Pygmalion (1938)

pygmalion

Starring: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, Marie Lohr, Scott Sunderland

Director: Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard

Summary: A linguistics professor bets he can turn a flower girl into a lady by teaching her to speak properly

Other Nominations: Actor (Howard), Actress (Hiller), Screenplay*

Positives

-Howard and Hiller gave some of the best performances I’ve seen so far as Prof. Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, with Howard embodying this entertaining and hypocritical arrogance and Hiller’s performance evolves as the character does.

-All the original themes from the play are well-preserved and the way it treats power (in all its aspects) in a  relationship was not only remarkable when the play debuted in 1914, but still works really well for contemporary audiences

-There are a couple of montage sequences that are fantastic-they give you all the information and exposition you need to know in a short and entertaining package.

-I thought the score was creative and bold, sometimes going in the opposite direction that you would expect because it fits with what the character is feeling even if the audience feels the opposite at the time

Negatives

-I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. The play as originally written clearly goes one way, most every version after it (even during it’s original West End run) goes the opposite direction, and this movie is somewhat ambiguous but the most logical interpretation is that it will ultimately go towards the opposite direction. I think the original ending is the most faithful towards the characters and would have preferred it, but the film’s ending isn’t outright bad either.

-I think the “coming out ball” scene is overly long and could have been trimmed considerably; in fact, it didn’t exist in the original play at all and was only alluded to.

Overall

Wonderful adaptation of Shaw’s classic play with stellar lead performances. If you’ve only seen My Fair Lady, then check out this predecessor that is considered to be its equal if not it’s better.

Rating: A-

Test Pilot (1938)

8591ba773d87ed39e10d42813ece3592

Starring: Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore

Director: Victor Fleming

Summary: An irresponsible test pilot’s wife and best friend try to get him to grow up

Other Nominations: Story, Film Editing

Positives

-Outstanding cast with four great performances by actors playing the kind of characters they are best at playing: Gable as a brash and reckless guy who has a hard time admitting how much he loves someone, Loy as a strong and intelligent woman with a lot of humor and fun, and Tracy as a gruff guy looking out for both his friend and his friend’s wife. All of them have been in plenty of movies I’ve watched before (with Gable and Tracy both starring in San Francisco where they had the exact same dynamic and Tracy and Loy both in Libeled Lady), but their interactions together are great.

-I really enjoyed the relationship between Gable and Loy, which felt believable and had a decent amount of complexity to it.

Negatives

-Only the middle of the movie (from about the 1 hour mark to 1 hour, 40 minute mark of a 2 hour movie) really felt strong, the rest of it either was just pretty good (the first hour) or was overwrought (the last 15 minutes). Only when it focuses on the marriage and strains of the relationship between Gable and Loy’s characters does the movie shine, and the majority of the movie is either building to it or is giving a conclusion to it that could be better executed.

-The aerial scenes have aged badly. The rear projection is very noticeable, there are a bunch of cheap looking models, and the editing which is not convincing where there feels like a clear separation between the shots in the air and the reaction shots on the ground or in the cockpit (i.e. it breaks the illusion that this is all happening simultaneously).

Overall

Seeing great actors like Gable, Loy and Tracy all play off each other constantly for an entire movie is reason enough to watch this movie, and the core relationship at the heart of the film is strong. The drawback is that it takes quite some time to get there and the many aerial scenes will look cheap to modern audiences.

Rating: B-

*You Can’t Take It With You (1938)*

you_cant_take_it_with_you_1938_poster

Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, Edward Arnold, Spring Byington

Director: Frank Capra

Summary: A girl from a family of freethinkers falls for the son of a conservative banker.

Other Nominations: Director*, Supporting Actress (Byington), Screenplay, Sound Recording, Film Editing

Positives

-I enjoyed this movie a lot. There are a lot of really wonderful and entertaining characters and performances, led by Lionel Barrymore doing great as he always does. Jimmy Stewart shows up for the first time in a Best Picture nominated movie, and shows why he would become a huge star very soon-everything about him puts you at ease, starting with his instantly recognizable drawl and his droopy eyes.

-The central message of choosing your own path and not caring about what others think, along with emphasizing the value of friends, family and doing what makes you happy is a good message (in moderation at least-I think it’s very interesting that there wasn’t really a response when one character asks “what would the world be like if everybody just did what they felt like?”). I can’t think of any other director in this time period who had such a crystal clear way he viewed the world-very Christian, hates government, lawyers, bureaucrats, progressives and monied interests because he sees them as greedy or immoral, and believes in down-home values and common sense. This is probably why he was so successful during the depression, but would become irrelevant as the ideological landscape changed after the war.

Negatives

-Capra, as he has in every movie since Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, has a message he wants to get across, and he makes damn sure you know what he is-this is a man who would flee in terror from subtlety if he met it on the street. For a lot of the movie, it’s just slightly annoying, but towards the end he starts laying it on way too thick and becomes cartoonish.

Overall

Very good movie and clearly Capra’s best since It Happened One Night. The screenplay is great, the cast is great, the only problem is that he starts beating you over the head with his message one time too many by the end. Worth a watch.

Rating: B+

1938 in Review

Other notable films of 1938

Bringing Up Baby: One of the definitive screwball comedies, which featured Katharine Hepburn playing against type. Only a moderate success upon release, it gained its reputation in the 1950’s and is on the AFI 100 Films list (#88) and the National Film Registry

Angels with Dirty Faces: Nominated for Director, Actor and Story but not Picture which is very strange with 10 nominees. Considered one of the best gangster movies ever made with James Cagney in the lead and was Curtiz’ third movie from a great year for him. On the National Film Registry.

The Lady Vanishes: One of Hitchcock’s best British films, named Best Picture by the New York Times. In 1939, the New York Film Critic’s Circle named Hitchcock Best Director, the only competitive award Hitchcock ever won for directing.

Love Finds Andy Hardy: Number 37 in the 180-part Andy Hardy series starring Mickey Rooney. On the National Film Registry because why not.

Under Western Stars: Roy Rogers’ first starring role, in the National Film Registry

Algiers: Charles Boyer’s performance as a character named Pepe Le Moko in this movie was both his breakout performance, and the inspiration for Pepe le Pew who was introduced in 1945-the voice is almost the same. This was the first starring role for Hedy Lamarr. Nominated for four Oscars, but not Best Picture.

1938 in Review

Pygmalion: A-

You Can’t Take It With You: B+ (Won Best Picture)

The Adventures of Robin Hood: B+

Grand Illusion: B

Four Daughters: B-

Test Pilot: B-

Jezebel: C+

Alexander’s Ragtime Band: C+

The Citadel: C+

Boys Town: C

Probably the best year so far, considering there were no bad movies and a couple of great ones. I certainly can’t blame the Academy for choosing You Can’t Take It With You, as it was a very good movie, even if I only had it in 2nd place.

Well, here were are: 1939, also known as the greatest year in the entire golden era of Hollywood. Six of the ten nominees are in the National Film registry, and five of them made the original 1998 AFI Top 100 list (no other year had as many movies make either of the lists). Even the other movies that aren’t so honored are all still well-known classics in their own right. I have been looking forward to this and hopefully I will not be disappointed-I’ve seen 3 of these movies before and liked two of them a lot.