Anchors Aweigh (1945)

anchors

Starring: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Jose Iturbi, Dean Stockwell, Pamela Britton

Director: George Sidney

Summary: A pair of sailors on leave try to help a movie extra become a singing star

Other Nominations: Actor (Kelly), Musical Score*, Original Song (“I Fall in Love Too Easily”), Color Cinematography

Positives

-Both leads are great, especially Kelly who is charming, fun, and of course an incredible dancer. Casting Sinatra as a shy former choir boy who is nervous around women is interesting and clearly against type, but he’s better here than I expected.

-It starts out really strong by instantly making the characters vivid, some of the situations fun and presenting a good starting place for a romance-musical.

-One of the best looking technicolor films so far

Negatives

-The movie stretches what should have been a simple 100 minute song and dance romance movie to a bloated 140 minutes with the main culprit being the numbers themselves. The good song and dance movies intersperse numbers in fairly equal measure throughout, and almost every song has something to do with the story or what the characters are feeling at the moment; with this movie, the last hour is almost all songs with a lot of overly long, lavish sequences, many of which are just there because they had an idea for a number and wanted to do it. The most obvious example is the famous (and good on its own) live action/animation sequence with Jerry the Mouse from Tom and Jerry, where for 10 minutes the movie grinds to a halt and becomes a different movie with it having no relation to anything before or after it in any way whatsoever. The movie starts out as really charming, but after that the story slows down to a crawl.

Overall

Starts out really promising, but after a while it starts dragging along with a bunch of big numbers that while visually impressive, go on too long and have little to do with our story or characters and therefore they get boring.

Rating: C+

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

bells

Starring: Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers, William Gargan

Director: Leo McCarey

Summary: A liberal priest tries to soften the strict nun running St. Mary’s school

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Crosby), Actress (Bergman), Dramatic/Comedy Score, Original Song (“Aren’t You Glad You’re You”), Sound Recording*, Film Editing

Positives

-Crosby and Bergman are both good here (especially Bergman who is the picture of loveliness here), and the dynamic between the two produces the some very good moments, even if I like the one Crosby and Fitzgerald had in Going My Way better. I also liked Travers as the old businessman.

-The subplots that make up the movie are hit or miss, but the one with the girl who lives there and is having a hard time academically was clearly my favorite.

Negatives

-Structurally, this movie is the same as its predecessor but worst. Most of the time, it feels like a series of a few subplots vs. being a consistent and focused narrative. This can work in a movie if done right, but the subplots feel mostly unconnected and a lot of them aren’t particularly interesting. Both movies also have the same core problem facing the characters (the Church/School needs money or it will be shut down), but there are long stretches where the movie forgets about it entirely.

-Crosby’s character is kind of annoying sometimes and most of the time I agree with Bergman’s character more than Crosby’s.

-There’s no songs that I liked, whereas GMW at least had “Swinging on a Star.”

Other Stuff

-The movie had a Catholic Priest as an advisor during shooting. As a joke, Crosby and Bergman did a take in one scene where their characters, a Catholic Priest and a Nun, embraced in a passionate kiss, while the advisor jumped up roaring in anger.

-Crosby earned his second nomination for playing the character Father O’Malley, the first time a person earned two Oscar nominations for playing the same character. The others who have done it since: Cate Blanchett (Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Peter O’Toole (King Henry II in Becket and The Lion in Winter), Paul Newman (Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler and The Color of Money), Al Pacino (Michael Corleone in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II), and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa in Rocky and Creed)

Going My Way was #1 at the Box Office in 1944, and The Bells of St. Mary’s was #1 in 1945 , making it the first franchise to be #1 in multiple years (much less in back-to-back years). Others to do so since: Star Wars (Star Wars in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, Return of the Jedi in 1983, The Phantom Menace in 1999, and The Force Awakens in 2015), Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, The Last Crusade in 1989), Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers in 2002 and Return of the King in 2003), Harry Potter (The Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001, The Goblet of Fire in 2005, The Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011), and Pirates of the Caribbean (Dead Man’s Chest in 2006, At World’s End in 2007)

Overall

This is a schmaltzy movie that has some good moments and Bergman especially is strong, but wasn’t my style and is slightly below its predecessor.

Rating: C-

*The Lost Weekend (1945)*

weekend

Starring: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling

Director: Billy Wilder

Summary: A writer fights to overcome his addiction to liquor

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Milland)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Dramatic/Comedy Score, B&W Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-This really was a bold movie for the time about a subject people simply didn’t talk about in public. What I think the film does best is get to some of the root causes of why people become addicted to something (to dull the pain of the failures in your everyday life), and why it’s so hard to break an addiction (self-delusion, self-loathing, obsessiveness and going to every means necessary to get the thing).

-Although I think he’s good on the whole, I actually have a mixed opinion on Milland’s performance. While he is excellent conveying the physical and body language aspects of the character, sometimes he gets a little hammy and “big” even when the moment doesn’t really call for it. To be honest, I liked him more in Dial ‘M’ for Murder where he was fantastic.

-Jane Wyman puts in a very solid performance as Milland’s unfortunate love interest

Negatives

-The style has not aged well in my opinion. This is a BIG melodrama where everything happening has big acting, big emotions, and big music, whereas I think something more toned down but with the same events, actions and characters would be better. I already mentioned Milland’s acting, but I hated the music which was constantly blaring, especially the theremin parts that for me at least seemed overboard. The scene I personally thought was the most effective was the one at the nightclub with the purse, where everything felt more subdued but was even more powerful because of it.

Other Stuff

-Wilder’s inspiration for this movie actually came from his previous movie that we covered, Double Indemnity. During the pre-production of that movie, he saw his co-writer Raymond Chandler relapse into being an alcoholic and wanted to “explain Raymond Chandler to himself.”

Overall

This is still a good movie about an important subject with some very effective moments, but overall the style has dated it somewhat.

Rating: B

Mildred Pierce (1945)

mildred

Starring: Joan Crawford,  Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Bruce Bennett, Butterfly McQueen

Director: Michael Curtiz

Summary: A woman turns herself into a business tycoon to win her selfish daughter a place in society

Other Nominations: Actress (Crawford)*, Supporting Actress (Arden), Supporting Actress (Blyth), Adapted Screenplay, B&W Cinematography

Positives

-Most of the central performances and their characters are great. Crawford resurrected her career with this movie, and you can see why: she’s natural, understated, and can be both strong and weak when the character needs to be. Her character is profoundly depressing, but also quite rich. Blyth and Scott are absolutely rotten to the core and I love it, even if they are one-note, they’re two very fun performances, especially Blyth’s.

-The cinematography is classic film noir, Max Steiner’s score is bombastic, and both work together  to make this an entertaining soap opera of a film.

Negatives

-I didn’t really like the film being done in flashback for two reasons: one, it goes on for two long and gives away too much of what is to come (I was able to figure out the twist halfway through the movie because of it), and because I don’t think it really needs it at all as the chronological starting point is strong enough as is.

-Bennett as Crawford’s ex-husband reminds me a lot of classic Gary Cooper here, and that’s not really a good thing. He’s pretty wooden, although some of the problem comes from his character not being as well-developed as it probably should have.

Overall

If you love big soap opera-style movies with sordid family problems, this is something you will want to check out. Even if you don’t the performances are memorable enough and the technical aspects strong enough that it’s still really good stuff.

Rating: B+

Spellbound (1945)

spellbound

Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Summary: A psychiatrist tries to help the man she loves solve a murder buried in his subconscious

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Chekhov), Dramatic/Comedy Score*, B&W Cinematography, Special Effects

Positives

-I liked the score a lot. Miklos Rozsa composed the score for both this and The Lost Weekend in the same year, and was the first to use a theremin for a film score; while I didn’t think it worked at all for the other movie, here it makes total sense, as this is a thriller where one of the characters keeps having psychotic breakdowns. Tonally, it fits this movie much better. Beyond that, there’s a lot of other very good pieces here, and the “bigness” of the score also helps for this movie.

-The Salvador Dali-designed dream sequences are a lot of fun, even if we only got about 2 minutes worth of them due to budgetary and pacing reasons.

-Bergman is again good even if she’s not really one of my favorites. Peck is just okay here, his appeal at this point in his career was mainly as an attractive guy with a sexy voice.

Negatives

-This is a lower-level Hitchcock thriller. One problem is that most of time it doesn’t feel all that tense most of the time because instead of a slow build (like Rebecca or Suspicion), it’s just a basic “man on the run” movie with a lot of interruptions used to move along the psychoanalytic aspects. The other issue is that the characters aren’t all that memorable. It’s still pretty good, but it’s not one of his better movies by any stretch.

Other Stuff

-From 1943 to 1945, Bergman was in 5 Best Picture nominees, had 3 Best Actress nominations and won for Gaslight; one of the most dominant periods for any actress on record. While this is the last time we’ll see her, she went strong through the end of the 1940’s until she fell off the face the earth for a while in Hollywood terms. This was because in 1950, she had an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, got pregnant and left her husband and daughter back in the United States. This shattered her public image, especially given some of the roles she was associated with: a nun (The Bells of St. Mary’s) and a virgin saint (Joan of Arc in 1948). From 1950-1955 she starred in 5 of Rossellini’s films until they separated in 1955. She returned to Hollywood in 1956, winning an Oscar for Anastasia that year, making it clear the public forgave her. She would become one of only a few to win 3 Oscars, also winning Best Supporting Actress in 1974 for Murder on the Orient Express.

Overall

It’s not bad by any means, but it’s still a disappointing movie for me considering who was involved.

Rating: B-

1945 in Review

Other Notable Films of 1945

Brief Encounter: David Lean’s breakout film, and probably the greatest film about an affair ever made. The BFI named it the second greatest British film ever, it tied for the Palme d’Or and was nominated for 3 Oscars.

Rome, Open City: Roberto Rossellini’s most acclaimed work and one of the launching points for the Italian neorealism movement. Won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 1945 Oscars.

Detour: Poverty Row picture with no-name actors that later got a critical re-evaluation as a dark film noir classic. Named to the National Film Registry in 1992.

The Story of G.I. Joe: Nominated for 4 Oscars and made a star out of Robert Mitchum. Named to the National Film Registry.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Elia Kazan’s first movie, nominated for 2 Oscars. In the National Film Registry.

Dead of Night: Famous British horror anthology film from the 1940s and Total Film named it the 35th best horror film of all time. Personally, I don’t think the film has aged that well, as many of the segments would be later imitated and done better (mainly the ventriloquist’s dummy and the Christmas party sequences).

Momotaro, Sacred Sailors: The first feature length anime film and is surprisingly nuanced for what was initially supposed to just be a Japanese war propaganda movie for kids

The Picture of Dorian Gray: Nominated for 3 Oscars and is mainly remembered today for the color inserts showing the increasingly horrifying painting (which is now at the Art Institute of Chicago). See it in it’s final form here: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/49/The_Picture_of_Dorian_Gray-_Ivan_Albright.jpg

1945 Nominees in Review

Mildred Pierce: B+

The Lost Weekend: B (Won Best Picture)

Spellbound: B-

Anchors Aweigh: C+

The Bells of St. Mary’s: C-

This was a just okay year, nothing all that bad and nothing truly great either (although Mildred Pierce is pretty close). The Lost Weekend was a strong candidate at the time and still has a lot of power, but aspects of it haven’t aged as well and talking about the subject in a frank manner is no longer shocking. It’s pretty depressing that of the four Hitchcock movies that I got to review here, two of them weren’t really among his most memorable work. Somehow, Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window, North By Northwest, Strangers on a Train, and The Birds weren’t worthy of a Best Picture nomination (although I know that Vertigo was not that well-received at the time and I actually don’t think it’s that amazing, especially considering that one scene towards the end that ruins everything that comes after it).

Well, by 1946 the war is over, but this is just the beginning of movies on the subject, including our Best Picture winner. Coming our way for 1946: A film that dominated the box office and won 7 Oscars, including one for a someone who wasn’t a professional actor; The first of two Olivier Shakespeare movies nominated for BP; A movie that’s financial failure marked the end of Frank Capra as a major director, but is now his most beloved work; a journey of self-discovery starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney; and a technicolor family film with Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman.