“The Hasty Heart” — One of “Bob’s Picks” and Mine, Too!

I was gratified to see the 1950 Warner Bros. title The Hasty Heart scheduled tonight at 8pm on TCM as one of Bob Osborne’s personal favorites.  I’m not sure why Bob is so crazy about it, but I’ll bet we share some of the same respect and affection for the movie.  Based on a Broadway play by dramatist John Patrick, The Hasty Heart tells the tale of an irascible Scottish soldier in WWII whose stay at a British military hospital in 1944 Burma brings him face-to-face with the consequences of his prickly personality and ultimately his own mortality. [...MORE]

Memorial Day Movies: They Were Expendable (1945)

“This isn’t going to be some goddamned two-bit propaganda flick.”

-John Ford to Vice Admiral John Bulkeley, USN

John Ford put off making They Were Expendable for over two years. He was busy with his Field Photo Unit making war documentaries, and he wasn’t eager to to go off active service. He was completing post-production on The Battle of Midway (1942), and dealing with the negative reaction to December 7th (directed by Gregg Toland), a Pearl Harbor re-enactment whose depiction of a less than prepared Navy led to its shelving, and to the future censoring of the Photo Unit’s output. Joseph McBride, in his magisterial biography Searching for John Ford, writes that “the navy reacted to the long version of December 7th ‘by confiscating the print and ordering Ford to lock up the negative.”

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Hattie McDaniel’s Path to Her Oscar

Last year, in part because of the celebrations surrounding the films of 1939, I had a chance to introduce Gone With the Wind to younger viewers in my family who had never seen the film. It’s not a favorite movie of mine, so I could understand their appalled reactions to the innate racism of the story that implied that a slave’s first loyalty was to the families that owned them, (even after the Civil War and emancipation). Seen at a glance in GWTW, maybe the antebellum South’s biggest problems may only seem to be uppity white trash like Victor Jory’s oily Jonas Wilkerson, or the need for rebellious girls like Scarlett to maintain their hypocritical poses in a rigid social structure, while secretly acting on their own half-understood impulses, and the upheaval caused by those damn Yankees. But look a bit closer and you can see the story of changing attitudes and a brave woman struggling to make her mark in a world that both rejected and accepted her.  I don’t mean Scarlett Katie O’Hara, either.

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The Best Picture Nominees from 1943

The Movie Morlocks Oscar blog-a-thon continues today and goes through the end of the week. Suzi kicked things off yesterday with a look at actors who were nominated for historical roles. Today I look at the Best Picture race from 1944′s Academy Award ceremony (for the films of ’43).

The big news at this year’s Oscar ceremony is the expansion of the Best Picture category from five nominees to ten. After the near shutout of THE DARK KNIGHT from major awards in 2009, it’s an effort by the Academy to shoehorn some money makers onto the show to goose ratings. And while the world-devouring AVATAR would have been nominated in a field of one, hits like DISTRICT 9 and THE BLIND SIDE certainly benefited from the change. This is no innovation however – there were ten best picture nominees from 1937 – 1944 (it varied between 3 – 12 before then). They cut it down to five nominations in ’45 for the first national radio telecast on ABC, perhaps to trim a few seconds off the program. Over the next two weeks, I’ll watch all the nominees (except for the out-of-print HUMAN COMEDY), from immortal classics to forgotten curios. It’s an attempt to take the pulse of mainstream film-making of the era with fresh eyes. The list of nominees is after the break.

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Captured! (1933) By the Past

Captured! (1933-Roy Del Ruth) is a Warner Brothers film that was advertised in overheated ad copy of the time as a “cavalcade of human passions in the maelstrom of mankind’s great adventure”. This little known pre-code movie never reaches those hyperbolic proportions, and has largely been forgotten, but, despite its strengths and flaws, I suspect that the situations depicted among men isolated in the time of war may have had an unacknowledged impact on later depictions of POW camps on film, influencing everything from La Grande Illusion (1937-Jean Renoir) to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943-Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) to Stalag 17 (1953-Billy wilder) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957-David Lean). The movie is an uneven look at the erosion of accepted values in the 20th century, and it is also an interesting glimpse of the changing public attitudes toward war, influenced by a rise of pacifism following World War I.

Remembering Pearl Harbor Day Through the Movies

When I was a little girl, my father taught me about Pearl Harbor Day. He was a World War II army veteran and had served in the Philippines and New Guinea. Like many vets of that generation, he did not talk much about his experiences, which I am sure were as horrific as they are in any war. However, on occasion, he would bring up something related to the war: For example, he loathed and despised General Douglas MacArthur for his “I have returned” moment when the general was recorded by dozens of news cameras marching onto the beach of Leyte Island in the Philippines. My Dad said that thousands of soldiers had been there hours before him and had cleared the way, making it safe for MacArthur to have his photo opportunity. The good general did not have the graciousness to acknowledge those soldiers, and my father thought MacArthur an ungrateful glory hound. He said that weeks later when his base showed the famous newsreel of MacArthur splashing through the water as he landed on Leyte Island, the audience of soldiers booed and threw things at the screen. I doubt if you will read about that one in the history books!!

MacArthur aside, my father was truly a patriotic man, though he never wore it on his sleeve or used patriotism to justify a political stance like we see so often today. After he explained Pearl Harbor to me, December 7th was generally acknowledged in our household with a “Hey, Bud, remember what happened on this day?” Currently, in the wake of 9/11, Pearl Harbor Day tends to be remembered only in comparison to the destruction of the Twin Towers eight years ago, and perhaps that is natural. After all, almost 70 years have passed since December 7, 1941, and contemporary hostilities in the Middle East have imprinted our culture with new fears and concerns. Still, I was happy to see that TCM is remembering Pearl Harbor today with Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series, beginning this morning and continuing throughout the afternoon. It reminded me of the tremendous role that the Hollywood industry played in the war effort. Hollywood was not only a ready source of information through newsreels and documentaries but a source of inspiration through narrative movies, bond drives, and USO tours. Hollywood’s massive participation in the war effort helped promote a sense of social and political unity in this country that I have yet to experience in my lifetime, and the way things are going, I don’t think I will.  For this reason, I have a soft spot for this era of movie history.

CAPRA EDITS "THE BATTLE OF CHINA"

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J. Carrol Naish, Changeling

Careening across the countryside in a gypsy wagon, a lovesick hunchback cries out piteously for release from his twisted form. A hardworking Jewish-American father tries to appease his young son on his birthday, seeking to interest him in a baseball bat rather than an expensive violin.

A tired general on the Western frontier finds a few moments of solace in soldiers’ singing. An Italian soldier, willing to do anything to get back to his wife and baby, is stranded in the war-torn desert. A stoic Indian chief joins a wild west show, finding a way to keep his dignity despite his reduced circumstances. A broken matador tells an up and comer some hard truths. A Mexican dictator regretfully but decisively goes to war. A Japanese editor tries to correct his American-educated son’s corrupt Western ways.  And a half-monkey, half-man broods endlessly about his plight, especially since he’s stuck being an unpaid houseboy for his creator.

What do each of these diverse (and sometimes pretty outlandish) characters and at least 200 more have in common? Character actor and changeling J. Carrol Naish (1896-1973). I can’t possibly touch on the range of Naish‘s roles in this blog, but his remarkably productive career includes an enormous range of characters, far beyond the roles as heavily accented types he is often best remembered for today.

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The Unsung Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford, around the time he played "Pa Kent" in Superman (1978)

“I’ve never played anyone but myself on screen.”
~ Glenn Ford (1916-2006)

He never won an Academy Award, nor was he recognized by the American Film Institute with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Yet, in over 200 movies, the seamless, artless quality in actor Glenn Ford‘s work enabled him to fly under the radar of the ballyhoo that surrounds much of Hollywood. His very squareness illuminated something of value for audiences: the effort to survive, the desire to preserve some integrity, some shared insight into the nature of good and evil, and the things of value that we might try to pass on. Whether behind a badge, roaming on horseback, wearing a business suit, a uniform or a pair of well-worn jeans, his characters could be good and bad. He didn’t really care if he played “the villain or the hero,” the actor once pointed out. “Sometimes the villain is the most colorful. But I prefer a part where you don’t know what he is until the end.” Commentators have pointed out that much of the career of Glenn Ford was based on “niceness”, with decency and morality running consistently through his characters. I find the struggle and inability of Ford‘s characters to remain “nice” in an increasingly complex, unfair world to be one of the factors that makes him an interesting actor. His occasional slow burns on screen in roles such as The Violent Men, Trial, Ransom, The Big Heat and Human Desire, and his overwhelmed comic characters, such as the widower in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, brought out something unexpectedly mercurial in his screen persona. You cannot always predict where he is going to go with a characterization.

When TCM trots out a plethora of Glenn Ford movies this Friday, August 7th, as part of the Summer Under the Stars celebration, I’ll probably be watching–warily. Until the last few years, you see, I didn’t think I liked Glenn Ford. But that was my mistake. Now I know better and can appreciate some of his work. Besides, I need to hang out till the ends of his movies to find out if his character was good or bad.
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Flynn: A Touch of Color in a Prosaic World

“Maybe all that I am in this world and all that I have been and done comes down to nothing more than being a touch of color in a prosaic world. Even that is something.” ~ Errol Flynn, writing in My Wicked, Wicked Ways

Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1937)

Well, no. It can’t be possible. Errol Flynn at 100 is unimaginable. Yet, as of Saturday, June 20th, the great swashbuckler of the sound era passed the one hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1909 in Tasmania. It may seem impossible that such a milestone has been reached without a bigger celebration in Flynn‘s adopted homeland of America. However, ask yourself: For true classic movie fans, haven’t we continued to celebrate and rediscover Errol Flynn and his evergreen films over and over in the years since he left this world?

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Going Out of Business Sales

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Brick and mortar retail chains keep going bankrupt, so much so that there’s nowhere to buy DVDs near my cozy home or slightly less cozy workplace. That twitchy urge to buy movies on the day of their release will have to be repressed, and Lord only knows how this will effect my already questionably sane psyche. Tower Records buckled in 2006, Circuit City tanked last year, and now the Virgin Megastores are liquidating their inventory before disappearing into the great big box store in the sky. There’s still a few scattered Best Buys, with their limited Hollywood selection, and some Barnes and Nobles, with their inflated prices, but none near me, not that they’d salve my pain anyway. Kim’s Video, that venerable NYC outlet, is attempting to survive as a retail-only store after selling their rental archive to Sicily, but it’s only at one location, far from my prying eyes. [...MORE]

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