Double Indemnity (1944)

doubleindemnity

Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Heather, Tom Powers

Director: Billy Wilder

Summary: An insurance salesman gets seduced into plotting a client’s death

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Stanwyck), Adapted Screenplay, Dramatic Score, Sound Recording, B&W Cinematography

Positives

-This is basically the definitive film noir in that it contains almost everything you think of with the genre, and does it well, from the dialogue, the writing, the characters and the lighting. Most notable is the often-imitated dialogue, co-written by legends Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler.

-I think the decision to tell the whole story in flashback with narration works really well, as the beginning is a great hook for a story that takes a bit to get going otherwise.

-Edward G. Robinson is great in a supporting role as MacMurray’s boss and I’m really surprised he didn’t get an Oscar nomination. Robinson is always fun in his roles, but his character has quite a bit of depth here that makes it stand out.

Negatives

-The story gets progressively better and better throughout its run time, but for whatever reason I never thought it was great, just very good. I’ve seen a number of film noirs that I thought were much more exciting, more tense, had better characters, etc. such as The Third Man or The Maltese Falcon, this just never reached anywhere near the heights of those films for me.

Other Stuff

-Not content with just making Humphrey Bogart’s career my turning down the roles that made him a star, George Raft also turned down the lead in this movie, that made Fred MacMurray a star.

Overall

Really good movie that I didn’t like as much as most people seemed to-it’s worth watching and towards the end it’s great, but it was nothing I would rave about.

Rating: B+

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Gaslight (1944)

gaslight

Starring: Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury (in her film debut), Dame May Whitty, Barbara Everest

Director: George Cukor

Summary: A newlywed fears she’s going mad when strange things start happening at the family mansion

Other Nominations: Actor (Boyer), Actress (Bergman)*, Supporting Actress (Lansbury), Adapted Screenplay, B&W Art Direction*, B&W Cinematography

Positives

-Yes, Bergman won the Oscar and does a great job getting progressively more and more haggard as time goes on and her scene at the end is excellent, but man Charles Boyer absolutely got robbed of an Oscar for his role as the husband. I’ve liked him in movies before (especially All This, and Heaven Too), but this is a career performance-he’s always played charming well, which he does again at times, but here he also shows he can be sinister and villainous as well as anybody this side of Charles Laughton, using his body language and tone to amazing effect.

-The whole production design and cinematography work perfectly to evoke a mood-the fog outside is mysterious, the lighting and set design inside is eerie and moody, and close-ups are used well.

-Angela Lansbury made her debut here at age 17, and put in a memorable performance as an intimidating and slimy cockney maid. This especially surprised me considering the kinds of roles she would become famous for much later in her life.

-The score is mostly background music and is almost never in the forefront, which is a good thing here-the emotions and tension from the scene itself don’t need an overpowering score and instead it should just be used to heighten what’s already there

Negative

-The story is definitely a slow burn with a great pay off, but honestly I was getting antsy after a while waiting for the movie to really kick into gear; this was made worse by the fact that I deduced what was going on and even the exact motivation behind it early in the movie. It works less as a mystery than it does as a thriller, but boy does it work as a thriller.

Overall

Terrific thriller with great atmosphere and an amazing lead performances, especially from Charles Boyer.

Rating: A-

*Going My Way (1944)*

going

Starring: Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Frank McHugh, James Brown, Gene Lockhart, Rise Stevens, Jean Heather

Director: Leo McCarey

Summary: A young priest revitalizes a failing parish and brings new life to the elder priest

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Crosby)*, Actor (Fitzgerald), Supporting Actor (Fitzgerald)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Story*, Song (“Swinging on a Star”)*, B&W Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-Both leads are enjoyable, especially when they interact together. Crosby’s easygoing demeanor, good looks and instantly recognizable singing voice make it obvious why he was such a star at the time, even if his acting itself is nothing special. Fitzgerald plays a great crusty old Priest who reminds me of a nicer, more sober version of Father Jack from Father Ted.

-The songs are fine, and “Swinging on a Star” is easily the best, as it has some energy behind it.

Negatives

-The movie loses a lot of steam once its one trick (the fun dynamic between Crosby and Fitzgerald) has been played out and resolved about half way through the movie

-This is a very safe, broad appeal movie that lacks…oomph, so to speak. It just kind of goes at a sleepy pace without too many fun, exciting, interesting, thrilling, dramatic, or emotional things happening. It’s like a warm blanket, which actually is a good general description of Crosby’s song-style as well.

Other Stuff

-Crosby’s character is a St. Louis Brown’s fan, a team that no longer exists (they moved to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Baltimore Orioles). This makes sense in a lot of ways-from a character standpoint, he would most likely be a Browns fan vs. a Cardinals fan, as the Browns were legendary for being terrible at baseball and would be underdogs vs. the (then) powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals. Ironically, the Browns actually won the American League in 1944 (for the only time) and lost to the Cardinals-the last time an entire World Series was played in the same stadium.

-This is the only time in Oscars history that an actor in a movie was nominated for both Actor & Supporting Actor-both for the same role. Rules have since been changed to prevent it.

Overall

This movie reminds me a lot of plain toast: it’s perfectly okay, but nobody is ever going to go to a restaurant and just order toast. This movie has wide appeal and is totally unobjectionable, but it’s also totally unremarkable.

Rating: C

Since You Went Away (1944)

wentaway

Starring: Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Robert Walker, Monty Woolley, Hattie McDaniel, Agnes Moorehead, Lionel Barrymore, Albert Bassermann

Director: John Cromwell

Summary: A mother and her daughters struggle while the father is off serving in World War II

Other Nominations: Actress (Colbert), Supporting Actor (Woolley), Supporting Actress (Jones), Dramatic/Comedy Score*, B&W Art Direction, B&W Cinematography, Film Editing, Special Effects

Positives

-Just look at that cast list-they have a combined won 5 Oscars (4 competitive, 1 honorary) and 16 Nominations. Most of the performances were very good, aside from Temple who didn’t do anything for me. Even as an older woman, Colbert is still as charming and likeable as ever and is the best thing this movie has going for it. Jones is again great at playing a lily-white innocent girl next door type character; I’m interesting in seeing A Duel in the Sun at some point because I’ve heard pretty good things about it, and Jones plays completely against type and was nominated for an Oscar for that role too. Woolley plays a very similar character to his one from The Pied Piper and is enjoyable here as well.

-Jones and Walker play sweethearts in the movie, which made sense considering they were married at the time; the problem is that their marriage was crumbling apart and she was having an affair with the movie’s producer, David O. Selznick. Jones and Walker divorced in 1945, and Jones married Selznick in 1949.

Negatives

-This is a fairly standard melodrama that has a solid central theme (loneliness and the want of affection during wartime), but it is incredibly bloated at 2 hours and 57 minutes. There are way too many characters and subplots, all of which cover the same ground theme-wise over and over again. This is not the kind of story that needs to be told in the form of a lengthy epic.

-This is a patriotic “do your part for the war effort” kind of movie (with some heavy Christian overtones) which was typical at the time, but isn’t all that interesting to me.

Other Stuff

-Being in the movie for 1 hour and 15 minutes, Jennifer Jones has the most screentime for any Supporting Actress nominee

Overall

This is an alright movie with some good performances, but it would have been better as a shorter movie with a tighter focus on the core characters and their stories.

Rating: C

Wilson (1944)

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Starring: Alexander Knox, Charles Coburn, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Thomas Mitchell, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price

Director: Henry King

Summary: Biopic on the life of former President Woodrow Wilson

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Knox), Original Screenplay*, Dramatic/Comedy Score, Sound Recording*, Color Art Direction*, Color Cinematography*, Film Editing*, Special Effects

Positives

-Knox gives a very good performance, capturing Wilson as he was-serious, not particularly charismatic, but a man of (mostly) good principles.

-The movie is as accurate to historical events as any biopic you will likely ever see, and even does a good job of making his opponents seem like real people and are not really presented as villainous for the most part

-The set design is excellent, especially the White House which looks very authentic

Negatives

-This is reeeeeallly dry, even more than you would expect; this, combined with its lack of star power is probably the reason this was a massive financial flop despite good reviews and 10 Oscars nominations. Everything about this movie from the subject, to the presentation and the acting lacks any real energy.

-Biopic hagiographies are almost never interesting, especially when the subject had a number of noteworthy personal faults and political missteps. The film constantly makes comparisons between Washington, Lincoln and Wilson, and asserts them as being the three “great” Presidents; while Wilson is considered by most historians as a very good President, this is a very bold assertion that most I don’t think would agree with. The movie presents Wilson as a man without any real personal faults whatsoever, ignoring his racism towards African-Americans that was unusually strong even for the times.

-Despite being the most expensive movie made up to this point (it broke the mark set by Gone With the Wind), the color doesn’t look good and it would have been better in black and white. Everything feels washed out, skin tones are wrong a lot of the time, and the color palette choices & lighting are bad. There were much better looking color movies from this period: here’s Wilson: http://i88.photobucket.com/albums/k194/thesmark/MA/wilsoncolor.png and http://i88.photobucket.com/albums/k194/thesmark/MA/wilsoncolor2.png. Here’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943): http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3713/9821447035_23e2252039_z.jpg and https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6b/For_Whom_The_Bell_Tolls_trailer.jpg.

Overall

The movie had its heart in the right place and its historical accuracy and lead performance were of note; however, this was a chore to watch because of the presentation and its lack of nuance about its subject.

Rating: D+

1944 in Review

Other Notable Films of 1944

Laura: Nominated for 5 Oscars but not best picture, it is considered one of the great mystery films of all-time and has been named to three different AFI lists (Thrills, Scores and Mysteries) and the National Film Registry. This was a major casualty of reducing the field from 10 to 5, as I remember liking it a lot when I watched it some years ago.

Meet Me in St. Louis: Named as the 10th greatest musical of all-time by the AFI which is an incredible accomplishment considering just how many were nominated for Best Picture. Nominated for 4 Oscars but not BP.

National Velvet: Elizabeth Taylor’s breakout movie at the age of just 12 and nominated for 5 Oscars (winning two). Named to the National Film Registry and has a 100% on RT; again, this was a bad year to reduce the nominees from 10 to 5

Arsenic and Old Lace: One of Frank Capra’s last financially successful films. Stars Cary Grant and is #30 on the AFI 100 Laughs list, one of the only black comedies on the list.

Hail the Conquering Hero & The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek: Preston Sturges had two films named to the National Film Registry from 1944, with Miracle of Morgan’s Creek named to the AFI 100 Laughs list

Mom and Dad: One of the more offbeat features in the NFR-it’s an exploitation film that despite failing completely as a regular film, made huge money because the last reel had explicit nudity and footage of live births and it was thus was packaged as an educational “sex hygiene” film. A lot of people saw the movie for what it really was though and people tried to ban it every place it played with varying levels of success.

Ivan the Terrible: This two-part historical epic (1944 & 1946) was Sergei Eisenstein’s last movie; Part I was released in 1944, but Part II wasn’t released until 1958 because it was banned by Stalin who did not like how it portrayed its subject. Sadly, there was supposed to be a Part III, but Part II was banned and Eisenstein died in 1948. Was named to the Sight & Sound 1962 Top 10 Poll.

1944 Nominees in Review

Gaslight: A-

Double Indemnity: B+

Since You Went Away: C

Going My Way: C (Won Best Picture)

Wilson: D+

Wildly uneven year, with the Best Picture winner being one of the weakest in the field. I completely understand why it made tons of money and won Oscars, but it simply hasn’t aged as well as some of the other movies from 1944. Crosby was unquestionably the biggest entertainer of the 1940’s and almost nothing could stop him around this time: he was the #1 box office through the rest of the decade, and he was so popular a singer that a study was done in 1948 that found that over half of all radio airplay song-wise were from Crosby.

Up next for 1945: Our first Gene Kelly musical, which also stars Frank Sinatra and is famous for a live action-animated sequence with Tom and Jerry; Our first sequel, which was also the biggest box office hit of the 1940’s; Joan Crawford’s comeback film which was also the last BP nominee for director Michael Curtiz; The last BP nominee for Alfred Hitchcock (yes, really) and the first for Gregory Peck; and the first of two movies to win the highest honors at both the Oscars and the Cannes Film Festival.