Monday, August 12, 2013

Movies viewed in February

This month was TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, which is the perfect time to catch up with award-winning or nominated classics that have eluded my mesmerized gaze over the years. Almost all of the films I watched in February were Oscar winners or nominees, not all of which were great, but the following are the ones I fell in love with. Because TCM's schedule this month liked to lump together films by studio, I've decided to do the same, even when I viewed the film outside of the 31 Days of Oscar program.

Perhaps the most underrated studio in classic Hollywood history is Columbia, never considered one of the majors yet it has survived well into the 21st century after being acquired by Sony, outliving larger contemporary entities like MGM and RKO. For a studio that created the films of Frank Capra, Rita Hayworth, and plentiful Oscar-winners and trend-setters, it's interesting that Columbia hasn't really been recognized for the consistent quality of its product. Even the B-movie quickies churned out for the bottom half of double features were surprisingly capable in the writing, acting, and production departments. Much like Warner Brothers, I will give anything from Columbia a chance, because more often than not I'm surprised and entertained.

Holiday (1938) - George Cukor reunites Bringing Up Baby stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in a less frenzied, but just as funny comedy, combining class-based laughs with a vividly felt romance.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) - Howard Hawks' thrilling tale of planes, women, and salvation in South America. Rita Hayworth and her unnecessary character are the sole sore spots in an otherwise superb film anchored by Cary Grant as the no-nonsense owner of a delivery plane company, Jean Arthur (not as great as in the same year's Mr. Smith) as a showgirl titillated by his dangerous persona, and Richard Barthelmess in a shoulda-been-a-comeback performance.
All the King's Men (1949) - Broderick Crawford's bulldozer performance is one for the ages.
The Harder They Fall (1956) - Humphrey Bogart picked a doozy for his last film, playing a grizzled sports journalist lured into the sordid and corrupt world of boxing. Scorsese borrowed much of the look for his boxing scenes in Raging Bull from the Oscar-nominated photography here.
A Man for All Seasons (1966) - The extravagant, well-written Best Picture winner has aged very well, with a beautiful Oscar-winning performance by Paul Scofield as a member of Henry VIII's court who refuses to endorse the king's divorce of Catherine of Aragon in order to remarry a woman who can birth him an heir.

In addition to the familiar studios, films were distributed by a number of independent companies, including Allied Artists, . The largest of these was, without much doubt, United Artists, a company that both produced its own films in-house and acquired independent productions for distribution. The films of independent producer Walter Wanger, for example, were most often distributed through UA, with a few exceptions (i.e., The Best Years of Our Lives through RKO). In fact, Wanger was responsible for a good deal of the indie studio classics I saw this month.
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) - A sprightly comic version of Henry VIII's life, beginning with the execution of Anne Boleyn and continuing to his last wife. Charles Laughton deservedly won an Oscar for his bombastic portrayal of the monarch and Elsa Lanchester makes the greatest impression of the wives as the dotty Anne of Cleves.
Dodsworth (1936) - One of the best and most mature early depictions of marital dissolution, with Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton, never better, as a husband and wife whose years of marriage are tested when he retires and she strives to cling to her youth by pursuing a superficial life in Europe.
Vogues of 1938 (1937) - Walter Wanger's extravagant and costly Technicolor musical has never been available in a good quality version, but the version aired on TCM was decent enough. Wealthy heiress Joan Bennett (demonstrating her rarely seen and admirable comic talents) runs from the altar and decides to work as a model for the fashion house that designed her wedding dress, eventually falling for designer Warner Baxter.
The Four Feathers (1939) - The Korda Brothers, UK producers of many eye-popping Technicolor treats, bring a vivid adventure story to life of an army officer who withdraws from duty and struggles to redeem his cowardly reputation after being given four feathers by his former comrades and fiancee. Shot on location in northern Africa and splendidly acted by John Clements (the hero) and Ralph Richardson (his best friend blinded by the desert sun).
Topper Returns (1941) - My unpopular choice for the best of the Topper films, as it features neither Cary Grant nor Constance Bennett, instead bringing back Roland Young as the ghost-friendly Topper and pairing him with comic gold Joan Blondell as a girl murdered instead of her friend at the latter's family home. It's essentially a goofy old dark house murder mystery with comic elements, but a pure delight in spite of its unoriginality.
Stage Door Canteen (1943) and Tulsa (1949), both from Wanger, have fallen into public domain Hell. I'm all for a continuing public domain for artistic works, but one of the benefits of a film remaining within studio ownership is that they will be cared for. While a few quality editions of Canteen exist, there has never been a nicely rendered transfer of the Technicolor splendor of Tulsa, home video versions being often culled from 16mm TV prints. It's a shame, too, because Tulsa is an unsung adventure romp, with one of Susan Hayward's finest and ballsiest performances.
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
The Ladykillers (1955)

Room at the Top (1959)

The Champ (1931)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Woman of the Year (1942) 
Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Lassie Come Home (1943)
Thousands Cheer (1943)
The Naked Spur (1953)
The Sheepman (1958)
Lolita (1962)
A Patch of Blue (1965)
Victor/Victoria (1982)

Most of the classic Paramount titles currently belong to the Universal catalog, and oddly enough, Universal takes better care of its Paramount properties, releasing them pretty regularly to home video in nice editions, than it does its own home-made library titles! I had never seen this Preston Sturges film but just loved it. Sturges' best films were with Paramount, before he left after the failure of The Great Moment (1944) and never made another noteworthy film again. His cycle of Paramount films is perhaps the most successful and accomplished of any writer-director in the studio system.
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)

Two Fred & Ginger movies (I've still not seen all of their work), two Joan movies, and the biggest comedy surprise I've seen in years, with equal parts laughs and tears. The dancing superstars' first film in 1933 only featured them in supporting roles, but the film is a shining example of the brilliance at work on the RKO musical stages. Swing Time has one of my favorite scenes between the two, where Fred pretends to not know how to dance for dancing teacher Ginger, and when she is threatened with losing her job, demonstrates to the boss what a great instructor she is by engaging in a dazzling number. Joan of Paris brought European actors Paul Henreid and Michele Morgan, on the run from the Nazi wave as it swept through the continent, to America, and paired them in a compelling WWII resistance story. Ingrid Bergman shines as the title character in Joan of Arc, sumptuously photographed in Technicolor and, despite being overlong, still the best version of the legendary saint's life story. Then there was Stage Door. There are no words. See this film. It is one of the greatest films ever made, still fresh and funny and engaging almost 80 years after its release.
Flying Down to Rio (1933)
Swing Time (1936)
Stage Door (1937)
Joan of Paris (1942)
Joan of Arc (1948)

20th Century-Fox
Of the major studios in classic Hollywood, 20th Century-Fox was, for my money, the most lavish and empty, even more so than MGM. Extravagant costume period pieces spilled out of the studio gates for decades, and proved to be the studio's bread and butter, especially with the added splendor of Technicolor in the 1940s and CinemaScope in the 1950s. Considering how I feel about the studio, it's surprising that so many of the great films I viewed this month came from Darryl Zanuck's movie factory. My opinion about Fox has softened a bit, though they are still the studio whose films I get the least excited about seeing.
On the Avenue (1937)
The Rains Came (1939)
The Mark of Zorro (1940)
Sahara (1943)
Fallen Angel (1945)
Captain from Castile (1947)
The Snake Pit (1948)
Pinky (1949)
No Way Out (1950)
Three Came Home (1950)
My Pal Gus (1952)
Titanic (1953)
Peyton Place (1957)
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
Flaming Star (1960)

Warner Brothers
For my money, the studio producing the most well-aged and consistently good films in the studio era was Warner Brothers.
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
The Nun's Story (1959)

Adventures of a Young Man (1962)
Alice Adams (1935)
All the Right Boys (1985) [gay adult]
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) 
The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)
Berkeley Square (1933)
The Big Sky (1952)
The Black Rose (1950) 
The Black Swan (1942)
Blockade (1938) 
Blood and Sand (1941)
Born Yesterday (1950)
The Boy Friend (1971)
The Brave One (1956)
The Broadway Melody (1929)
Butterfield 8 (1960)
Cafe Metropole (1937)
Captain Caution (1940)
Captain Fury (1939)
The Champ (1979)
Daddy Long Legs (1955) 
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Decision Before Dawn (1951)
Destination Tokyo (1943)
East of Eden (1955)
Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)
A Farewell to Arms (1932)
The Foxes of Harrow (1947)
Francis of Assisi (1961)
Friendly Persuasion (1956)
Georgy Girl (1966)
Going My Way (1944)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Growing Years (1986) [gay adult]
The Gunslingers (1981) [gay adult] 
Guys and Dolls (1955) 
Gypsy (1962)
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)
A High Wind in Jamaica (1965)
Highway Hustler (1971) [gay adult] 
Hold Back the Dawn (1941) 
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
I Remember Mama (1948)
Ice Station Zebra (1968)
The Informer (1935)
Key Largo (1948)
King Solomon's Mines (1950)
Kitty Foyle (1940)
Little Women (1933)
Locker Jocks (1982) [gay adult]
The Lost Patrol (1934) 
Lydia (1941)
The Man in the White Suit (1951)
Mister 880 (1950)  
Mister Roberts (1955)
More Hot Rods (1981) [gay adult]
More Mind Games (1984) [gay adult]
Move Over Johnny, Here Comes Big Dan (1985) [gay adult]
Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
My Favorite Wife (1940) 

Nylon Noose (1963)
Obsession: The Ultimate Experience (1987) [gay adult]
The Perils of Pauline (1947)
Portrait of Jennie (1948)
Premium Rush (2012)
Prince Valiant (1954)
The Racers (1955)
Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1958)
The Robe (1953)
The Rookie (1959)
The Sandpiper (1965)
Sea Wife (1957)
Second Chorus (1940)
Seven Days in May (1964) 
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968) 
Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947)
Sniper's Ridge (1961)
Soldier of Fortune (1955)
The Spanish Main (1945)
The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
Susan Slept Here (1954) 
That Hamilton Woman (1941)
That Uncertain Feeling (1941) 
Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
Top Hat (1935)

Topper Takes a Trip (1938)  
Viva Zapata! (1952)
Way Down South (1939)
Way Out West ( 1937)
The Westerner (1940)
What a Way to Go! (1964)
What Price Glory? (1952)
When Ladies Meet (1933)
Wilson (1944)
Working Stiffs (1989) [gay adult]
You Were Meant for Me (1948)
You Were Never Lovelier (1942) 
Zorba the Greek (1964

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