TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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Essential: THE GENTLE SEX (1943)

 

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The voice-over narration, provided by director Leslie Howard, tells us the ladies in the story are ‘gentle women.’ And 90 minutes later, as the film ends, they have become indispensable to the war effort. While developing skills, they’ve turned gentle into something less fragile (and much stronger) in order to survive.
 

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It all starts with seven women from different walks of life on their way to a training camp. They have volunteered to join a branch of the British Army known as the Auxiliary Territorial Service. The women speak with regional dialects, representing various parts of Great Britain. One gal is from Scotland; and another is of French origin, who fled her native country when the Nazis killed her family. Gradually their differences are downplayed as they become a team. Despite individual quirks, they are all united in a common goal and singular outcome– victory.
 

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The film has a sort of historical value other studio pictures lack. For instance, there are several sequences where we watch the women undergo rigorous military exercises. These seem to be recreations of actual drills and have a semidocumentary feel.
 

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After the women have finished their training, the later portion of the story shows them driving trucks and using aircraft that takes them right into combat. Those scenes of the film are much more interesting and also have a non-fictional feel. There’s even a great part where some of the main characters talk to an elderly woman who describes her duties during WWI, claiming she was shot in the shoulder during the first war.
 

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Six weeks after THE GENTLE SEX premiered its director Leslie Howard was killed. He was only 50 years old. There are various theories about the cause of his death. Whatever the reason for Leslie Howard’s untimely demise, it’s clear his last film is a testament to his belief in a free world. Also, the film reflects the ways in which he appreciates women. In this regard, the whole picture is a declaration of love to the ladies on the battlefront as well as the ones in the audience who might be watching. They believe that working together is what leads them towards overcoming adversity.
 

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THE GENTLE SEX can be streamed on YouTube.

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Still haven't seen this one, but have heard good reviews of it over the years. I can pretty much watch anything put out by Two Cities and the Rank organization during the forties.

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Essential: TENDER COMRADE (1943)

 

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A lot can be said about the communism screenwriter Dalton Trumbo appears to have ‘inserted’ into the film. I don’t disagree with those who say it is there– in a story where a group of women during wartime share a communal living space. Trumbo took a traditional women’s melodrama with a theme about home front efforts, and he used it to talk about fascism in America. Of course, for most of the audience, such ideas went sailing over their heads. And for those had a vague understanding of Trumbo’s goals, they didn’t quite glob on to the bigger picture. During the postwar era Trumbo and his pals– including the director of this film– paid dearly for exploring such issues in TENDER COMRADE.

 

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I’ve read reviews that zero in on Ginger Rogers’ performance as well as the performance of her leading man Robert Ryan. I didn’t have a problem with either one of them, though some of their scenes are a bit corny. Ryan even has a line where he refuses to let Rogers know the contents of a love note he wrote to her, since he admits it was sappy.

 

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Some reviewers have commented on the other women Rogers shares a house with in the movie. I’d say Ruth Hussey probably has the best supporting role, playing a lonely wife who tries to justify her unfaithfulness. She gets a few showy scenes, and these moments actually take the focus away from Rogers. Also, a very young Kim Hunter does a swell job as a newlywed, especially in scenes near the end when her character’s husband returns from combat. I didn’t particularly care for Mady Christians’ stereotypical German housekeeper. Trumbo should be blamed for making her a cliched foreigner with a thick accent and predictable comments about her homeland. Most of the housekeeper's dialogue is unintentionally funny. She’s best when she’s off screen.

 

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There aren’t many factory scenes. We get one sequence near the beginning of the film, with Ginger riding a forklift in front of a process shot, acknowledging the other women working with her. Hussey has a brief moment riveting, then we cut to a lunch break where they all decide to pool their money to rent a house together. We’re led to believe this is a story about women in modern day America where women feel the effects of war after their loved ones have been taken away from them.

 

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There are some interesting speeches where they complain about rationing, or about having to do their part while the men are gone fighting. The film launches into very lengthy flashbacks that focus on the romance between Rogers and Ryan. It is almost like Trumbo couldn’t figure out whether to set it in the time right before the war or in the present day. I suspect extra flashbacks were added to increase Ryan’s screen time, since he was an RKO star in the making, and his character is sent off to war and otherwise never seen again.

 

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Finally, I want to comment on how anti-climactic the ending is. As you can see, even the film’s title card indicates the husband has died. During the film, when the editors prepare us for one of the many romantic flashbacks, there are screen dissolves that show the couple walking in some heavenly realm. It is very obvious he will be killed, long before she receives the telegram informing her about his death. Though I must say the scene where she sets the telegram down and lifts the baby out of the crib and “introduces” him to his father (in a picture frame) is very poignant. After she sets the baby back into the crib, she realizes she will have to keep her chin up and move forward. And I suppose when women saw the film and left the theater, they were trying to keep their chins up, too.

 

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TENDER COMRADE is directed by Edward Dmytryk and airs occasionally on TCM.

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WW2 allowed an awful lot (communist sympathies included) but it was all back to business after the war so that life could continue the same as it was before the war.

 

Looking at the images here, I just wonder if Ginger Rogers' make-up artist purposely colored her eyebrows in that worried, questioning arch upward slant on purpose

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WW2 allowed an awful lot (communist sympathies included) but it was all back to business after the war so that life could continue the same as it was before the war.

 

Looking at the images here, I just wonder if Ginger Rogers' make-up artist purposely colored her eyebrows in that worried, questioning arch upward slant on purpose

 

Not sure. After ten years at the studio, this was one of Ginger's last films for RKO. She made the independently produced HEARTBEAT which RKO distributed in 1946, and she did come back at the very end to make THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY (1956) before RKO closed its doors. But TENDER COMRADE marked the last film on her original RKO contract. She became a freelancer after this.

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I've enjoyed writing about war films for women. I will go over my last selection pertaining to this theme on Saturday:

 

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Essential: GREAT DAY (1945)

 

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Flora Robson and Eric Porter star as a middle-aged couple in England during the Second World War. GREAT DAY was filmed in Britain by RKO and was released in April 1945, while the war was still going on. However, it did not have its American release until a year and a half later, in the fall of 1946, quite some time after the war had ended. As a result, it probably didn’t resonate with U.S. audiences the way it did when it was first seen in Europe.
 

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Robson and Porter are of course, brilliant. Porter is a man living in the past, still trying to live off the glory of his military service in WWI. He is struggling to step out of the shadows. In direct contrast to this, his wife lives in the present and finds fulfillment in their small community working with other wives as part of the Women’s Institute. For those who do not know, the Women’s Institute was a domestic organisation that turned agricultural products into ‘care packages’ sent to soldiers fighting abroad. The recent short-lived television series Home Fires is also about the British Women’s Institute; in that story, the women were known for making jam.
 

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The film also features the couple’s daughter caught up in a rather unlikely love triangle. She has been offered marriage by a much older man who promises financial security; but her heart really belongs to a poor soldier her own age. In addition to the main family, we see other families in the community– especially the other wives that Robson’s character interacts with as they prepare for a special arrival.
 

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The arrival involves Eleanor Roosevelt. Supposedly the American first lady is visiting England, and she would like to see how the Women’s Institute of this particular community does its charitable work. Mrs. Roosevelt’s impending visit is announced at the very beginning of the story; and she does not show up until the end– just out of camera range, naturally. In the meanwhile, the women try to determine the best way to prepare for Mrs. Roosevelt’s arrival. There are several petty squabbles and various bits of gossip that threaten to disrupt their solidarity.
 

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What makes GREAT DAY work so well is how humanised the women are in the story. Yes, it’s a propaganda piece, but its less about ideals and more about presenting the characters with realism. We are definitely supposed to feel patriotic at the end, and I think the filmmakers do a good job instilling such feelings in us. It’s a unique snapshot in time, just as it was when it was first screened in the U.S. after the war had been won, and the women had gone back to their regular routines. Though I am sure they had many more great days ahead.
 

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GREAT DAY is directed by Lance Comfort.

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TopBilled, I have enjoyed your articles re' war films for women.  Most appropriate for this Memorial Day weekend.

 

Yes,  TB makes some major contributions to this forum and I welcome that.    Sadly the majority of users now just participate mostly in the political chit-chat threads   (hey, I'm there also but I come here mainly because of movies and I'm also using the jazz guitar forum now since it isn't political). 

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TopBilled, I have enjoyed your articles re' war films for women.  Most appropriate for this Memorial Day weekend.

 

Thank you very much. Sometimes I get an idea for a theme but am not sure how the reviews will turn out. I am glad this month's theme had resonance.

 

Yes,  TB makes some major contributions to this forum and I welcome that.   

 

Thank you. Nice of you to say. 

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Theme for June 2017: With a plan like this, how could anything possibly go wrong?

 

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Saturday June 3, 2017

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), with Barbara Stanwyck. Studio/production company: Paramount.

 

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Saturday June 10, 2017

PURPLE NOON (1960), with Alain Delon. Studio/production company: Titanus/Miramax.

 

 

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Saturday June 17, 2017

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974), with Robert Shaw. Studio/production company: UA.

 

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Saturday June 24, 2017

A SIMPLE PLAN (1999), with Bill Paxton. Studio/production company: Paramount

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TB, your June category is just terrific. So many films fall into this category.

 

I'm not adept at posting photos, but I'd like to add these films:

 

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

SEVEN THIEVES

THE KILLING

BLOOD SIMPLE

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD

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TB, your June category is just terrific. So many films fall into this category.

 

I'm not adept at posting photos, but I'd like to add these films:

 

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

SEVEN THIEVES

THE KILLING

BLOOD SIMPLE

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD

 

Thanks Marsha. Hopefully people will seek out all these great films. If there had been five Saturdays in June I would have included THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. I also debated between PURPLE NOON and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY but ended up choosing the Alain Delon picture because it had been awhile since I covered a foreign film in this thread.

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Thanks Marsha. Hopefully people will seek out all these great films. If there had been five Saturdays in June I would have included THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. I also debated between PURPLE NOON and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY but ended up choosing the Alain Delon picture because it had been awhile since I covered a foreign film in this thread.

TB, I really enjoy your "Essentials" monthly film picks for that very reason. I've never seen PURPLE NOON with Alain Delon but now I'm going to add it to my viewing list. Thanks for mentioning this film. 

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TB, I really enjoy your "Essentials" monthly film picks for that very reason. I've never seen PURPLE NOON with Alain Delon but now I'm going to add it to my viewing list. Thanks for mentioning this film. 

 

You're welcome. I watched DOUBLE INDEMNITY again this afternoon to work on my review, which I will post tomorrow. These are such great movies. Can't wait till we get to PURPLE NOON; THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE; and A SIMPLE PLAN. I've especially been wanting to talk about A SIMPLE PLAN for a long time.

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Essential: DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

 

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This month I’m looking at films where crooks almost get away with their crimes. Most of the main characters are motivated by greed, or at least the chance to get their hands on money, so they can improve their lot in life. Nobody really knows how long Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) was hatching her plan to kill an older unsuspecting husband in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. But when insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) showed up on her doorstep one afternoon, she saw a chance and embraced it.

 

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The movie is based on a James Cain novel, and its screenplay was co-written by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder. As the story begins Mrs. Dietrichson wants to get rid of her husband, and if she can somehow make it look like an accident, she will be able to cash in on a double indemnity clause. For those who don’t know– an indemnity is a security or protection against a loss. If there is a certain type of accidental death, the payout will be twice as great.

 

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Of course, the loss of Phyllis Dietrichson’s husband isn’t something that will cause her any real pain or remorse. In order to carry out the diabolical plan, she needs help from that handsome insurance man. At first Neff balks at the idea; he insists he is no murderer. But this changes when he gets drawn into her web of deception. Soon they’ve decided her husband’s death should occur during a train trip he is scheduled to take.

 

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At the station Neff poses as an injured Mr. Dietrichson, whom they’ve already killed and stashed in the trunk of a car. Mrs. Dietrichson lovingly sees Neff off in front of witnesses, then drives away with the dead body. In the next part Neff heads to the back of the train, and jumps off, making it seem as if Dietrichson took an accidental tumble off the moving locomotive.  At the same time Mrs. Dietrichson brings the car around with the dead body, which they place along the track with the crutches. It all goes according to plan until Neff’s boss, a man named Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), gets involved.

 

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Keyes doesn’t think it really was an accident. Of course, if he didn’t, the couple would get away with their crime and live happily ever after. In production code Hollywood, this simply can’t be allowed. So we have scenes where Keyes starts investigating– poking around to find out what really happened the night Dietrichson died. Some of the Neff-Keyes interaction is interesting to watch, because there’s a warm father-son type bond shared between them. Keyes probably doesn’t want Neff to be guilty, but it is his duty to uncover the facts.

 

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To the writers’ credit we don’t actually see Neff full of regret, until near the end. After he regains his conscience, he goes to the Dietrichson home to set things right. There’s a quarrel, and Mrs. Dietrichson shoots Neff, who also shoots her. Realizing he’s killed Mrs. Dietrichson and knowing he has been shot himself, Neff makes his way back to the office to record a full confession into a dictaphone machine. He is critically injured in the film’s final moments, after the confession has been completed and Keyes has arrived.

 

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This was the second of four pairings for MacMurray and Stanwyck. In their films together, the characters they portray don’t usually enjoy a happy ending. Robinson would work with Stanwyck again in a Columbia western– that time she was his unsympathetic wife. The three stars had long, distinguished screen careers. But DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a high point for all of them. It functions like a policy they took out to insure their legacy against any flops.

 

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DOUBLE INDEMNITY is directed by Billy Wilder and airs occasionally on TCM. 

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You're welcome. I watched DOUBLE INDEMNITY again this afternoon to work on my review, which I will post tomorrow. These are such great movies. Can't wait till we get to PURPLE NOON; THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE; and A SIMPLE PLAN. I've especially been wanting to talk about A SIMPLE PLAN for a long time.

Hi, TB.  I'm looking forward to reading your DOUBLE INDEMNITY post tomorrow especially since I'm such an admirer of Billy Wilder. I'm always eager to read varied opinions on his films. 

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Hi, TB.  I'm looking forward to reading your DOUBLE INDEMNITY post tomorrow especially since I'm such an admirer of Billy Wilder. I'm always eager to read varied opinions on his films. 

 

I just posted it this morning, Marsha. If you scroll down a little, you should see it. :)

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Thanks, TB, for your DOUBLE INDEMNITY post.  Your synopsis is a perfectly matter-of-fact format, which is why I like this film so much. Thanks for pointing out the "father/son" relationship between Neff (MacMurray) and Keyes (Robinson) which, to me, is what gives the film just a glimpse of heartfelt feeling between two of the characters in the midst of cold pre-meditated murder. The three leads mesh wonderfully, and although I have seen this film numerous times, each viewing never fails to bring me great pleasure. I look forward to reading your posts about PURPLE NOON, which I have not yet seen, THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE, TWO, THREE, and A SIMPLE PLAN.

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Thanks, TB, for your DOUBLE INDEMNITY post.  Your synopsis is a perfectly matter-of-fact format, which is why I like this film so much. Thanks for pointing out the "father/son" relationship between Neff (MacMurray) and Keyes (Robinson) which, to me, is what gives the film just a glimpse of heartfelt feeling between two of the characters in the midst of cold pre-meditated murder. The three leads mesh wonderfully, and although I have seen this film numerous times, each viewing never fails to bring me great pleasure. I look forward to reading your posts about PURPLE NOON, which I have not yet seen, THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE, TWO, THREE, and A SIMPLE PLAN.

 

You're welcome Marsha. I like what you said about Neff and Keyes, and how this is juxtaposed with the sinister relationship Neff has with Phyllis Dietrichson. I haven't read Cain's book, but I think it's interesting how Chandler and Wilder give us some of her backstory, that she was probably responsible for the death of the first Mrs. Dietrichson. It's almost a reverse of REBECCA, where the young new wife is not at all innocent but is instead a cold-blooded killer. 

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