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Classic Film Criticism


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*THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943)*

 

From Agee on October 8, 1943:

 

THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS is the loudest and most vulgar of the current musicals. It is also the most fun, if you are amused when show people kid their own idiom, and if you find a cruel-compassionate sort of interest in watching amateurs like Bette Davis do what they can with a song.

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*THE SILENT VILLAGE (1943)*

 

From Agee on July 3, 1943:

 

THE SILENT VILLAGE is a reenactment by Welsh miners of the story of the mining village of Lidice. It is noted for the sensitiveness of those who made it and the fistlike authenticity, dignity and seriousness of those who performed in it. It is a question, probably a sad one, whether any group of miners in this country would have been capable of it.

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*WITHOUT LOVE (1945)*

 

From Agee on April 7, 1945:

 

This is a satiny translation of a Philip Barry play. I like it all right and have very little to say for or against it. Unlike Mr. Barry, I don't find the expression 'by gum' charming on lips which use it for charm's sake, and enjoy even less the heroine's recalling, of her dying husband, that he 'grinned that grin of his.'

 

A good deal of the dialogue is happy to hear and happier in its skill. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are exactly right for their jobs. It is good to see Lucille Ball doing so well with a kind of role new to her. And I have a hard time breaking myself against the idea that Keenan Wynn is the best actor in Hollywood, rather than just a very good one indeed.

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I agree with James Agee and his criticism of W.C Fields. I love Fields; "It's a Gift" and "The Bank Dick" are two of my all time favorite movies. I like that Fields was such a curmudgeon; he pointedly did not ask for the audience's sympathy. He refused to (couldn't?) be likeable. In a time when Hollywood schmaltz reigned supreme, Fields (and his contemprary Groucho Marx) marched to the beat of a caustic drummer. Like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry movies he is almost beyond criticism. You either like his miserable, misanthropic, meanspirited persona or you are repelled. I'm a Fields fan and will always appreciate his crusty screen prescence.

 

 

I admit I have not seen all of his movies and believe he did play it "softer" in some of his other film outings. Anyone care to comment.

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*INCENDIARY BLONDE (1945)*

 

From Agee on August 11, 1945:

 

The heroine of INCENDIARY BLONDE bears the name of Texas Guinan, and at least once she shouts an obligatory 'Hello, Sucker.' From then on out the picture successfully ignores every one of the thousands of fine possibilities offered by its nominal subjects, in favor of entirely conventional noise and music. Betty Hutton just about saves it, but no more, for those who like her and I do.

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*BLITHE SPIRIT (1945)*

 

From Agee on October 27, 1945:

 

David Lean's smooth color production of Noel Coward's play about a ghostly wife who returns to make mischief with the kind of second marriage generally insisted on in the dangerous words 'perfectly happy.' The ghost, who faintly suggests a bidet out of repair, is very entertaining. Whenever Margaret Rutherford is on screen, as the medium who starts and tries to control the trouble, the picture is wonderfully funny.

 

Note: Bidet means a low basinlike bathroom fixture, usually with spigots, used for bathing the **** areas.

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*PIN-UP GIRL (1944)*

 

From Agee on May 13, 1944:

 

During the making of PIN-UP GIRL, Betty Grable was in the early stages of pregnancy. Everyone else was evidently in a late stage of paresis.

 

Note: Paresis means partial motor paralysis; a late manifestation of syphilis, characterized by progressive dementia and paralysis.

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*BUFFALO BILL (1944)*

 

From Agee on May 13, 1944:

 

In BUFFALO BILL William Wellman has constructed a Technicolored Indian battle which is fun to watch. In general he makes good use of the plains and the movement of people on them. But most of the picture is boring.

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*FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946)*

 

From Agee on April 27, 1946:

 

I respect the sincerity of FROM THIS DAY FORWARD. It tells a story about young married love up against the worst that a bad economic system can do and send an audience home comfortable. Its message seems to be that in the long run ardor and courage, neither of which is seriously embarrassed by any difficulties, will hold their fort, and better.

 

Movies so seldom try to be honest or sympathetic about such problems of working-class life. However, I must regret two kinds of miscarriage of sincerity which use up some of the film.

 

One kind is most fully represented by Joan Fontaine as the wife. Quite aside from her efforts to be at once a serious actress and a fan magazine star, she has for all her good intentions about the understanding of her role that an heiress might have who was advised by her analyst to take up social work in order to work off her guilt about her income.

 

The other kind is best embodied in bits by a resentful intellectual who slaps some books off a counter, and by the clerk at an orange-drink stand who sharply communicates the meanness and snobbery with which members of the same class treat each other.

 

Both bits, like an ugly scene in court, are neat and authentic beyond the picture's ability to communicate more pleasant aspects of underprivileged city life; yet all three, I feel, are false in their own way. They supplant the unrealism of most movies with a slick kind of pseudo-realism, rather special to New York, which has been most clearly developed in the less good mannerisms of the Group Theater.

 

FROM THIS DAY FORWARD is an unusually serious and respectable film, but very little in it is free from one or the other of these kinds of falseness.

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*DEERSLAYER (1943)*

 

From Agee on November 20, 1943:

 

This film can be recommended to anyone who would not feel that an eight-year-old boy who gallops up howling 'Wah-wah, I'm an Indian' needs to consult a psychiatrist. I don't feel that most bad pictures are bad enough to be funny; they are just bad enough to be fascinating, not to say depressing as hell. But this defenseless and disarming show is the purest dumb delight I have seen in a long time.

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*CORVETTE K-225 (1943)*

 

From Agee on October 8, 1943:

 

CORVETTE K-225 is an unusually decent and unpretentious, but not very interesting, semi-documentary about Corvette K-225. Some of it, made in Canada and on the North Atlantic, is fresh and pretty to see; even genuinely moving. The more violent stuff, though well-contrived, is strictly studio, and suffers by comparison.

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*NOTORIOUS (1946)*

 

From Agee on August 17, 1946:

 

NOTORIOUS lacks many of the qualities which made the best of Hitchcock's movies so good. But it has more than enough good qualities of its own.

 

Hitchcock has always been as good at domestic psychology as at thrillers. Many times he makes a moment in a party, or a lovers' quarrel, or a mere interior shrewdly exciting in ways that few people in films seem to know.

 

His great skill in directing women, which boggled in SPELLBOUND, is functioning beautifully again. I think Ingrid Bergman's performance here is the best of hers that I have seen.

 

One would think that the use of the camera subjectively, that is as one of the characters, would for many years have been as basic a movie device as the close-up, but few people try it and Hitchcock is nearly the only living man I can think of who knows just when and how to.

 

He is equally resourceful, and exceptional, in his manufacture of expressive little air-pockets of dead silence. He has a strong sense of the importance of the real place and the real atmosphere; the shots of Rio de Janeiro are excellent and one late-afternoon love scene is equally remarkable in its special emotion and the grandeur of excitement it gets away with, and in communicating the exact place, weather and time of day.

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*THE IRON MAJOR (1943)*

 

From Agee on November 20, 1943:

 

THE IRON MAJOR is a respectful, rather dull picture about the football coach Frank Cavanaugh. Such able, unintellectual, cagy teachers are very much worth talking about, but all the talk here is in words of less than one syllable. All you get is Pat O'Brien's nicely controlled performance and a few pretty period-shots of Worcester, Mass.

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Interesting that Agee feels that "Notorious" is not one of Hitchcock's best films. He says it "lacks" the qualities that make up his best films. I wonder wahat those "qualities" are since nowadays it is considered one of his best movies. He is certainly correct in his appreciation of Ingrid Bergman. I have many friends who are not old movie buffs, yet they never fail to be captivated by her charms. A beauty for the ages.

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Yes, it is interesting to see how Agee regards NOTORIOUS when the film was first released. I think sometimes, due to nostalgia, we tend to over-rate classic movies. Though this is certainly a great picture by any era's standards.

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*IT HAPPENED AT THE INN/GOUPI MAINS ROUGES (1946)*

 

From Agee on February 16, 1946:

 

I have a standing love affair with a good deal that is French. This film reawakened me to the fact.

 

GOUPI is a comic melodrama about a family of wrangling, innocently cruel, frustrated, strongly individualistic peasants. Like most French films, this one is basically nearer literature than movie. But, like many, it is always supple, quick and expressive visually. In its use of dialogue and sound, it makes even the best American work look childish so far as skill with character and background and atmosphere are concerned.

 

At times the picture goes so wild that it suggests simply that rural life is at once the most localized and the most universal. As a whole, and more intensely, gently, and richly, it embodies France. There is no evidence, good or bad, that Pierre Very, who wrote the picture, or Jacques Becker, who directed it, were trying to do anything great. Perhaps for that reason, among many others, I thought it wiser, more beautiful, and much more fun than nine out of ten masterpieces, written or filmed.

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*THE FUGITIVE (1947)*

 

From Agee on January 10, 1948

 

John Ford's THE FUGITIVE is a solidly pro-Catholic picture about a priest, a creeping Jesus. My feelings about the Catholic Church are, to put it mildly, more mixed than Mr. Ford's. I doubt that Jesus ever crept, and I am sickened when I watch others creep in His name.

 

I dislike allegory and symbolism which are imposed and denature reality as deeply as I love both when they bloom from and exalt reality. And romantic photography is the kind I care for least.

 

Overall, I think THE FUGITIVE is a bad work of art, tacky, unreal, and pretentious. Yet I have seldom seen in a moving picture such grandeur and sobriety of ambition, such continuous intensity of treatment, or such frequent achievement of what was obviously worked for, however distasteful or misguided I think it.

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> {quote:title=danjw wrote:}{quote}Interesting that Agee feels that "Notorious" is not one of Hitchcock's best films. He says it "lacks" the qualities that make up his best films. I wonder wahat those "qualities" are since nowadays it is considered one of his best movies.

 

Agee doesn't say that *Notorious* is not one of Hitch's best films. He says:

 

>NOTORIOUS lacks many of the qualities which made the best of Hitchcock's movies so good. But it has *more than enough good qualities of its own.*

 

Most of what TopBilled has quoted from Agee is raves for the picture. He seems to be saying that it IS a very good film, just for different reasons than most of Hitch's other films.

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*BRUTE FORCE (1947)*

 

From Agee on September 13, 1947:

 

I was astounded to hear that some knowledgeable people think of BRUTE FORCE, a movie about men in a big jail, as a happy return to the melodramas of the early thirties. Maybe so, in some of the jab-paced, slickly sadistic action sequences. But there isn't a line in it, or a performance, or an idea, or an emotion, that belongs much later than 1915, and cheesy 1915 at that.

 

I suspect that the ideal audience for BRUTE FORCE is among men who have been shut off from the world , paying their debts to society. I am sure they were never like the men in this picture, even in their youth. But I am also reasonably sure that they think they were, and think people still are.

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*GIRL CRAZY (1943)*

 

From Agee on December 18, 1943:

 

GIRL CRAZY has nothing in it I can recommend unless you are curious to see what makes one of the biggest box-office successes of the year; unless, like me, you find Mickey Rooney much more bearable since he quit putting his soul into his comedy. He seems now just a detached and very competent vaudeville actor.

 

And unless, like me, you like Judy Garland. Miss Garland is a good strident vaudeville actor too; and has an apparent straightness and sweetness with which I sympathize. Judging by her infrequent emotional moments I would like very much to see her in straight dramatic roles.

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*ESCAPE (1948)*

 

From Agee on June 24, 1948:

 

John Galsworthy's play about a convict (Rex Harrison) who prefers freedom to security, rather nicely done by an American company in England. Apparently people a few years younger than I am are puzzled by the hero's preference. Considering the world they grew up watching, I don't wonder. But I can't help feeling it is their loss, and the world's, and about as grave a one as I can imagine.

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