*All the King’s Men (1949)*

kingsmen

Starring: Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru, Mercedes McCambridge (in her film debut), John Derek, Sheppard Strudwick

Director: Robert Rossen

Summary: A backwoods politician rises to the top only to become corrupted

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Crawford)*, Supporting Actor (Ireland), Supporting Actress (McCambridge)*, Screenplay, Film Editing

Positives

-This movie pulls no punches, and is a raw, gritty and cynical look at the corrupting force of political power, populism, the cult of personality and the inherent flaws in our government that come from kind of people who end up running for political office. It’s pretty timeless, as all of the problems that we see in the movie still exist (in the United States anyway), and I can’t imagine that we will ever be rid of them.

-The cast is good all around, with special mention to Crawford, who was plucked from obscurity into a great lead performance playing Willie Stark, a person who’s already-existing flaws were brought out when he decided to get involved in politics, and McCambridge who plays a very non-traditional female role as a cynical political advisor, although she unfortunately doesn’t do much in the second half of the film. Even if you haven’t seen McCambridge before, you’re probably familiar with one of her performances that I will be covering later-the voice of the demon Pazuzu in The Exorcist.

-The movie, especially in the first half, moves at a brisk pace while still conveying all the information we need with a lot of good scenes. This film is generally considered to be saved in editing: the original cut was an ungodly 250 minutes long, and was trimmed to the release version of 109 minutes when the director told the editor to cut out the beginning and end of every scene and see what it looked like; the result was a movie that made its points quickly and effectively.

Negatives

-Most of the problems with the movie come from the second half, which peeters out a lot, as keeps covering the same point over and over again without moving forward all that much until the very end. I also didn’t get much out Dru or her character other than that she’s yet another character who gets lured in by power.

Overall

A bold movie for its time that would have felt right at home in the 70s with its cynicism about the political process, it’s really good but unfortunately it runs out of gas eventually.

Rating: B+

Battleground (1949)

battleground

Starring: Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Marshall Thompson, Jerome Courtland, Don Taylor, Bruce Cowling, James Whitmore

Director: William Wellman

Summary: American soldiers in France fight to survive a Nazi siege during the Battle of the Bulge

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Whitmore), Original Screenplay*, B&W Cinematography*, Film Editing

Positives

-This is easily the most realistic war movie to date and the dialogue is very good. Because the war is over and morale isn’t an issue, it doesn’t shy away from showing how much being a soldier during war time sucks: you’re in the elements, everybody is miserable and can be jerks or cowards, you don’t know anything, and it’s monotonous yet anything can happen to you at any time. It’s great to see a movie that does not glamorize war, yet it doesn’t get bogged down in just showing misery and violence either. Other movies since have done it better, but it still holds up reasonably well. Finally, the banter between the characters also feels authentic as it should-the screenwriter was in the Battle of the Bulge.

-This is a very well-shot film. There’s nothing flashy or anything that stands out in particular, but everything is perfectly framed and you can follow the combat and it feels suitably claustrophobic.

Negatives

-I think the movie tries to focus on too many characters, with the result being that it doesn’t get into much depth for any of them.

-Production values are hurt from it clearly being filmed on a soundstage. In a related point, and this is a very minor complaint: despite most of it taking place in a snowy forest, you never see anyone’s breath. Since it was mostly filmed indoors, I don’t know why they didn’t go to the trouble of filming in a refrigerated space, as other movies had done.

Overall

This was a war movie that was better than I expected, because it made the soldiers look human and it felt as authentic as you’ll find for a movie on the subject from this era. It has flaws, but it’s worth a watch if you like WWII movies.

Rating: B

The Heiress (1949)

heiress

Starring: Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins

Director: William Wyler

Summary: A father is skeptical that his plain daughter’s suitor is only after her fortune.

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (de Havilland)*, Supporting Actor (Richardson), Dramatic/Comedy Score*, B&W Art Direction*, B&W Cinematography, B&W Costume Design*

Positives

-It’s highly original and a credit to everyone involved that they were willing to make such an ugly and depressing movie in the 1940’s. This is a really unusual story for a movie at the time, because none of the three leads are actually likeable (on purpose): the only one you can even argue is de Havilland’s character, who is extremely sympathetic, but (for the most part), is awkward, shy, unglamorous, and not very interesting or intelligent-sympathy and likeablilty are not the same thing. This movie commits to its ugliness in all aspects and because of that it works.

-de Havilland and Richardson are both really good in their roles as the daughter and the father. De Havilland’s role is really challenging, because for the most part, she has to totally commit to being upstaged by the rest of the cast who are (intentionally) way more interesting in one way or another. For someone who was a major lead at the time, this was a bold role and she executes it perfectly. Richardson is cold and vicious with an underlying charisma and nails the showiest role in the movie.

-The score has a lot of warmth and lightness to it, at least compared to typically Max Steiner/Alfred Newman scores and serves as a nice change of pace.

Negatives

-I loved the last 40 minutes or so, but the hour and 20 proceeding it were very average for me. Almost immediately, we see what the conflict is going to be and we’re just waiting for a payoff for a long time after that. Predictability in itself isn’t necessarily bad, but the problem here is that there aren’t really shifts in characters positions during this time: de Havilland is in love with Clift’s character and doesn’t entertain the possibility that he doesn’t love her; Richardson is completely against their courtship because he doesn’t think Clift loves his daughter and is only in it for the money; Clift’s motives aren’t completely clear, but our opinion of him and his intentions don’t change a lot. This “windup” goes on too long and is the major problem with the movie.

-Clift’s performance isn’t very good, although his character doesn’t give him that much to work with in the first place.

Overall

This movie gets unreal praise (an 8.3 on IMDB which is one of the highest for any movie I’ve seen on this) and while I can understand why to an extent, I would never call this great by any means. The stuff towards the end is great, but that doesn’t make up for the majority of the movie being very “eh.”

Rating: B

A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

3wives

Starring: Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain,  Paul Douglas (his feature debut), Kirk Douglas, Jeffrey Lynn

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Summary: A small-town seductress notifies her three best friends that she has run off with one of their husbands

Other Nominations: Director*, Adapted Screenplay*

Positives

-Darnell and Paul Douglas are the highlights of the movie, both in terms of acting, and in relationships and characters. Darnell should have gotten a supporting actress nomination for her excellent portrayal of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who has a hard edge to her, being both a classic femme-fatale kind of character, but also being vulnerable which are usually two different things but she makes both work well. Paul Douglas reminds me a lot of Ernest Borgnine, playing a schlubby big guy who has a lot of wealth but also a lot of insecurities of his own. Their relationship is the most memorable of the three because the two play well off each other and it’s the most developed by far.

-While the structure doesn’t always work and some of the movie feels dated, the dialogue is consistently good throughout.

Negatives

-This movie is basically cut into three segments which look into the relationships between the three wives and their husbands, and why each wife thinks it might be their husband who ran away. As with any anthology-type story, some segments will be better than others, and here the one with Crain and Lynn lags way behind. It doesn’t go on long enough for us to really get to know the characters, and what we see is a basic story about social status insecurity that just isn’t very interesting, from both a character and acting perspective and also is way more dated than the other two segments in terms of how women are characterized.

Other Stuff

-This is one of the few movies to win for Best Director & Screenplay but not Best Picture. The others: 7th Heaven (1927/28), Bad Girl (1931/32), The Informer (1935), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), A Place in the Sun (1951), Traffic (2000), The Pianist (2002), Brokeback Mountain (2005).

Overall

This is an uneven relationship drama, but it gets progressively better as it goes on, with the last segment featuring Darnell and Paul Douglas being easily the best.
Rating: B-

Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

twelve

Starring: Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Millard Mitchell, Dean Jagger, Robert Arthur, Paul Stewart, John Kellogg, Robert Patten

Director: Henry King

Summary: A World War II bomber squadron tries to keep from cracking under the pressure

Other Nominations: Actor (Peck), Supporting Actor (Jagger)*, Sound Recording*

Positives

-This is Gregory Peck’s best performance so far-even though he’s not ever going to emote very much, he definitely has more to work with. He gets to play a character who has an actual, solid arc to him, running from loathsome blowhard who talks a big game to eventually becoming the kind of person he used to detest. The movie is almost entirely about him, and other characters relations to him, so his strong performance and characterization are the main attraction

-They used real WWII bomber plane footage, which isn’t seamlessly inserted, but doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as the stuff from Test Pilot.

Negatives

-Other than Peck, there’s not that much else memorable about this movie. Jagger winning Best Supporting Actor is a very curious choice: usually, it goes to someone who either was in a lot of the movie and was consistently good, or it goes to someone who wasn’t in it a lot but had one or two really memorable scenes; neither of those are the case here, and Ralph Richardson (The Heiress) was a much better option for voters in that category.

Overall

A very good performance by Peck playing a good character buoys this movie, even if it’s otherwise unexceptional.

Rating: B-

1949 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1949

The Third Man: Maybe the best film noir of all-time, starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles-featuring one of the best reveals and best endings ever. Was not nominated for Best Picture despite a Best Director nomination, which is very unfortunate. Named the greatest British film of all-time by the BFI, and the Top 100 by the AFI in their original list.

White Heat: One of the all-time classic gangster films starring one of the greatest screen gangsters ever, James Cagney. Time Magazine named it one of their 100 Greatest films of all-time

Kind Hearts and Coronets: Black comedy starring Dennis Price and Alec Guinness playing 8 different roles. Named to both the Time Magazine 100 Films and BFI 100 British films list (#6).

Adam’s Rib: Considered one of the best romantic comedies of all time (and on both the AFI 100 Laughs and Passions Lists), starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Co-screenplay writer Ruth Gordon was nominated for an Oscar for this movie, but would later win an Oscar as an actress in Rosemary’s Baby.

Late Spring: Yasujiro Ozu’s first massively-acclaimed work, it was ranked as the 15th greatest film of all-time on the last Sight and Sound poll; in Japan though, it’s not quite as well-regarded, but was voted the 38th best Japanese film by Kinema Junpo magazine.

Samson and Delilah: Cecil B. DeMille’s 801st Biblical epic that was the highest grossing film of 1950 (the year of its wide release) which received 5 Oscar nominations.

Whisky Galore! & Passport to Pimlico: two signature Ealing comedies that were both named to BFI 100 Greatest British films list.

My Friend Irma: The film that marked the debut of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as a team

On the Town: Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra teamed up again in another extremely successful musical effort. Named the #19th greatest musical by the AFI

 

1949 Nominees in Review

All the King’s Men: B+ (Won Best Picture)

The Heiress: B

Battleground: B

Twelve O’Clock High: B-

A Letter to Three Wives: B-

A good if unexceptional year, and the first since 1943 (Casablanca) where the Best Picture winner was my favorite movie of all the nominees. Battleground was the biggest surprise, as I knew nothing about it and yet it was one of the better nominees.

1949 was the last year where all Best Picture nominees were in black and white. While color had been used regularly, it was still very much a novelty at this time-from 1947-1950, only 2 of the 20 nominees were in color. However, things started to change rapidly: starting with 1951, at least 2 of the 5 nominees every year were in color, culminating with 1956 when all 5 nominees were in color. After that, black and white films were still very common- in fact, the majority of the 1965 nominees were in black and white, but after 1967 (the last year for split art direction and cinematography categories), only a handful of BP nominees were in black and white: The Last Picture Show (1971), Lenny (1974), Raging Bull and The Elephant Man (1980), Schindler’s List (1993), The Artist (2012) and Nebraska (2013).

We enter the 1950’s and with it, we have what was pretty much a two-horse race for Best Picture between two films that were nominated for a combined 25 Oscars (winning 9), and are two of the most acclaimed movies of all-time, both making the last AFI Top 30. Additionally, there’s the movie that amazingly had the Best Actress winner (in spite of the two above films having some of the most famous performances by actresses ever); the first nominee with Elizabeth Taylor in it; and a big technicolor adventure film that features our first of seven Deborah Kerr performances.