Friday, October 29, 2010

Further into 1947

I loved having the Chicago Film Festival to break up my days of book writing and revising, and now that it's concluded, I've been running an unofficial festival of my own of the movies of 1947. I tend to do this when I've finished re-screening the Best Picture victors that Nathaniel, Mike, and I will be discussing in our approaching installment of the ...Outside In series, and I'm curious to flesh out my sense of the annual crops from which Oscar anointed his favorite. I've changed my ideas about Gentleman's Agreement in certain ways since the last time I saw it, so I'm not spoiling the conversation we three musketeers will eventually have when I say that, all the same, it's an uninspiring winner. And already I've made thrilling dates with much-loved or at least widely admired classics that I'd never seen (Out of the Past, Kiss of Death, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Best Picture nominee Crossfire), exciting short films from the comically animated to the darkly lyric (Tweetie Pie, Le tempestaire), and less familiar outings from renowned directors (Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, Kazan's Boomerang!). I've also revisited some movies I saw so far back in my TCM-watching and VHS-renting days that they were in many ways new to me, and almost always delightful larks: The Bishop's Wife, The Farmer's Daughter, and especially the delicious if stylistically rudimentary The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, the year's second-biggest commercial blockbuster, starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Shirley Temple on lustrous comic form and derived from an Oscar-winning script by Sidney Sheldon.

What I have not done is revisit the two huge auteurist touchstones from 1947, Orson Welles's deeply disorienting Lady from Shanghai and Charlie Chaplin's rather broad and scabrously off-putting Monsieur Verdoux, which sprang from an idea by Welles and many, many people regard as a masterwork. I've screened them both in big-screen restored prints, recently enough to at least trust my basic distaste for both, and though I probably owe it to the geniuses behind each of them to take another stab at some point, I am so not up for it right now.

But what should I be up for? I love reader recommendations in cases like these, either because you've already seen some of the films I'm still anticipating or because something jumps off my pre-selected docket that sounds as tantalizing to you, sight unseen, as it does to me. Major actorly showcases with durable fan bases, like Carol Reed's Odd Man Out with James Mason, or Robert Rossen's Body and Soul with John Garfield? Anthony Mann double-feature Railroaded! and T-Men? Relative obscurities by Ozu (Record of a Tenement Gentleman) and Kurosawa (One Wonderful Sunday), and better-known but seemingly minor work by Sirk (Lured), Leisen (Golden Earrings), and Renoir (The Woman on the Beach - check!)? Black-cast musicals Juke Joint, New Orleans, with its much-touted Billie Holliday cameo, and the enticingly named Boy! What a Girl!? The brooding darkness of Brute Force, Nightmare Alley, or Quai des Orfèvres? Actressy vehicles for Joan Crawford (Daisy Kenyon) and, in a rare leading role, Teresa Wright (Pursued)? Actor-director Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake, a longtime pet of film theorists? (His Mexican noir Ride the Pink Horse is an under-heralded gem of the same year.) British cult favorite Brighton Rock, apparently ruined by the Rowan Joffe remake now completing its global festival tour? Box-office bonanzas Forever Amber, Welcome Stranger, Unconquered, Life with Father, and The Egg and I, the latter two with Oscar nods for acting? Notorious MGM boondoggle Desire Me, the Greer Garson vehicle from which George Cukor fought to efface his name? The movie Cukor made that year that he actually liked, as did AMPAS, was the Othello-obsessed thriller A Double Life, probably due for a rewatch. And speaking one last time of the Academy, what about inaugural Academy anointee for Best Foreign Language Film Monsieur Vincent? The Katharine Hepburn twofer of Sea of Grass (another Elia Kazan project) and Song of Love (a dread composer biopic), which even I, as a lifelong devotée, have thus far stayed away from? What other titles am I not clocking at all, though I should?

I probably have room between now and November to absorb three or four more of the above. If you were setting my agenda, what would you pick? Fire away in the comments, and we'll see if we can reach a gentle(wo)man's agreement, or whether we get stuck in a crossfire.

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Blogger tim r said...

Year-specific screenathons are an excellent thing. I should do them more often.

Seriously, give Call Northside 777 a swing. I was much more impressed with it than with The Naked City, I must say.

Rowan Joffe, by the way, is unsurprisingly keen to declare that his version of Brighton Rock is in NO SENSE a remake, in that same way that Alice in Wonderland wasn't either. A pattern emerges...

2:35 AM, October 29, 2010  
Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Yeah - I can´t wait to get back to my year-by-year marathons, though I´m thinking that instead of continuing with the 80s, I´ll shift to another decade for some respite.

In terms of 1947 though, you cant skip Odd Man Out: beautifully acted (by the character actors especially), crafted and with an emotional gut-punch. Any time Anthony Mann and DOP John Alton collaborated, it was a major event, and T-Men is among the most major ones (the following year´s much-neglected and very modernist-feeling He Walked by Night is even more major). I didn´t love Quai des orfevres like I thought I would, but I loved it all the same. Body and Soul I just don´t think I loved at all. Daisy Kenyon didn´t blow me away like it has others (maybe cause I never did quite get Crawford´s appeal), but it´s wonderfully odd and engaging. I´m yet to see Woman on the Beach - though Iºve been digging for it for years.

5:35 AM, October 29, 2010  
Blogger Dave said...

You absolutely have to see Odd Man Out - it's such a powerful piece of work, and it looks gorgeous (the scene in the snow towards the end lives on vividly in my memory).

I have to add two that you haven't mentioned: Hue and Cry, the first Ealing comedy, is a bit more rudimentary stylishly than they later managed, but it's such a little charmer. And Michael Curtiz's The Unsuspected is the surprise package of 1947 for me - tense and, as far as I remember, morbidly fun noir to do with radio, and how wrong can you go with Claude Rains? I'm never sure if the fact that I never see it mentioned is because people dislike it or they just don't know about it.

And I can't shut up without mentioning that I absolutely despise Monsieur Verdoux.

6:38 AM, October 29, 2010  
Blogger Tim said...

Thirding Odd Man Out, which forms with The Fallen Idol and The Third Man something of a holy trinity of late-40s Reed. I'd also second Call Northside 777 as one of the best "on-location" noirs ever, and even more so for a Chicago resident, but honesty compels me to point out that it's a 1948 film.

I haven't seen very much else of your list: One Wonderful Sunday is awfully good but not top-tier Kurosawa, and if you found Monsieur Verdoux "scabrous", Quai des Orfevres will put you in a coma.

(My impulse to pipe in defense of Lady from Shanghai, but that would be dishonest: I've always regarded it as a half-formed noir admirable mostly for its studio-muffled ambition, save for a deliriously great ending).

7:58 AM, October 29, 2010  
Anonymous Ivan said...

Nightmare Alley and Robert Hamer's It Always Rains on Sunday. Brighton Rock is good too, mostly due to Carol Marsh.

Incidentally, I think Odd Man Out is a total drag and Monsieur Verdoux is the only Chaplin that has survived into adulthood.

But yes, Out of the Past is the best.

9:31 AM, October 29, 2010  
Blogger tim r said...

My bad re Northside. Must have been an Excel slip. Still a must!

10:37 AM, October 29, 2010  
Blogger Daniel Smith said...

Nora Prentiss!!! Probably the best little-known movie of its era. (It's in my all-time top fifty.) Vincent Sherman directs, Kent Smith and Ann Sheridan star. Sherman and Sheridan also collaborated that year on The Uninvited, an adaptation of The Letter, and while it's very good it's not quit the film Nora Prentiss is. But then, few films are.

Look for both on TCM (they've both aired fairly regularly lately). I think they've been released as Warner Archive DVDs as well.

5:14 PM, October 29, 2010  
Anonymous Mike Phillips, aka Goatdog said...

I'm going to nth Odd Man Out and Brighton Rock, throw some love at John Garfield in Body and Soul, and say that I found Call Northside 777 to be an utter drag.

If you want a dirty, ugly, bargain-basement noir that packs a hell of a punch, go with The Devil Thumbs a Ride.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir made me cry like a baby.

10:59 PM, October 29, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

Odd Man Out is one of my favourites.

1:23 AM, October 30, 2010  
Blogger Alex Constantin said...

I've recently seen The Egg and I and thought it was an easy to watch mess :) so naive. but with an effective comedy performance from Marjorie Main. I sense you are a Claudette fan, so you might enjoy it more.

why not Mourning Becomes Electra again? :) "I don't need God to forgive me, I forgive myself" (ps: I've posted it on youtube a while back, in case you don't have an available copy; the full 3 hours version, that is).

7:10 AM, October 30, 2010  
Blogger Dan Callahan said...

OK; I've seen all of these except for "Boy What a Girl!" (Boy What a Title!)

The four I'd pick for you:

Ozu's "Record of a Tenement Gentleman," which is little-known but one of his very best.

"Daisy Kenyon," because it's one of Preminger's very best, classic Joan, but also classic Dana Andrews and clever use of Fonda. See this one right away.

The very morbid "Nightmare Alley," which deserves its status.

And "Song of Love." As a fellow Hepburn devotee, I have to say that it has some very good scenes and moments. "Sea of Grass," on the other that when you have absolutely nothing else to see.

"Odd Man Out" has a big reputation, and it is very good, but it has several problems of tone (especially toward the end) that seem more glaring every time I see it. And its pictorialism gets on my nerves. Great Mason, though.

9:32 AM, October 30, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Wow! Thanks so much for all this expert guidance. Bit by bit -

@Tim: I'm all for CN777 and remember how much you liked it. Will check it out once we're up to '48/'87. Can't wait to see original Brighton Rock but, now that library has lost VHS copy it's hard for a while, I can't find it anywhere.

@Goran: Odd Man Out basically at the top of my list anyway, since James Mason is one of my very favorite male actors and he always described this as his favorite of his films. Reed angle a plus, too. Thanks for helping me tip which of the two Manns to check out first.

@Dave: So lovely to hear from someone else unseduced by Verdoux. An ambitious story, and I can dig Chaplin all but daring us to hate him and his film, but I just thought it was tonally and structurally way off the mark. Martha Raye is unspeakable in it. Both your recommendations are new to me, and I'm especially intrigued by the Curtiz, which I've now ordered from the library. Kudos!

@Tim: We feel basically the same way about Shanghai. A second viewing in theaters a few years ago was meant to help me like it more, but it just solidified by cool reaction, as much as I admire its aims and its famous finale.

@Ivan: Was hoping someone would back up Nightmare Alley. Goulding rarely steers me too wrong, and nor does Blondell. Didn't know about the Hamer, so that's a great rec.

@Daniel: Another great rec, which I remember from TCM listings in the year I had cable but had dropped off my radar. This is a truly intriguing plug. I'll keep my eyes out.

@Mike: I'm certainly up for Garfield before I get to Powell, if we're talking Best Actor gaps. I just couldn't get into Muir, and actually got less into it as it went. Mankiewicz so much better off with his own scripts, and my Rex Harrison allergy can't have helped.

@Glenn: More officially than ever, OMO is even more of my personal front-runner now than it already was.

4:12 PM, October 30, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Alex: It'll be a long time before I see Electra again, since it's a bit of a tough sit tonally and I already cranked out a full review of it. I liked it more than most, and loved Redgrave in it, but am not eager for a re-see. And speaking of people who abhor it...

@Dan C: I can't believe how much you've seen. No wonder I had you pegged as someone much older than I am when I first started reading you. This is a great and deliciously heterogeneous menu of recs, especially the one for Daisy Kenyon. Since I know where you're coming from in terms of Hepburn, I will try to get it up to rent Song of Love. I really will. My partner just dramaturged a stage production of State of the Union, so I'm due for some viewing in Kate's back catalog that I've thus far skipped.

4:15 PM, October 30, 2010  
Blogger tim r said...

Mike and I (hi Mike!) seem forever destined to disagree in these threads, since I find Odd Man Out much less vigorous or compelling than I've always been told I should, and not a patch on the following year's Fallen Idol (let alone The Third Man). But hey. I'm thoroughly on board with Mason and Garfield.

6:05 PM, October 30, 2010  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Joan Crawford's no great shakes in DAISY KENYON. For me, that film's all about great performances from Dana Andrews (whom I almost always enjoy) and Ruth Warrick (whom I almost never do). Someone mentioned THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE. I'd definitely second that recommendation. And would also suggest another solid, down-market noir, BORN TO KILL, which - among other things - offers Claire Trevor a rocking showcase. Joan Bennett got the role of her life in THE MACOMBER AFFAIR. and lived up to it. Robert Preston's also terrific in the film. Most people seem to dislike THE PARADINE CASE. And - yes - I'd have preferred Laurence Olivier in the lead. But I like almost everything else about the film. It's one of my favorite Hitchcocks. You've probably seen the wonderful BLACK NARCISSUS. But maybe not another excellent British offering from '47 - THE BROTHERS, atmospherically filmed in the Scottish wilds and starring the under-rated Patricia Roc. 1947 was also the year of Rossellini's pretty uncompromising GERMANY YEAR ZERO, a film well worth tracking down. A couple of your readers have praised NIGHTMARE ALLEY. That whole film has a nice coal-black glitter. Late 40's Hollywood usually served up its psychiatrists as pipe and smoking jacket types, patient, noble and sexless. NIGHTMARE ALLEY's shrink in residence is a cool and calculating doll named Lilith. And if you've never caught up with the marvelous Helen Walker (who plays her), you couldn't ask for a better introduction to this lady's particular allure.

8:38 PM, October 30, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@CanadianKen: I literally almost ended my last comment with, "But where is Ken? And what does he think?" So lovely to see you.

Black Narcissus I of course love. Nightmare Alley is sitting right here, ready to go. Germany Year Zero I'm watching soon for work-related reasons, but it's actually '48, I think? I am absolutely with you about Paradine, which seems to me to get a really short shrift based on every begrudging thing I'd ever heard about it. (Though at the same time, it's such a peculiar film, almost fond of its slow, stuffy inexorability, that I can see it wouldn't be everyone's thing.)

The Macomber Affair just recently crossed my radar, and now you've piqued my interest further, even though I just do not get on with Joan Bennett. Hopefully there really is a first time for everything. Thanks so much for the other recs, too!

12:05 AM, October 31, 2010  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Nick, I notice CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE on your "further research" list. It's certainly one of the most beautiful looking - and sounding - films of the 40's. Though the fact that it tends to glorify/glamourize a bloody, imperialistic landgrab (Cortes' march through Mexico)is a deal breaker for many people when it comes to enjoying the picture. For some, I guess, the very magnificence of the resources and talent poured into it only make the project more reprehensible. As for me, in the end, I've pretty much surrendered to the movie's spell. I admire Tyrone Power's brave , outside-the-box performance in NIGHTMARE ALLEY. But I think he exhibits a graceful genius in swashbuckler roles. I've always thought he should have been among the 1940 nominees for THE MARK OF ZORRO.
Anyway, if you ever DO watch CASTILE and can get past the political/ethical discomfort, I'm hoping you'll like Jean Peters' lovely work. She's the peasant girl catapulted into a what-are-the-odds relationship with young Spanish grandee Power. This was her fresh-out-of-school debut, I believe. And she's really something! Thoughtful, vulnerable, determined and passionate. And it's fully appropriate for the role that she never quite seems to shake that "somebody pinch me - is this really happening?" state. Just as I imagine Peters herself was feeling, suddenly at the center of an ultra-lush Hollywood production, staring into the eyes of Tyrone Power. I imagine Fox executives must have been doing handstands over the potential displayed by their latest discovery. Peters retired early, but not before proving a versatile and sometimes inspired pro. She absolutely anchors the gaudy Monroe vehicle NIAGARA and that's in spite of having to play off the epic uselessness of Casey Adams in most of her scenes. The Best Actress competition's pretty fierce in '47, so Peters doesn't quite make it into my five, but it hurts not to have her there. 'Cause it's a performance that gives me such pleasure every time I watch it. Hope you get a buzz from it too when you eventually catch up with the movie.
P.S. Did Helen Walker turn up ever so briefly in your list of supporting nominees? (I think) I remember being delighted. Then next time I looked she'd vanished. Or did I dream it all?

12:12 AM, November 27, 2010  

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