Showing posts with label 1939. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1939. Show all posts

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Gone with the Wind

Epic in every conceivable facet, Gone with the Wind is a hugely successful, multi award winning melodrama which sweeps its way through intertwined families of the Old South during The American Civil war and subsequent reconstruction era. Notable in its day for its long pre-production and actual production problems, the film has come to be known as one of the most loved in history. As well as receiving a record ten Oscars, a feat that wasn’t beaten for twenty years, it was also the highest grossing picture of its day and still remains the highest grossing film in history when adjusted for inflation. When released in 1939 it also had the distinction of being the longest American sound film, clocking in at a patience testing 221 minutes, or 234 including overture and intermission.

Although recognised upon its release as a critical and commercial success, and despite its place in history well and truly assured, more recent critical reassessments have been less kind, picking up on details which were less consequential in the late 1930s and early 40s. I’d heard both the good and bad second hand but decided to finally set aside many hours on a rainy Sunday and watch it for myself. My opinion of the picture is less favourable than the norm but I’m able to recognise it for its strengths and can’t dispute its historical standing in the medium of film.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washinton

Nominated for eleven Academy Awards but having the misfortune of being released in the same year as Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a political comedy-drama that stands the test of time. Though produced and set in 1939, the film feels as fresh and relevant as the day of its release and contains the breakthrough performance of one of Hollywood’s greats, James Stewart. Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, the head of the Boy Rangers, local newspaper owner and all around good guy. When one of his state’s Senators unexpectedly dies, the local political machine looks for a replacement that will be popular with the people but keep his nose out of their shady political dealings. After much deliberation it’s decided that Smith is their man and he heads off to Washington, wide eyed and wet behind the ears.

Although this is very much Jimmy Stewart’s film, he was given second billing to co-star Jean Arthur. Arthur was already a star by 1939 whereas Stewart was very much on his way up, on the back of strong supporting roles in the likes of Navy Blue and Gold and You Can’t Take It With You, which as with Mr. Smith was directed by Frank Capra. Stewart launches himself with this role though and despite his long and successful career, this is remains one of his defining performances.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties is a mid period James Cagney gangster picture which co-stars Humphrey Bogart in the third and final film in which the two screen legends shared billing. The film takes on the epic task of depicting the rise and fall of a big shot gangster from his humble beginnings in the trenches of The First World War, through the heights of the prohibition era, the crippling Stock Market Crash and the subsequent repealing of the Volstead Act. This is a film which never feels epic in scale and instead closely follows its protagonists within their ever changing world. It’s also a film which has few standout moments and although considered a classic of the genre, dragged and felt much longer than it truly is.

The romantic elements of the story felt forced and the film was on more solid ground during the rat-tat-tat-tat, fast talking, “What’s the big idea” back and forth of the scenes set in the underworld speakeasies or liquor distilleries. Pricilla Lane is excellent in her early scenes as a wide eyed, inexperienced girl next door but suddenly seems swamped when placed inside the illegal world of the bootlegger. Her voice is sweet sounding and she can certainly hold a tune but she’s at sea when unaccompanied by an orchestra.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Destry Rides Again

This 1939 Western is one of several produced around the Destry character of the 1932 novel. This version is only loosely based on the novel though, with many characters and events differing significantly. In the fictional Western town of Bottleneck, saloon owner Kent (Brian Donlevy) reigns supreme. With the help of saloon singer Frenchie (Marlene Dietrich) the town is under his control through fear, intimidation and extortion. A series of Sheriffs come and go with the latest being shot by Kent himself. In order to avoid the unwanted attention of the law, Kent and his Mayor (Samuel S. Hinds) give the job to one of the town’s many drunks, Washington Dimsdale (Charlie Winniger). ‘Wash’ surprises the town though by cleaning up his act and hiring a new Deputy from Montana. The son of a once feared lawman, Destry (James Stewart) turns out to be a disappointment. Against guns and seeming a bit of a wimp, Destry hides behind his polite exterior, a man willing to uphold the law, whatever it takes.

Destry Rides Again pulled me in two directions. Occasionally I thought the film was far too broad and frothy, full of poor jokes and songs but every now and then it surprised me with a cutting line, wonderful metaphor or ferocious fight which gave me the impression of watching two films accidently cut together as one.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Wizard of Oz

Now. I’m not going to sit here and say that The Wizard of Oz isn’t a good film because it is. It was ahead of it’s time technically and the Technicolor still looks magnificent after seventy years but The Wizard of Oz isn’t a great film. The story is so weak it is almost homeopathic and it also ranks as amongst the most annoying films I’ve ever seen. I seem to have a habit of slating films which other people love (see The Lion King, North by Northwest, BladeRunner) but I’m not doing it to be contentious. I personally think The Wizard of Oz is overrated and when you really watch it rather than just look at it, you start to notice all sorts of problems and plot holes.

Everyone knows the story. It is ingrained in our psyches and phrases such as “We’re not in Kansas anymore”, “Ding dong, the witch is dead” and “Fly my pretties” are sentences which are quoted in every day language. Similarly the characters are so well known that even if I described them as the green one, the hay bail, the robot or the furry thirties gangster, you’d know instantly who I was talking about. The Wizard of Oz is just something that we know inside out whether we’ve never seen it or have seen it a hundred times. But just because something is well known, it doesn’t mean it is good. After all, we all know who Hitler was and he wasn’t very nice at all.