May 1940: Our Town

Our Town. Sam Wood. 1940.

I hadn’t quite realised how many of films from the early 40s were based on theatre plays. I think so far it’s been… all of them? Almost all of them? This is another one.

This was nominated for all the Oscar awards, including “best sound, recording”, and the sound is horrible. But perhaps “recording” doesn’t mean the actual sound on the film? I can barely make out what they’re saying.

Could be the transfer. I watched the Amazon Prime version, and those are frequently astoundingly awful.

It didn’t win any.

It’s a pretty unique movie. It’s a cod-serious presentation of the town interspersed with “dramatic” scenes. Very sentimental… but it really works, I think.

But my enjoyment was serious impaired by the sound quality, so the dice rolled lower than it would otherwise, I think.

Popular movies in May 1940 according to IMDB:

Poster Votes Rating Movie
sc-tt0033238.jpg 7198 7.8 Waterloo Bridge
sc-tt0032326.jpg 928 7.7 Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise
sc-tt0029284.jpg 7317 7.4 My Favorite Wife
sc-tt0032432.jpg 1204 7.1 Edison, the Man
sc-tt0033175.jpg 980 6.9 Torrid Zone
sc-tt0032881.jpg 1762 6.8 Our Town
sc-tt0032247.jpg 885 6.7 Beyond Tomorrow
sc-tt0032710.jpg 306 6.7 Lillian Russell
sc-tt0033013.jpg 428 6.6 The Saint Takes Over

This blog post is part of the Decade series.

April 1940: The Doctor Takes A Wife

The Doctor Takes A Wife. Alexander Hall. 1940.

You gotta admire the sheer preposterousness (that’s a word) of the premise here, but it just doesn’t fire on all cylinders. It’s also a very typical “battle of the sexes” thing of the period, which doesn’t help.

But there’s a lot here to enjoy. The performances are on fleek, and it’s got a nice propulsive energy throughout. When it works, it really works.

Popular movies in April 1940 according to IMDB:

Poster Votes Rating Movie
sc-tt0033022.jpg 1821 7.2 Saps at Sea
sc-tt0032475.jpg 895 7.1 Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe
sc-tt0032289.jpg 240 7.1 Buck Benny Rides Again
sc-tt0032397.jpg 552 7.0 The Doctor Takes a Wife
sc-tt0032383.jpg 1742 6.9 Dark Command
sc-tt0032176.jpg 405 6.9 ‘Til We Meet Again
sc-tt0031828.jpg 262 6.7 The Proud Valley
sc-tt0032643.jpg 724 6.7 It All Came True
sc-tt0032412.jpg 1610 6.5 Dr. Cyclops
sc-tt0032753.jpg 386 6.5 The Man with Nine Lives

This blog post is part of the Decade series.

March 1940: Too Many Husbands

Too Many Husbands. Wesley Ruggles. 1940.

Hm… Did I see this before? I didn’t think so… Is it part of a box set I’ve bought some years ago?

*time passes while I rummage through the bookcase*

I dud have it! On “Icons of Screwball Comedy Volume One”. Well, this isn’t a very good track record for this blog series so far: I’ve seen 66% of the films previously.

Anyway, it’s a very high concept movie. A man was lost, presumed dead, and his wife remarried. Then he returns, and now she’s married to two people. Hilarity ensues.

There’s a lot of lines like “She’s our wife!” and people doing double takes. It’s fun! I, like, lol-ed out loud at bits. It dances around all the awkward bits and ends up being very modern.

But this isn’t exactly a masterpiece. I think it aims for madcap insanity, but it only achieves slightly bizarre quirkiness.

But it’s a great premise and they soldier through admirably. It’s from a veteran director, Wesley Ruggles, who’d made films from 1917 on.

Popular movies in March 1940 according to IMDB:

Poster Votes Rating Movie
sc-tt0032976.jpg 91851 8.2 Rebecca
sc-tt0032420.jpg 220 7.4 Drums of Fu Manchu
sc-tt0032993.jpg 3004 7.1 Road to Singapore
sc-tt0032651.jpg 789 7.0 Johnny Apollo
sc-tt0032946.jpg 944 7.0 Primrose Path
sc-tt0033105.jpg 1581 6.9 Strange Cargo
sc-tt0033226.jpg 1598 6.8 Virginia City
sc-tt0032644.jpg 374 6.7 It’s a Date
sc-tt0032609.jpg 293 6.5 The House Across the Bay
sc-tt0033174.jpg 946 6.5 Too Many Husbands

This blog post is part of the Decade series.

February 1940: Pinocchio

Pinocchio. Norman Ferguson. 1940.

I’ve never seen this one, but I’ve seen excerpts from it every Xmas (on a couple of channels), so I’ve heard the intro song more than a 80 times, and I’m feeling very Xmas-y now.

You can say many things about Disney, but at least they took really good care of all the stuff created under their auspices. So this Bluray looks really good, and in its original aspect ratio.

I find the animation somewhat confusing, though. That is, I thought that Disney was better at this stuff? Like, the fox villain character just… doesn’t look all that good.

Film critic Leonard Maltin said, “with Pinocchio, Disney reached not only the height of his powers, but the apex of what many critics consider to be the realm of the animated cartoon.”

See? It’s not that good.

It was a box office disaster upon release, which doesn’t surprise me. The character animation just doesn’t seem to be as accomplished as the 30s Disney shorts. But the background stuff and the effects are very nice.

The story is also… Well, it makes absolutely no sense, so I guess they justified it as “a parable”. It gets rather tedious. But the first half (before the plot, as it is, gets going) our is kinda nice.

Popular movies in February 1940 according to IMDB:

Poster Votes Rating Movie
sc-tt0032325.jpg 984 7.7 Charlie Chan in Panama
sc-tt0032910.jpg 95739 7.5 Pinocchio
sc-tt0032413.jpg 1146 7.5 Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet
sc-tt0032284.jpg 1607 7.4 Broadway Melody of 1940
sc-tt0032610.jpg 606 7.2 The House of the Seven Gables
sc-tt0032828.jpg 2081 7.0 My Little Chickadee
sc-tt0033289.jpg 826 7.0 Young Tom Edison
sc-tt0032263.jpg 244 7.0 Blondie on a Budget
sc-tt0033221.jpg 573 6.8 Vigil in the Night
sc-tt0032315.jpg 391 6.8 Castle on the Hudson

This blog post is part of the Decade series.

January 1940: His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday. Howard Hawks. 1940.

And we’re off!

I’ve seen this movie plenty of times before, and that’s not what I want to do in this blog series, really, but I had bought a new copy of this (as part of a screwball box set), so what the hey.

And, as you all know, it’s a wonderful film. The snappy repartee between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell really er snaps, and it’s got an interesting milieu (a newspaper office) and built-in tension (they have to save an innocent (well, he’d only killed a “colored” policeman, which is the next best thing) man from being executed).

It’s a romantic screwball comedy, but perhaps some of Grant’s strategies towards getting Russell back veer into creepy coercion at oints, but what the hey. It’s a clockwork plot. Everything slots together neatly.

“He sounds like a man I ought to marry,” Grant says at one point, and I’m sure the entire set chortled. And describes what Bruce Baldwin looks like as “that guy from the movies… Ralph Bellamy”. Which is the actor playing him.

It’s all so meta!

It’s a strangely shot film, with most of it happening in a couple of rooms with people running in and out of them. It’s not very visual.

Which is a staple of screwball comedy, but was this based on a play, by any chance? Hm… It was!

It’s a thrill.

Popular movies in January 1940 according to IMDB:

Poster Votes Rating Movie
sc-tt0033045.jpg 20952 8.1 The Shop Around the Corner
sc-tt0032551.jpg 66551 8.1 The Grapes of Wrath
sc-tt0032599.jpg 42649 8.0 His Girl Friday
sc-tt0032981.jpg 3165 7.7 Remember the Night
sc-tt0032125.jpg 239 7.4 Where’s That Fire?
sc-tt0032181.jpg 1365 7.4 Abe Lincoln in Illinois
sc-tt0032339.jpg 2632 7.4 A Chump at Oxford
sc-tt0031976.jpg 683 7.2 The Stars Look Down
sc-tt0031394.jpg 360 7.1 The Green Hornet
sc-tt0032467.jpg 1415 6.8 The Fighting 69th

This blog post is part of the Decade series.

Decade

When watching movies, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and always return to your favourite genre. (Which, for me, is science fiction. I’ll basically watch anything that’s science fiction, no matter how bad it is, and it gets really, really bad.)

I’ve tried to mix it up by giving myself various stupid challenges, like watching a film from each country on the planet, or watching all the films of a director or an actor in a ridiculously in-depth way.

So I was wondering what to do next, and the idea occurred to me a few years back to do a deep dive into some specific era. And a decade is a nice slice of time. But which one?

I first thought about the 70s, because there’s a lot of interesting stuff from that decade I just haven’t seen, but there’s also so much… 70s… stuff… that it seemed a bit off-putting.

Then the 30s. I was all gung ho for watching smart alecks talking rapidly in the general direction of the other person, you see!, but while doing a 1968-1922 thing, I was a bit unimpressed by the very early 30s films. Things really took off, like, in 1933 or something. (NB! Probably wrong opinion.)

And I’ve seen so many 50s and 60s films, which leaves us…

The 40s.

Even though that means watching a whole bunch of war films. And besides:

Douglas Sirk, in an interview included on the Criterion edition of There’s Always Tomorrow, is quoted as having said that the 40s were a golden age for American films.

(It also, fascinatingly enough, has a note on the correct aspect ratio using the remarkable sentence: “The above images are a distortion and corruption of the original artwork, which travesty the integrity of both the human form and cinematographic space.” Not only is travesty a verb, but it’s a transitive verb! Wonderful! I learn so much.)

ANYWAY!

My methodology for choosing films this time is based on the old IMDB data dumps, which included release date data.  (IMDB has removed this information from their current exports.  Boo!)

I sorted the films per month, and then sorted the films on rating and number of votes per month.  Then I chose the highest-rated film per month (that I hadn’t seen before), unless a lower-rated film sounded more interesting.  (And this is also subject to availability; quite a few popular 40s films just aren’t available at this point in time.)

But nothing obscure; these are mostly all 120 commercial successes and not art house films.

Onwards!