregory Peck). Peck immediately begins sexually harassing Jones, making it challenging for her to stay true to her goal of being a “good girl”; will marriage to a kind older suitor (Charles Bickford) rescue her from her dire straits?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Gregory Peck Films
  • Herbert Marshall Films
  • Jennifer Jones Films
  • Joseph Cotten Films
  • King Vidor Films
  • Lillian Gish Films
  • Lionel Barrymore Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Race Relations
  • Walter Huston Films
  • Westerns

Review:
It’s difficult to know where to begin in a critique of this racist, overwrought melodrama by director King Vidor, notorious for being writer-producer David O. Selznick’s failed attempt to follow-up on his blockbuster epic Gone With the Wind (1939). Jones’ characterization of “half-breed” Pearl is problematic from the get-go, portraying her as a wild creature in need of taming from white society — a voluptuous young hussie unable to resist her “primitive” urges.

Peck’s villainous baddie:

— primed and supported by his equally heinous, racist father (Lionel Barrymore):

— is a potent representation of all that’s wrong with (moneyed) male privilege: “Anybody who was my girl is still my girl” Peck snarls, after raping Pearl and refusing to marry her while also violently preventing her from seeing other men (he’s the epitome of a fatally abusive partner). Meanwhile, Cotten’s fair-minded aspiring politician seems much better off leaving town and finding a kind wife (Joan Tetzel); we’re glad he escapes.

The most interesting — and unintentionally humorous — character is played by Walter Huston as a preacher known as “The Sinkiller” (!):

… who’s given some of the most memorable lines in the film — albeit ones which further solidify Pearl’s status as no more than an object of men’s lust: “Pearl, you’re curved in the flesh of temptation. Resistance is going to be a darn sight harder for you than females protected by the shape of sows.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Striking Technicolor cinematography


Must See?
Nope; feel free to skip this one, unless you’re curious.

Links:

Lady Takes a Chance, A (1943)

Lady Takes a Chance, A (1943)

“Any fella that can love a horse can love a girl.”

Synopsis:
A young woman (Jean Arthur) with several competing suitors (Grant Withers, Grady Sutton, and Hans Conried) travels across the country on a tour bus and is accidentally stranded in a small town with a cowboy (John Wayne) she meets at the local rodeo. Will Arthur be able to make her way back to the bus — and will she and Wayne resolve their differences so romance can bloom?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Hans Conried Films
  • Jean Arthur Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Road Trip
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Westerns

Review:
This enjoyable romantic comedy features an unlikely lead duo (Arthur and Wayne) who have surprising on-screen chemistry together. The screenplay, based on a story by Jo Swerling, cleverly shows how desirable Arthur is back at home before she heads off on her adventure: she isn’t a desperate spinster by any means, thus making her would-be romance with “exotic” Wayne more intriguing.

For a film made in 1943, Wayne is refreshingly frank in his desire to sleep with Arthur but not marry her — and if their quibbles inevitably resolve the way we suspect they will, their travails together are an enjoyable enough diversion to make this worth a one-time look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the romantic leads

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing.

Links:

Walk in the Sun, A (1945)

Walk in the Sun, A (1945)

“Everything in the army is simple: you live or you die.”

Synopsis:
During an Allied invasion of Italy during World War II, a sergeant (Dana Andrews) takes charge of his platoon when his original commander is severely wounded, and the next sergeant in command (Herbert Rudley) cracks up from the pressure. Will Andrews and his crew — including an outspoken New Yorker (Richard Conte), a bold sergeant (Lloyd Bridges), and an introspective private (John Ireland) — be able to limit their own fatalities while storming a German-occupied farmhouse and blowing up a nearby bridge?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dana Andrews Films
  • John Ireland Films
  • Lewis Milestone Films
  • Lloyd Bridges Films
  • Richard Conte Films
  • Soldiers
  • World War II

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “solid war film” — “directed by Lewis Milestone, 15 years after his anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front” — is “a rare WWII film in which our men have second thoughts about being soldiers”; he points out that “the terrifying finale” (we really don’t know what will happen) “confirms that fighting isn’t fun for Americans in WWII, just necessary.” Indeed, the thematic connections between this and All Quiet… are relatively strong, given that we’re once again relentlessly shown the horrors of war, albeit interwoven with entertaining dialogue between the men (much was taken from the source novel by Harry Brown). It’s refreshing to see how the soldiers may give each other plenty of grief, but are there for one another in the most important ways: volunteering for dangerous tasks; accepting the mental breakdown of their leader without judgment; and sticking with their platoon throughout the horrors they endure. Peary notes that the film — featuring fine cinematography by Russell Harlan — is “visually interesting because the men” (there are no women in the cast) “are shown in relationship to the flat landscape and wide sky, which at times is blocked out by smoke from exploded bombs and gunfire”, and “Milestone often pans effectively over the hostile terrain” (enemies’ faces are never shown). The performances across the board are solid, with Andrews and Conte stand-out leads, Ireland memorable in his debut role, and Bridges instantly earning our respect during a critical scene. This one remains must-see viewing.

Note: Andrews and Conte co-starred in Milestone’s controversial WWII film from the previous year, The Purple Heart (1944), which is worth a look but with caution (as outlined in my review).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the all-male cast


  • Russell Harlan’s cinematography

  • Robert Rossen’s script (based on Harry Brown’s novel)

Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful film about WWII. Selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2016.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Sullivans, The / Fighting Sullivans, The (1944)

Sullivans, The / Fighting Sullivans, The (1944)

“Well, I guess that oughta learn us Sullivans to stick together!”

Synopsis:
Five Irish-American brothers — George (James Cardwell), Frank (John Campbell), Joe (George Offerman, Jr.), Matt (John Alvin), and Al (Edward Ryan) Sullivan — remain close-knit with their sister (Trudy Marshall) and parents (Thomas Mitchell and Selena Royle), even after Ryan marries his sweetheart (Anne Baxter) and they have a baby. When America enters World War II, the brothers decide to enlist in the Navy together, refusing to be separated.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anne Baxter Films
  • Biopics
  • Siblings
  • Thomas Mitchell Films
  • World War II

Review:
This biopic about the Sullivan Brothers — whose sacrifices inspired the creation of the United States’ Sole Survivor Policy when all five brothers died in action — was surely an audience pleaser and consoler at the time of its release, during the height of World War II. It focuses heavily on the boys’ upbringing and fraternal camaraderie:

— as well as Ryan’s courtship of Baxter:

— before finally turning in its last half hour to the moment the family hears about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio:

… and the brothers’ fate is eventually sealed. The movie remains a fitting tribute to this family which gave so much to the war effort — and while it’s not must-see viewing, it’s worth a one-time look, especially by those interested in films of the era.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An emotionally stirring tale of family unity

Must See?
No, though it’s a fine tale and worthy one-time viewing.

Links:

Louisiana Purchase (1941)

Louisiana Purchase (1941)

“Shouldn’t you have a bathing suit? The senator might drool.”

Synopsis:
The head (Bob Hope) of a company caught filching government funds hires a beautiful dancer (Vera Zorina) to ensnare a strait-laced senator (Victor Moore) in a sex scandal — but his plan becomes more complicated when Zorina actually falls for Moore.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Blackmail
  • Bob Hope Films
  • Musicals
  • Romantic Comedy

Review:
Peary is clearly a huge fan of Bob Hope, given that he lists no less than 18 of Hope’s many comedies in GFTFF (including all but one of the seven Road To… titles). This adaptation of Irving Berlin’s Broadway musical — made shortly after Caught in the Draft (1941) — was Hope’s first film in Technicolor: it remains visually appealing, but sadly only contains a couple of songs, and overall falls short of its potential as a political satire. Moore’s intentionally milquetoast Senator Oliver P. Loganberry is an annoying foil, while Hope’s scheming State Representative is hardly someone we want to root for either.

German-Norwegian ballerina Zorina has an ethereal and appealing presence, but she’s not enough to elevate the film to anything other than escapist fare of its day.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see viewing for Hope fans.

Links: