*Casablanca (1943)*

casablanca

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre

Director: Michael Curtiz

Summary: An American saloon owner in Morocco is drawn into World War II when his lost love turns up

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Bogart), Supporting Actor (Rains), Adapted Screenplay*, Dramatic Score, B&W Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

This is another movie where pretty much everything works, and the worst thing you can say about any one aspect of it is that it’s not memorable vs. not being good. It’s really something special when you combine an outstanding cast of characters with an amazing cast, and that’s what we have here. Bogart’s performance holds up the entire movie, as he displays a lot of range without being all that expressive, which is a great feat-he can be brooding, stoic, romantic, witty and pretty much everything in between. This movie also really does have something to appeal to everyone: it has a timeless romance plot, it has some humor (mainly from Rains’ character), it has patriotic themes that don’t go so far as to be cloying, and has a lot of fun supporting characters. The score is perfect in expressing the mood of each scene, and has one of the best uses of a national anthem in a movie ever. This is a movie that lives up to its reputation.

Negatives

The only character that feels like a weak link is Victor Lazlo (played by Paul Henreid), who has a great and noble cause he is fighting for, but is otherwise not a very distinctive or interesting character. Considering his importance to the story, this is a problem, but one that can be overlooked due to the strength of everything else.

Other Stuff

-George Raft kind of made Humphrey Bogart’s career: he was an actor who turned down the lead roles in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon that would later go to Bogart and made him a star. There are also conflicting reports that say he also turned down the lead in Casablanca as well which, if true, would make for a fantastic alternate universe where Raft became one of the most beloved actors of all time; either that, or an alternative universe where nobody’s ever heard of Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon.

Overall

It’s Casablanca: if you haven’t seen it for some reason, then you probably haven’t seen many movies, or you haven’t seen many classic movies at least. All-time classic.

Rating: A

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

belltolls

Starring: Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Akim Tamiroff, Joseph Calleia, Katina Paxinou

Director: Sam Wood

Summary: A U.S. mercenary and an army of peasants fight for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War

Other Nominations: Actor (Cooper), Actress (Bergman), Supporting Actor (Tamiroff), Supporting Actress (Paxinou)*, Dramatic Score, Color Art Direction, Color Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-This has one of the best scores I’ve heard so far, absolutely fitting for a film epic and on par with some of the best stuff people like Max Steiner, Maurice Jarre or Alfred Newman did for similar types of films. If you want to listen, here’s some of it re-recorded in 1996 by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZFkaLvkXVk.

-Cooper is pretty good in the lead, meaning it’s my favorite performance from him so far. As for Bergman, I can understand why she was nominated for this performance and not her one in Casablanca-while she’s not convincing at all playing a Spanish woman, she’s otherwise great and gorgeous as always. This time period probably had the greatest roster of lead talent in film history: Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Greer Garson, Joan Fontaine, Joan Crawford and Olivia de Havilland as actresses, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, James Cagney and Gary Cooper for actors, and I’m still leaving out a lot of names.

-Both Paxinou and Tamiroff steal the movie with two excellent supporting performances and their characters are by far the most engaging in the movie

-The film looks very good in terms of color, production design and cinematography

Negatives

-This movie definitely makes you feel its 2 hour and 45 minute run time, especially pre-intermission which is focused entirely on introducing the characters and having the group make preparations to blow up a bridge. It’s a very slow burn and can get dull at times, and would have benefited from some cuts.

-The browning makeup they used isn’t very convincing, and it’s obvious that almost no one in the movie is hispanic

Overall

Somehow this isn’t the only 3 hour movie about blowing up a bridge I’ll be covering, but on the whole I liked it better than most people, judging from reviews I read afterwards. I would recommend it for those interested in seeing an old-fashioned technicolor epic, but be forewarned of its run time.

Rating: B

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

heaven

Starring: Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Allyn Joslyn, Spring Byington, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Summary: An old man arrives in hell to review his life with satan, who will rule on his eligibility to enter the underworld

Other Nominations: Director, Color Cinematography

Positives

-There’s some really good humor, mostly near the start of the movie

-Charles Coburn gives the best performance, playing the fun grandfather character

-There is something to be said for Lubitsch’s ability to get the best he can out of the material he has to work with, and his light and goofy touch he imparts to  his movies.

Negatives

-Don Ameche is consistently one of my least favorite leads and brings nothing to the table except for a pretty face. He gets more screen time here than in his previous movies, In Old Chicago and Alexander’s Ragtime Band and it’s not a good thing.

-The movie starts good, but comes to a sketching halt and goes downhill quickly once Ameche shows up and the romance plot kicks in; the problem is that this is only 25 minutes into the movie.

-The underlying premise sounds great on paper, but it’s nothing more than a framing device for the beginning and end of the movie of an otherwise very standard movie unfortunately.

Overall

Disappointing last film of Lubitsch’s for me to watch, as he has done much better work

Rating: C-

The Human Comedy (1943)

the-human-comedy-1943

Starring: Mickey Rooney, Frank Morgan, James Craig, Marsha Hunt, Fay Bainter, Ray Collins, Van Johnson, Donna Reed

Director: Clarence Brown

Summary: A small-town telegraph boy deals with the strains of growing up during World War II

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Rooney), Story*, B&W Cinematography

Positives

-Mickey Rooney is quite restrained, sensitive and overall is terrific. He’s easily the best thing this movie has going for it. He also has this averageness to him, which for the purposes of this movie is a good thing.

Negatives

-This is a very uneven movie. There are a handful of really great scenes, but they are overwhelmed by the number of cringe-worthy, overly-sentimental or saccharine ones. When the movie moves away from Rooney as the sole focus in the second half, it starts becoming a bunch of disjointed individual segments that are just kind of there and don’t hold a candle to the stuff when he’s on screen.

Other Stuff

-This was the (uncredited) film debut of Robert Mitchum, who plays an army private on leave (http://745433944.r.lightningbase-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/06-mitchum-nelson-defore.jpg)

Overall

Rooney is great and elevates this movie immensely, but everything surrounding him doesn’t measure up and the movie loses focus and becomes overly-sentimental at times

Rating: C

In Which We Serve (1943)

serve

Starring: Noel Coward, John Mills, Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson (in her debut), Richard Attenborough (in his debut)
Director: Noel Coward & David Lean (in his directorial debut)

Summary: Survivors of a bombed British destroyer think back on the paths that led them to war
Other Nominations: Screenplay

Positives

-This is way more realistic than anything coming out of Hollywood at the time-it feels like a plausible and un-sexed up version of what being in the Navy is like. It’s clearly propaganda, but it doesn’t feel heavy handed at all, nor are there big heroic death scenes, and there’s only about 15 minutes of action in the whole movie. Very refreshing in a way
-Coward starred, wrote, co-directed and scored this movie, which is an incredible accomplishment; only Charlie Chaplin was doing that around this time period. He’s a better actor than I was expecting, but he probably gets by because his character is almost totally emotionless. Also, I still hold a grudge against him for writing the play Cavalcade because the movie version was terrible.

Negatives

-While its realism is refreshing, it doesn’t always make for the most interesting of movies. There wasn’t really any engaging characters or story that I could latch onto, nor was any of the acting noteworthy. It got to be a slog for me to watch because of how overlong and boring it was.
-The presentation, starting at the end and then going into a bunch of piecemeal flashbacks (kind of like Citizen Kane actually), didn’t work well because instead of focusing on the life of one character, it tried to cover about half a dozen of them.
-I know it makes sense within the context of the story, but I don’t think it was a wise decision to start a movie with 15 minutes of action with the audience knowing nothing about the characters and then have no action the rest of the movie.

Overall

This feels totally different and more realistic than other war film that came out of Hollywood, but in a lot of ways, that ends up being a bad thing.

Rating: D+

Madame Curie (1943)

curie

Starring: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Henry Travers, Albert Bassermann, Robert Walker

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Summary: The famed scientist fights numerous hardships while conducting early experiments with radioactivity

Other Nominations: Actor (Pidgeon), Actress (Garson), Dramatic Score, Sound Recording, B&W Art Direction, B&W Cinematography

Positives

-I liked when the story focused on having the drama come from the science and the couple’s pursuit of discovery. They did a good job of making their work and struggles seem genuinely interesting

-Garson is once again good here, even if I would say it is the weakest of the four performances I’ve seen from her. This is probably because she plays against type here, being more serious and determined vs. warm and feminine. Pidgeon is okay, but sometimes his line delivery bothers me and reminds me of this: https://youtu.be/mbWTthXfdBc?t=5m45s. Nevertheless, the two continue to have good…chemistry (sorry)

Negatives

-It has some charm, but the romance, especially in the first half, is drawn out and Marie doesn’t have much of a personality. Overall, the romance stuff itself (when removed from the science) is standard and without anything to distinguish it.

-The final ending for Marie Curie would have really depressing to cover, but without it, there’s an earlier subplot that has no payoff whatsoever.

Overall

Not bad, and I appreciate that they put some focus on the science instead of just making it a romance movie with science in the background. However, nothing especially noteworthy here.

Rating: C

The More the Merrier (1943)

merrier

Starring: Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn, Joel McCrea, Richard Gaines

Director: George Stevens

Summary: The World War II housing shortage bring people together for an unlikely romance

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Arthur), Supporting Actor (Coburn)*, Adapted Screenplay, Story

Positives

-This is a very funny and charming situational comedy that really wrings every last joke out of its premise. It’s light, fun and very entertaining

-Charles Coburn steals pretty much every scene he’s in as an eccentric and overbearing older man. Arthur is reliably solid as always and has really good chemistry with McCrea. I would never say Arthur is great or anything, but she’s perfect for the roles she plays.

Negatives

-The movie falls off for me in the last act, where it turns from light romantic comedy to something much more akin to a romantic drama. While the movie ends on a great joke, I was surprised that the movie still ended on a bit of a downer with a lot of uncertainty.

Overall

This movie vastly exceeded my expectations coming in, and is definitely worth a watch if you like comedies, especially romantic comedies.

Rating: A-

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

ox-bow

Starring: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Frank Conroy, Harry Morgan, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Francis Ford, Jane Darwell

Director: William Wellman

Summary: A loner gets caught up in a posse’s drive to find and hang three suspected rustlers

Other Nominations: None

Positives

-There’s a lot of great dramatic tension in the middle, where the movie takes its time and lets the fates of the characters stew and until the resolution you’re not sure what’s going to end up happening.

-This movie captures the dangers of a mob mentality as well as any I’ve seen, and its themes are timeless and really could be applied to many groups and people over the last 70 years.

-Henry Fonda is good as usual-one thing I will always enjoy about him is his voice and cadence which are what really help him come across as the fundamentally decent person in (almost) every role he plays. The same could be said about Jimmy Stewart and Tom Hanks, who are all similar in this regard

Negatives

-There’s a subplot involving Fonda and his former girlfriend that’s totally useless other than it putting Fonda in this town at the beginning. Feels like padding, which the movie probably needed coming in at only 75 minutes

-This movie was filmed on backlots and you can tell. It doesn’t detract from the movie that much, but it always feels like a Western is missing something when it’s not filmed out in nature.

Other Stuff

-This was the last Best Picture nominee to be only nominated for that award. Since then, only a couple have been nominated for just two including BP: Decision Before Dawn (1951), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), The Blind Side (2009), A Serious Man (2009), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) and Selma (2014), with the last four being since the field was expanded in 2009.

Overall

Great movie with a compelling scenario and themes, and that’s an easy watch. Recommended.

Rating: A-

The Song of Bernadette (1943)

bernadette

Starring: Jennifer Jones, William Eythe, Charles Bickford, Vincent Price, Lee J. Cobb, Gladys Cooper, Anne Revere

Director: Henry King

Summary: A French peasant girl’s visions of the Virgin Mary create controversy as pilgrims flock to her small town.

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Jones)*, Supporting Actor (Bickford), Supporting Actress (Cooper), Supporting Actress (Revere), Adapted Screenplay, Dramatic Score*, Sound Recording, B&W Art Direction*, B&W Cinematography*, Film Editing

Positives

-Jennifer Jones gives a quiet and sensitive performance as Bernadette, and I agree she deserved to win the Oscar among the 4 performances I saw from this year (the exception being Joan Fontaine in The Constant Nymph)

-Really good score, even if it doesn’t stand out to me as much as it would for most people due to me having heard so many Alfred Newman and Max Steiner scores over the last 5 years of nominees.

-I’m glad I get to talk about one of my all-time favorite actors, who appears in his first of his two Best Picture nominees (although in a much bigger role here than in the other one): Vincent Price. Much like Christopher Walken, he was a great actor who gave his all no matter what the project was; Price made what would otherwise be schock into something memorable, and the handful of chances he got to do something that was actually really good (like The Last Man on Earth and Witchfinder General) something really great. Here, he’s pretty restrained and does a very good job playing an atheist skeptic and is one of the highlight supporting performances, along with Bickford and Lee J. Cobb.

Negatives

-Besides Price, some of the other “villains” are over the top in a cartoony way, whereas it probably would have worked better if they were more sinister

-There are a few times I felt this film’s length (at 2 hours, 38 minutes without overture, intermission or exit music), especially towards the end

Other Stuff

-This movie says “and introducing Jennifer Jones as Bernadette”, which if true would have made her the first of five actresses to win Best Actress in her first ever feature film role, the others being: Shirley Booth in 1952, Julie Andrews in 1964 (at least it was her first on-screen role), Barbra Streisand in 1968, and Marlee Matlin in 1986. However, this is only her debut under her stage name; she filmed a movie (New Frontier with John Wayne) and a serial in 1939 under her real name of Phyllis Isley.

Overall

Good movie with a good story and performances, even if it’s probably overlong

Rating: B

Watch on the Rhine (1943)

rhine

Summary: A German freedom-fighter and his family travel to the United States, but their plans are complicated by a Romanian count

Other Nominations: Actor (Lukas)*, Supporting Actress (Watson), Adapted Screenplay

Positives

-Once the movie actually gets going, it’s quite a solid story with some good drama. While there’s no way I would have given him the Oscar over Bogart or Rooney, Lukas is good and adds gravitas even if he is clearly not German (he’s Hungarian and sounds like a subdued Bela Lugosi).

Negatives

-The first hour of this movie is just awful, and you could have cut almost all of it without any real consequence to the story. It’s padding of the worst kind, unfocused faffing about-the main character barely even shows up in the first hour of the movie and the entire second hour is all about him.

-Davis is not all that good here, going too big with emotions constantly in a role that really shouldn’t be showy

-This is the weakest of Max Steiner’s scores I heard, it goes too big and overdramatic a lot of the time and overpowers what should be tense scenes.

Overall

Even though it ends up being alright, it damn well takes its time getting there and is a totally forgettable movie except for Lukas’ performance.
Rating: D+