Theme for June 2017

With a plan like this, how could anything possibly go wrong?

 

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Saturday June 3, 2017

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), with Barbara Stanwyck. Studio/production company: Paramount.

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Saturday June 10, 2017

PURPLE NOON (1960), with Alain Delon. Studio/production company: Titanus/Miramax.

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Saturday June 17, 2017

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974), with Walter Matthau. Studio/production company: UA.

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Saturday June 24, 2017

A SIMPLE PLAN (1999), with Bill Paxton. Studio/production company: Paramount.

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Coming up in June

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Movie siblings…he’s not heavy, he’s my brother.

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Unusual themes…movie combinations you might never have considered.

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Visiting the set…memories of my visits to different Hollywood sets.

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Three men and a bag of money…who does it belong to and how can they keep it?

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A classic philosophy…what does it all mean?

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Join me in June!

Essential: GREAT DAY (1945)

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Flora Robson and Eric Porter star as a middle-aged couple in England during the Second World War. GREAT DAY was filmed in Britain by RKO and was released in April 1945, while the war was still going on. However, it did not have its American release until a year and a half later, in the fall of 1946, quite some time after the war had ended. As a result, it probably didn’t resonate with U.S. audiences the way it did when it was first seen in Europe.

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Robson and Porter are of course, brilliant. Porter is a man living in the past, still trying to live off the glory of his military service in WWI. He is struggling to step out of the shadows. In direct contrast to this, his wife lives in the present and finds fulfillment in their small community working with other wives as part of the Women’s Institute. For those who do not know, the Women’s Institute was a domestic organisation that turned agricultural products into ‘care packages’ sent to soldiers fighting abroad. The recent short-lived television series Home Fires is also about the British Women’s Institute; in that story, the women were known for making jam.

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The film also features the couple’s daughter caught up in a rather unlikely love triangle. She has been offered marriage by a much older man who promises financial security; but her heart really belongs to a poor soldier her own age. In addition to the main family, we see other families in the community– especially the other wives that Robson’s character interacts with as they prepare for a special arrival.

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The arrival involves Eleanor Roosevelt. Supposedly the American first lady is visiting England, and she would like to see how the Women’s Institute of this particular community does its charitable work. Mrs. Roosevelt’s impending visit is announced at the very beginning of the story; and she does not show up until the end– just out of camera range, naturally. In the meanwhile, the women try to determine the best way to prepare for Mrs. Roosevelt’s arrival. There are several petty squabbles and various bits of gossip that threaten to disrupt their solidarity.

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What makes GREAT DAY work so well is how humanised the women are in the story. Yes, it’s a propaganda piece, but its less about ideals and more about presenting the characters with realism. We are definitely supposed to feel patriotic at the end, and I think the filmmakers do a good job instilling such feelings in us. It’s a unique snapshot in time, just as it was when it was first screened in the U.S. after the war had been won, and the women had gone back to their regular routines. Though I am sure they had many more great days ahead.

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GREAT DAY is directed by Lance Comfort.

Essential: TENDER COMRADE (1943)

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A lot can be said about the communism screenwriter Dalton Trumbo appears to have ‘inserted’ into the film. I don’t disagree with those who say it is there– in a story where a group of women during wartime share a communal living space. Trumbo took a traditional women’s melodrama with a theme about home front efforts, and he used it to talk about fascism in America. Of course, for most of the audience, such ideas went sailing over their heads. And for those had a vague understanding of Trumbo’s goals, they didn’t quite glob on to the bigger picture. During the postwar era Trumbo and his pals– including the director of this film– paid dearly for exploring such issues in TENDER COMRADE.

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I’ve read reviews that zero in on Ginger Rogers’ performance as well as the performance of her leading man Robert Ryan. I didn’t have a problem with either one of them, though some of their scenes are a bit corny. Ryan even has a line where he refuses to let Rogers know the contents of a love note he wrote to her, since he admits it was sappy.

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Some reviewers have commented on the other women Rogers shares a house with in the movie. I’d say Ruth Hussey probably has the best supporting role, playing a lonely wife who tries to justify her unfaithfulness. She gets a few showy scenes, and these moments actually take the focus away from Rogers. Also, a very young Kim Hunter does a swell job as a newlywed, especially in scenes near the end when her character’s husband returns from combat. I didn’t particularly care for Mady Christians’ stereotypical German housekeeper. Trumbo should be blamed for making her a cliched foreigner with a thick accent and predictable comments about her homeland. Most of the housekeeper’s dialogue is unintentionally funny. She’s best when she’s off screen.

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There aren’t many factory scenes. We get one sequence near the beginning of the film, with Ginger riding a forklift in front of a process shot, acknowledging the other women working with her. Hussey has a brief moment riveting, then we cut to a lunch break where they all decide to pool their money to rent a house together. We’re led to believe this is a story about women in modern day America where women feel the effects of war after their loved ones have been taken away from them.

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There are some interesting speeches where they complain about rationing, or about having to do their part while the men are gone fighting. The film launches into very lengthy flashbacks that focus on the romance between Rogers and Ryan. It is almost like Trumbo couldn’t figure out whether to set it in the time right before the war or in the present day. I suspect extra flashbacks were added to increase Ryan’s screen time, since he was an RKO star in the making, and his character is sent off to war and otherwise never seen again.

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Finally, I want to comment on how anti-climactic the ending is. As you can see, even the film’s title card indicates the husband has died. During the film, when the editors prepare us for one of the many romantic flashbacks, there are screen dissolves that show the couple walking in some heavenly realm. It is very obvious he will be killed, long before she receives the telegram informing her about his death. Though I must say the scene where she sets the telegram down and lifts the baby out of the crib and “introduces” him to his father (in a picture frame) is very poignant. After she sets the baby back into the crib, she realizes she will have to keep her chin up and move forward. And I suppose when women saw the film and left the theater, they were trying to keep their chins up, too.

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TENDER COMRADE is directed by Edward Dmytryk and airs occasionally on TCM.

Essential: THE GENTLE SEX (1943)

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The voice-over narration, provided by director Leslie Howard, tells us the ladies in the story are ‘gentle women.’ And 90 minutes later, as the film ends, they have become indispensable to the war effort. While developing skills, they’ve turned gentle into something less fragile (and much stronger) in order to survive.

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It all starts with seven women from different walks of life on their way to a training camp. They have volunteered to join a branch of the British Army known as the Auxiliary Territorial Service. The women speak with regional dialects, representing various parts of Great Britain. One gal is from Scotland; and another is of French origin, who fled her native country when the Nazis killed her family. Gradually their differences are downplayed as they become a team. Despite individual quirks, they are all united in a common goal and singular outcome– victory.

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The film has a sort of historical value other studio pictures lack. For instance, there are several sequences where we watch the women undergo rigorous military exercises. These seem to be recreations of actual drills and have a semidocumentary feel.

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After the women have finished their training, the later portion of the story shows them driving trucks and using aircraft that takes them right into combat. Those scenes of the film are much more interesting and also have a non-fictional feel. There’s even a great part where some of the main characters talk to an elderly woman who describes her duties during WWI, claiming she was shot in the shoulder during the first war.

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Six weeks after THE GENTLE SEX premiered its director Leslie Howard was killed. He was only 50 years old. There are various theories about the cause of his death. Whatever the reason for Leslie Howard’s untimely demise, it’s clear his last film is a testament to his belief in a free world. Also, the film reflects the ways in which he appreciates women. In this regard, the whole picture is a declaration of love to the ladies on the battlefront as well as the ones in the audience who might be watching. They believe that working together is what leads them towards overcoming adversity.

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THE GENTLE SEX can be streamed on YouTube.

Essential: THE WAR AGAINST MRS. HADLEY (1942)

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The advertising for MGM’s THE WAR AGAINST MRS. HADLEY said viewers could expect ‘the truth and nothing but the truth’ when it hit movie screens in the fall of 1942. The truth is that it was one of Hollywood’s first wartime movies focusing on the home front, and the studio considered it a high-priority release. It had a special premiere in the nation’s capitol, where its lead stars (Fay Bainter and Edward Arnold) appeared in person. Proceeds for the event raised a considerable sum of money in war bonds.

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Screenwriter George Oppenheimer claimed the idea was conceived right after Pearl Harbor was attacked. In fact, the film begins with the December 7th birthday of the title character, Mrs. Hadley, which is ironically overshadowed by the country’s official involvement in the war. Later Oppenheimer’s idea was adapted as a radio play, which was performed on December 7, 1942– to commemorate the one year anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

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The story carried a considerable amount of propaganda value for home front audiences, especially women who might have felt inconvenienced by the war. The first half of the drama depicts how Mrs. Hadley refuses to relinquish her previous way of life. In her mind, December 7th and 8th and all the days after should be no different than December 6th and all the days that came before. She fails to see how the country needs to unite. As everyone else mobilizes and pitches in, she retains a selfishness that ultimately leads to her isolation– until she has a dramatic change of heart.

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Edward Arnold plays Elliott Fulton, a close family friend who works for the War Department in Washington. When Mrs. Hadley’s son Ted (Richard Ney) is drafted, Elliot is asked to help keep him out of the service. Of course, that is deemed unpatriotic, and the young man departs for military duty. Meanwhile, a daughter named Pat (Jean Rogers) becomes engaged to a soldier she meets while volunteering at a canteen; and of course, Mrs. Hadley disapproves– to the point where she refuses to attend the wedding. The soldier is portrayed by Van Johnson in a star-making role. Then there’s Cecilia Talbot (Spring Byington), a friend of Mrs. Hadley’s who works with the Red Cross and finds purpose in charity work.

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At every turn the war seems to do battle against Mrs. Hadley and her former way of life. She gradually begins to understand what’s important and what needs to happen to bring people together during a major crisis. It’s a comforting film on that level. One can imagine how it reinforced the selflessness of women in the audience who recognized Mrs. Hadley’s folly. They could accept her as one of their own after she realized she didn’t become a year older, she became a year wiser.

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THE WAR AGAINST MRS. HADLEY is directed by Harold Bucquet and airs occasionally on TCM.