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Classic Film Criticism


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*A CAGE OF NIGHTINGALES (1945)*

 

From Agee on March 22, 1947:

 

A French film, it reminds me of MADCHEN IN UNIFORM and of the fantastically original and inspired ZERO DE CONDUITE, both of which were about the treatment and maltreatment of schoolchildren. This time the talented teacher reforms the boys in a reform school, largely through getting them interested in choral music. Both he and the children are very charming. I like these demonstrations of what even a reasonable amount of kindliness, common sense, guile, and self-reliance can do against brute authoritarianism.

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*THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET (1944)*

 

From Agee on December 16, 1944:

 

Played by Nils Asther, whom I have always liked and am glad to be seeing again. He is ninety years old, looks thirty-five and is eager to keep up that appearance forever, if possible, at the expense of the young men whose glands he and another medical friend confiscate. Most of the movie tries, with uneven success, to be polite about its tenseness, but the scene in which Mr. Asther's years catch up with him (a really remarkable job of make-up, lighting and I guess a sort of acting) is much more interesting and scary than one had reason to expect.

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*HOSTAGES (1943)*

 

From Agee on October 8, 1943:

 

Made from Stefan Heym's novel, it lacks the cinematic edge, detail and inventiveness which the story could have afforded. At its worst it is competent, politically focused and fairly exciting. William Bendix, though he mugs, is a valuable surprise.

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*A LADY TAKES A CHANCE (1943)*

 

From Agee on October 8, 1943:

 

A LADY TAKES A CHANCE is not the new kind of realistic sex comedy it might have been, but once in a while it's on the edge. Too often both ends of Jean Arthur are played against the middle; but John Wayne suggests how sensational he might be in a sufficiently evil story about a Reno gigolo. Besides the unusually frank erotic undertones there are some good harsh street and rodeo shots, a fine small hotel, and a saloon scene which gets down the crowded, deafening glamour which unforeseen daylight drunkenness can have, better than I have ever seen it filmed before.

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*ODD MAN OUT (1947)*

 

From Agee on July 19, 1947:

 

Detail by detail most of ODD MAN OUT is made with great skill and imaginativeness. The hero, a murdering and fatally wounded fugitive revolutionist, is an image of much of the best in contemporary mankind.

 

The picture tells the story of his flight through the night streets of Belfast. This night city is civilization; on that intricate stage a wide variety of people try to help or hinder or capture the fugitive. Many of them are selfless in relations to some idea or passion or conception of duty of their own; not one is capable of the selfless charity it would require to deal with this hounded, doomed soul purely for its own sake. This seems to me a just image and useful diagnosis of the world, and it is an exceedingly good idea for a film.

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*FOREVER AMBER (1947)*

 

From Agee on November 3, 1947:

 

Many who admired Kathleen Winsor's book may be disappointed to learn that in the picture Amber is allowed only four of her numerous lovers. What's more, she gets an even crueler comeuppance, without (as far as the camera can see) having much fun earning it. During the 140 minutes of the movie the famous hussy is never even kissed hard enough to jar an eyelash loose; and it comes as a mild shock when she suddenly announces her pregnancy.

 

The picture is mounted with radiant opulence. It cost Daryl Zanuck and Company $90,000 for Amber's wardrobe and $100,000 to film one kiss which was later cut.

 

To keep AMBER stepping, scene after scene had to be chopped out. These gaps have been plugged with some of the loudest cinemusic ever soundtracked, obviously in hope that audiences literally will not be able to hear themselves think. The scheme backfires in a curious way: with eyes drugged by Leon Shamroy's protective Technicolorization and ears numbed the weight of the sound, cinemaddicts are in no shape to appreciate the movie's Big Attractions (The London Fire, The Green Plague, The Duel and Amber in Childbirth).

 

Linda Darnell makes a handsome but unexciting Amber. Cornel Wilde as Lord Bruce Calrton uses both of his facial expressions frequently. And George Sanders, as King Charles II, very nearly gives the show away when he says: Madam, your mind is like your wardrobe; many changes but no surprises.

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They do show Stanwyck's films on her birthday, at least most of the time.

 

I agree about Ginger. They overlooked the centenary of her birth last year, and I thought it was inexcusable.

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*THE DEVIL'S ENVOYS (1947)*

 

From Agee on September 13, 1947:

 

The work of Jacques Prevert and Marcel Carne, DEVIL'S ENVOYS has style and glamour, but not of a kind I can care much for. The effort is to make a movie equivalent of one of those medieval romances which have always seemed to me as overrated as they are interminable. Also, there is a lot of heavy allegory about Love as Evil and Love versus Evil. Once in a while, the movie permitted, almost as if by accident, a glimpse of what the actual Middle Ages must have felt and looked and smelled like.

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*SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER (1945)*

 

From Agee on February 3, 1945:

 

The title suggests to me a movie that could have been made in a dozen or thousand different versions, all of them good. But the version that has been made is not one of them.

 

The family which stages the dinner lives on a houseboat in Florida. They head of the family is Charles Winninger with white whiskers; everybody calls him Grandfeathers. Anne Baxter is another member of the family wondering whether or not to marry a rich young man. Other members are a pretty little sister who loves a hen named Miss Easter, and two little brothers. These are represented as nice people, but very poor, and in their poverty, ever so whimsical and lucky.

 

John Hodiak is the soldier who turns up for Sunday dinner. He comes from nice people, too. His parents were divorced when he was twelve, and he ran away when he was fourteen. One of the ads for the film says of his romance with Miss Baxter: Their eyes met! Their lips questioned! Their arms answered! And though both players try to be reasonable about it, that is not much of an over-simplification.

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*GOOD NEWS (1947)*

 

From Agee on February 14, 1948:

 

I like the tunes and June Allyson. Joan McCracken makes me think of a libidinous peanut; Mel Torme reminds me of something in a jar but is, unfortunately, less quiet. If they had used the old George Olson arrangements on the tunes and had had any real feeling for the late twenties, this could have been a beauty.

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*THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946)*

 

From Agee on June 8, 1946:

 

In THE BLUE DAHLIA a newly discharged veteran, Alan Ladd, spends a busy night raking the Hollywood half-world for the killer of his wife, whom he didn't much want anyhow. He becomes involved with a motel house dick, the deskman of a mean hotel, a couple of gunmen, a nightclub proprietor, some detectives, and Veronica Lake. The sets and moods they move through all seem to me convincing and entertaining in a dry, nervous, electric way.

 

The picture is as neatly stylized and synchronized, and as uninterested in moral excitement, as a good ballet. It knows its own weight and size perfectly and carries them gracefully and without self-importance. In its own insistent way, it does carry a certain amount of social criticism.

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*MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA (1947)*

 

From Agee on February 14, 1948:

 

In my opinion a badly mistaken play; so, a bad mistake to turn into a movie, especially a reverential movie. Within its own terms of mistaken reverence it seems to me a good, straight, deliberately unimaginative production.

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*THE LADY AND THE MONSTER (1944)*

 

From Agee on May 13, 1944:

 

A mad-scientist movie featuring Erich von Stroheim and a Czech ex-skating champion named Vera Hruba Ralston, who does not skate in this one and whom I thought unusually attractive. The picture is two-thirds mildly amusing clich? and one-third mildly successful sharpening or avoidance of clich?.

 

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*THE SENATOR WAS INDISCREET (1948)*

 

From Agee on February 14, 1948:

 

George S. Kaufman and Nunnally Johnson put William Powell through some loosely adjusted political wringers. Most of it would seem feeble in print or on stage, but because of the vapid state of the movies it seems quite bold and funny on the screen.

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*SUMMER STORM (1944)*

 

From Agee on July 22, 1944:

 

I have not read Chekhov's story 'The Shooting Party' from which Douglas Sirk derives SUMMER STORM. It looks as if Mr. Sirk had wanted to be faithful to something plotty, melodramatic and second-grade, with psychological possibilities. George Sanders gets across no impression of moral disintegration, struggle, helplessness or compensatory pleasures; even when he allows Linda Darnell's innocent husband to be punished for her murder.

 

There are bits of acting and photography in SUMMER STORM which put it far outside the run of American movies. But most of it had, for me, the sporty speciousness of an illustrated drugstore classic.

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*ON APPROVAL (1945)*

 

From Agee on February 10, 1945:

 

I enjoyed ON APPROVAL, an English-made film with Beatrice Lillie and Clive Brook, so thoroughly that I have to fight off superlatives.

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*HIGHER AND HIGHER (1943)*

 

From Agee on January 1, 1944:

 

HIGHER AND HIGHER, which introduces Frank Sinatra to the screen, is one for the museums. Sinatra adds to his more famous advantages that of being, obviously, a decent enough sort. Through most of the film Sinatra is a mock-shy, poised young man husking very mortal corn.

 

At the end, thanks to a stroke of genius on the part of the director, Tim Whelan, Sinatra stands without visible support among clouds, in an effect which could be described only in terms of an erotic dream, and swells from a pinpoint to a giant. Higher and higher indeed. The Messiah Himself will have to sweat to work out a better return engagement.

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.01 FIGHTING FATHER DUNNE

.02 JEALOUSY

.03 THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY

.04 THAT'S THE SPIRIT

.05 SO EVIL MY LOVE

.06 THE LOST WEEKEND

.07 MISSION TO MOSCOW

.08 THE LAST CHANCE

.09 HAVING WONDERFUL CRIME

.10 DEADLINE AT DAWN

.11 PILLOW TO POST

.12 DAYS AND NIGHTS

.13 THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S

.14 HOTEL BERLIN

.15 FAREWELL, MY LOVELY

.16 POSSESSED

.17 KISS AND TELL

.18 AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

.19 THEY WERE EXPENDABLE

.20 DESERT VICTORY

.21 TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

.22 HERE COME THE WAVES

.23 HIS BUTLER'S SISTER

.24 THE CROSS OF LORRAINE

.25 THE KID FROM BROOKLYN

.26 BACKGROUND TO DANGER

.27 BRING ON THE GIRLS

.28 BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

.29 THE IMPOSTOR

.30 THE BIG STREET

.31 PAISAN

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*FIGHTING FATHER DUNNE (1948)*

 

From Agee on July 24, 1948:

 

A dreary, hully-chee sort of piece about a St. Louis priest who builds a home for derelict newsboys. Pat O'Brien, an assortment of tiresome hellions, a good bit by Joseph Sawyer, and some better than average sets by RKO's Darrell Silvera and Company.

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*JEALOUSY (1945)*

 

From Agee on August 11, 1945:

 

JEALOUSY, a Republic picture, was made by Gustav Machaty, who made ECSTASY. The story is of domestic misery, involving a disinterested refugee, and developing into murder melodrama. It is intelligently cast, and well played by Nils Asther, the extremely attractive Karen Morley, a fine, warm-hearted actor named Hugo Haas, John Loder, and Jane Randolph. The music is by Hans Eisler.

 

I doubt that JEALOUSY will have any great success, either critical or commercial; but it is a sympathetic film, and in spite of its over-all failure, contains enough sincerity and enough artistry to make most other films look sick.

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