`The Grapes of Wrath` presents the bitter harvest of the thirties.
Hollywood 24 January 1940.John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, is a triumph. Rigorously adapted (by Nunally Johnson) from the celebrated reportage novel by John Steinbeck, the picture follows the poignant journey of the Joad family of Oklahoma farmers to California during the Great Depression.
These “Okies” have joined the mass exodus from the Dust Bowl to cross the country in an old automobile, hoping for a better life. But when they get to the “Promised Land”, they come across only miserable camp sites, and the horrors of exploited farm labour. Despite its harsh subject, Ford has still evoked a nostalgic poetry in the beautifully lit studio exteriors and in the composed shots of poverty. Yet there were scenes shot in the actual migrant camps around Los Angeles, and the film’s romanticism does not prevent it from also being a trenchant social statement in which the cast, and in particular Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell, become representatives of ordinary, suffering humanity.
Ferocious satire from Charlie Chaplin
New York 15 October 1940. With much of Western Europe under German domination, Charles Chaplin has delivered his damning verdict on fascism and his first dialogue film, The Great Dictator. It’s also the first Chaplin picture to start with a completed script, which originally ran to 300 pages.
It is the first in which Chaplin has assembled a talented and well-balanced cast to work alongside him. The story goes that The Great Dictator, was initially prompted by the British film magnate Alexander Korda’s observation of the physical similarity, between the Tramp and Adolph Hitler. Chaplin has cast himself in the duel role of Adenoid Hynkell, the ranting dictator of Tomania, and his doppelganger, a downtrodden little Jewish barber. However their identities are confused, and it is the barber who delivers the pictures final lengthy speech in which he pleads for an end to tyranny in the world.
`Pinocchio` and `Fantasia` spell great year for Walt Disney
Los Angeles 13 November 1940.
In the last few years, Walt Disney has been working simultaneously
on various projects in preparation for the transfer of his studios to Burbank. The result of all this impressive activity has been the release of two full-length cartoon films within nine months of each other. Last February, Pinocchio was released following the enormous success of the first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Based on the story by Collodi, Pinocchio, is a technical advance on the earlier film, giving audiences even more of a feeling of depth of vision. For the characters, the designers were inspired by clay and wooden models as well as actors filmed in their costumes. Walt Disney is offering us Fantasia, an even more audacious and original work. It was conceived as a short film featuring Mickey Mouse acting out The Sorcerers Apprentice, conducted by Leopold Stokowski.
Welles` “Citizen Kane” sets Hearst against RKO
New York 1 May 1941. The first film directed by Orson Welles, Citizen Kane, has al last opened in New York. Its release was planned for 14 February, but it was postponed because of the press campaign that was organised by the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. It was Hearst, among others, who had inspired the scriptwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz , to create the megalomaniac character. RKO, who produced the picture, refused to give in to pressure and organised various private screenings before showing it to the press on 9 April. This incurred the wrath of Hollywood’s unofficial arbiters of taste, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the latter being a Hearst employee. For his first incursion into cinema,. Welles, only 25, has shown a perfect mastery of the medium. This brilliant actor has already acquired notoriety from his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds.
Crosby, Hope and Lamour back on the road.
Hollywood 11 April 1941. Following last years enormous success of Road to Singapore, Paramount decided to send the same team of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour on another exotic journey, this time on the Road to Zanzibar. This romp is even funnier than the previous film, and looks like it will be an even bigger hit. If so, the studio might consider sending the trio on more comic trips.
Peter Lorre and
John Huston displays master touch in debut.
New York 18 October 1941. John Huston, the son of the actor Walter Huston, has made a magnificent debut as a film director with The Maltese Falcon. Huston, who has been a screenwriter at Universal and Warner Bros. Chose to make a third
adaptation of the crime novel. Providing a strong cast and a sharp script, he has rendered Dashiell Hammet’s prose style into film terms. The title refers to a valuable statuette which various crooks and the private eye, Sam Spade, want to get hold of. For the role of the detective, Huston wanted George Raft but when the star refused, he got the idea of using Humphrey Bogart a specialist in portraying gangsters.
The Tragic loss of Carole Lombard.
Los Angeles 17 January 1942. Witty, glamorous, tough, notoriously outspoken and splendidly versatile actress Carole Lombard is dead at the age of 34. The much-loved star was killed last night on her return from a highly successful War Bonds tour,l when her plane crashed in mountains and all 19 passengers aboard including her mother and agent died.
`Magnificent Ambersons` create bad blood.
Hollywood 1 July 1942. RKO took unfair advantage of Orson Welles absence in South America by editing down The Magnificent Ambersons, from 131 minutes to 88. Because Citizen Kane, failed at the box office, the studio hoped that his second
attempt would appeal to a wider public. But they were displeased at the rushes and decided to edit it themselves. Although the film remains a haunting and ironic portrait of Booth Tarkington’s declining aristocratic 19th century family, the director was furious at the liberties taken with his work.
`Random Harvest` set for gigantic success.
New York 17 December 1942
Velvet voiced Ronald Coleman and glamorous Greer Garson co-star in
Random Harvest, based on James Hilton’s novel and directed for MGM by Mervyn LeRoy. Set in England in a very convincing recreation, this is the tale of a wartime amnesia victim who, in a clever twist, suffers a double memory loss. Though somewhat hard to believe and with a focus on the grief suffered by the woman who loves this man, a crack team has produced a highly romantic film from a painful subject. The audiences are left tear-sodden but happy, and box-office tills are working overtime.
Love lost and war won in Casablanca
New York 23 January 1942 With considerable commercial acumen, Warner Bros. Have delayed the release of their espionage melo-drama Casablanca, to coincide with the big Allied conference in the
same North African city. The screen Casablanca is not the thriving modern metropolis but an exotic hotbed of spies, black marketeers, refugees and Gestapo men where “everybody goes to Rick’s” And presiding over Rick’s Cafe American is Humphrey Bogart’s disillusioned gun-runner Richard Blaine, a bruised idealist haunted by the bitter-sweet memory of a fleeting Paris romance with Ingrid Bergman. Her sudden re-appearance at Rick’s and her request for pianist Dooley Wilson to play “As Time goes By”, tests Rick to the limit.
Liversey and Powell’s superb `Blimp`
London 26 July 1943. The writer-director team of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell have now brought cartoonist David Low’s Colonel Blimp to the screen in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The screen Blimp is Major-General Clive Wyne-Candy, the doughty old tusker whose life we follow from impetuous youth to blustering old age.; Powell had wanted Laurence Olivier, now serving in the Fleet Air-Arm, to play the title role, but he was not available. He was replaced by Roger Liversey, who gives a brilliantly observed portrait of a hide-bound but good-hearted old bumbler. However, this densely layered and intensely personal national epic has been attacked by critics for being out of touch with the mood of wartime Britain.
Billy Wilder launches a brilliant `Film Noir`
Hollywood 6 September 1944. When George Raft, a notoriously poor judge of scripts, turned down the male lead in Billy Wilder’s latest picture, Double Indemnity, the director knew he had a hit on his hands. And instead, easy-going Fred McMurray proved perfect in the part of the idly philandering insurance salesman ensnared by femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck in a plot to kill her husband, take the money and run. Stanwyck plays the cold-blooded killer in a blond wig and ankle bangles because Wilder wanted to make her look “as sleazy as possible.” The result is a tautly orchestrated melodrama, which both Wilder and thriller writer Raymond Chandler adapted from James M. Cain’s novel, inn which the oppressive tension mounts as the homicidal couple’s nemesis - McMurray’s cigar-chomping boss Edward G. Robinson - uncovers the truth of their “perfect murder.”
Minnelli, the magic master of colour
New York 28 November 1944. A remarkable new technicolor musical has opened here. Undoubtedly the most stylish colour
Picture released by the giant MGM studio, Meet Me in St. Louis,
Is based on the stories by Sally Benson, first published in the New Yorker, about her life in St. Louis at the turn of the 19th century. Produced by Arthur Fred who was quick to recognise the potential of this charming family chronicle, especially as a vehicle for MGM’s leading young musical star Judy Garland, and the studio’s gifted new director Vincent Minnelli. Sparing no expense, MGM has assembled a fine cast, including Mary Astor and Leon Ames as the parents, and newcomer Lucille Bremer as Judy’s elder sister, along with an outstanding production team. The songs and dances choreographed by Charles Walters are seamlessly woven into the story
`Brief Encounter`, an `ordinary ` love story.
London 26 November 1945. The latest collaboration between Noel Coward and David Lean has produced
Brief Encounter, which is based on one of Coward’s pre-war one-act plays. It’s a tender suburban love story in which a speck of dirt in the eye leads to a domed romance between housewife Celia Johnson and married doctor Trevor Howard. Much of the affair is played out in the steamy fog of a railway station buffet, where the couple snatch fretful hours away from their respective spouses, their middle-class reticence counter pointed by Lean’s use of Rachmanaov’s lush Second Piano Concerto. Critics have drawn comparisons with French cinema, but `Brief Encounter` is very English.
Uncompromising study of alcoholism.
Hollywood 16 November 1945. Dapper Paramount leading man Ray Milland has stepped out of character to play failed alcoholic writer Don Birnam in Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend. Adapted from Charles Jackson’s harrowing novel, it paints an uncompromising picture of self-destruction, with the haggard, unshaven Milland lurching up New York’s Third Avenue trying to hock his typewriter, unaware that all the pawn shops are closed for Yom Kippur. This scene was shot on location one Sunday, with Milland staggering from 55th Street to 110 Street while Wilder’s camera filmed from inside of a bakery truck. Whether shrinking from imaginary bats as he succumbs to the horrors of delirium tremens, or slyly finding new places to hide bottles from girlfriend Jane Wyman.
Canine Lassie co-stars with Elizabeth Taylor
New York 24 July 1946. Having co-stared with a horse in National Velvet, in 1944, Elizabeth Taylor now shares top biling with a dog in The Courage of Lassie, directed by Fred M. Wilcox. The tow of them are old friends, having first met in Lassie Come Home, in 1943, although this time around a different dog has taken over the role of the Greer Garson of the canine world. Now a ripening
of lustrous beauty, Taylor rehabilitates a mixed-up Lassie, suffering from combat stress after war service as a killer dog.
The International Film Festival returns to Cannes.
Cannes 7 October 1946. The dark years of the war, which paralysed international film production are now behind us. To confirm this, the French cinema invited the world’s professionals to a sumptuous feast of films at the first International Film Festival at Cannes. Granted, there had been one prior, but it had been more of a meeting place than a competition. With the exception of France, the U.S. Great Britain and the USSR, who were participating on a large scale, many other countries were represented by short films. Financed by the French Government and the town of Cannes, the Festival has no intentions of rivaling that of Venice. As Italy and France are now friends, it is intended to hold the Festival biannually, one year in Cannes, the next in Venice
Entertainer Al Jolson and the`Jazz Singer` returns as Larry Parks.
New York 10 October 1946. Columbia has struck gold with The Jolson Story, its tribute to the legendary vaudevillian who introduced talk to the movies with the immortal words “You ain’t heard nuthin ‘ yet!.” The studio had to restrain the ageing but irrepressible Jolson from playing himself, eventually confining him to dubbing the songs for contract player Larry Parks inn his first big screen role. The movie avoids some of the more colourful aspects of Jolson’s life, including his messy divorce from Ruby Keeler, but Parks makes a game stab at conveying Al’s fog horning style, a one-man showbiz blitzkrieg.
Jimmy Stewart rescued by an Angel’s vision.
Los Angeles 7 January 1947. Director Frank Capra has taken the title of his latest film, Its A Wonderful Life, from a Christmas card, which hints at the sentimental treatment he has given an engaging fantasy about the basic decency of small-town America. James Stewart, in his first film since returning from war service, stars here as a suicidal bank manager who is persuaded not to kill himself by angel (2nd class) Henry Travers.
Eccentric `Life with Father`, provides a filmic delight for all ages.
Hollywood 14 September 1947. Broadway audiences have had 3224 opportunities to delight in the long-running comedy,l Life with Father. Now the whole country can enjoy this heart-warming piece, which is brought to the screen in sumptuous Technicoloured re-creation of 1880’s New York. This is the charming tale of an eccentric, irascible father -with a heart of gold underneath, of course, -
Who upsets his family by refusing to be baptised. It is directed with a light touch by Michael Curtiz, who is usually associated with tougher fare, and it is acted in fine style by William Powell as father, Irene Dunn as mother, and a first-class supporting cast. Warner Bros. Is clearly in for a box-office bonanza.
Fox points the finger at anti-Semitism.
New York 11 November 1947 “Oh God, I’ve got it. It is the only way, I’ll be Jewish!”. With these ringing
words, magazine journalist Gregory Peck launches his crusade to expose the extent of anti-Semitism in America in Fox’s new Gentleman’s Agreement, adapted from Laura Z. Hobson’s best selling book and directed by Elia Kazan.
Posing a s a Jew, Peck finds that his incognito investigation has an alarming effect on himself, his family and also his friends. For example, his girlfriend, Dorothy McGuire the daughter of his magazine’s publisher, fails to understand the baleful effect of racial intolerance, even though she is convinced that she is free of bigotry..
Multiple honours go to Olivier’s Hamlet
Venice 5 September 1948. Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet has carried away the prize for the best film at the Venice Film Festival. Jean Simmons, his shimmering beautiful Ophelia, was vote best actress, and the film’s lighting cameraman Desmond Dickenson won for best cinematography.
Hamlet is a technical tour de force in black and white, in which Dickenson’s camera roams obsessively through Roger Furse’s sets and the battlements of Elsinore, capturing the players in stunning deep focus. Olivier’s blond Hamlet, is a sleepwalker with an Oedipus complex, and comic relief is provided by Stanley Holloway’s wry performance as the gravedigger.
De Havilland’s brilliant portrayal of madness in harrowing setting
Los Angeles 4 November 1948. Olivia De Havillland gives a superbly judged performance in Fox’s The Snake Pit, She portrays an intelligent woman hovering on the edge of mental disintegration in an overcrowded state mental asylum. Leo Genn and Mark Stevens provide somewhat stolid support as, respectively, a gently romantic psychiatrist and a bewildered but loyal husband, while Betsy Blair, Isabel Jewell, Jan Clayton and Beulah Bondi act up a storm as De Havilland’s fellow patients. Based on an autobiographical novel by Mary Jane Ward, and directed by Anatole Litvak, The Snake Pit paints a harrowing picture of mental breakdown and the slow and painful process of recovery.
Zany satire on British eccentricity is good-humoured entertainment
London 1 April 1949. After four years of post-war austerity there is an atmosphere of mild anarchy in the air, perfectly caught by Ealing’s Passport to Pimlico, directed by Henry Corneilius. In this pointed social satire, a small district in London wakes up to discover that it is part of the ancient dukedom of Burgundy, “Blimey, I’m a foreigner,” gulps the local copper. So the inhabitants immediately
establish their new kingdom.as an independent ration-free state, with hilarious results. This warm-hearted celebration of an embattled but united community, a metaphor for Ealing itself, keeps the spirit of the studio’s wartime films burning in a Britain that’s edging from austerity to prosperity.
Kelly, Sinatra and Munshin, sailors on the loose.
Hollywood 8 Dec. 1949.
The dancer Gene Kelly, who made The Pirate, last year under Vincent Minnelli, has
now become a director himself. Conceived balettically and co-directed by Kelly’s colleague and friend, the choreographer Stanley Donen, On The Town, is a joyous and innovative musical which follows three sailors(Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin) on a 24-hour leave in New York. The opening number “New York, New York” was actually filmed on location in that”wonderful town”. After the trio has paired off with three girls (Vera-Ellen, Betty Garret and Ann Miller), the six go and visit the Empire State Building, this time a Hollywood set, more exciting and colourful than the real thing. Full of dynamic dance numbers and produced for MGM by Arthur Freed, the film was freely adapted by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
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