You’ll Never Get Rich (1941)- Sidney Lanfield

 ★★★★

 

Fred Astaire: The greatest male dancer in the history of film. Does that sound about right? Sure you can make the argument for Gene Kelly, but since he was adamant about Astaire being the best, I’m not going to argue with him.You'll Never Get Rich (1941) Throughout Astaire’s career he appeared in musicals with many of the top stars of his time, like Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Paulette Goddard, Jane Powell, Audrey Hepburn, Majorie Reynolds, Eleanor Powell, and of course, Ginger Rogers. What is amazing about Fred Astaire in these films is that time and time again he electrifies the screen with his graceful beauty, no matter who is dancing next to him. Occasionally, there would be a co-star who did more than that- someone who could give as much to the chemistry of the number as they took away, and that is when you can see the magic happen. It worked with Ginger Rogers during “Cheek to Cheek” in “Top Hat” (1935), and again during “Pick Yourself Up” in their film “Swing Time” (1936). Cyd Charisse did some of her best dancing along side him during “The Girl Hunt Ballet” and “Dancing in the Dark” in “The Band Wagon” (1953). You'll Never Get Rich (1941)Eleanor Powell is invigorating with Astaire during “Begin the Beguine” in “The Broadway Melody of 1940” (1940), and of course, there was that hat rack during “Sunday Jumps” in “Royal Wedding” (1951). And then there were those two films he made at Columbia Pictures alongside up-and-comer Rita Hayworth- now there’s a match made in heaven.

In their first film together, “You’ll Never Get Rich” (1941), Fred Astaire plays Robert, a theater manager and choreographer working for a womanizing theater owner, Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley). Cortland is trying to attract his new chorus girl, Sheila (Hayworth), but when his wife (Frieda Inescort) finds a diamond bracelet with Sheila’s name inscribed, Cortland pretends he bought it for Robert to give to Sheila instead. You'll Never Get Rich (1941)Robert, being the obliging friend, plays along and goes out in public with Sheila, who is delighted to have Robert’s attention, until she discovers that it’s all just for show.

The situation worsens when Sheila’s long-time admirer, Barton (John Hubbard), comes to town, and Robert finds himself looking to escape an embarrassing scene. The answer to his problems comes from an unusual source, as he is drafted into the Army, and finds himself happy to run away from this ever-increasingly difficult situation.

Once in the army, with time for thought and reflection on his hands, Robert decides that he really does have feelings for Sheila, and longs to see her again. Then, in Hollywood fashion, his dreams are answered as Sheila just happens to come stay at a farm nearby the Army barracks. Why you might ask? You'll Never Get Rich (1941)Because her would-be-suitor Barton is actually Robert’s superior officer! Imagine that.

Alright, so the plot couldn’t be much more ridiculous or Hollywood driven, but do we really watch Fred Astaire movies because of the outstanding plots? No, we come for the dancing, and that it where “You’ll Never Get Rich” shines. The film is filled with songs intended to showcase Astaire, but the only solo numbers that really stand out are when he is in the guardhouse and does some fancy footwork to the jazz music created by his fellow inmates. The real memorable numbers are the ones where Astaire and Hayworth get together. Just a few minutes into the film Robert accuses Sheila of being “off” during a chorus number and he pulls her out of line to go through it with him. Rita Hayworth and Fred AstaireThis is the moment that the audience begins to pay attention. Hayworth steps up next to Astaire and dances as his equal. Perhaps it’s because it’s unexpected for a “lesser known” actress to be able to handle herself so well, but for whatever reason, it is Hayworth that captivates us for these few moments.

Unfortunately for the film, these moments don’t continue. The legendary Cole Porter wrote the music and lyrics for this film, and clearly it is not his best work. Most of the film is spent focused on Astaire’s dancing, distracting us from the lack of musical greatness in the songs. It’s not until the film’s climax that we get another stimulating Astaire/Hayward number, but it clearly is worth the wait. Porter wrote the number, “So Near and Yet So Far,” with a rumba melody in order to accentuate Hayworth’s natural talents, but cleverly ties in a ballroom dance feel, giving this one number an original and highly captivates allure. Rita Hayworth and Fred AstaireThe two appear to be having the time of their lives dancing together- and the feeling is quite contagious.

Overall, “You’ll Never Get Rich” isn’t a spectacular movie. It has its ups and downs, but is still worth watching just to see these two screen icons together. The real shame of the situation is that they only rejoined once more.
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Hulu Tuesday: I Married a Witch (1942)- Rene Clair

 ★★★★

 

“Love is stronger than witchcraft.” That is the theme behind Rene Clair’s 1942 supernatural comedy, “I Married a Witch”. The film opens in Colonial Salem, Massachusetts, as two accused witches (a young woman and her father) are being burned at the stake. Their accuser is Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March), a well-respected puritan. I Married a Witch (1942)As the fire rages in front of him, Jonathan explains to another woman that just before burning the young woman, she placed a curse upon him and all his descendants to be unlucky in marriage. Appropriately concerned, Jonathan buries their ashes and plants a tree above them, in an attempt to “imprison their evil spirits”.

While the tree might keep the spirits away, it does nothing to help with the curse, as each and every generation of Wooley men (always played by Fredric March) seem to be involved in the worst possible marriages. Finally, in 1942, there is a storm on the eve of another ill-advised Wooley marriage. I Married a Witch (1942)This time the descendant, Wallace Wooley, is marrying Estelle (Susan Hayward), the daughter of his political backer (Robert Warwick). During the storm, lightning strikes the tree on the Wooley estate, releasing the witches’ spirits.

Now our two witches, Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and Daniel (Cecil Kellaway), have taken human form and are ready to exact revenge on the Wooley family once and for all. When Jennifer meets Wallace, however, she has a change of heart and decides to save him from marrying Estelle. She sets out to win his affections and love any way possible, but gets more than she bargained for when her father, still hell-bent on the destruction of the Wooley family, uses everything in his powers to keep them apart.

One of the original producers on “I Married a Witch” was Preston Sturges, although he ended up quitting and having his named removed, due to differences with director Rene Clair. I Married a Witch (1942)His name might be gone, but his style remains. This feels like a Sturges film from beginning to end, with its original story, whimsical dialogue, and of course, a triumphant love story that defies all odds and logic.

Veronica Lake is perfect in this role. Even those who find her to be whiny and lacking of any acting talent, must see that this particular role only works because she seems so juvenile and immature. Even her co-star Fredric March called Lake, “a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability.” In many ways he was right. Lake then responded by calling March a “pompous poseur.” Again, she may be right too. In an ironic way, the beauty of their relationship in the film and the chemistry between these characters is reliant on them acting exactly this way. I Married a Witch (1942)A smart, sophisticated witch wouldn’t find herself in this situation. It’s because she acts like a child that we enjoy her so much. She’s a hopeless romantic witch, who actually believes in love at first sight.

March was not the original choice for this role, as Joel McCrea was initially in line. He chose to skip this film because working with Lake again, after “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), was more than he could bear. Fortunately this worked out for the best, as an actor with natural comic charm like McCrea wouldn’t have come off near as well as March. His character seems confused and disillusioned about his surroundings. It almost seems as if he’s not sure that he’s in the right movie. He doesn’t understand his own feelings toward Jennifer, and even seems surprised that he is attracted to her. It is March’s ability to be a “pompous poseur” that creates the humor of their relationship. I’m sorry they didn’t like each other, but am thrilled with the effect it had on their characters relationships in the film.

Often times movies that are plagued with so much off-screen turmoil, end up being easily forgettable. Somehow despite all the problems, “I Married a Witch” is an endearing classic that still delights, even today.

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New Release Round-Up! July 30th, 2013

We have arrived! That lull in the summer release schedule is over and it is time to have movies to choose from once again. There are more choices this week, as well as an increase in overall quality of the films. We will receive a new addition to The Criterion Collection, as well as blu-ray debuts from some of the most interesting directors of all time, including Budd Boetticher, Otto Preminger, Henry Hathaway and Anthony Mann. It is so nice to once again have to decide what to watch. What will you be watching this week?

  • “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001): The Devil's Backbone (2001)Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro wowed and amazed with this ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War. A home for orphaned boys is run by an elderly woman and her friend, who both side with the Republican loyalists. The estates also has a caretaker, however, who is a mean-spirited young man, hiding dark secrets at every turn. This amazing film is being introduced into The Criterion Collection, and is a must see for fans of the genre. There is so much more to this film than one might expect. Included in this release (particularly the blu-ray edition) are a plethora of bonus features, including a commentary from director del Toro.

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  • “Niagara” (1953): Niagara (1953)Marilyn Monroe made films for almost every genre, but few are as acclaimed as this film noir from director Henry Hathaway. The story revolves around a newlywed couple on their honeymoon and another couple at a crossroads in their marriage, who also happen to be staying at the same motel. The two couples converge in a story filled with sexuality, mystery, adventure and danger- not to mention the second greatest dress of Marilyn’s career. This movie also stars Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters and Casey Adams.

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  • “Bus Stop” (1956):Bus Stop (1956) Two blu-ray debuts for Marilyn in one week! This character drama from director Joshua Logan is one of Marilyn’s most acclaimed performances, as she plays a wandering singer/dancer trying to make her way to California. Don Murray plays a Montana rancher, leaving his ranch for the first time in over a decade. He has absolutely no experience with women, but everything changes the moment these two misfits meet. He wants to take her home, but she wants him to leave. Which strong-willed person will win?

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  • “That Touch of Mink” (1962): That Touch of Mink (1962)Cary Grant, Doris Day and Gig Young star in this romantic comedy about a millionaire who has finally met his match in the tender career woman. This film is memorable as being the last of the Cary Grant “womanizing films”, but lacks some in the comedy aspect. It’s still worth seeing, and the DVD quality has always been so disappointing that it is truly exciting to finally see this film in a remastered edition.

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  • “G.I. Joe Retaliation” (2013): G.I. Joe Retaliation (2012)Guns, bombs, explosions, mayhem and some of the most muscle-bound, heart-throbs out there. Directed by John M. Chu, and based on the Hasbro action figure, this is the sequel to 2009’s “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra”. This next installment, which has received pretty bad reviews, stars Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson, as well as other huge men who find different ways to take off their shirts. I think this film may have been made expressly to cater to both men for the action and women for the stars.

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  • “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986): Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)This 80’s classic from director Francis Ford Coppola is about a middle-aged woman who has recently separated from her husband, after being married since high school. Now she is going to attend her 25-year reunion, but when things get awkward, she faints. When she awakens, Peggy Sue finds that she has been transported back in time to the glory days of high school, giving her life a second chance. Kathleen Turner stars in an Academy Award nominated performance, but the cast includes many up and comers, such as Nicholas Cage, Joan Allen, Helen Hunt and Jim Carrey.

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  • “Black Rock” (2012): Black Rock (2012)This horror film is about three women (Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and the film’s director, Katie Aselton) who travel to a remote island in order to rekindle a distancing friendship. On the island, they meet three discharged soldiers (Jay Paulson, Will Bouvier and Anslem Richardson). At first the six hit things off, but soon things turn for the worse when one of the men is killed,  and the remaining two begin hunting the three women.

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  • “The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell” (1955): The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)American General Billy Mitchell is being court-martialled for openly complaining about his superiors. Based on a true story, this Otto Preminger film stars Gary Cooper, Charles Bickford, Ralph Bellamy and Rod Steiger, and has received positive reviews, particularly for the acting and directing. Then again, when does Otto Preminger make a movie that isn’t interesting, and when does Gary Cooper ever do a bad acting job?

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  • “Angel and the Badman” (1947): Angel and the Badman (1947)Any week with a John Wayne movie western is a good week, right? Wayne stars as an injured gunfighter and the Quaker girl (played by Gail Russell) who nurses him back to health. This is a wonderful western film that has been almost unwatchable due to the poor quality of the print. It is truly exciting to see this classic get the blu-ray treatment this week.

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  • “Love Me Tender” (1956): Love Me Tender (1956)Elvis Presley made his film debut in this western musical that also stars Richard Egan and Debra Paget. The plot revolves around a family with four sons during the Civil War. The three eldest go off to fight, but the youngest (Presley) stays home to take care of the family and land. Incorrect news is received that the eldest brother has died, and eventually the youngest son marries his brother’s girl. When everyone returns home, passions are ignited in a family that is forever torn apart.

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  • “Bullfighter and the Lady” (1951): Bullfighter and the Lady (1951)From legendary director Budd Boetticher comes this drama film about the dangerous profession of bullfighting. Starring Robert Stack, Joy Page, Virginia Grey and Katy Jurado, “Bullfighter and the Lady” was shot on location in Mexico, and Boetticher used a unique, semi-documentary approach, making this film a memorable look into a sport that is loved and feared around the world.

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  • “God’s Little Acre” (1958):God's Little Acre (1958) Based on the controversial best seller by Erskine Caldwell, this Anthony Mann directed film is about a man obsessed with finding gold thought to be buried by his grandfather, years before. At the same time, his daughter-in-law is suspected of having an affair with a politically controversial “worker” in town. Upon this film’s release, no one under the age of eighteen was admitted to the theaters for the lured subject matter, and after years of neglect, it has finally found its way to blu-ray, giving audiences just cause to be excited.

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Wagon Master (1950)- John Ford

 ★★★★

 

Nobody makes a western like John Ford. It almost seems as if he didn’t even have to try hard to excel in an area where so many others failed. How does he continually find ways to make film after film, full of similar themes with many of the same actors, often times situated in the same vicinity, without any of them lacking in any way? Wagon Master (1950)Seriously, each of his films brings something new to the western genre, while constantly raising the bar for all of those who would follow. Which brings us to his 1950 film, “Wagon Master”.

The story is fairly straight forward- two young horse wranglers, Travis (Ben Johnson) and Sandy (Harry Carrey Jr.), get hired to lead a wagon train of Mormons, headed by Elder Wiggs (Ward Bond), to their very own promised land in the San Juan Valley. Along the way, the wagon train first encounters the stranded traveling medicine show run by Dr. Hall (Alan Mobray), which prominently features the attractive and feisty Denver (Joanne Dru). Next, they run into a ruthless gang of cutthroats on the run from the law. This group is run by “Uncle” Clegg (Charles Kemper), and also includes several of his unsavory kin, causing trouble at every turn. The final obstacle in the journey are the Indians, although they cause less trouble here than they do in most other John Ford films.

Wagon Master (1950)“Wagon Master” doesn’t look like other westerns from its time- even John Ford westerns. “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” was released in October of 1948, with “Rio Grande” coming in November of 1950. Somewhere in between these two Ford legendary films, he managed to make the smaller looking (but not feeling) “Wagon Master”, not to mention his comedy, “When Willie Comes Marching Home”, released just two months earlier. The real question is, how did he find the time? The entire shoot took less than 30 days, and the budget was quite small comparatively. Ford actually seems to have made an entire film, from conception to completion, in his “spare” time. Unbelievable.

When watching “Wagon Master”, I can’t help but think that Clint Eastwood must love this film. Start with a couple of loners wandering aimlessly through the vastness of the west. They meet a group with which they have no connection or understanding, but are drawn toward them anyway, possibly because one of the girls catches Sandy’s eye.Wagon Master (1950) Then comes the Dr. and his crew, who are looked down on by the Mormons, but not by Travis. Clegg’s gang are unwelcome, but because the Mormons, and even Travis and Sandy, aren’t gunslingers, they let them stay out of a combination of kindness and fear. This must be one of the most unusual groups ever assembled in a western film, and my memory is instantly drawn to Eastwood in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976), or even his modern-day spin on a cowboy in “Bronco Billy” (1980). Misfits who find a family in each other.

John Ford knows that any story can be great with the proper background, and he (and Bert Glennon’s cinematography) have transported us back to another time and place entirely. The black and white photography was an interesting choice at this point in Ford’s career, but it works wonders.Wagon Master (1950) The landscape looks great and compliments the film, but doesn’t take anything away from the characters or the performers- just the way it should.

As a final thought, I can’t help but notice how realistic “Wagon Master” seems. Ford takes out the clichés that so many other westerns fell into. Our “heroes” aren’t what you would expect, as their priority is on everyone in the wagon train’s safety, instead of law and order. The lawmen aren’t amazing trackers who easily find the Clegg gang, and the Indians don’t just attack because they see a white man. Everything moves at a slower pace, with many scenes being set by the beat of the song that the Mormons are singing. It is a true character western, dealing with the soul of the people more than the adventure they have undertaken.
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Never Say Never Again (1983)- Irvin Kershner

★★

 

James Bond #14: “Never Say Never Again” (1983)

Just four short months after the release of “Octopussy” (1983), another film studio attempted to make an independent Bond film. Not only that, it’s a Bond film based on the Ian Fleming novel, “Thunderball,” which had already been made into a film in 1965. Why would someone do this? Perhaps they thought they could adapt the story better, or maybe it was because they thought the world was ready to experience a different kind of Bond film. I, on the other hand, think that it was all about the money. Never Say Never Again (1983)Kevin McClory was one of the original story writers on Thunderball, well before the film series ever took shape. After years of legal disputes, McClory was given the legal right to make a Bond film based on his contributions to the story, and thus “Never Say Never Again” was born. Add to the mix Sean Connery, on the outs with the Eon Bond group, eager to prove he could still deliver in the role he originated. The result is a vaguely familiar film full of action, humor and women- much like all the other Bond films. The difference, however, between this film and all its predecessors is that something just feels wrong.

The story (which you might remember) involves British Secret Service agent James Bond (Sean Connery) uncovering a plot to steal nuclear warheads, in order to hold the world ransom. The plot is headed by our old friend, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (magnificently portrayed by Max von Sydow), but it’s a senior member of SPECTRE, Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who does the dirty work.Never say Never Again (1983) Part of his nefarious scheme revolves around a United States Air Force pilot named Jack (Gavan O’Herlihy), who Largo’s henchman, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), has made reliant on heroin in order to keep him under their control. Also, just to make sure Jack helps steal the warheads, Largo has taken his sister, Domino (Kim Basinger), and has her held as a hostage (although she thinks that Largo and her are in love). Bond is charged with finding the warheads and retrieving them, and he also makes it his own mission to save Domino for himself.

The story of “Never Say Never Again” isn’t bad, and the changes that have been made all seem to work. The basic plot was always good, in fact the only real problem with “Thunderball” was the excess of underwater filming sequences that drag the film’s pace down incredibly. Where “Never Say Never Again” seems to misfires is with their poor attempts to be different. All Bond films (and most action ones) need  a certain amount of comic relief. This one, however, took that way too far. Never Say Never Again (1983)Almost every scene seems to be filled with a desire to make the audience smile, instead of just letting them be entertained.

The acting in this film ranges from good to down-right awful. Some actors (like von Sydow)  look the part but don’t having enough screen time. Also deserving of recognition is Brandauer, who has become one of the most memorable Bond villains simply due to his stylish, but insane personality. On the other hand, Carrera does a fair share of over-acting and comes off more creepy than evil, and Basinger seems to be here only for her looks and nothing more. It’s not that Basinger is bad, but she wasn’t given a role that allowed her to excel. The smaller roles seem to be cast with amateur role players, all still trying to gain experience.

Sean Connery is a great James Bond. There is no denying how comfortably he fits right into a role he hadn’t played in over a decade. However, at this point in his career, he just seems older and worn down. Never Say Never Again (1983)The action scenes look painful for him, and it even appears that all strenuous activity (except for the scenes with his various women) has been kept to a minimum. Oddly enough, Roger Moore is older than Sean Connery, but he doesn’t look nearly as worn out.

By the end of “Never Say Never Again,” the bad points of the film tend to outweigh the good. It also leaves a sour taste simply because it feels (and accurately should) like a film we have already seen. I read once that in the mid 1990’s they had considered making this same story again, but thankfully that never happened. I guess someone else realized that twice was plenty.

Here are the statistics for “Never Say Never Again,” as well as a running total from all 14 films:

  • Number of people James Bond kills:Never Say Never Again (1983) 3- We certainly cut the violence down in this film, but mostly just for Bond. Plenty of guys die, it just isn’t Bond doing the killing. Total number killed through 14 films: 246
  • Number of times we hear “Bond, James Bond”: 1 Total thus far: 15
  • Number of women who succumb to Bond: 4- This time around we have Nurse Fearing (Prunella Gee), the villainous Fatima (Barbara Carrera), a fishing woman (Valerie Leon), and finally Domino (Kim Basinger). Total women: 37
  • “Never Say Never Again” theme song:Never Say Never Again (1983)Forgettable, unexciting and all around boring. This theme written by the film composer Michel Legrand, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is as bad as they come. The song is sung by Lani Hall, but only because their first choice, Bonnie Tyler, disliked it and passed. If only someone would have taken that as a sign.

James Bond will return (and so will Lasso the Movies) in “A View to a Kill” (1985).

For more James Bond fun, be sure to check out:

“Dr. No” (1962)

“From Russia with Love” (1963)

“Goldfinger” (1964)

“Thunderball” Never Say Never Again (1983)(1965)

“You Only Live Twice” (1967)

“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969)

“Diamonds Are Forever” (1971)

“Live and Let Die” (1973)

“The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974)

“The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)

“Moonraker” Never Say Never Again (1983)(1979)

“For Your Eyes Only” (1981)

“Octopussy” (1983)

“A View to a Kill” (1985)

“The Living Daylights” (1987)

“License to Kill” (1989)

“Goldeneye”Never Say Never Again (1983) (1995)

“Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997)

“The World is Not Enough” (1999)

“Die Another Day” (2002)

“Casino Royale” (2006)

“Quantum of Solace” (2008)

“Skyfall” (2012)

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Only Angels Have Wings (1939)- Howard Hawks

 ★★★★★

 

In the fictional, banana loving town of Barranca in South America, pilot and businessman Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) is running an air service, delivering the mail through the Andes Mountains. Only Angels Have Wings (1939)The company is owned by “Dutchy” (Sig Ruman) who also runs the hotel, restaurant, bar and the various pilots waiting to be sent out. Dutchy has secured a lucrative, long-term future contract, if they can continue to deliver the mail on schedule. With only a week to go things are looking good, but the pilots are becoming scarce, and the weather is getting worse.

A wandering entertainer, Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur), steps off a boat for a drink, and finds herself mesmerized by the pilots and the adventurous world that surrounds them; well, that and the debonaire Carter. Only Angels Have Wings (1939)Even though he told her it’s no good, she stays in town, procuring herself a room and attempting to win over his affections. She tries to be understanding to his way of life, but really, how could she be, as these pilots seem to make life damaging decisions at every turn. Things are further complicated when a replacement pilot named MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess) shows up and turns out to be a somewhat infamous pilot that once bailed from his plane, leaving his mechanic behind to die. The mechanic was Carter’s best friend and fellow pilot, “Kid’s”, younger brother. None of the other pilots will work with him (or talk to him), but Carter, in desperate need of more fliers, hires him on the stipulation that he’s willing to fly any cargo- any time- anywhere. Only Angels Have Wings (1939)Of course, perhaps another reason he keeps MacPherson around is that his wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth), is his former flame.

What begins as a half-hearted melodrama changes course somewhere in the second reel to become a masterfully crafted film. At the start the dialogue seems misguided, the actors look a little lost, but then everyone seems to hit their stride. The story was written by Howard Hawks, based on several different experiences that he encountered while working on other aviation films. Some of the dialogue was taken directly from conversations that Hawks witnessed while spending time among the fliers of South America,Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and since Hawks served as both producer and director, he was very much in control and able to create the exact picture he envisioned. Well, that is except for the performance of Jean Arthur, who adamantly refused to play the role with the smoldering sexuality that Hawks desired. The story goes that they fought constantly about her character on the set, and Hawks even told her that he would one day write the character again, and get it right. The story also goes that after the release of Howard Hawks “To Have or Have Not” (1944) starring Laurel Bacall, Hawks arrived home to find Jean Arthur in his front yard. Arthur told Hawks that she had just seen his new film and that she now fully understands what he was looking for from her.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)Personally I feel that her character didn’t need that element, primarily because up-and-comer Rita Hayworth brought plenty of sexuality to the film, and since the two characters aren’t fighting over the same man, there ended up being a contrast between their characters, not a clichéd feuding.

The real star of the picture, however, is Cary Grant. Sure Grant was already popular and charming, but prior to “Only Angels Have Wings,” his films required a leading lady who often times would over shadow Grant- Irene Dunne in “The Awful Truth” (1937) and Katharine Hepburn in both “Bringing Up Baby” (1938) and “Holiday” (1938).Only Angels Have Wings (1939) This is the first Cary Grant film where he seems to take charge and make everyone else try to creep out of his shadow.

Adding to the overall splendor of this film are the supporting actors who do exactly that- they support. Star of the silent screen, Richard Barthelmess, had a career on the down-slide. Talking films just didn’t open doors for him, but yet this performance brings his talents into the spotlight once again. Perhaps it’s because much of his acting is done with his eyes- in fact his scarred eyes, as a botched facial surgery left Only Angels Have Wings (1939)him with X-shaped scars under each eye, which Hawks choose to leave, adding to his characters thick, multi-layered background story.

Thomas Mitchell is always great, and this film is no exception. 1939 was a busy year for Mitchell, who found himself not only in this staple of American cinema, but also in three films nominated for Best Picture, “Gone with the Wind,”“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (alongside Jean Arthur again) and “Stagecoach,” which won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Not that he wasn’t brilliant in “Stagecoach,” but when one actor has four roles all this memorable, in one year, it’s hard not to give him the award.

Rita Hayworth wasn’t necessarily Hawks’s choice for this role. Only Angels Have Wings (1939)That decision came from up top, where Hayworth was considered a “valuable commodity” in need of a breakout role. It turns out she got exactly that. Hayworth isn’t a major part of the film, but she is certainly memorable when she’s there. Her screen presence is undeniable, and anything that she lacks in acting ability, she makes up for in screen charisma.

“Only Angels Have Wings” was nominated for two Academy Awards: one for Best Effects Special Effects (Roy Davidson & Edwin C. Hahn), and one for Best Cinematography Black and White (Joseph Walker). Both of these nominations were highly deserving, but it’s important to point out that the best cinematography of the film is during the aerial sequences, which were in fact done by Paul Metz.Only Angels Have Wings (1939) These scenes stand out in the film, and are just as memorable as any of the performances.

The main reason “Only Angels Have Wings” is still such a historic film is that it proves that if every aspect is done properly- if everybody involved gives their best, a film can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone for years to come.
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Hulu Tuesday- The Spy in Black (1939)- Michael Powell

 ★★★★

 

Their’s is one of the most treasured and historic film partnerships of all time, as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (forever remembered as “The Archers”) collaborated to make many films together during their illustrious careers. The Spy in Black (1939)A large number of these films are still considered to be some of the finest ever created, such as “49th Parallel” aka “The Invaders” in America (1941), “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (1943), “A Canterbury Tale” (1944), “I Know Where I’m Going” (1945), “A Matter of Life and Death” (1946), “Black Narcissus” (1947) and “The Red Shoes” (1948). Before they could be brilliant, however, they had to meet, work and thrive together on a smaller scale. And that brings us to the 1939 WWI film, “The Spy in Black.”

Based on the novel written by J. Storer Couston, and published in 1917, “The Spy in Black” (released in the United States as “U-Boat 29”) tells the story of a German U-Boat Captain (Conrad Veidt), who during WWI is sent on a secret mission in the Orkney Islands near Hoy. His top-secret mission involves navigating his U-boat through the mine field, and then traveling by motorcycle to a small schoolhouse. The Spy in Black (1939)There he will make contact with an agent posing as a schoolteacher (Valerie Hobson). She will then connect him to a disgruntled British Lieutenant (Sebastian Shaw), who is actually a traitor sent to reveal the location of the British Fleet for the German U-Boat to destroy. With a mission as secret as this, there’s no telling who you should trust, and it is certain that everyone’s plans will fall apart.

The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 was original set up to enhance the British film industry. The idea was to require British theaters to show a certain percentage of British films each year, thus increasing the number of British movies that would be made. Unfortunately, that didn’t exactly happen. Low-cost, poor-quality films were mass-produced in order to meet these demands, and because of the disappointing overall quality, they soon became known as “quota quickies.” The Spy in Black (1939)The majority of these films are easily forgettable, but “The Spy in Black” is an exception.

Yes, this film has a cheaper feel, but despite the lack of high-quality production value, this film rises above itself to become more. The story helps, with its interesting basic plot- enhanced by twists and turns around every corner. The acting is decently acceptable, especially Conrad Veidt, who play the part with an inspiring combination of sympathy and patriotism. Why is that impressive? Because he’s a German Captain attempting to slyly take down an entire fleet single-handedly. It’s not easy to create sympathy from that type of character, yet somehow he does.

The real beauty of the film, however, lays in the direction. Here you have an 82 minute spy film with twists and confusion everywhere, but the story doesn’t alienate the audience. The Spy in Black (!939)It flows well, keeping everything easy to follow. The downfall of many espionage films is that they are either too complex- losing the audience in the confusion, or they are too simple- becoming predictable or boring. “The Spy in Black” avoids this pitfall because Michael Powell, even at this early stage in his career, was a better director than most. He simplifies without losing any heart, and he takes the basic raw materials he has been given and creates a film that is both entertaining and believable.

Is this as good as the later Archer films? Certainly not, but they had to start somewhere, and when a beginning works this well, it’s no wonder their careers soared so high.
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