My Love Came Back 1940

My Love Came Back (1940)- Curtis Bernhardt

 ★★★

“My Love Come Back” (1940) is a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, made fun by a charismatic star captivating her audience. The plot is basic, as each scene leads right into the next with plenty of coiencedences and few (if any), surprises.My Love Came Back 1940 Oddly enough the downfalls of the picture are forgettable as Olivia de Havilland so easily tranforms a below average script and story into a fun, breezy film, that although may lack in out-loud laughter, certainly has plenty of smiles and grins. The plot, as I stated is quite simple. Poor struggling classical violinist Amelia (Olivia de Havilland) is considering leaving her music conservatory because she needs money and her good-hearted friends (Jane Wyman & Eddie Albert) have put together a jazz band, that with her on board could make plenty of money for her to be comfortable. Julius Malette (Charles Winninger) is a wealthy music-loving man, who decides to sit as president of her conservatory, not for his love of the arts, but because, despite a significant age difference (not to mention a wife), he is attracted to Amelia. When he discovers that she is leaving, he begins sending her money annonomously disguised as a scholarship. He also starts sending her musical gifts, and taking her out on the town to concerts, My Love Came Back 1940operas, and even the circus… you know, to improve her appreciation of music. One night, Julius is reminded by his wife (the always entertaining Spring Byington) that it is their anniversary. He calls upon the vice president of his company (Jeffrey Lynn), and requests that he meet Amelia instead. Of course the two quickly hit things off, but he (wrongly) assumes that Amelia is already Julius’s mistress, thus leading to a series of misunderstandings and confusion amongst friends, family members and pretty much everybody in the film. Despite a running time of 81 minutes, “My Love Came Back” could be shorted up into the length of a tv sitcom. Every major and most of the minor plot points are regrettably frustrating and overly ridiculous. de Havilland however, still comes riding in to save the day. She is the bright shinning light that not just makes the movie watchable, but makes it enjoyable. Her eyes glisten and her smile sparkles making even the dullest scenes once again fun. Every scene that lacks her presence, is dark and dreary, but then Olivia comes gliding in once again, and the audience has a chance to take a deep breath and smile. Even the supporting cast seems to be sad when she isn’t there.My Love Came Back 1940 S.Z. Sakall (who is always funny), Jeffrey Lynn and Charles Winninger all have scenes without de Havilland, but even they seem to be in a rush to get through them and move on. It really is too bad she couldn’t be in every scene! I know it sounds weird to say, but there are few actresses who could take a film such as this and elevate it to, not just something tolerable, but something fun and amusing. Then again, there are few women like Olivia de Havilland, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

Hold Your Man (1933)- Sam Wood

★★★★

 

All six films that Jean Harlow and Clark Gable made together are unique, and even memorable is some way. Their first, “The Secret Six” (1931) is a Wallace Beery picture, with smaller roles for up-and-comers like Gable, Harlow and even Ralph Bellamy. Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Hold Your Man" (1933)Their final film just six short years later, “Saratoga” (1937) is somewhat depressing, since Harlow’s untimely death during filming gives the production a meloncholy feeling. In between these bookends, this sizzling pair made four films filled with romance, sex, humor, lust, and love. Each one showcases this dynamic pair’s natural chemistry, and makes for a lasting impression upon their adoring audience- even if the Hays Code tries to get in the way and mess things up. In “Red Dust” (1932) they are perfectly suited lovers, jonting around the wilds of Africa, while allowing Mary Astor to create a high-class distraction for Gable, albeit one that we never believe since Gable and Harlow seem so perfect together. “China Seas” (1935) is a rehashing of the same, only not as good, and with plenty of Production Code “values” interfearing. In “Wife Vs. Secretary” (1936) their normal roles are thrown out the window, and things get shaken up, as Gable’s character is married to Myrna Loy, with Harlow as his head-over-heels in love secretary, vying for his affections. Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Hold Your Man" (1933)I love Myrna Loy, but this film (rightfully) seems awkward, because there is no way that Gable wouldn’t instantly be running off with Harlow. C’mon, you can see it in his eyes.

Right in the middle of their films together comes this film, “Hold Your Man” (1933)- a comedic drama, that with some outside influence, shows Production Code values, mixed with a fairly believable, real-life plot. Eddie Hall (Gable) is a handsome streetwise hustler, just trying to earn a buck. While on the run (quite literally) from the cops, he barges into the apartment of Ruby Adams (Harlow) right in the middle of her bath. (How rude, and yet 1930’s audience satisfying at the same time). On nothing but a first glance and a moment’s hesitation, Ruby hides Eddie and throws a regular tirade, convincing the police to get out of her place.Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Hold Your Man" (1933) Things escalate from there, both professionally and personally for the couple of big-smiled, money-hungry romantics, but before long, choices between love and freedom on the outside bring their time together to a hault.

“Hold Your Man” was adapted for the screen by Anita Loos and Howard Emmett. The screenplay in turn, is based on the novel by Loos, who was charged with the difficult task of keeping the juicy, real-life excitement of her story, and adding in enough “justice” to keep the howling wolves of the empending Production Code at bay. I am sure there are many who would, do, and will argue that in doing this adaptation, the story becomes conflicting. It does swing from one end of the spectrum to the other, with parts feeling like an intelligent comedy, and other moments playing like an intense melodrama. There is however, something genuine about a love that doesn’t instantly work out, and people that get put in the position to make life’s tough choices. I can see how under different circumstances this film could have fallen apart, but Harlow and Gable are so incredible that they do more than hold things together, they elevate them.Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in "Hold Your Man" (1933) Both actors are at the top of their game- Gable with his handsome appearance and crooked smile, and Harlow with her sex appeal and sassy, “don’t give me any lip” attitude. Lesser actors would have made a lesser film. With Harlow and Gable however, we are in good hands, and the result is one worth remembering.

 

 

 

The Woman in the Window (1944)- Fritz Lang

 ★★★★

 

Apparently there really is no limit to the greatness of Fritz Lang. It’s true. Every time you watch or re-watch (even if it’s for the tenth time) one of his films, it is still amazing how beautifully they are filmed, and how impressive Lang is as a director. “The Woman in the Window” (1944) is a special little film noir, filled with everything that fans of the genre hove come to treasure, and it is yet another in a long line of examples that exemplify Lang’s brilliance.The Woman in the Window Based on the novel “Once Off Guard” by J.H. Wallis, this film tells the story of Professor Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) who happens to be an expert in criminology. He is also a dignified man- a pillar of the community, and a testament to the “honest men” of the world. After sending his wife and two small children out of town, Wanley heads to his club to have dinner and drinks with a couple of friends including district attorney Lalor (Raymond Massey). Just before entering the club, a picture of a young attractive woman hanging in the window next door catches his eye, his attention, and his imagination. This prompts a conversation over dinner and drinks about the duality of man, and his desires for adventure, especially when involving a young, beautiful woman.

After leaving the club Wanley happens to meet Alice (Joan Bennett), who is the woman from the picture in the window. Against his better judgment, he goes to spend the evening with her talking about life and art.The Woman in the Window While drinking together back at her apartment, another older man (Arthur Loft) comes barging in, and attempts to kill Wanley in a jealous rage. Alice hands Wanley a pair of sciccors and he stabs the much larger man to death. Instead of calling the police, Alice and Wanley choose to hide their crime in order to protect themselves, and to hopefully avoid prison. Being a criminologist, one would think that Wanley would know how to hide a murder, but as it turns out, it is much easier to talk about a crime than to cover one up. Things really get complicated as Wanley’s as his old pal Lalor quickly becomes hot on his trail, constantly giving updates as to all the mistakes that Wanley and Alice made. Simutaneously, Alice is being hounded by a con-man (Dan Duryea) who knows about (or at least suspects) the crime, and has decided to blackmail Alice.

So often “The Woman in the Window” and Lang’s next feature “Scarlet Street” (1945) are remembered together for their simalarities. After all, they are both directed by Lang, both films star Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, and Milton R. Krasner provided his impeccable cinematography to both films. Even with all of these similarities however, it’s what sets them apart from each other that makes each special in their individual way.The Woman in the Window While both Robinson and Duryea play similar characters in both films, Joan Bennett is exceedingly different. All three actors are marvelous in each film, but it is Bennett that pulls it all together. In “The Woman in the Window” she is mysterious, humanistic and unpredicatable. In “Scarlet Street” she is a femme fatale, and therefore follows a somewhat predicatable (albeit marvelous) path. “The Woman in the Window” allows her to share an emotional depth from within her character, and her realistic portrayal feels more genuine, or at the very least, more relateable.

There are some negative opinions floating around about the influence of the Hays Code on “The Woman in the Window”. Obviously you can see the big hands of the production code guiding certain parts of this film, but perhaps this is one of those times where a forced change in story helps set the picture apart from all the similar films that had come, and were going to come.The Woman in the Window “The Woman in the Window” is unique and interesting. It frustrates its audience, but keep them involved, sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping, praying these misguided, unsuspecting criminals find some way out of this suspenseful mess that only true masters of the genre (like Fritz Lang) could create for his characters.

 

Angels Over Broadway (1940)- Ben Hecht

 ★★★★

 

In 1940, the brilliant screenwriter Ben Hecht wrote, produced, and directed the close-knit drama film “Angels Over Broadway“. Make no mistake about it, this is a flawed movie. Angels Over Broadway 1940When watching there are several moments when things could have been crafted better, but looking past these small insignificant misteps, and focusing on the heart of the story, (which is great) and the brilliance in the characters (which is significant) will provide a fruitful, worthwhile film from start to finish.

The entire movie, which feels more like a stage play than a film, takes place over the course of one rainy night in New York City. It is essentially a four-man show, that gives each of the main characters a chance to shine. Charles Engle (John Qualen) is a down on his luck businessman, who has embezzled $3000 from his employer in order to support his wife’s extravagant lifestyle, and now, being caught, is contemplating suicide. Bill O’Brien (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) is a low-level con-man, looking for some poor, rich, sucker to bleed dry. Gene Gibbons (Thomas Mitchell) is a past-his-prime play write, dreaming of his glory days, and wishing he could once again write with some imagination and meaning.Angels Over Broadway Last, but clearly not least, we have another low-level con artist, Nina Barona (Rita Hayworth), who is just looking for a way to earn a buck, and is more than willing to use her beauty to achieve this goal. All four of our disillusioned misfits wind up in the same nightclub, and after learning of one another’s troubles, come up with a plan for joint salvation.

As a character study, “Angels Over Broadway” is interesting and enthralling. When you hear the name Ben Hecht, writer comes to mind well before director, so it’s no real surprise that it is the writing that shines in this picture. He was given an Academy Award nomination for this original screenplay, and it is much deserved. On the surface it might not appear to be all that engaging, but once the film starts moving, there is a darkness that sets in, that is unsettling, but extremely intriguing. These are not happy-go-lucky people, living carefree lives. They are very real, and therefore, extremely relatable.

As with any character drama, the actors play a major part in the success of the picture. In “Angels Over Broadway” there is an interesting mix involved, including Hayworth, who looks great in this role, and is able to easily pull off the con-woman looking to change, because, well, she looks like an honest, good-hearted woman, desperate for a little romance. Fairbanks is solid in a role that doesn’t demand too much from him.Angels Over Broadway 1940 It’s not really a leading part, despite his top billing, but he meshes well with the others, and gives an honest (and one of his better) acting performances. In a somewhat unexpected twist it’s Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen who actually steal the picture. Their acting is phenomenal, and considering the substance of their roles, much of the film hangs on their performances. Luckily they deliver… superbly.

Lee Garmes served as cinematographer on “Angels over Broadway”, and is also given screen credit as co-director. Even combining Garmes and Hecht on directing duties still leaves “Angels Over Broadway” with a somewhat amateur quality. Garmes is an accomplished cinematographer and Hecht is one of the better screenwriters out there, but neither are (or should be) remembered for their directing abilities.Angeles Over Broadway 1940 Oddly enough they re-teamed in 1952 to co-direct another film “Actor’s and Sin”, with about the same results.

Even with a few small flaws, “Angels Over Broadway” has much to offer a patient audience, not afraid of commitment. Of course with Qualen, Mitchell, Hayworth, and Fairbanks, it’s hard to go wrong!

 

Harvey (1950)- Henry Koster

 ★★★★★

 

This post is my entry in the Build-Your-Own Blogathon, in which 20 different bloggers write about films that are connected to each other.Harvey 1950 To see the complete rundown of connected films be sure to visit our host at Classic Film and TV Café. I will be picking things up here from the always delightful Silver Screenings‘ post on the 1957 musical film,Bernardine”. Luckily for me, “Bernardine” was written for the stage by Mary Chase, who also happened to write the play as well as the screenplay for the deliciously entertaining James Stewart film, “Harvey” (1950). As it turns out, there is no better reason to talk about “Harvey” than to be connected by Mary Chase, because it is her writing that is the very heart and soul of this film.

For those who don’t know, or perhaps don’t remember, this enormously pleasurable movie is about the easy-going, free-spirited, and somewhat eccentric Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart). Harvey 1950He is a middle-aged man living in his family home with his widowed older sister, Veta (Josephine Hull), and her coming of age daughter, Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne). Oh yes, he also lives with his best friend, Harvey, a six foot- three and a half inch invisible rabbit, or perhaps more appropriately, a pooka. In case you didn’t know, a pooka is a Celtic folklore creature, often large in size, that can bring good or bad fortune to those he visits. For Mr. Dowd, however, Harvey is more than a good luck charm or mythical hinderance. He is his best friend. They walk together, talk together, drink together, and entertain together. They are almost inseparable, and happy to be that way.

The conflict of the story comes when Veta has had enough of Harvey 1950Harvey, and decides to have her “insane” brother committed. She takes him to a sanitarium where, through a series of adventures and misunderstandings, Mr. Dowd becomes friendly (and helpful) with much of the staff (Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway & Jesse White). The only remaining question is whether Harvey and Elwood can help those around them before they do their very best to “help” Elwood become more “normal”- at least the way they think he should be.

“Harvey” is a film that is funny and touching, but very serious as well. The warmth and tenderness of the characters is the driving force of the picture, and here is where Mary Chase and her story and words get their chance to shine. She had already won a Pulitzer Prize for Harvey 1950Drama in 1945 when the play became such a success, and the film translates her story so well.

Of course having Jimmy Stewart and Josephine Hull leading the way doesn’t hurt one bit. This film marked one of Stewart’s five Academy Award nominations, and Hull (in one of only six film appearances) won herself a well deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Together they are an unstoppable team, who almost effortlessly bring this extremely remarkable and usual story to life. Nobody could have been better in these roles, and time as well as other stage performances of the play, have only proven this point.

The popularity of “Harvey” has decreased somewhat over the years, but the acclaim has not.Harvey Everyone who takes the time to really put in effort and see this glorious movie the way it should be watched comes away better for it. After all, we could all use a little help from a pooka now and then.

Be sure to check out all the posts for this Build-Your-Own Blogathon. Up next, see how Caftan Woman connects “Harvey” to Anthony Mann’s wonderful film “T-Men” (1947).

Criterion Collection Titles for August 2014

The Criterion Collection has announced their upcoming titles to be released in August 2014. Most of these films are somewhat unexpected, and only one of the five is already in the collection, but all of them are from some of the most respected and revolutionary directors of their (or all) time.

Here are the releases for August:

Being Released August 12th, 2014:

  • “Love Streams” (1984): Love StreamsCriterion Collection regular, filmmaker John Cassavetes not only directs this picture, but also stars alongside longtime collaborator (and wife) Gena Rowlands. The story revolves around a brother and sister who reconnect at a later point in their lives. This is one of Cassavetes least seen “masterpieces”, but it appears that the good folks at Criterion have decided to change that by adding it to their collection. “Love Streams” will be presented in its original 141 minutes version, with some incredible bonus features, including a 60 minutes documentary on the making of the film.

Being Released August 19th, 2014:

  • “Y tu mama tambien” (2001): Y tu mama tambienIt’s been rumored for so long, and now it has finally happened. “Y tu mama tambien” is in the Criterion Collection. Before he was an Academy Award winner for “Gravity”, Alfonso Cuaron made this highly acclaimed film about two sex-crazed friends (Gael Garcia Bernal & Diego Luna) who go on a road trip with a slightly older woman (Maribel Verdu), frustrated with her own life. The three embark on a life-changing journey of self (and sexual) discovery.
  • “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (1990): Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!From director Pedro Almodovar comes this dark comedy about a recently released psychiatric patient (Antonio Banderas) who kidnaps an adult film actress (Victoria Abril), and holds her hostage in an attempt to convince her to marry him.

Being Released August 26th, 2014:

  • “Vengeance is Mine” (1979): Vengeance is MineThis Japanese film, from director Shohei Imamura, is already part of the Criterion Collection, but is now getting a blu-ray upgrade. This film, based on a true story, is about a serial killer, retelling the events of his life, and a killing spree that he went on over 78 days.
  • “All That Jazz” (1979): All That Jazz (1979)This Best Picture nominee stands out as one of Bob Fosse’s very best pictures, and although there are those who don’t share in this picture’s general acclaim (me, me, that’s me) it does offer a marvelous performance from its star Roy Scheider, and is easily considered to be one of the best musicals to come out of the 1970’s.

Well, that’s all for August… now we can start speculating about September!

Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)- Don Siegel

 ★★★★★

 

When watching “Riot in Cell Block 11” (1954), one can’t help but be surprised by the film’s gritty, bold style, and stark realism. This is not a documentary, or a film based on an actual event, but it feels like it could be. Its distinct style and down-right brilliant overall production provide the exact ingredients needed in order to create aRiot in Cell Block 11 (1954) lasting film-watching experience that serves as an example to so many filmmakers that would emerge over the next generation.

The picture stars Emile Meyer as a warden who has spent years yelling from his soapbox about the deteriorating conditions of the enormous prison under his control. He has over 4,000 inmates under him, that is, until the men in cell block 11 decide they have had enough. Lead by James Dunn (Neville Brand) and the ruthless Mike Carnie (Leo Gordon), the men in cell block 11 overpower the four guards, holding them hostage. They are all still contained in the cell block, as they aren’t trying to escape- they just want to be heard, and treated like people. The men have a list of demands that they want met, all of which have to do with their mistreatment by guards, and the inhumane way that they are housed. Police Commissioner Haskell (Frank Faylen) is brought in to help with the negotiations, but he doesn’t Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)care about the conditions that the criminals are forced to live in, day in and day out, so his presence only makes matters worse, resulting in an intense and thrilling standoff.

“Riot in Cell Block 11” has everything that a film needs to entertain and entrance an audience. Filmed on location in Folsom Prison, shot by the amazing cinematographer Russell Harlon, this movie truly makes you feel as if you’re experiencing something real. Not as a leading character fighting alongside the other men, but as an observer, sitting on the catwalk above the action. Don Siegel directs, before his glory days when he made five films with Clint Eastwood (including 1979’s “Escape From Alcatraz”), and even before the popularity that he would receive with hits like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956). Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)Although it is an earlier film in his career, there is already a clear indication that the man knows what he is doing. Siegel crafts with a precise goal in mind, and he is unwilling to compromise any realism for a more polished picture, which many producers surely would have pushed toward, in order to appeal to a wider audience. This, however, was not the case. Producer Walter Wanger famously served four months after shooting the suspected lover of his wife, actress Joan Bennett. It was his experiences surrounding that event that are said to have inspired him in the producing of this film.

This is a film that was made better because of the circumstances that surrounded the production. Even the actors add to the overall realism here. Sure there were a handful of seasoned character actors, but many of the extras are real guards and prisoners from Folsom Prison. And then there is Leo Gordon, whose dominating physical stature is enough to intimidate anyone. Earlier in his life Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)he actually served five years after being involved in an armed robbery that also left him shot in the stomach. Even though that part of his life was behind him, it is obvious from his commanding performance here that the effects of his time inside helped in insurmountable terms to creating the most realistic portrayal possible.

“Riot in Cell Block 11” is an extremely interesting movie to come out of the mid 1950’s. It’s a dark, unflinching examination of the prison system, at a time when movies like this just weren’t made. It’s a throw back to those pre-code, ruthless, hard-hitting films like “The Big House” (1930) or even “The Racket” (1928). It also is a film that has spent enough time in obscurity, and now thanks to the Criterion Collection, has a chance once again to gain the recognition that it so clearly deserves.

 

The Great Dictator (1940)- Charles Chaplin

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

If there is anyone who can successfully make anything to do with either WWII or Adolph Hitler a joke, it would be Charles Chaplin- even if it came with his later regrets. The Great Dictator (1940)When the famous comedian decided to (almost single-handedly) create a satirical comedy-drama, poking fun at Hitler himself, as well as many others closely involved with Hitler, Chaplin knew he could do it successfully because he found humor where others did not. Years later, after the atrocities of the Nazi’s and their actions were known to the world, Chaplin admitted that he would never have made a film like “The Great Dictator” (1940) if he would have understood the truth behind what was happening in Europe. Whereas this attitude is understandable, the powerful message that this enormously important (and somewhat underrated) film has to offer, combined with Chaplin’s fearless performance, create a cinematic experience that is both hilarious at times, and heart-wrenching at others.

“The Great Dictator” opens during the great war, as an unnamed Jewish soldier (Chaplin in one of two roles) is fighting for his fictional country of Tomainia. The Great Dictator (1940)After a series of amusingly comedic blunders, he finds himself helping Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) into an airplane and flying secret documents to their commanding officer. They crash, just as the war comes to an end, but the Jewish man suffers from memory loss, and the next twenty years go by without him remembering anything.

Jumping forward to that time, it turns out that the Jewish man is in fact a barber, who runs a shop in the ghetto. (He looks similar to Chaplin’s famous Little Tramp, but also has many differences.) He returns to his work, next door to Hannah (Paulette Goddard), a laundress, who bond over a physical dispute with local stormtroopers. He is unaware that being Jewish is no longer acceptable, now that the notoriously brutal dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) has begun his master plan of world domination.

The remainder of the movie is cut into two sections. One between scenes of the dictator, or “The Phooey” as he is called, as he stumbles about trying to take over the world with his cohorts, Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Herring (Billy Gilbert). The Great Dictator (1940)The other involves the Jewish barber and Hannah reeking havoc on Hynkel’s stormtroopers. Needless to say, there is a ton of laughs awaiting in both stories, and, as Hynkel and the barber look alike, everything is culminating toward an inevitable big finish.

Charlie Chaplin is a genius, in every aspect of the word. In addition to starring as both leading characters in the movie, Chaplin also wrote, produced, and directed. He even wrote the musical score along with Meredith Wilson (who later would give Chaplin the “creative” credit). “The Great Dictator” is completely his vision, and even though many stepped up and tried to take credit for contributing ideas, Chaplin is the one man smart enough and brave enough to pull it all together- and not just into a decent film, but into a true masterpiece.

The Great Dictator (1940)

The comedic value here (like all of Chaplin’s films) in undeniable. You can’t help but laugh and smile throughout as he, in his first full-talking film, delivers with dialogue, facial expressions, set pieces, and, of course, physical stunts. The surprise of this picture isn’t in the comedy, but in the drama. Chaplin had a message to deliver, and “The Great Dictator” gave him the outlet he needed. Making a film such as this, at such a crucial time in the world’s history, could have ended in absolute failure. Chaplin, however, doesn’t seem to know how to fail, and ended up creating an important, memorable film that even today gives viewers a chance to see how influential and important one man could be. The Great Dictator (1940)There is a story that Chaplin had seen the German film “Olympia” (1938), and used it to aid him designing “The Great Dictator”. I wasn’t around in 1940 to see how this movie played as a piece of propaganda, but it is both moving and inspiring today.

Besides Chaplin, who gives not one, but two brilliant performances, Paulette Goddard also contributes with her usual perfect blend of hilarious, almost slapstick comedy, and touching drama. She constantly has to continue jumping back and forth between the serious scenes and the comedic ones, which is not all that easy to do. Also getting in on the fun is Jack Oakie, who plays a neighboring dictator named Benzino Napaloni. (Man I love Chaplin’s character names!) The Great Dictator (1940)Oakie is so entertaining in this film that he even earned himself an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

When it was all said and done, “The Great Dictator” became Chaplin’s highest grossing movie. Also, after the fiasco centered on the Academy’s removal of 1928’s “The Circus” (and don’t get me started on the stupidity of that!), “The Great Dictator” ended up being the only one of his films to be a Best Picture nominee, and his only Best Actor nomination. (Both of which were thoroughly deserved.) Today “The Great Dictator” is not the first of his films that will come to a movie fan’s mind, but with classic comedies like “The Gold Rush” (1925), “City Lights” (1931), and “Modern Times” (1936), it is easy to see how “The Great Dictator” has been lost in the shuffle. Trust me, however, when I tell you that missing out on seeing this amazing film would only be an injustice to both Chaplin and to yourself.

Jesse James (1939)- Henry King

 ★★★★

 

In John Ford’s perfect western film,“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962), a newspaper man (Carleton Young) given the opportunity to set the record straight says, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This one brief, but thought-provoking statement can basically sum up the story for Henry King’s western “Jesse James” (1939). Jesse James (1939)This is not a film based on the facts surrounding the life of Jesse James- it’s entertainment based off of legends and myths about one of America’s most notorious outlaws. With that being said, who cares? It doesn’t matter if any of the facts are accurate or truthful. It doesn’t even matter if it comes close because Tyrone Power is our hero. He can’t be an outlaw, he must be misunderstood. Aside from Tyrone being our “hero”, it still doesn’t matter how factual this film ends up being because this is one hell of an enjoyable western.

The film opens as crooked railroad man, Barshee (Brian Donlevy), and his gang of “businessmen” are harassing and coercing farmers into selling their land to the railroad. When they arrive at the James Farm, however, they encounter more than they expected when the family matriarch (Jane Darwell) refuses to sign anything. Barshee is even more shocked when he tries to get physical with Frank James (Henry Fonda), and Frank easily overpowers him. Banshee tells his gang to jump Frank, and that is when Frank’s younger brother Jesse (Tyrone Power) emerges, using his pistol as a way to keep the fight between Frank and Banshee a fair one. You see, he only gets violent to keep things fair and even.

Later Banshee returns for revenge, but when he doesn’t find Jesse or Frank, he becomes angry and somewhat accidentally kills their mother, thus enraging the brothers further, and subsequently creating an enemy for himself… and for the railroad.

Jesse James (1939)Jesse, Frank, and their band of outlaws begin robbing trains in order to “teach the railroad a lesson”, but it begins to wreak havoc on Jesse’s personal life, including his relationship with future wife, Zee (Nancy Kelly). She wants Jesse to give up these evil ways, and even convinces a local Marshall (Randolph Scott) to bring him in peacefully, with a reduced sentence on the table. Of course there is a double-cross instituted by another despicable railroad man (Donald Meek), and after a jailbreak, Jesse and Frank are back to a life of crime, now expanded from trains to banks. But the real drama of the story isn’t a conflict between the James boys and they powers that be, it’s Jesse’s internal struggle between being a “normal” man with his wife and son, or a vengeance seeking outlaw, always trying to get ahead.

Tyrone Power is a magnificent choice in the role of Jesse James, especially when he is portrayed as a hero. His striking good looks and picturesque persona make his mere presence something romantic and inviting. He truly captivates the screen in every frame, and if Jesse James himself would have been given his choice of actors, I don’t think he would have gone with anyone else. Jesse James (1939)Power has the ability to have everyone rooting for him even when his characters go outside the law, which is why he made such a good pirate in numerous films, and even why his portrayal of Zorro is still the best. When he wants to keep things light, he smiles, when it’s time to get serious, he uses his smoldering eyes to glare into your very soul. Just a look from Power says more than pages of dialogue, which works rather well when portraying a quiet western outlaw with just as many internal struggles as external. Teamed with Henry Fonda, these two screen legends could have an entire scene completely void of lines and it wouldn’t matter. They are true actors who can deliver, no matter what stands before them.

Director Henry King and his film have their fair share of highs, including the two stars, some spectacular action sequences, and glorious location shooting. Other than that, “Jesse James” runs into a few problems. Nancy Kelly gives a performance that is way over the top, dragging down her scenes with overly emotional dialogue and endless (seeming) speeches about right and wrong. All of these scenes just pull the pace of the film from a quick-paced trot to a crawl. It’s not even her fault, she is just overused and unnecessary. Randolph Scott makes a good Marshall, and fits nicely into the picture, but there isn’t much for him to do except stand there and look the part, which he can do (and does) in his sleep.Jesse James (1939) If you’re looking for a real stand-out supporting performance in this film, look no further than John Carradine as the infamous Robert Ford. In a very small role, Carradine is perfect.

There are better westerns than “Jesse James”. Then again, there are far worse ones, too. Henry King knows how to make an entertaining film, and with the legendary Jesse James as his leading character, it becomes almost too easy. It is Tyrone Power, however, that brings this one together, and despite a filmography filled with memorable and prolific roles, it is his turn as Jesse James that stands out. Perhaps it’s because he was able to take a legendary character, steeped in the myth and lore of the west, and once again, make him human.

This post is part of the Tyrone Power Centennial Blogathon, celebrating the 100th anniversary of this cinematic legend. A special thanks to Lady Eve’s Real Life and They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To for hosting such a wonderful event. Don’t forget to check out all the posts on Tyrone Power and his glorious career.

 

 

Pushover (1954)- Richard Quine

 ★★★

 

“Pushover” (1954) is a film noir, skillfully directed by Richard Quine, and adapted for the screen by Roy Huggins. The story is based on two separate novels, “The Night Watch” by Thomas Walsh and “Rafferty” written by Lester White.Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in "Pushover" (1954) The quick developing story revolves around a bank robbery that takes place during the opening credits, masterminded by gangster Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards). Wheeler has a young girlfriend, Lona (Kim Novak), who the police are watching carefully. In fact, Lieutenant Eckstrom (E.G. Marshall) has sent in Detective Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) to get to know her more “intimately”. Sheridan quickly falls for Lona, and it doesn’t take much convincing (once she figures out he is a cop) for the two to conspire to kill Wheeler and run off with the $200,000 in robbery money. The problems arise when Sheridan is seen in Lona’s apartment by a neighbor (Dorothy Malone), who happens to be the voyeuristic object of affection of Sheridan’s partner (Philip Carey). Sheridan’s plan also runs into a few problems when another police officer (Allen Nourse) figures out that Sheridan has more on his mind than just law and order.

When watching “Pushover”, one can’t help but make comparisons to “Double Indemnity” (1944). Obviously they both star MacMurray, but even with a different actor, the plots would still seem similar, with the attractive “bad girl” convincing the upright man to kill for love and/or money.Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in "Pushover" (1954) “Pushover” is nowhere near the same calibre of film as “Double Indemnity”, but it’s unfair to compare any film to the greatness of “Double Indemnity”. The truth is, all the faults of “Pushover” are forgivable. It runs a fast 88 minutes, which doesn’t leave enough time to develop things properly. The result is a “love” motivated story that feels more like one about sex, attraction, and a love of money than actual love. In fact all the characters are enigmas, hiding their true feeling from the audience. Everything is kept in the dark when it comes to the motivations of pretty much everyone, and in the final reel we are expected to believe whatever happens, and just take it at face value. Richard Quine directs this film with a skill that benefits the plot holes. He keeps things moving with excitement and suspense, so that the audience doesn’t even have time to start asking questions, or even trying to understand which relationships are real. Pushover (1954)It’s only later that you can look back and start to really think about what you watched.

I don’t typically have a problem with young actresses and their on-screen romances with older men, but in “Pushover” I had a difficult time believing that these two leading players had any real spark between them. Don’t get me wrong, each plays their individual roles perfectly, but together they seem to be on different pages. Novak was only 21 when “Pushover” was released, while MacMurray, 25 years her senior, was almost 46. A different casting choice (for either part) would have fared well.

With so many film noir’s in the 1940’s and 1950’s, some of the smaller ones can get lost in the shuffle. “Pushover” falls somewhere in the middle, where overall quality is concerned, but because of an almost unexplainable entertainment, it ends up in the category of “worth watching”- it just could have been better.