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Classic Film Criticism

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*JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1943)*

 

From Agee on February 20, 1943:

 

JOURNEY INTO FEAR is disappointing. Orson Welles' adaptation of Eric Ambler's stories has sophistication without much journeying. However, it is good to see so likable an entertainer as Welles making an unpretentious pleasure-picture.

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*CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA (1947)*

 

From Agee on May 10, 1947:

 

I liked the score by Lecuona for this Technicolor musical. There are some fine Costa Rican backgrounds, a medium-good solo by Massine, who designed the generally uninteresting dances, and the dancing and acting of Vera-Ellen. I even liked Dick Haymes.

 

I was also interested to see that Anne Revere, as a Kansan, was shown to be happily married to J. Carroll Naish, as a thoroughly Costa Rican coffee planter.

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*THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943)*

 

From Agee on March 20, 1943:

 

The film is an effort to create, through a series of lyrically casual, almost plotless scenes, the image of a good family in a good time in wartime. Most of my friends detest it.

 

A good many millions of other people, I suspect, will like it, as they liked the Andy Hardy films. I do not agree with either side.

 

I think my friends are too frightened of tearjerkers to grant that they can be not only valid but great. I think the audience at large is too friendly, too gullible, too eager to be seduced.

 

The picture is mainly a mess, but as a mixture of typical with atypical failure, and in its rare successes, it interests me more than any other film I have seen for a good while.

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*ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947)*

 

From Agee on March 22, 1947:

 

John Wayne's first production mixes up Quakers with gun-bearing cowboys. The result is unpretentious, sweet-tempered and quite likable.

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Yes, I thought he handled THE HUMAN COMEDY very well. He knew the nostalgia lovers would be salivating over it and that the high-brow critics would be slamming it. He takes a middle-of-the-road approach and regards the picture as more of a curiosity. I bet that is how he would've reviewed Disney live action films in the 60s, like say POLLYANNA, if he had been around.

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*A GUY NAMED JOE (1944)*

 

From Agee on May 6, 1944:

 

The makers of A GUY NAMED JOE had courage, if a moral idiot has it. I doubt whether taste and honesty enter into it at all.

 

I can hardly conceive of a picture more stonily impious. Spencer Tracy's affability in the afterlife is enough to discredit the very idea that death in combat amounts to anything more than getting a freshly pressed uniform. And he is so unconcerned as he watches Van Johnson palpitate after Irene Dunne that he hardly bothers to take his gum out of his mouth.

 

The people who have the best right to picket God on this matter, or at least MGM, are the dead whom the film is supposed to honor.

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Yes, he certainly was not impressed by A GUY NAMED JOE. I would agree that it's glossed-up hokum.

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*THE PIRATE (1948)*

 

From Agee on June 19, 1948:

 

Color worth seeing, and Gene Kelly's very ambitious, painfully misguided performance. Judy Garland is good, and Vincente Minnelli's direction gives the whole business bulge and splendor. My sympathies are largely with them, for they are all really trying something. Many people admire THE PIRATE but it seems to me to have the culture-cute mirthful grin of the average Shakespearean comic.

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*BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)*

 

From Agee on August 31, 1946:

 

The film is an expansion of a one-act play by Noel Coward. It is a story about two decent middle-class people who fall in love outside their marriages. Beset by guilt and unable to stomach the enforced deceit and humiliation, they give each other up.

 

The story is written, filmed and acted with a good deal of positive qualities. The picture is a pleasure to watch as a well-controlled piece of work and is deeply touching. I particularly like the performances of Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard as the lovers. I like the things that are done with their faces and with the various ways they walk at various stages of the affair.

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I am glad you made this comment. I stated at the beginning of the thread that the length of his reviews vary according to each film and that sometimes I would condense or else continue the longer ones in a later post. On some (rare) occasions he has misspelled an actor or director's name and I correct those.

 

In this case, he wrote about BRIEF ENCOUNTER with ANNA KARENINA (which I omitted) and then went into comments about THE BIG SLEEP, which he had seen during the same week of 1946. For purposes of this thread, I felt that ANNA KARENINA and BIG SLEEP deserved separate posts and photos. However, the opening line of his review for BRIEF ENCOUNTER is how he started, with a comment about Coward's play and then going on from there.

 

What I noticed with this review is that it doesn't hit print till the last day of August '46, and the film was actually released in 1945. Perhaps it premiered in the U.K. a year earlier and was just getting to American movie screens almost 9 months later. Unless it was a re-issue and Agee was just getting around to reviewing it.

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*JOHNNY COME LATELY (1943)*

 

From Agee on November 1943:

 

The Cagney brothers' first independent piece, JOHNNY COME LATELY, seems to persuade many people that the Cagneys should stay dependent. I do not agree. The film does show a fatal commercial uneasiness, but JOHNNY does give a gentle and leisure first hour whose tone and pace would never have survived a big studio.

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I love Judy Garland. Love isn't stong enough. I worship, adore, mythologize her (if one can do such a thing). Yet more than all that I respect her talent,am in awe of her abilities as an actress, singer, dancer. So it is with great pain that I watch "The Pirate". It is her only MGM film where her illnesses, both mental and physical are obvious on the screen. There is a certain manic energy that I find difficult to observe. Agee probably didn't know the pain she was in while making this movie. Not until the last musical number, "Be a Clown" does she relax and deliver the magic that is Judy Garland. She knew this movie was a pretentious piece of hogwash. Even in her addled state she was more perceptive than Minnelli or Kelly. The film flopped. But the legend that is Garland endures.

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Good post. Nowadays, people go out on stress leave when they reach that point where Garland was during the filming of THE PIRATE. Personally, I find her more difficult to watch in SUMMER STOCK. Kelly works better with Sinatra than with Garland in my opinion.

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*CLUNY BROWN (1946)*

 

From Age on June 8, 1946:

 

CLUNY BROWN is a comedy about English snobbism on three levels: county family, backstairs and lower middle class. For good measure there are a couple of patrician liberals, fatuously melodramatic in their eagerness to protect an anti-fascist refugee, Charles Boyer.

 

All this social kidding turns on a housemaid, Jennifer Jones, who can never remember for long what is meant by knowing one's place. One main difficulty is that comedies about snobbism seem, as a rule, to depend on stimulating and playing up to, rather than shriveling, the worst kinds of snobbism in the audience. In spite of this, Ernst Lubitsch's direction makes the film more amusing than there was any other reason to expect.

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*SECRET COMMAND (1944)*

 

From Agee on July 8, 1944:

 

SECRET COMMAND is about shipyards, saboteurs, and saboteur hounds. It contains two pieces of melodrama which set records for willful denial of suspense. Aside from that, and another of Pat O'Brien's experienced soft-shoe performances, the film is in no way memorable.

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*MELODY TIME (1948)*

 

From Agee on June 19, 1948:

 

There seems to be an obvious connection between the Disney artists' increasing insipidity and their increasing talent for fright. But I will leave it to accredited sadomasochists to make the official discovery.

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>.. two pieces of melodrama which set records for willful denial of suspense. What a great turn of phrase.

 

Yes, that's a great one. I love the one where he describes Joan Fontaine as a Vassar girl and where he mentions how her acting rests on a square jaw.

 

The one I posted yesterday for MELODY TIME is also very pointedly written. The Disney fanatics would consider it blasphemous.

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*PERFECT STRANGERS/VACATION FROM MARRIAGE (1945)*

 

From Agee on March 23, 1946:

 

The film is the story of a lower middle-class English couple played by Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr who are peacetime dimouts transformed by history. During the early reels, they develop a good deal of pathos. The real logic of the picture is that a large part of the human race is hardly fit for existence under any circumstances. My chief objection is that this logic is not shown to be either inescapable or changeable.

 

1vacation1.jpg

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*NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (1941)*

 

From Agee on November 24, 1941:

 

This is not a movie. It is 70 minutes of photographed vaudeville by polypnosed W.C. Fields. He is assisted by Gloria Jean, Franklin Pangborn and other stage properties. As such, it is a strong drink for cinemaddicts who believe that the Great Man can do no wrong, small beer for those who think that even a Fields picture should have a modicum of direction.

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