Nicholas Ray – Born to Be Bad [+Extra] (1950)

29f7c043f76a2bde437fd0d52a185152

Synopsis:
One of the most oft-revived of the pre-Technicolor Nicholas Ray efforts, Born to Be Bad offers us the spectacle of Joan Fontaine portraying a character described as “a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Peg O’ My Heart”. For the benefit of her wealthy husband Zachary Scott and his family, Fontaine adopts a facade of wide-eyed sweetness. Bored with her hubby, she inaugurates a romance with novelist Robert Ryan. All her carefully crafted calculations come acropper when both men discover that she’s a bitch among bitches. She might have gotten away with all her machinations, but the censors said uh-uh. Originally slated for filming in 1946, with Henry Fonda scheduled to play the Robert Ryan part, Born to Bad was cancelled, then resurfaced as Bed as Roses in 1948, this time with Barbara Bel Geddes in the Fontaine role. RKO head Howard Hughes’ decision to replace Bel Geddes with the more bankable Fontaine was one of the reasons that producer Dore Schary left RKO in favor of MGM. Based on Anne Parrish’s novel All Kneeling, Born to be Bad is so overheated at times that it threatens to lapse into self-parody; though this never happens, the film was the basis for one of TV star Carol Burnett’s funniest and most devastating movie takeoffs, Raised to be Rotten Continue reading

Norman Z. McLeod – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)

29f7c043f76a2bde437fd0d52a185152

Plot Synopsis by Hal Erickson

James Thurber wasn’t too happy with the Sam Goldwyn film adaptation of his 1939 short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but the Technicolor musical comedy proved to be a cash cow at the box office. Danny Kaye stars as Walter, a milquetoast proofreader for a magazine publishing firm. Walter is constitutionally incapable of standing up for himself, which is why his mother (Fay Bainter) has been able to arrange a frightful marriage between her son and the beautiful but overbearing Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford). As he muses over the lurid covers of the magazines put out by his firm, Walter retreats into his fantasy world, where he is heroic, poised, self-assured, and the master of his fate. Glancing at the cover of a western periodical, Walter fancies himself the two-gun “Perth Amboy Kid”; a war magazine prompts Walter to envision himself as a fearless RAF pilot; and so on. Continue reading

Howard Hawks – The Big Sleep (1946)

29f7c043f76a2bde437fd0d52a185152

Summoned by the dying General Sternwood, Philip Marlowe is asked to deal with several problems that are troubling his family. Marlowe finds that each problem centers about the disappearance of Sternwood’s favoured employee who has left with a mobster’s wife. Each of the problems becomes a cover for something else as Marlowe probes. Continue reading

Charles Walters – Easter Parade (1948)

29f7c043f76a2bde437fd0d52a185152

Quote:
The film was originally to have starred Gene Kelly, but Kelly was injured just prior to production and Astaire, who had announced his retirement from film, was coaxed back to replace him. (Astaire would “retire” several more times over the next decade, but he would also go on to make a number of additional classic musicals in between retirements.) This film marked the major MGM debut of tap-dancer Ann Miller (who had previously been under contract to RKO), replacing Cyd Charisse, who also had to bow out of the production. Continue reading

Jules Dassin – Brute Force [+Extras] (1947)

29f7c043f76a2bde437fd0d52a185152

The meanest, heaviest, most unrelentingly grim hunk of American cinema you’re likely to see– at least prior to 1950– Brute Force is an explosive hybrid mixing aspects of the string of stark prison melodramas that stretch back to the silent era, and the broodingly dark crime dramas that sprung up in the postwar 1940’s that we’ve since come to identify as Film Noir.

One of my personal favorite ‘noir’s of all time, Brute Force features a young, highly flammable Burt Lancaster (in his second film role, his followup to Siodmak’s The Killers, another crime drama produced by Mark Hellinger) in the role of inmate Joe Collins, a part that seems to fit him like a glove. A seething prisoner barely able to contain his rage over his incarceration and the vicious machinations of the warden, Joe dominates the men in his cellblock by the raw power of his presence. Continue reading

Edgar G. Ulmer – Ruthless (1948)

29f7c043f76a2bde437fd0d52a185152

Quote:
Multi-millionaire Horace Woodruff Vendig (Zachary Scott) shows himself to the world as an ambitious philanthropist, but that’s far from the case. Even as a young man he starts to exhibit an obsessive and selfish urge to make more and more money, loving and leaving women at will to further this end. Vendig steps on and rolls over anyone who stands in his way, including his lifelong friend Vic Lambdin (Louis Hayward), utilities executive Buck Mansfield (Sydney Greenstreet) and various women, among them his first and only love, Martha Burnside (Diana Lynn), socialite Susan Duane (Martha Vickers) and Buck’s wife, Christa Mansfield (Lucille Bremer). It is a tribute to the acting skills of Scott that he makes his despicable character somehow likeable and sympathetic. The stellar cast includes Raymond Burr, Edith Barrett, Dennis Hoey and Joyce Arling. One of the few big-budgeted projects helmed by cult director Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour). Continue reading

William Cameron Menzies – Address Unknown (1944)

29f7c043f76a2bde437fd0d52a185152

Plot Synopsis:
Nominated for Best B&W Art Direction-Interior Decoration and Best Music Score, this World War II drama chronicles the degradation of Martin Schulz (played by Paul Lukas), an American-German art dealer who returns to live in Germany just before the rise of the National Socialist Party. Preying (in part) on his ego, a local baron-Nazi Party member (Carl Esmond) gradually influences Schulz to abandon his principles and his Jewish friend-American partner Max Eisenstein (Morris Carnovsky), with whom Schulz had been corresponding by letter. Peter van Eyck plays Schulz’s son Heinrich, who remains in the States working for Max while Mady Christians plays Max’s daughter Elsa, Heinrich’s fiancée-actress who finds work in Germany and bravely resists a Nazi’s (Charles Halton) censorship, with tragic results. When Schulz finally realizes what he’s lost, it’s too late. The movie’s title doesn’t come into play until the end, which features a twist. Directed by Academy Award winning Art Director William Cameron Menzies (Tempest (1928)), and based on the story by Kressmann Taylor with a screenplay by Herbert Dalmas, the film is a timely and effective reminder of the power of charismatic leaders and the vigilance needed to resist their rhetoric. Emory Parnell and Frank Faylen both appear as letter carriers. – Classic Film Guide Continue reading