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About JimL

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  1. *The Little Foxes* (1941 Samuel Goldwyn) When asked to name the best directors of the classic era, most people would name Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder. On a notch below these greats would be Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges and the director of this picture, William Wyler. But, in his time, Wyler was as acclaimed as any other movie-maker. He won three Best Director Oscars, for *Mrs. Miniver*, *The Best Years of Our Lives* and *Ben-Hur*. And, he made other excellent pictures like *Roman Holiday* and *The Little Foxes*. So, while his reputation may have waned over the years, when one watches his movies, Wyler's great abilities are easily recognized. *The Little Foxes* is about a dysfunctional southern family, the Hubbards, at the turn of the twentieth century. This family, siblings Ben, Oscar and Regina (Bette Davis) do not have plantation roots but have accumulated a great fortune as merchants. It is their dream to greatly expand their fortune by, with the assistance of a Chicago investor, building a cotton mill in their small town. Each Hubbard agrees to invest 1/3 of the total needed, $75,000 a piece. But, there is a problem. Regina's husband Horace (Herbert Marshall), a banker, is very ill and ill-disposed toward advancing Regina the money she needs. Much of this film then deals with the efforts taken by the Hubbard clan to access Horace's money and that man's and his daughter, Alexandra's (Teresa Wright) growing disillusion with their relations. The most interesting thing about this adaptation of a Lillian Hellman play are the machinations the Hubbards take so they can grow wealthier and the honesty their in-laws, Horace and Oscar's wife Bertie, exhibit to show their disdain for their relatives' avarice. Bertie admits she does not like her dim son Leo (Dan Duryea) and acknowledges the only reason Oscar ever showed her any affection at the beginning of their relationship was because she came from a rich, plantation family which could advance him socially. Horace comes to hate Regina. He lets her know he will never willingly allow her to access his wealth, something that grates heavily on her because she is so greedy and so used to getting whatever she wants. This is a top-notch, if not well-remembered movie, so it gets a grade of *A-* and a hearty recommendation.
  2. *Key Largo* is my favorite movie featuring Bogart and Bacall.
  3. *The Maltese Falcon* (1941 Warner Bros.) There have been more than a few great Hollywood actor/director pairings through the years. In the classic era, none was better than the John Wayne/John Ford collaboration. They started together in 1939 with *Stagecoach* and continued working together often through 1962 when they made *The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance*. In the modern era, Martin Scorsese has made several great films with Robert DeNiro, like *Taxi Driver* and *Raging Bull*. John Huston did not make as many movies with Humphrey Bogart as the other two pairs, but three of them, this film, *The Treasure of the Sierra Madre* and *The African Queen* are, for the most part, unanimously regarded as classics. *The Maltese Falcon* is a great detective story about private investigator Sam Spade (Bogart) who attempts to determine who killed his partner, Miles Archer, and why he was killed. It ends up three greedy people, Bridget O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), Joel Cairo (the great Peter Lorre) and "The Fatman" (Sidney Greenstreet), are searching for a priceless artifact, a gold, jewel-encrusted statuette, "The Maltese Falcon". Archer, it turns out, was killed to further the nefarious aims of the criminals. Spade seems to go along with the criminals, taking "The Fatman's" money but, in reality, he is attempting to discover which crook is behind the murder of Archer and a couple of other men. And, as it turns out, all of it was done to further the pursuit of the invaluable bird. It is the writing that is the most outstanding feature of this excellent movie. It is an adaptation by Huston of a Dashiel Hammet movie and all of the characters, especially Sam Spade, seem realistic and the plot moves at a brisk pace. Over the course of the film, the audience learns more about Spade and the criminals he is investigating. Spade is a fast-talking, quick-thinking man who is determined to discover who killed his investigative partner and where the gold falcon is located. While the audience does not always know it, Spade is much more interested in the truth than money and he proves this through his dogged investigation. This picture, a real classic, gets a grade of *A* and a very strong recommendation. Edited by: JimL on Apr 29, 2010 3:34 PM
  4. *Rebecca* *Dead wife's legacy* *Stangers on a Train*
  5. *How Green Was My Valley* (1941 Twentieth Century Fox) With the passage of time, it becomes apparent that not every year does the best movie win that year's Best Picture Academy Award. That was true in 1982 when *E.T. The Extra-teresstial* lost out to *Gandhi* and in 1995 when *Braveheart* not *Apollo 13* was named the year's outstanding movie. This state of affairs has beome very clear in the years since 1941. That year Orson Welles' masterpeice *Citizen Kane*, twice named the American Film Institute's best movie ever, was defeated by the good but not great, *How Green Was My Valley*. This movie, which unaccountably stands as one of director John Ford's four Best Director awards, is about a Welsh coal-mining family and what happens to them over the course of time. The Morgans, led by their father, (played by Donald Crisp), and his wife (Sara Allgood), are very close-knit, but economic circumstances force their fissure. First there is a mining strike for better wages that lead two sons to leave their Welsh mining town and head to America to seek there fortune. A few years later, because they are so productive, leading them to earn higher wages than their company wants to pay, two more Morgans are laid off, leading them to leave town. The youngest son, Huw Morgan, (Roddy MacDowell), has the chance to better himself through education but his ties to his family are so strong that he foregoes his big chance and enters the mines so he, the only son remaining in town, can stay close to his relatives. Like Ford's superior, *The Grapes of Wrath*, the best thing about this movie is its examination of a working-class family and how familial love allows it to weather several crises. These include what happens to Huw, who is temporarily paralyzed after falling into freezing water, the coal-miners' strike and a disaster in the coal mines. Ford does not sugarcoat this movie. Angharid Morgan (Ford favorite Muareen O'Hara), marries a man she does not love and the mine explosion leads to an unexpected death. But, because they are so close the Morgans are able to overcome tragedy and retain the strength their love forges. This is a good movie but in no way should it have defeated *Citizen Kane* to win the 1941 Best Picture Oscar. It gets a grade of *B* and a middling recommendation because at times the story lags and, despite John Ford's Best Director award, the acting is not top-notch. Edited by: JimL on Apr 28, 2010 3:14 PM Edited by: JimL on Apr 28, 2010 3:15 PM Edited by: JimL on Apr 28, 2010 3:26 PM Edited by: JimL on Apr 28, 2010 3:26 PM Edited by: JimL on Apr 28, 2010 3:28 PM
  6. *All This, And Heaven Too* (1940 Warner Bros.) As stated elsewhere, Bette Davis was one of the most popular and talented actresses working in Hollywood during the 1940s and '50s. While now she is probably best remembered for her 1950 role in the Oscar-winning film, *All About Eve*, for 10 to 15 years prior she had a string of hits. She won two Best Actress Oscars in the 1930s and from 1938 through 1941 she starred in movies nominated for Best Picture awards, twice in 1940. This film, *All This, And Heaven Too* is an adaptation of a novel. It is the story of a French governess, Madamoiselle DesPortes (Davis) who is employed by a French Duke (Charles Boyer) and Duchess, (Oscar-nominated actress Barbara O'Neil) to take care of their four young children. DesPortes comes to love the children, Isabelle, Luise, Bete and Reynaud, and they return the affection. DesPortes also comes to have a close relationship with the Duke and with time, feeling unloved by her children and husband, the Duchess develops an almost insane jealousy of her governess. As with most of her films, it is the outstanding work of Bette Davis that is the best thing about this movie. She is able to convey a warmth and affection toward the children in her charge that is truly outstanding. This is exemplified when Reynaud, the youngest, comes down with diptheria. Unconcerned with her own health, DesPortes stays by the young boy's side throughout his illness, comforting him and allaying his fears. It is her ease with the children, something the Duchess lacks, that helps lead to the Duchess' hatred of DesPorts, It is this state of affairs, combined with a belief that the Duke cares more for the governess than her, that leads to this film's dramatic conclusion. This is a very good movie of which I was totally unaware before putting it in my Netflix queue. Davis employs her typical greatness, so this picture gets a grade of *B+* and a very strong recommendation. Edited by: JimL on Apr 27, 2010 1:57 PM Edited by: JimL on Apr 27, 2010 1:59 PM
  7. *Ninotchka* and *Grand Hotel* are two good Garbo films deserving a showing on TCM.
  8. *The Philadelphia Story* (1940 MGM) JImmy Stewart was one of the best, if not the best actor in the Golden Age of Movies. His rivals include Cary Grant, Henry Fonda and Spencer Tracy. In 1940 Stewart's excellence was rewarded when he won a Best Actor Oscar for this picture. But, essentially, his 1940 award was recompense fo his failure to win in 1939 for a superior performance in *Mr. Smith Goes to Washington*. Stewart was good in *The Philadelphia Story* but great in *Mr Smith ...*, but Hollywood sometimes acts in strange ways and this was one such case. *The Philadelphia Story*, directed by George Cukor, is a comedy of manners about Tracy Lord (the great Katherine Hepburn), her Main Line family and her impending marriage. The Lords face disgrace if it is revealed that the head of the family, Tracy's father, is involved in a tawdry affair by a gossip magazine called "Spy". To avoid this shame, the Lords agree to allow that "Spy" put in the wedding party a reporter, Macauley "Mike" Conner (Stewart) and a photographer, Elizabeth Imbrie (Virginia Hussey) so that they can cover the high society wedding. This set-up was arranged by CK Dexter Haven, (Cary Grant), who still loves Tracy, his ex-wife. Humor then ensues. The comedy is the best thing about this movie. Grant and Hepburn were great in the screwball classic, *Bringing Up Baby* and two years later they had not lost their comedic timing as bickering ex-spouses. And Stewart is also funny, especially when he plays drunk and sets on a course to divorce himself as a writer for "Spy" so he can concentrate on his goal of being a serious writer. And, especially humorous are the rest of Tracy's family, like younger sister Dinah (Mary Nash), whose sole purpose in the movie is to provide comic relief. This is a great movie in which three great stars of the era, Stewart, Grant and Hepburn, combine to produce a movie that is still funny seventy years later. It gets a grade of *A* and a very strong recommendation. Edited by: JimL on Apr 25, 2010 9:19 AM
  9. *The Picture of Dorian Gray* - Time Doesn't Age *A Streetcar Named Desire*
  10. *The Long Voyage Home* (1940 Argosy Films) 1940 was a great year for acclaimed film director John Ford. While most noted for westerns like *Stagecoach* and *The Searchers*, in 1940 the director helmed two movies which had nothing to do with cowboys, Indians and America's Old West. One 1940 picture Ford made, *The Grapes of Wrath* dealt with "Okies" and Depression-era America. The other Oscar-nominee is this one about a merchant marine vessel and a group of sailors transporting munitions from the U.S. to England, which desperately needed arms to fight Germany. This film i san adaptation of four one-act plays written by the brilliant American playwright Eugene O'Neill. It is well-adapted by Ford who makes a seamless movie about what happens on the vessel, "The Glencairn". While the plays by O'Neill are four different stories, in the movie they are combined into 3 tales. ONe story is about the vessel in the West Indies as the sailors party with native women and then move on to America to pick up its dangerous cargo. The second story deals with the sailors' paranoia that there is a spy onboard and their desire to nab him. The last story is about Olsen "Ole", (an underused John Wayne) and the illegal efforts of a Brit to derail his plans to return to his native Sweden by getting him drunk and placing him aboard another merchant ship. The spy story is the highlight of this good, not great movie. The sailors are wary of German spies and the actions of "Smitty" (Ian Hunter); he blows a blackout, he reads a ship codebook, he is curious about the vessel's exact location and he holds a mysterious package he wants no one else to access. All this leads Driscoll (a good Thomas Mitchell) and the others to conclude they have identified a traitor. Mostly it is excess time and active imaginations that lead to this belief but it is interesting to watch the crew in the throes of their investigation. As stated, this is only a good movie, it is not one of Ford's best. So, it gets a grade of *B* and a middling recommendation.
  11. *The Letter* (1940 Warner Bros.) Actress Bette Davis had a very tempestuous relationship with her home studio, Warner Brothers, and its head Jack Warner. These disagreements, however, did not stop Davis from making top-level films for her studio. For three years running, 1938 with *Jezebel*, 1939 with *Dark Victory* and 1940 with this film, Davis' starring vehicles were nominated for Best Picture Oscars. And, in 1938 Davis won a Best Actress Oscar. So, Davis was a true professional. She did not allow personal difficulties affect the quality of her work. *The Letter*, adapted from a W. Somerset Maugham novel, is about a wealthy, married woman, Leslie Crosbie (Davis), who shoots and kills a man, Geoffery Hammond, at her Pacific island plantation. The quesion arises, was Mrs. Crosbie's action murder or as she claims, self-defense. Officials at her island home seem willing to agree that Leslie acted to defend herself but then a letter, sent from Leslie to Hammond, emerges which puts her claim in doubt. This is a good not great film. It is the ensemble acting, led by Bette Davis, which is the best thing about this movie. Davis, as always, is terrific in her role. She is very believable as a woman who has killed a man but feels justified in having done so. Herbert Marshall, as Leslie's wealthy husband Robert Crosbie, is also very good. Despite Leslie's shortcomings, Robert is steadfast in his love for her, even after her actions cost him his most cherished dream. Finally James Stephenson, as Leslie's lawyer Howard Lloyd is terrific as an attorney willing to stretch ethical boundaries in the zealous defense of his client. *The Letter* is a find adaptation of a bood book. It is directed by William Wyler, who went on to direct true classics like *The Best Years of our Lives* and *Ben Hur*. This film is not up to those movies excellence but it is a very solid effort by Wyler in one of his earlier efforts. Because of its good acting and directing this film gets a grade of *B+* and a fairly solid recommendation. Edited by: JimL on Apr 24, 2010 11:57 AM Edited by: JimL on Apr 24, 2010 11:58 AM Edited by: JimL on Apr 24, 2010 12:00 PM
  12. No one replied to *A Dog of Flanders* so I will suggest a different movie for a three word review. *A Tale of Two Cities*
  13. No one replied to the last film, so I am going to suggest another movie, which will hopefully get a 3 word review. *A Tale of Two Cities*
  14. *Our Town* (1940 United Artists) This film is an adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It is the story of the goings-on in a small town, Grover's Corner, New Hampshire at the beginning of the twentieth century. It stars a young William Holden, as George Gibbs, an awkward teen who wants to be a farmer and his girl, Emily Webb (Martha Scott), who likes George but fears he does not notice her. There is not much story to this picture. Headed by a narrator (whose name I did not get), who gives the long history of Grover's Corner, and provides background about its residents, this film is mostly a series of vignettes about what happens in the town and to its semi-interesting residents. Most, but not all of the film, is dedicated to George and Emily. At first they are friendly neighbors, then Emily, feeling George is more interested in baseball than people, lets him know she thinks he is stuck-up. This leads to the best scene in the movie. In that memorable encounter, which shows that even as a young man, ten years prior to his best, 1950s performances, Holden was a talented actor. As George, Holden lets Emily know that the reason he has been stand-offish is not because he is indifferent towards her but because he likes her so much and does not know how to express himself. He buys Emily an ice cream soda and lets her know that if she reciprocates his feelings he will forego his plan to attend agricultural college and take over his Uncle Luke's farm. Having learned George's true emotions and his intentions, Emily allows George back into her life, happy to know she has misread George's attitude toward her. The worst thing about this picture is the quality of the film itself. It is very grainy and the lighting is bad, with some scenes too bright and others too dark. And, the "pan and scan" technique clearly cuts off parts of the picture, leading one to wonder what was occuring in the parts of the film that cannot be seen. So, overall, this is a very average movie of poor technical quality, earning it a grade of *C+* and a very muted recommendation.
  15. *The Grapes of Wrath* (1940 Twentieth Century Fox) Several John Steinbeck novels have been made into movies. In 1939, *Of Mice and Men* was nominated as the Best Picture of that year. And in the mid-1950s Elia Kazan directed *East of Eden*, a classic film starring James Dean. But it is this film which is the best adaptation of Steinbeck's work. The novel won Steinbeck a Pulitzer Prize, and the movie is good enough to twice having been named by the American Film Institute as one of the best 100 films ever. This movie tells the story of the Joads and their migration from Oklahoma to California in search of a better life. In Oklahoma, the Dust Bowl led to the Joads farm being unworkable so the bank foreclosed on them. But, the Joads received a handbill promising plenty of work in California. What the family does not know is thousands of desperate people received similar leaflets, leading to a glut of cheap labor in California. And, the reception of "Okies" in California is not what they expected. When the migrants consider striking for better working conditions, the police and company goons are more than happy to use force to stymie potential labor unrest. Henry Fonda's Tom Joad is the best thing about this movie. He, not Jimmy Stewart, should have won 1940's Best Actor Oscar. A parolee, Tom seeks to figure out the truth of what is happening to him, his family and his fellow "Okies". He wants to know why California police and others seem so intent on denying their humanity and forcing them into working conditions that are close to being intolerable. When Tom his forced to leave his family his "I'll be there" speech is a Hollywood classic, ranking with Brando's "I coulda been a contender" as one of the most memorable scenes in film history. John Ford won a Best Director Oscar for his work on this film and this is a perfect movie. It gets a grade of *A+* and the strongest possible recommendation. Edited by: JimL on Apr 20, 2010 3:06 PM
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