Tag Archive for '1940s'

Men of Boys Town

Men of Boys Town (8/23/15) TCM (1941 ***) Directed by Norman Taurog, starring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson and Darryl Hickman as Flip. The dynamic duo of Father Flannegan and Whitey Marsh, along with their diminutive pal Pee Wee, take on the antiquated reform school system. I didn’t expect much from this sequel to the 1938 film, which I watched and reviewed back on 10/31/10, but it delivered emotionally. Of course your mileage may vary. Men of Boys Town falls into that category of films that are so old fashioned and simple in their construction and execution that most modern viewers would likely find them boring and/or quaint. (By the way, isn’t “quaint” one hell of a word?) The story contained a couple of weird logic problems, such as setting its fictional, demonized reform school 1,000 miles away; I lost count of how many times various characters traveled to and from that faraway place. My only guess is that was done so viewers at the time in Nebraska or Iowa wouldn’t think the corrupt institution was set in their home state.

This Time For Keeps

This Time For Keeps (5/30/15) TCM (1947 **1/2) Directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Esther Williams, Lauritz Melchior, Jimmy Durante and Johnny Johnston. The son of a famous opera singer would rather chase after a gorgeous swimmer than follow in his father’s footsteps. If that storyline sounds familiar, please refer to my review of Fiesta (1947). Our Esther Williams DVR film festival comes to an end with this somewhat clunky film. I honestly had some difficulty understanding the main character’s motivations and why he kept his identity a secret from the woman he was falling in love with. It seemed the only purpose it served was to create a third act misunderstanding that could be cleared up in time for a happy ending.

Fiesta

Fiesta (5/28/15) TCM (1947 **1/2) Directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Esther Williams, Akim Tamiroff, Ricardo Montalban, Mary Astor and Cyd Charisse. Set in Mexico, the son of a famous matador would rather pursue a career in music than follow in his father’s footsteps. First off, this film requires its audience to suspend their disbelief enough to believe that A) Esther Williams was Mexican, B) she and Ricardo Mantalban were twins and C) that she would ever be mistaken for him, even from a distance. As you might expect, given the premise, Williams didn’t spend much time swimming, and I believe only one scene featured her in a bathing suit. Not nearly enough, in my opinion.

Thrill of a Romance

Thrill of a Romance (5/28/15) TCM (1945 ***) Directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Van Johnson, Esther Williams, Frances Gifford and Lauritz Melchior. A newlywed gets abandoned by her jerk husband on their honeymoon and in his absence she falls in love with a G.I. First off, to really enjoy this film, it helps if you love opera, because Thrill of a Romance features lots of operatic singing. If that’s not your thing, never fear: It also features quite a few scenes with Ms. Williams swimming, very nearly becoming a swimsuit fashion show. The film doesn’t have much of a plot, but then you wouldn’t really expect one from light fare like this. That Williams would wind up with her five times co-star Van Johnson was a foregone conclusion, but since her character was technically married… well, there remained the question of how it would happen without crossing 1940s codes of morality and infidelity. Since Williams’ husband exited for business dealings before their first night together as a married couple, I wondered if the film would somehow address the unconsummated state of their marriage and use that for grounds of annulment. Instead, the writers took another, not-nearly-as-satisfying solution.

Bathing Beauty

Bathing Beauty (4/25/15) TCM (1944 **1/2) Directed by George Sidney, starring Red Skelton, Esther Williams and Basil Rathbone, plus Xavier Cugat and Harry James and their respective orchestras. A misunderstanding lands a red-headed songwriter in hot water with his beautiful fiance. Here’s my 8-word review: “Not enough swimming, too much Red Skelton mugging.” This is one of those films that was pleasant enough to watch and (thanks to the big band music) a joy to listen to, but the story’s ridiulous premise stretched incredulity beyond the breaking point and didn’t leave much room for characterization. Also, what’s the hell is the point of watching an Esther Williams movie if she’s not wearing a different bathing suit at least every 15 minutes?

Easter Parade

Easter Parade (4/10/15) TCM (1948 **1/2) Directed by Charles Walters, starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford and Ann Miller, music by Irving Berlin. When the female half of a dance duo leaves for greener pastures, her former partner takes revenge by hooking up (in the 1940s sense) with an insecure, apparently dyslexic, chorus girl who doesn’t know her left foot from her right. In the TCM introduction to the film, composer Irving Berlin was painted in pretty money-grubbing shades of pastel colors. Knowing this, I found myself a little critical of some of the film’s lyrics, which didn’t seem to be up to his “White Christmas” standards. Having said that, for some period after seeing the film, I found that its title song ear-wormed its way into my brain, burning a hole shaped like the line “and you’ll find that you’re… in the rotogravure.” On a different note, Judy Garland looked pretty shaky for much of the film, and I wondered how pronounced her drug habit was at the time.

On the Town

On the Town (1/30/15) TCM (1949 ***1/4) Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller. Three Sailors have just 24 hours to make the most of their time in that “wonderful town,” New York, New York. I last reviewed this film in 2009, and my opinion of it hasn’t changed much (same ***1/4 review), but maybe I appreciate it just a tad more. I think I was also a bit more aware of the film’s sexual innuendo this time around, and two of the female leads (Garret and Miller) played their characters as more or less full-on nymphomaniacs. One new thing I can comment on is this: Because I’d watched Anchors Aweigh (1945) just the evening before, it’s easy to compare the two films. Both films featured Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors enjoying a short shore leave. Yet On the Town worked so much better than the previous film. One clue is Kelly’s credit as co-director, along with Stanley Donen the man he would work with just a few years later in Singin’ In the Rain (1952). One of the sequences (a fantasy scene featuring dancing doppelgangers of his co-stars) definitely had the Kelly imprint. But mostly I think the second film worked better because (a) the time frame was more compressed and (b) the film on the whole was far more upbeat.

Anchors Aweigh

Anchors Aweigh (1/29/15) TCM (1945 **1/2) Directed by George Sidney, starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Jose Iturbi and Dean Stockwell. Two heroic sailors are given a multi-day shore leave in Los Angeles, where they get wrapped up in the lives of a runaway boy and his guardian aunt. I know I’ve probably seen this film at some point in the past, but I can’t really recall it. It’s all too easy to get this film confused with On the Town (1949), which also featured Kelly and Sinatra as sailors on shore leave. While I wished I liked it more, and there are plenty of things to like about it: It’s always fun to watch a young child actor Dean Stockwell and imagine that little boy growing up to roles in Compulsion (1959), Blue Velvet (1985) and Quantum Leap (1989-1993). As a resident of Los Angeles, it was fun to see the sequence that took place at The Hollywood Bowl, as well as the sound stage version of Olvera Street, which was used for two sequences. Anchors Aweigh also contains the oft-referenced live action / animated combo visit with Jerry Mouse, which is a real classic, and possibly the highlight of the film. Overall, the film left me fairly flat, and I wish it had featured more upbeat numbers like the one where Kelly and Sinatra are bouncing on beds in the servicemen’s hotel.

Rhapsody in Blue

Rhapsody in Blue (1/24/15) TCM (1945 ***) Directed by Irving Rapper, starring Robert Alda, Joan Leslie, Alexis Smith and Oscar Levant. Released just eight years after his death, the short life story of George Gershwin, one of America’s greatest composers, is presented. In the TCM introduction that preceded the film, it was pointed out that — in keeping with the biopics of the era — many of the facts presented in Rhapsody in Blue were fabricated. This was especially interesting, given that so many of the principals were still alive at the time of the film’s release, and some (Oscar Levant, Al Jolson and others) played themselves. Still, even with the made-up facts, the music was great, including a full-length version of the title piece. On another note, my wife enjoyed watching Robert Alda’s performance, mainly because of how often he resembled his son Alan. Unfair, I know, but true.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (12/30/14) TCM (1948 ***) Diected by H.C. Potter, based on the novel by Eric Hodgins, starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas. A Madison Avenue ad man and his wife and daughters leave their cramped Manhattan apartment and brave the wilds of Connecticut. Though pleasant enough, this is far from my favorite Cary Grant film. For starters, it starts very slowly, with an obtrusive voice over narration by Melvyn Douglas. To be honest, there’s something about the “money pit” premise that I found stressful, in a way similar to the stress I got recently from The Long, Long Trailer (1953). I accept that’s a personal peccadillo of mine, one certainly not shared by my wife, who loves this film. Sigh.